When Rakim Jarrett, Jacob Copeland and Dontay Demus Jr. all declared for the NFL Draft and opted out of playing in Maryland football’s bowl game last season, the Terps’ receiver room trimmed thin against NC State.
Veteran Jeshaun Jones remained, but no other wideout had more than two years of collegiate experience. Sparsely used Tai Felton and Octavian Smith Jr. stepped up. They received for more than 100 yards and scored Maryland’s lone touchdown to lead the Terps to their second straight bowl victory.
“You look over the last couple of years … you saw a bunch of guys that were young players that played in our bowl game,” coach Michael Locksley said. “I had no problem motivating guys that hadn’t played a lot. They’re motivated to get out, show what they’re capable of.”
Locksley said each of Maryland’s past two bowl games allowed him and his staff to get a glimpse into the team’s future. The coach has another chance to take a look at what comes next for his team when Maryland faces Auburn in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl on Dec. 30.
The defensive backfield will be the focus of that depth the Terps will test against the Tigers. Defensive backs Corey Coley Jr., Tamarcus Cooley, Gavin Gibson and Avantae Williams have all entered the transfer portal, and Tarheeb Still declared for the 2024 NFL Draft.
Coley, who played the third most snaps of any Terps cornerback this season, is the biggest loss out of the transfers. Gibson played more than 100 snaps while Cooley and Williams rarely saw the field.
Still’s departure creates the biggest hole for Maryland’s secondary against Auburn. The starting cornerback was an instrumental piece to the Terps’ pass defense, leading the team with five interceptions en route to an All-Big Ten second team honor.
But Locksley has faith in the young defensive backs at his disposal in Nashville.
“We’ve recruited well, those three young corners … give us a tremendous chance going into the game,” Locksley said. “They all can run, they all got length. This will be a great opportunity for us to see just what they are capable of doing and that’s how we want to utilize this game.”
Locksley mentioned he’s most excited about three cornerbacks — redshirt freshman Perry Fisher and freshmen Mykel Morman and Kevis Thomas. Redshirt sophomore Chantz Harley provides “great length and size,” the coach said. Sophomore Lionell Whitaker, who appeared in the first nine games of the season and missed the last three, is back, Locksley said.
Senior safety Beau Brade added another name to the mix.
“Always been a playmaker guy is [Glendon] Miller … he’s definitely underappreciated,” Brade said. “He’s probably one of our best playmakers on the defense, he can play any position.”
The Terps’s youth and depth on offense will also get an opportunity to shine.
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is opting out of the TransPerfect Music City Bowl, allowing redshirt sophomore Billy Edwards Jr. and redshirt freshman Cameron Edge to receive snaps as the Terps’ signal caller. Edwards has thrown for 310 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in his career. Edge has seven collegiate snaps.
Corey Dyches’ departure into the transfer portal creates a hole at tight end for Edwards and Edge. Redshirt freshman Preston Howard, who caught just 12 passes in the regular season, should be the biggest beneficiary of the open spot.
Absences on both sides of the ball means that the Terps won’t look the same as when they last took the field a month ago. Many of Maryland’s young players, some unproven, will receive meaningful playing time in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl.
That’s why Locksley views the contest game not as the end of the 2023 season, but as the beginning of the 2024 campaign.
“You’ll see a precursor to what hopefully our future looks like,” he said.