- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 30, 2022

COLLEGE PARK — Maryland coach Mike Locksley wanted to use his team’s 15 spring football practice sessions to start identifying playmakers the Terrapins can use this fall.

He may have found one in Florida transfer Jacob Copeland.

Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa looked as good as Maryland fans remembered, and his Red team’s offense shined with Copeland as his main target as the Terrapins wrapped up spring with their annual intrasquad game.

“What you see as his natural ability and why he was a heavily recruited guy out of high school,” Locksley said.

Tagovailoa’s Red group, featuring Maryland’s first-team offense, beat the White team 14-3 on Saturday under a sunny Maryland Stadium sky, and the senior looked good from the jump. 

He immediately led Maryland on a four-play touchdown drive after the kickoff, featuring the fast pace and quick strikes we’ve come to expect from the Terrapin offense, even one playing without its full complement of weapons.

In the absence of wide receiver Dontay Demus who is still recovering from a season-ending knee injury, and fellow wideouts Jeshaun Jones and Rakim Jarrett sitting out as a precautionary measure, Copeland got Tagovailoa’s attention.

The former Gator and four-star recruit hauled in five catches for 70 yards and was named the game’s most valuable player. 

“He does a lot of great things,” Tagovailoa said, “and I think what he brings to the table benefits us. We were working on [chemistry] since he got here.”

“The first thing I learned was formation,” Copeland said of his arrival in College Park. “Once you learn formation, you learn concepts, and everything goes flat smooth.”

Here are top takeaways from the afternoon:

Copeland is a gamer

In his four seasons at Florida, he racked up 1,366 yards and nine touchdowns, including a Gator team-high 39 receptions last year. The 6’0” junior brings speed and gives Tagovailoa another option in the flat and in catch-and-run scenarios. 

He joins a crowded, veteran Maryland receiving corps, but should get his opportunities in the fall and adds versatility as a kick and punt return option. Not to mention, his position group has welcomed him with open arms.

“I’ve been with those boys everyday,” Copeland said of Maryland’s wide recievers. “We created a bond we’ve been together so much. It’s just a good vibe.”

Too many receivers is never a bad thing for the Terrapins. That was Maryland’s hardest-hit area by injuries in 2021.

Maryland’s backfield is showing some promise

This was a unit that was inconsistent at best for the Terrapins in 2021. Granted, falling behind early in games doesn’t lend to a run-conducive environment as a game goes on, but it was a noticeable flaw last season. 

Locksley said he liked the way that room has come along this spring.

“That’s one of the few positions of strength that we feel we have the type of depth we’re gonna need to get through the season but also the talent,” Locksley said.

Maryland’s backs are young — Roman Hemby is a redshirt freshman and Colby McDonald is a sophomore — but ran strong in this game. Hemby broke a 43-yard touchdown down the left sideline for Red on the game’s fourth play and finished with 59 rushing yards. McDonald added 102 yards of his own on 18 carries.

“I think I’ve grown as a player,” Hemby said of his spring. “We were able to dive deeper and find the deep root of what worked last year what didn’t work.”

The backfield, including senior Challen Faamatau, who left after one carry for White with an injury, have the benefit of experience in front of them. Maryland’s entire starting offensive line returns from 2021 — a unit that’s combined for 88 starts.

“It’s a big confidence for me, Hemby said of his protection upfront. “I know them guys now, and we’ve been working together for a long time.”

The Maryland defense still has some wrinkles to work out

Brian Williams enters his first full season as Terrapins defensive coordinator after getting a brief audition in Maryland’s final two games of 2021, and his group is still learning some schemes.

Specifically in the secondary, Locksley noted that the group “is an inexperienced group, and that inexperience showed today.” Maryland’s defense ranked in the bottom third in the Big Ten Conference in all major team defensive metrics.

“Defensively I want to see us be a little more competitive,” Locksley said.

A bright spot was linebacker Ahmad McCullough, who finished with six tackles and was named the lineman of the game. 

“He’s a physical player and has been known around here as one of those guys that plays the game the way it should be played,” Locksley said. “I like the way he continues to grow in our program and he has really taken on a leadership role for us, which is going to be really important.”

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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