Photo courtesy of Maryland athletics
The Maryland Terrapins enter the 2021 season with something unnatural for the program: expectations.
Head coach Mike Locksley has done a great job revitalizing a once dormant program that really has not had a lot of success overall. Now, the Terrapins will most likely not be contending for a College Football Playoff spot nor a Big Ten East crown. Instead, this Maryland squad will be trying to get to a respectable bowl game.
The Pinstripe Bowl or even the Outback Bowl would be ambitious goals. That is the ceiling for this squad. That being said, Maryland will need to score a lot of points to keep pace with some of the Big Ten powerhouses.
In the first of a 2-part series, Maryland’s key offensive players will be highlighted. Here are three to watch:
Taulia Tagovailoa, QB, Junior
As with any team, the quarterback is the most important position in order to determine success. Teams can win without a stud behind center, but still, Taulia Tagovailoa will be the biggest puzzle piece for the Terps’ offense. If he plays up to his potential, so will the offense.
Unlike his older brother, Tua, he does not have the absolute cannon of an arm. He plays in less of an air raid offense style and more of a West Coast style with short and medium-ranged passes. While the differences between the two Tagovailoa brothers are stark, they were both top prospects for a reason. Taulia Tagovailoa has simply taken longer to realize his potential.
The Terps have done a lot of good things for Tagovailoa; one of those has been to change the scheme to better fit his strengths. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos comes from Cincinnati where he and Desmond Ridder turned the Bearcats into a top-25 offense. Ridder is similar to Tagovailoa because of his mobility and ability to improvise.
Enos said that he has really liked the connection between the coordinator and his junior signal caller. Moreover, Tagovailoa has not yet had a full season in College Park. So, there should be a lot of intrigue for him this season.
That being said, the Terps have depth at the position on the roster with six currently on scholarship. If Tagovailoa struggles, Locksley does have other options.
Tayon Fleet-Davis, RB, Redshirt Senior
Tayon Fleet-Davis has long been the heir apparent to Jake Funk at running back. Funk was drafted in the seventh round by the Los Angeles Rams, and left large shoes to fill at the position. Fleet-Davis is seen as a much different running back.
However, he is one that can really shine in this system. Once again using the example of Cincinnati, the Bearcats had a very good running game. Fleet-Davis will be the feature back by all impressions early on, but the Terps will use him along with other tailbacks in order to keep him fresh. The workload is a possible concern for him as he only appeared in one game in 2020.
Fleet-Davis is a modern running back. In the current landscape, running backs need to do much more than just take handoffs and find the hole. At Maryland’s media day, Locksley raved about Fleet-Davis.
“Fleet is one of those guys that is a Swiss Army knife,” the head coach said. “I love his ability as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He can be a third-down pass protector. He can get the tough yards and short-yardage and he’s a guy that has his skill-set to make plays on first and second down.”
For the Terps, they will need Fleet-Davis to be superb in order to take a lot of the pressure off Tagovailoa, making him one of the most important players for a number of reasons. In addition, the Maryland running backs corps is very young. Having a veteran take the reins for this season will allow the youngsters more time to learn the system.
Rakim Jarrett, WR, Sophomore
Rakim Jarrett was one of the highest-rated recruits in Maryland football history, and the best since Stefon Diggs. Having shoes to fill like Diggs’ is nearly impossible with the All-Pro receiver being one of the best to ever suit up for Maryland, regardless of position.
Maryland has a lot of great receivers in its history, and the buzz around Jarrett is that he is next in line. Jarrett showed off his deep skill-set in the shortened 2020 season, and allowed everyone to — no pun intended — catch a glimpse of what this offense can become in the years to come.
Jarrett is not the biggest guy, only standing at 6-foot-0, but he has incredible athleticism. To use a basketball-related phrase, he can “jump out of the gym”. If Tagovailoa wants to throw a 50/50 ball in the red zone, he should be targeting No. 5. In addition, Jarrett gets in and out of cuts better than anyone on the roster.
While he has a pretty average route tree, that is typical for young receivers. He projects to line up on the outside along with Dontay Demus. He should be vital to the Terrapins’ efforts toward offensive balance.
Obviously, the Terps need more than just three players to step up. However, the players highlighted will really be integral to their success this season.
Clearly, the offensive line will need to keep Tagovailoa upright and open holes for Fleet-Davis. The entire team will need to do their respective jobs.
Something that Locksley has emphasized has been not trying to do too much and playing according to one’s role. Look for Enos to reinvent the offense in College Park this season and cement Maryland as one of the programs on the rise in the Big Ten.