Mike Locksley on preparing for year five, impact of portal additions and restocking the trenches

After moving into The Hotel on Tuesday, Maryland football is set for its first practice of fall camp on Tuesday afternoon after turning the page on a “really productive summer.”

“This is the one time we get to shift our attention to 24/7 football I just had our first meeting last night with our players and each year we get about 30 days out of the year where our players can spend their entire time just focusing on football,” Locksley said during media day. “We’ve got a couple guys with a few things to clean up academically here the next couple of days, but our training camp for us is really a unique opportunity that we get each and every year and for us it’s important that we limit the distractions and take full advantage of these opportunities.”

Locksley took the opportunity to make an emphatic statement during Big Ten Media Day, stating that Maryland is “here to compete for Big Ten championships” with the quest to upset the conference begins in exactly one month.

“The thing that led me to be able to declare that we’re now ready to compete for Big Ten championships is just what I’m talking about, the players and it’ll be the point of emphasis. I like the way our locker room has come together. That player-driven culture that we’ve been pounding for the last four years really, I think, you’re starting to see the fruits of the hard work not just by our staff but with the players themselves in terms of taking ownership of this team,” Locksley added. “They seem very driven, very focused, and getting and creating the right kind of habits and behaviors that allow you to play championship level football the players that coach in our program know what our expectations are. They know that the work has to supersede the goal.”

A big piece of that equation is the return of Taulia Tagovailoa, who leads an experienced offense into his fourth season.

“So many years, I feel old,” Tagovailoa joked. “That’s just my process. I love Maryland. I love being here, I love working with the coaches, the guys, the community over here, they’re very supportive and I think this is part of my journey, part of God’s plan to come back and try to reach the goals I have for college.”

Maryland will lean on its returning running back room to create a balanced offense, while the receiver room has enough new and returning pieces to remain lethal. “I feel like it’s kind of the same thing we talk about every year—we’ve got a lot of weapons,” sixth-year receiver Jeshaun Jones added. But it’s the portal additions who are expected to pay dividends that has Locksley excited heading into the fall.

“You’ve seen a bunch of guys come in and for me guys like Jordan Phillips and Corey Bullock and Mike Purcell and Marcus Dumervil, Jaquan Shepard, all these are names that I think you guys will get to know and really, really excited based on how they performed in the spring, as well as how quickly they bought into the standard that we’ve set as a program that we expect those guys to hit the ground running with us and in an effort to help us prepare.”

On the other side of the ball, Brian Williams returns for his fifth season with the program and second as defensive coordinator as head coach Mike Locksley pointed back to the second-half adjustments the defense routinely made through conference play.

“One thing that jumps out statistically for me is just how our guys were able to make the necessary adjustments from the first half to the second half as you studied us on defense,” Locksley added. Maryland returns its starting safety tandem “and then you add guys like Avantae Williams and Glen Miller, who also we expect to help us.”

As Maryland looks to build its team chemistry along its starting offensive line, Maryland will also replace its entire starting defensive line but there’s a reason there’s more confidence on that side of the ball.

“We rotated a bunch of players a year ago, maybe guys like Tommy Akingbesote was similar to a starter in terms of how much he played a ton of reps the last couple of years. Bringing in Tre Colbert or Jordan Phillips, help us with from that void but coach Williams has done a great job of keeping guys fresh and guys and names that you don’t hear of like the Isaac Bunyuns of the world, the Christian Teagues of the world. We had Greg Rose a year ago that just popped up. The way the way we played defense, we have the bodies. I think you’ll see some of these young players like Dillan Fontus who came in in the spring, early grad. You’ll see his development kind of expedite itself because of the size and strength that he comes in with and being in our weight room. Guys like Jordan Phillips, guys like Fontus have benefited from being here early.”

The biggest question remains the offensive line, which will not only need to identify its starting unit, but build chemistry among the unit.

“The challenge was the recruiting piece because we know when you lose guys then three four year starters, you’re Spencer Anderson and Jaelyn Duncan as well as Johari [Branch], were three year starters, four year starters for us. And we were really intentional with how we went and attacked the portal. When you recruit offensive linemen, we recruit with the mindset that it takes two years, two and a half years for them to fully develop and be ready to compete, especially in a league like the Big Ten. And so we feel like the experience that we will get out of a guy like Gotti, guys like Corey Bullock, Mike Purcell, Marcus Dumervil, those experiences that they’re bringing to the table and having most of them here this spring really has helped us kind of start to shape some things. Now the next 30 days will be important to find the best five and put them in the best possible position while developing the younger players in our program like the Andre Royes, like the Kyle Long, Connor Fagan, a walk-on who’s really elevated himself, to create the depth that we’re gonna need to play good football.”

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