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In Maryland’s spring game, offensive flashes, defensive concerns

Maryland wide receiver Jacob Copeland had five catches for 70 yards Saturday in the Terrapins’ annual spring game. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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Maryland Coach Michael Locksley wanted his team’s spring game to serve as a commercial for next season. The two-hour showcase is essentially a glorified practice — and coaches focus on avoiding injuries without showing too much of their playbook — but fans get to glimpse what might be on the horizon for the Terrapins.

As Maryland ends its spring slate of practices, a clear source of optimism comes from this team’s wide receivers, who are leaning on their talent, experience and a third-year starting quarterback in Taulia Tagovailoa.

The program knows what it has in its three returning standout wide receivers — Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett and Jeshaun Jones — but that trio didn’t participate in Saturday’s scrimmage. Demus and Jones are working their way back from knee injuries, and a minor nick has also limited Jarrett this spring. In their absence, the depth of that position group shined.

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Jacob Copeland, a transfer from Florida, had five catches for 70 yards and should be a key piece of the offense. Copeland and Tagovailoa guided the red squad, which included the first-team offense and second-team defense, to a 14-3 win. Tagovailoa completed 9 of 14 passes for 144 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Tagovailoa is part of what helped lure Copeland to College Park.

“That room, it’s crazy,” Copeland said of his position group. “It’s a great thing. I have been in a very special room before. … I know when I’m in one. I’m in one now. I feel like it’s going to be a great year.”

Tagovailoa connected with sophomore Tai Felton on a 13-yard score, and Corey Dyches, another young player, had the longest play of the day with a 46-yard completion. Dyches, a redshirt sophomore tight end, worked with the wide receivers this spring because of the depth issues, but he’ll switch back to his previous position in the fall, replacing Chigoziem Okonkwo, the starter last season who was drafted Saturday by the Tennessee Titans. Felton and Dyches both garnered praise this offseason for their development

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“I’m comfortable with any receiver,” Tagovailoa said. “If they’re in the game, I feel really good about them. They all bring a lot of good things to the table. I feel like whoever’s in there, we’ll make it work.”

Here’s what else to know from Maryland’s spring game:

Defensive lapses

The Terps lost both their starting safeties from last season in Nick Cross (drafted by the Colts on Friday) and Jordan Mosley (declared for the draft), and that unit, Locksley said, has him feeling “a little bit concerned.” Dante Trader Jr. and Beau Brade manned the position for the white team, and Glendon Miller took over on the red squad. Miller is “somebody that I’m looking to be one of those playmakers for us on defense,” Locksley said. But the coach acknowledged the group’s inexperience, “and some of the inexperience showed today.”

Maryland’s first-team offense got off to a fast start, scoring touchdowns on its first two drives. Two of its big plays — Roman Hemby’s 43-yard touchdown run and Dyches’s 46-yard catch — came with defensive lapses. After two touchdowns in the first quarter, the white squad with the first-team defense held the red unit scoreless.

“Those next steps are us being able to start the game with our feet on fire, not having to get hit in the face and then get into the groove,” said linebacker Vandarius Cowan, a transfer from West Virginia.

With the second-team offense, the white squad moved the ball well at times, but the unit, primarily led by walk-on quarterbacks David Foust and Eric Najarian, never reached the end zone. The red team’s defense was led by linebacker Ahmad McCullough’s six tackles.

Offensive line continuity

Maryland returned all five of its starting offensive linemen from last season, and building depth at that position has been key this offseason. Locksley was pleased to see the second-team offense record 175 rushing yards for the white squad.

Jaelyn Duncan, Amelio Moran, Johari Branch, Delmar Glaze and Spencer Anderson were the offensive line starters for the first-team unit. Mason Lunsford, the usual starter at left guard, didn’t play because of a minor injury, so Moran took his place.

Young running backs

When asked about the importance of establishing a balanced offense, Tagovailoa deadpanned, “I think we should just throw the ball.” He laughed, then admitted, “If you have a good running game, it opens up everything.” In the scrimmage, Hemby and sophomore Colby McDonald led the rushing attack. Both young players scored in the Pinstripe Bowl to end last season.

“We kind of got our feet wet,” said Hemby, a redshirt freshman who finished the spring game with 10 carries for 56 yards. “Now we’re ready to run, and we’re ready to help this team however we can.”

McDonald had 101 rushing yards and 52 receiving yards. Early in the scrimmage, he moved to the white team, which was depleted by injuries to running backs Challen Faamatau and Antwain Littleton II.

Late transfer

Just before the spring game, senior defensive back Kenny Bennett entered the transfer portal. College football players must declare their intention to transfer by May 1 to be eligible at their next stop in the fall. Bennett appeared in nine games with three starts last season and was named Maryland’s special teams player of the year.