With Big Ten Media Days being at the end of the week, BTN posed 50 questions that need to be answered, We decided to answer those that affect Maryland:
Who will emerge at receiver for Maryland?
This is one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Maryland program. Following the 2014 season, it was expected that Stefon Diggs and Deon Long would be moving onto the NFL. However, there was still plenty of proven talent at the position with Marcus Leak and Juwann Winfree expected to be two of the more productive wideouts on the team. Now both players are no longer with the program and it’ll be interesting to see how the Terps respond to losing so much offense from last year’s roster.
It’s largely expected that Levern Jacobs, who missed last season due to suspension, will be at the top of the depth chart and regain his 2013 form. Back in 2013, the elder Jacobs led Maryland in receiving after Diggs and Long suffered season-ending leg injuries midway through the season. Jacobs is a gamechanger that can do damage in a multitude of different ways.
However, I expect Taivon Jacobs to be the one that emerges and has a breakout campaign in 2015. Levern has shown in the past that he is capable of handling the spotlight just fine. On the other hand, Taivon redshirted his first season in College Park then suffered a season-ending knee injury against James Madison in the 2014 season opener. Taivon is the type of downfield threat that the Terps definitely need, especially with a playmaker like Diggs playing on Sundays now.
How will Maryland adapt to a new 4-3 defense under a new coordinator?
In February, it was announced that defensive coordinator Brian Stewart would be leaving Maryland after three seasons. He ended up landing at Nebraska and Maryland elected to use an in-house replacement in inside linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski. Dudzinski has been with the program 2011, but also has experience as a defensive coordinator. He was the head defensive boss at UMass from 2004 to 2010 and was quite successful during that time. His team finished in the top 20 in total defense on three occasions (third in 2005, 20th in 2006, & 13th in 2007) and were also first nationally in scoring defense in 2005 and fifth in 2006.
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Obviously, Maryland’s defensive personnel is quite different than it was in 2014. The front seven has a completely different look with three new starting linebackers. One of the top reasons for optimism is the return of pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who will now slide down to the defensive end spot in the new scheme. Ngakoue, who made the Butkus Award watch list, is coming off a season in which he recorded 37 tackles (25 solo) and six sacks for the Terps.
Players like defensive end Jesse Aniebonam and defensive tackle David Shaw now have a full collegiate season under their belt, and will likely be big producers in Maryland’s new 4-3 defense. It also helps that Maryland’s secondary has a veteran group with Will Likely and Sean Davis being one of the top cornerback tandems in the Big Ten.
Maryland certainly has the personnel to make the transition and it’ll be helpful for a group that lost all four starting linebackers from a season ago. I’d expect the 4-3 defense to be a solid unit with a bevy of young talent.
Can Maryland QB Caleb Rowe answer the call? And stay healthy?
This really is the million dollar question for the Terps. The wide receiver position may lack big names, but there’s plenty of talent to catch the football. However, they do need someone that can accurately deliver the football at a consistent rate.
While Maryland did bring in Oklahoma State transfer Daxx Garman, it’s still a pretty safe bet that Caleb Rowe will be under center when the season begins as long as he’s healthy. Rowe has seen extensive action over the last three years due to the fact that C.J. Brown wasn’t the most durable of signal callers. The South Carolina native has had success at the collegiate level as he led Maryland to a win over Virginia back in 2013 while also keeping the Terps competitive against a ranked Clemson squad that featured Sammy Watkins.
Rowe gives Maryland a more traditional pocket passer, so it’ll be interesting to see what type of formations that offensive coordinator Mike Locksley has in store for the offense. Getting away from the read-option may be extremely beneficial for the Terps and allow them to have a more consistent ground attack. In turn, that will take a lot of the pressure off Rowe and allow him to be more comfortable running the offense. If he has a capable running game to fall back on, I see Rowe being much more successful than Brown has been in recent years. The biggest issue has always been staying healthy. Time will tell if he can have a clean bill of health during a 12-13 game season.