When Preston Howard entered Maryland football’s program a year ago in the summer, everything hit him all at once. The game moved quickly for the high school quarterback turned tight end.
Howard redshirted his freshman year but could be a contributor for the Terps, who are looking for a No. 2 tight end behind starter Corey Dyches. Howard has used the spring to get ahead for the 2023 season, working on his blocking in particular.
He showed his talents during Saturday’s Red-White Spring Game, catching three passes for 61 yards.
The White Team, with many defensive starters from last year’s team including Beau Brade and Jaishawn Barham, lost, 20-19, to the Red Team, which had many members of last year’s starting offense including Taulia Tagovailoa.
The final result mattered less than the performances of young players like Howard, new additions to the roster and new-look units. Those were among the many storylines in play as the Terps wrapped up spring ball.
Defensive line outplays offensive counterparts
Both of these units enter the season needing to replace key pieces from last year. Coach Mike Locksley deployed an offensive line of left tackle Delmar Glaze, left guard Amelio Morán, center Aric Harris, right guard Corey Bullock and right tackle Gottlieb Ayedze to protect Tagovailoa.
The group had mixed results, as the White Team racked up four sacks.
The Terps’ defensive line, which put Quashon Fuller and Kellan Wyatt at edge rusher with Tommy Akingbesote and Taizse Johnson at defensive tackle, got consistent pressure on Tagovailoa and his replacement, Cameron Edge.
Fuller finished with three sacks and Akingbesote added another.
Akingbesote and Johnson, both four-star recruits in the class of 2021, could see increased roles after the departures of Mosiah Nasili-Kite and Ami Finau among others.
“We’ve challenged [Akingbesote] all spring to really step up,” Locksley said postgame. “He’s going into year three in this program and it’s now time for him to become one of the leaders … I’ve been happy with the way he’s progressed.”
Locksley also praised Johnson’s development, maturity and leadership, saying he hoped for that to continue throughout the summer.
The roles of Wyatt and Fuller are less certain. Incoming freshmen Dylan Gooden and Neeo Avery, neither of whom played Saturday, could slot in as edge rushers once they arrive on campus. Transfer Donnell Brown could also factor into the competition. He is expected to enroll in classes this summer and join the team then, per a Maryland spokesperson.
The presumptive starting Maryland offense found a rhythm later in the game, with Tagovailoa completing 16-of-12 passes for 210 yards.
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Veteran receivers impress
Tyrese Chambers drifted to his right, the sideline and ball both getting closer with each passing beat. The wide receiver, a graduate transfer from Florida International, caught a high-arcing pass from Edge for a 13-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
The score came as part of a four catch, 37 yard, two touchdown game. Chambers’ first came with Tagovailoa at quarterback from five yards out.
“This is a receiver-friendly offense and for the past couple of years this offense [has] been running through receivers,” Chambers said. “So it’s a great opportunity to showcase your talent and win games for this school.”
Fellow transfer receiver Kaden Prather also shined. The 6-foot-4 junior used every bit of that frame on an early catch and run where he had a tackler bounce off him. He finished with four catches for 54 yards.
Those stats could’ve looked even better. Prather tripped on a deep target early and was unable to come down with one later as the pass hung in the air too long and was broken up.
Tai Felton also shined, catching five passes for 75 yards. Their performances, along with the limited production from Octavian Smith (one catch, two yards), could organize the team’s hierarchy at the position.
“We got a lot of playmakers on this team,” Chambers said. “When your number [is] called, you gotta make it happen.”
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Sheppard and Still injured
The Terps potentially lost two starting cornerbacks to injury during Saturday’s game, as both Ja’Quan Sheppard and Tarheeb Still exited with injuries.
Sheppard, a transfer from Cincinnati, seemed in line for one of the outside cornerback spots that opened up due to the departures of Jakorian Bennett and Deonte Banks. Still started the game in the nickel cornerback spot he occupied through most of last year.
Sheppard left the field on a cart but later returned to the sidelines while Still will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury, Locksley said.
“We kept [Sheppard] out for precautionary measures, which was good to see,” Locksley said. “I was a little worried there early when I got over there to see him down. But I think he’ll be okay.”