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In Maryland’s spring game, offensive blinks, defensive worries

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Maryland coach Michael Locksley wanted his team’s spring game to serve as advertising for next season. The two-hour showcase is essentially a glorified practice – and coaches focus on avoiding injuries without showing too much of their playbook – but fans get a glimpse of what may be on the horizon for the Terrapins.

As Maryland concludes the spring drills, a clear source of optimism is coming from this team’s receivers, who are relying on their talent, experience and a third-year starting quarterback in Taulia Tagovailoa.

The program knows what it has in its three recurring standout receivers – Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett and Jeshaun Jones – but that trio did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage. Demus and Jones are working on their backs from knee injuries, and a minor notch has also limited Jarrett this spring. In their absence, the depth of this position group shone.

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Jacob Copeland, a transfer from Florida, had five catches on 70 yards and should be an important part of the offense. Copeland and Tagovailoa guided the red squad, which included first-team offense and second-team defense, to a 14-3 victory. Tagovailoa completed 9 of 14 passes in 144 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Tagovailoa is part of what helped lure Copeland to College Park.

“The room, it’s crazy,” Copeland said of his position group. “It’s a great thing. I’ve been in a very special room before. I know when I’m in one. I’m in one now. I feel like it’s going to be a great year.”

Tagovailoa joined Tai Felton for the second time on a 13-yard score, and Corey Dyches, another young player, had the longest game of the day with a 46-yard finish. Dyches, a tight-end red jersey, worked with the receivers in the spring due to the depth issues, but he shifts back to his previous position this fall, replacing Chigoziem Okonkwo, the starter last season, who was drafted Saturday by the Tennessee Titans. Felton and Dyches have both garnered praise this offseason for their development

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“I am familiar with any recipient,” Tagovailoa said. “If they’re in the game, I’m really happy with them. They all bring a lot of good things to the table. I feel like whoever’s in there, we’ll make it work.”

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The Terps both lost their starting safety from last season in Nick Cross (drafted by the Colts on Friday) and Jordan Mosley (declared draft), and that unit, Locksley said, makes him feel “a little worried.” Dante Trader Jr. and Beau Brade manned the position of the white team, and Glendon Miller took over the red squad. Miller is “someone who I seem to be one of the playmakers for us in defense,” Locksley said. But the coach acknowledged the group’s inexperience, “and some of the inexperience showed up today.”

Maryland’s first team offense got off to a fast start, scoring touchdowns on its first two drives. Two of its big games – Roman Hemby’s 43-yard touchdown run and Dyches’ 46-yard catch – came with defensive dropouts. After two touchdowns in the first quarter, the white squad with the first-team defense kept the red unit speechless.

“The next steps are that we are able to start the game with our feet on fire, not to get hit in the face and then get into the groove,” said linebacker Vandarius Cowan, a transfer from West Virginia.

With the second team attack, the white team sometimes moved the ball well, but the unit, primarily led by walk-on quarterbacks David Foust and Eric Najarian, never reached the goal zone. The red team’s defense was led by linebacker Ahmad McCullough’s six tackles.

Continuity in the offensive line

Maryland returned all five of its offensive starters from last season, and building depth at that position has been key this offseason. Locksley was delighted to see the second team’s offensive record of 175 rushing yards for the white team.

Jaelyn Duncan, Amelio Moran, Johari Branch, Delmar Glaze and Spencer Anderson were the offensive line starters for the first team unit. Mason Lunsford, the usual starter at left guard, did not play due to a minor injury, so Moran took his place.

When asked about the importance of establishing a balanced offensive, Tagovailoa said deadlock: “I think we should just throw the ball.” He laughed and then admitted, “If you have a good running game, it opens up everything.” In the fight, Hemby and sophomore Colby McDonald led the swift attack. Both young players scored in the Pinstripe Bowl to finish last season.

“We got a little wet feet,” said Hemby, a rookie newcomer who finished the spring game with 10 balls at 56 yards. “Now we’re ready to run and we’re ready to help this team where we can.”

McDonald had 101 rushing yards and 52 receiving yards. Early in the scrimmage, he moved to the white team, which was exhausted by injuries to running backs Challen Faamatau and Antwain Littleton II.

Just before the spring match, senior defender Kenny Bennett entered the transfer portal. College footballers must declare that they intend to switch before May 1 to be eligible for their next stop this fall. Bennett appeared in nine games with three starts last season and was named Maryland’s special teams player of the year.

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