Mike Locksley has a routine he’s developed through the early part of his coaching career, a way to break the news in an up-front and transparent manner. So when it came time to decide who would lead Maryland football’s offense in Locksley’s second season at the helm, the head coach went about it the same he always does.
Locksley met with quarterbacks Lance LeGendre and Taulia Tagovailoa together on Sunday. He went through the reasoning for his decision. He encouraged both to speak up, sharing whatever grievances may linger. And then he met once more with each individually, to ensure they understood his choice.
Entering Week 1 of a season unlike any other, Locksley knows who his starting quarterback will be against Northwestern on Saturday. The quarterbacks also know. As does the rest of the team.
But Locksley isn’t ready to let anyone else in on the secret, preferring to keep LeGendre and Tagovailoa on level footing when it comes to the public depth chart to preserve whatever competitive advantage might come from ambiguity.
“We’ve got two guys who’ve competed their tails off and really showed major improvement in our system,” Locksley said. “We’re moving forward. I see a plan where both of them have some role with our team, but just not ready to announce to the public who it is.”
Tagovailoa transferred to College Park this offseason from Alabama. And while his name carries weight — his brother is Tua Tagovailoa, who was announced as the Miami Dolphins’ starting quarterback Tuesday — and he was a four-star recruit, Tagovailoa has seen little college action. The sophomore featured in five games for the Crimson Tide last season, completing nine of his 12 attempts for 100 yards and a touchdown.
LeGendre is also somewhat of an unknown quantity, playing in three games for the Terps in 2019 before suffering a dislocated shoulder and redshirting. He did most of his damage with his legs, scampering for 104 yards while only completing one of his three passes.
As the season approaches, though, their teammates have seen promising performances from them both.
“I have great confidence in both,” running back Jake Funk said. “They’ve both done a great job throughout camp. They’ve both shown signs of greatness, and that competition has been a real competition.”
Maryland is in this position — shepherding inexperienced players to start under center — because of a turbulent quarterbacking history in past seasons due to injuries and ineffective play. Since 2016, six different quarterbacks have started games for the Terps.
And last year’s two starters, Josh Jackson and Tyrrell Pigrome, departed the program in the offseason; Pigrome transferred to Western Kentucky and Jackson opted out of the 2020 campaign.
So LeGendre and Tagovailoa have a chance to play a significant amount early in their careers, navigating a difficult eight-game slate against Big Ten teams. Locksley didn’t rule out playing both quarterbacks in certain situations, similar to how he incorporated both Jaylen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama, or LeGendre, Pigrome and Jackson in select Terps games last year.
“I can foresee us doing that here just because how both guys have developed and some of the things that they do differently more than they are the same,” Locksley said. “So I’m excited about the room and what both those guys offer our offensive system.”
When Locksley sat both quarterbacks down and told them who would start and who would sit, he made it clear there wouldn’t be a short leash holding either back. Yet with the way the 2020 season is — including coronavirus testing and an eight-game gantlet — depth is a key quality to have.
So are results, starting Saturday against a Northwestern squad that finished with the same 3-9 record Maryland did last year.
“The starter doesn’t have to look over his shoulder; we’re not looking to every week create this controversy that I know so many people love to have,” Locksley said. “But I will say that they are also well aware that this is a production-based business that we live in.”
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