Michael Locksley On Challenges Posed By Pandemic For Maryland Football

With spring practice canceled and a timetable for a return to normalcy unclear due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland head football coach Michael Locksley says the Terps would need a “bare minimum” of six weeks to get ready for their first game and that he’d be open to playing in empty stadiums.

In a normal offseason, the Terps would’ve held a padded scrimmage April 4 in preparation for their annual spring game April 25. Instead, players are participating in football meetings with coaches on Zoom from 2-4 p.m. four days a week, with film study and chalk talk being the topics of conversation.

Maryland players got through their offseason workout program and are maintaining their conditioning on their own, but the Terps would have to be back on campus by late July for Locksley to feel comfortable about opening the season against Towson Sept. 5 as currently scheduled.

“It’s a scientific type of window in terms of having spoken to our strength coach, [Ryan Davis], that’s his expertise, along with our trainers and the sports medicine people that know the sports science of it,” Locksley said on Glenn Clark Radio April 6. “It’s typically a six-week window to prepare a player to be ready to play a football game, at least from a physical standpoint.”

“That’s where with these eight hours we have [per week], we’re trying to really maximize getting the mental piece of all three phases down so that when we do hit the field and when this thing finally does open up, we can put a lot of attention into the physical, but most of us believe it’s about a six-week window for ready-to-play when you’re coming off of a long layoff like this,” the coach added.

The layoff presents unique challenges for Locksley, who is trying to implement a culture of winning in a program that hasn’t experienced much of that in recent years. Maryland went 3-9 in Locksley’s first year as head coach, the fifth straight losing season for the program. (In that time, the Terps have had four different coaches.) Since Maryland went 33-8 from 2001-2003, it’s gone 85-112.

And for the Terps, success is harder to come by than ever. The Big Ten East is loaded with programs that are historically better than Maryland — namely Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State — meaning it’s an uphill battle even when preparation for a season isn’t affected. Now, the Terps will be trying to correct last season’s problems — poor quarterback play and the conference’s worst defense (449.2 yards allowed per game) among them — without the benefit of spring ball.

“We’re in Year Two. Every rep that we miss with a guy like [quarterback] Lance LeGendre definitely is detrimental and doesn’t help, but again, we’re not going to get into making excuses. We’re going to figure out solutions,” Locksley said. “… There’s no doubt that being in Year Two and not having spring practice with the young team that we have — we played the second-most true freshmen in the country last year, all those guys could definitely use the reps that come with going through spring practice and even the stuff they do in the summer.”

If the season goes on as scheduled — or is even pushed back some — there’s been speculation about the possibility of playing games without fans in the stands. A Feb. 19 Champions League match between Atalanta and Valencia in Milan, now dubbed “Game Zero,” helped fuel the spread of the coronavirus in Bergamo, Italy.

Gatherings of 10 or more are currently prohibited in the state of Maryland — similar guidelines are in effect throughout the country — and a timetable for easing those restrictions will depend on a number of factors. If it’s deemed safe for teams to play against each other by September but with no one in the stands, what would Locksley think about that?

“Not something that I would enjoy doing, but for the sake of trying to create some normalcy during these unprecedented times, the fact that football is such a huge game and has such a huge impact on everyone’s lives, if you really enjoy the game like we do in it, we’ll play in front of one fan or 100,000 fans,” Locksley said.

Locksley also touched on some other topics, including …

On whether a compressed offseason would encourage him to start the season with veteran Josh Jackson at quarterback rather than Lance LeGendre:

“I don’t think those are decisions you have to make now because of where we are, the time frame of it. Obviously, we’ve got a guy in Josh Jackson that’s played some football here and in our system that we would anticipate just the fact that it’s Year Two for him that we should see a huge step and a huge improvement out of him because of the comfortability he would have in our system. But I would definitely think competition is what makes you great, and we’re going to create the competition as much and as often as we can until we find a clear-cut guy. That usually sorts itself out, so I don’t think being in this situation speeds it up.”

On the Terps’ 2020 recruiting class:

“We’ve been real lucky and fortunate. Even though we struggled on the field somewhat with the 3-9 record, our staff – I’ve got to give credit to our recruiting staff and then our coaches – did a great job of going out and signing a top-30 class with some really talented players that we have expectations to be able to either provide us depth as quality backups or push to be starters. We’re going to play the best player. We don’t care what year they are in school. We’re going to create competition because we realize that’s what makes you better. … We feel really good that we signed smart, tough, reliable guys that will help us speed this process up of getting the Terps going in the right direction on the football field.”

On what players he’d advise NFL teams to draft other than Antoine Brooks Jr., Anthony McFarland Jr. and Javon Leake:

“I’m a huge fan of [offensive lineman] Ellis McKennie. I’ve coached quite a few guys who have gone on to play at the next level and I think it starts with being smart, tough and reliable. This kid is one of those guys that is all three of those things. I saw his development. He’s a versatile lineman that can play inside, all three positions — left guard, right guard or center, and then can play tackle in a pinch if needed. He’d be one of those guys. I know he got into law school at George Washington and he’s excited about that, but I think he’d be one. [Tight end] Tyler Mabry would be another — another smart, tough and reliable guy. We only had him for one year, would’ve loved to have had him another year. But his ability as a run blocker and his ability to win the intermediate passing game definitely I think should help him quite a bit as well. And then obviously [cornerback] Tino Ellis — I just love his game. I know his season was cut short with the torn pec, but competitive, athletic, smart, all the things you really love out of a corner.”

For more from Locksley, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Luke Jackson

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