Taulia Tagovailoa went from throwing against Tarheeb Still and Ja’Quan Sheppard in Maryland football’s preseason practices to players on Maryland’s scout team when the season started.
Roman Hemby once ran against the Terps’ first-team defensive line. But in recent weeks, he’s breezed by the team’s younger and less experienced front, whom Coach Michael Locksley calls “scout dummies” for their unwillingness to give Hemby a true test.
Maryland removed the full team “good-on-good” portion of its practices the last two weeks, which pits the first team offense against the first team defense. The Terps have been plagued by slow starts in both games since it was taken away. But this week, Locksley reintroduced the drill.
The coach thinks it could be the key to breaking his team out of its first quarter slumps.
“That’s where you really get the speed of what a game is like,” Locksley said. “The developmental team doesn’t always finish, they don’t always get off blocks, they kind of go through the motions … What’s happened to us is that we don’t adjust to the speed of it until we get punched in the mouth after the first quarter.”
The first team versus first team drill was typically at the end of practices, Locksley said.
Quarterbacks and receivers are separated from running backs and offensive linemen for much of their time on the Jones-Hill House practice field, and the exercise gives the units a chance to come together.
Locksley ditched the segment of practice with consecutive short weeks, believing it was expendable for time purposes. Tagovailoa added players started going “too hard,” which heightened the risk of injury and made it easier for Locksley to remove.
But the first team offense and defense got through practice without expending much effort while operating against inferior opponents. It’s possible that mentality seeped into the start of games.
Rhythm — what Locksley said good-on-good achieves — was absent in Maryland’s previous two first quarters. Tagovailoa was intercepted on his first pass attempt versus Charlotte. The Terps’ defense was fooled by trick plays and susceptible to big gains against Virginia. They went down 14-0 early in consecutive weeks.
With Maryland returning to a more normal practice schedule, Big Ten play approaching and a newfound importance of these reps, full-team good-on-good is back.
“I feel like our defense is the best defense in the Big Ten,” Tagovailoa said. “They always give us good looks. It’s full speed reps. Iron sharpens iron. We feel like it gets everyone better.”
The biggest question facing Maryland’s wide receiver unit entering the season was who would separate themselves from the crowded hodgepodge. Through three games, it’s becoming more clear.
Jeshaun Jones, Tai Felton and Kaden Prather lead Terps wideouts in targets. Jones has the most rapport with Tagovailoa of the group and Felton paces the group in snaps.
Prather has been Tagovailoa’s most trusted deep threat. Six of his 14 targets have been 20 or more yards downfield, tied for second most such targets in the Big Ten.
Beyond that trio, the fight for time on the field continues and is growing fiercer.
Maryland has resorted to creative ways to get Octavian Smith Jr. touches. Smith was Paint Branch High School’s quarterback and holds the school’s fourth best ever time in the 100-meter dash. His athleticism is a weapon Locksley aims to use.
He’s lined up in the backfield, albeit sparingly, and his only carry was wiped away by a penalty. But with entrenched starters ahead of him, Smith’s versatility could prove valuable.
“He has a unique skill set,” Locksley said. “Definitely a guy that we continue to try to find ways to utilize.”
Tyrese Chambers figured to be more of a contributor than his three catches for 18 yards so far would suggest. Chambers has fallen down the receiver hierarchy as he’s dealt with turf toe in the season’s opening weeks. He was sixth among receivers in snaps in his first game back, but could be used more this week.
“Tyrese is one of those guys that when he gets his opportunities, he usually makes plays for us,” Locksley said. “He’s finally back full speed and he’s back in the right space mentally where I’m excited to see him back to the old Tyrese.”