Biggest questions for Maryland football heading into Big Ten Media Day

Maryland football is set to hit the podium on day two of Big Ten Media Days with fifth-year head coach Mike Locksley joined by redshirt sophomore running back Roman Hemby, senior defensive back Tarheeb Still and senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa.

Locksley is the second head coach scheduled to speak on Thursday with his press conference set for 11:15 AM EST, while he’ll join the Big Ten Network studio again at 1:45 PM. Maryland’s three players in attendance will also join the Big Ten Network’s studio at 4:15 PM as the Terps inch closer to the start of the 2023 season.

Maryland was projected to finish fourth in the Big Ten East in the preseason conference rankings released earlier this week and with eleven returning starters, the Terps will look to reach bowl eligibility for the third consecutive season and with the Terps at the podium, we take a look at the five biggest questions.

How Will Taulia Tagovailoa Adjust to Josh Gattis’ Offense?

Tagovailoa’s former offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who ran a more pro-style offense otherwise known as the west coast offense, left this offseason to join the Arkansas staff. In Enos’ offense, tight ends were heavily utilized and the term “check-down or touchdown” really tells the story of the offense.

In the three seasons Tagovailoa played under Enos, he threw for over 7,600 yards and 50 touchdowns. Tagovailoa and the Terps’ offense led the team to two bowl victories in the past two seasons.

As the team turns the page with Gattis at the helm of the offense, based on his track record, the first-year Maryland coordinator will implement more of a running attack into the offense. Gattis is coming in after spending one season with the Miami Hurricanes. His ties with head coach Mike Locksley date back to 2018 at Alabama where Gattis served as the wide receivers coach.

Under Gattis in the 2021 season at Michigan, running backs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins combined for over 2,200 yards on 414 carries. Additionally, after Haskins left for the NFL in 2022, Corum ran for 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns. With 12 players recording a rush last season, Maryland as a whole didn’t eclipse 1,850 rushing yards.

If Gattis can make his expected mark on this offense, fans can expect to see heavy doses of Roman Hemby leading the run game in 2023. As a result, Tagovailoa will need to take advantage of the plays he is able to push the ball downfield with his arm, and the play-action passing game could play a role. Which leads us to…

How Can Antwain Littleton Capitalize on His Opportunities & Can Ramon Brown Factor into the Rotation?

Redshirt sophomore Roman Hemby shouldered the load last season with 188 carries, over 100 carries more than his backup Antwain Littleton. However, with Gattis coming in and being a more running back-friendly offensive coach, it’s expected for there to be more rushes up for grabs in 2023.

Littleton’s forte has been short-yardage and goal-line situations. Converting on those chances is the first step, but taking advantage of other opportunities is the next one. Littleton can capitalize doing what he always does, which is run hard and with purpose, but not just in short yardage plays. When he gets other touches, he needs to make them count.

At points, head coach Mike Locksley tends to shuffle through running backs, but with Hemby this season he could see an increased role. The second-year starter was a bellcow for Maryland late in the season, and the Terps offense benefited greatly. With Hemby’s sights set on the NFL down the road, sophomore Ramon Brown aims to be his successor.

It’s a fine line between a crowded running back room and a balanced rushing attack. Brown could see some playing time in late-down situations, but also as a relief to Hemby as the next back in line for a feature role. Creating a consistent run game, though, could help make the potential aerial attack that much more lethal with a veteran, new-look receiver room at Tagovailoa’s disposal.

What Will the Re-Tooled Offensive Line Look Like?

Of Maryland’s five players taken in the NFL draft back in April, two were starters from the offensive line last season. Out of the other three, the lone returner for the 2023 season is redshirt junior right tackle D.J. Glaze. One of the biggest position overhauls from a vital unit leaves several questions about what they’ll look like this season. With options at Locksley’s disposal, the front line is beginning to shape up.

A flurry of transfers and back-ups from the 2022 campaign will hope to take the reins. The list of transfers includes left tackle Gottlieb Ayedze from Frostburg State and center Mike Purcell from Elon. Ayedze earned All-MEC first-team and honorable mention All-American while blocking for the second-ranked rushing attack in the conference last season.

Both redshirt senior Amelio Morán and redshirt sophomore Kyle Long are returning and will battle it out for the left guard spot. Morán has started a plethora of games in the past, including both bowl games the past two seasons, but Long has seen the field in just one game in 2021.

Lastly, the right guard position will be taken up by senior transfer Corey Bullock. He comes into the program from North Carolina Central.

On any team, the offensive line dictates what the offense will be able to do. Tagovailoa will need time in the pocket, and the rushing attack will need lanes to keep the attack balanced. Keep an eye out for the Terps to iron out the unit in the first few games, but how quickly can the starting unit gel together?

Who Will Take Up the Mantel as the Terps’ Top Pass Rusher?

Five starters from Maryland’s front seven last year were seniors, which leaves a big gap for the coaching staff to fill. Additionally, three of Maryland’s top five leaders in sack leaders were lost this off-season. Sophomore Jaishawn Barham, who was tied for the team lead in sacks last season with four, is the lead candidate to take a jump and lead the Terps’ pressure unit.

Maryland is also returning junior defensive tackle Tommy Akingbesote who appeared in 12 games with two starts and two sacks last season. Former Tennessee lineman Jordan Phillips, who checked in at 311 on Maryland’s updated roster, will be a big piece to the Terp’ interior line as the instinctive disrupter looks to make an impact in year one with the program.

Other players returning include sophomore Kellan Wyatt and redshirt junior Quashon Fuller.

One of Maryland’s top position groups this season will be their secondary. Yet, pass-rush is necessary for them to make plays and will be a big factor in how good the defense can be overall.

Can Maryland take the leap against the conference elite?

Even with so much change surrounding overall personnel such as coaching staff and position groups, the Terps are once again expected to make a bowl game in 2023. Both DraftKings sportsbook and FanDuel sportsbook have Maryland’s win total at 7 and 7.5 respectively. This along with a few analysts across the country stating they believe Maryland can win up to 10 games this season.

After winning six games in 2021, and seven in 2022, Locksley and his team want to keep riding the momentum and stack another brick on the powerhouse they’re looking to build. Yet, another six- or seven-win season may be viewed as the program being parked in neutral. This leaves the biggest and most important question of the season.

Even with two bowl wins in the past two seasons, the Terps have failed to beat a premier Big Ten team. Another bowl-eligible season without a signature win wouldn’t necessarily be seen as a disappointment but would leave fans looking for more out of their team. Stellar opportunities present themselves this season with Penn State and Michigan coming to SECU stadium as well as Maryland going on the road to face Ohio State.

The Terps played Ohio State and Michigan close last season, but a win is what will make this season successful. This is the next building block for Locksley in 2023.

Maryland is set to host its first practice of fall camp on August 2 with players moving in on August 1.

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