When the Maryland Terrapins football team takes the field Saturday, there will be plenty of questions.
Can quarterback Perry Hills improve on his eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season? Is a somewhat experienced offensive line finally ready to keep defenses out of the backfield and open up holes in the run game? Can a defense that lost most of its secondary and its top pass rusher (Yannick Ngakoue) recoup?
The answers will unfold as the season goes on, but the Terps should have a simple enough time settling in when the FCS-level Howard Bison come to College Park this weekend. With some fresh faces and some experience mixed into a team where nobody really knows what to expect under D.J. Durkin, here are three players to keep an eye on against Howard.
1. RB Ty Johnson
The suspension to Wes Brown has given Ty Johnson, only a sophomore, a chance to cement his spot as a top running back at Maryland. Johnson showed flashes of ability in a limited role last season, running 35 times for 250 yards and three touchdowns, averaging over seven yards per carry.
Johnson has blazing speed and good elusiveness, making him an ideal pick for Walt Bell’s spread offense. With bruisers Trey Edmunds and eventually Brown competing for spots as well, Johnson appears to have the edge despite the fact that the other two are seniors.
Against Howard, as most teams would do against lesser competition, watch for the Terps to try and establish the ground game early. The offensive line has two seniors and three sophomores, but actually has compiled some decent experience, and they should be able to bully Howard from the outset. Watch for Ty Johnson to terrorize the Howard defense.
2. CB/WR/KR Will Likely
What doesn’t Will Likely do? Next thing you know, he’s going to be out there kicking field goals.
The Second Team All-Big 10 selection at cornerback in 2015 returns as a member of the watchlist for the Bednarik Award and is expected to be a key member of the Maryland defensive unit. Also known for his punt/kick return ability, Likely was already slated for a big role in his senior year.
When Maryland released their two-deep depth chart, however, Likely was listed as one of the starters at wide receiver in the slot. We saw interim coach Mike Locksley use Likely in a similar spot last season, mostly sending him in motion, where Likely had 11 carries for 93 yards and five receptions as well. It isn’t a new role for him, but the 5’7″ native of Florida is taking on a lot.
Watch for electrifying play in every facet of the game from Likely. We already know he’s capable of it, so we might as well enjoy more of it in his final year as a Terrapin.
3. CB J.C. Jackson
J.C. Jackson made waves when he announced his enrollment at Maryland this summer. The former four-star recruit was cleared of the arrest that forced his departure from the Gators, and is ready to turn a new leaf. That starts against Howard Saturday.
Jackson is penciled in to start across from Likely at cornerback, and offers a different style of play from his diminutive teammate. At 5’11 and nearly 200 pounds, Jackson offers more physicality at the position. His ties to Durkin should help too, as Durkin was part of the staff that recruited Jackson to Florida out of high school. The sophomore should know what is expected of him, and a player of his talent should deliver.
A cornerback isn’t the most exciting player to watch (unless his name is Will Likely), and Howard’s receivers probably won’t trouble Jackson. However, it will be good to catch a glimpse of what Jackson can do, especially since he could be a fixture in this team beyond the 2016 season.