Six days before Maryland begins its season — its first game in this new era, featuring different schemes and an infusion of talent by way of transfers — Coach Michael Locksley sat down with quarterbacks Josh Jackson and Tyrrell Pigrome. Pigrome has been around for a few years, playing sparingly and dealing with a major injury but progressing nonetheless. Jackson, like Locksley, joined the program after last season with the hope that he would spark the offense.
Sunday’s conversation was straightforward. Locksley detailed the statistics and evaluation the staff had compiled for each player throughout preseason camp. With both quarterbacks in the room, Locksley informed them that Jackson had won the starting job. The graduate transfer from Virginia Tech will be the quarterback to lead this offense, trusted for Saturday’s opener against Howard and as the season ventures into its many Big Ten challenges.
“And it’s not a deal where he has to look over his shoulder,” Locksley said of Jackson.
The competition was closer than Locksley expected, with the level of play at the position rising and benefiting both players. Jackson missed spring practice as he finished his undergraduate degree in Blacksburg. He didn’t arrive in College Park until the summer, participating in his first official practices at the start of August. But by the time the staff had a large enough sample size to make a decision, Jackson had surfaced as the player who could best help the offense extend drives and score.
Jackson proved himself as a starter at Virginia Tech, and though Locksley said that might have helped him in camp, that experience didn’t directly influence the staff’s decision. Jackson started for the Hokies as a redshirt freshman in 2017, throwing for 2,991 yards and 20 touchdowns while completing nearly 60 percent of his passes. Jackson added 324 yards and six touchdowns rushing, but he said Tuesday that Maryland’s offense requires him to run less often.
Jackson’s passing yardage from his first season at Virginia Tech would rank third on Maryland’s all-time list, behind Scott Milanovich (3,499 yards) in 1993 and John Kaleo (3,392) in 1992. The goal is for Jackson to become a reliable option who can establish a passing game that the Terrapins lacked in 2018.
“The quarterback position is a natural leadership position,” Locksley said. “He’s come in and he’s done things the right way with how he works, how he communicates. You see the maturity that he has, having led an offense before.”
When he agreed to transfer, Jackson stepped into a program more known for its laundry list of injuries at quarterback than any recent success. After four season-ending injuries to quarterbacks in 2012, a linebacker started at the position. Since then, the position has been a revolving door, with many players losing the top spot because of injuries. Pigrome and Kasim Hill tore ACLs in 2017, and Hill tore his other ACL the following year. (Hill, who started 10 games in 2018, is now at Tennessee.)
Jackson can joke now that the Terrapins’ quarterback injury history wasn’t part of their recruiting materials. He didn’t know about it until he arrived and a trainer told him.
“So that’s a little disheartening, I guess you could say,” Jackson said, laughing. He added that he is not superstitious and he is “not trying to focus on the past or anything.”
For a program hoping to launch itself into a new and better era, that’s not a bad strategy. What Jackson accomplished at Virginia Tech means little now. He has had to build new relationships with teammates and establish himself as a leader. Even though Locksley expressed confidence that Jackson is the right choice for the role, mitigating the need for the player to worry about someone else grabbing the job, Jackson doesn’t lean on that.
“That still doesn’t mean I can’t go out there and get pulled,” he said. “You’ve got to play well. You’ve got to make the right decisions. You’ve got to take care of the ball.”
Pigrome will stay involved; that was part of the conversation Sunday. The redshirt junior, who started two games last year, could figure into Locksley’s plans. Jackson said he wouldn’t be surprised if there are packages that involve Pigrome.
When asked whether Pigrome’s role would extend beyond that of a typical backup quarterback, Locksley said, “If Piggy is one of the five playmakers in our offensive system that week when we start game-planning, sure, we’ll use him like we use anybody else and find situations and roles.”
But for now, Jackson will be the player occupying the top spot on the depth chart. The qualities that earned him the job will soon be tested in a game setting, and gradually it will become clear whether Jackson can buck Maryland’s recent painful trend at quarterback.
“I worked all spring and all summer to earn that job,” Jackson said. “And I think I can bring leadership and just hope to be the best quarterback I can for this team.”