Over his Maryland tenure, coach Mike Locksley has had many players come up to him and say they wanted him to discuss the prospect of winning championships.

Locksley previously rebuffed them all and instead focused on building up a reeling program through what he called “a necessary developmental” process.

But, after years of fixating on growth, the coach — whom the Terps rewarded with a restructured contract carrying an average salary of $6.1 million — and his players have begun discussing the possibility of adding Big Ten hardware to their trophy case.

“That player-driven culture that we’ve been hounding the last four years, really I think you’re starting to see the fruits of the hard work,” Locksley said. “... [The players] seem very driven, very focused, and [are] getting and creating the right kind of habits and behaviors that allow you to play championship-level football.”

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“I wasn’t going to leave this place without my feet touching the turf in Indianapolis,” added quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to reporters.

Tagovailoa is the chief reason for the program’s raised expectations. He enters the campaign as the program record-holder in basically every important passing stat and as a Big Ten preseason honoree.

He’s joined by returning stars Roman Hemby, Jeshaun Jones and Jaishawn Barham. But around them remain questions that the Terps will have to answer if they want to reach their lofty aspirations this season, which unofficially began with Wednesday’s media day.

Here are the main takeaways from media day.

New caller, same plays

Josh Gattis was fired from Miami after one year, but reunited with Maryland coach Mike Locksley (they had worked together at Alabama) and will call plays for the Terps this year. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The Terps lost their co-offensive coordinators, primary offensive playcaller, quarterbacks coach and tight ends coach when Dan Enos and Mike Miller left to go to Arkansas and Charlotte, respectively.

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Locksley replaced Miller with former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin in February before picking up Josh Gattis in March to fill Enos’ role.

Gattis worked with Locksley at Alabama as a co-offensive coordinator in 2018. He then departed to Michigan and won the 2021 Broyles Award, given to college football’s top assistant coach. His next stop at Miami didn’t bring similar success; he was fired after just one season.

Gattis will call plays for the Terps, Locksley said in the spring, but he emphasized the scheme will remain the same.

“It’s not a new system. We’re running the Maryland offense, and that will remain consistent throughout my tenure here,” the head coach said in March.

Gattis backed up those comments Wednesday.

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“This is not a Josh Gattis offense. This will be a Maryland offense,” he said.

Protection issues

Here are the resumes of the offensive line that protected Tagovailoa during Maryland’s spring game from left to right.

For the record, those are DJ Glaze, Amelio Morán, Aric Harris, Corey Bullock and Gottlieb Ayedze. Everyone but Glaze will be a new starter after the departures of Jaelyn Duncan, Johari Branch and Spencer Anderson to the NFL, Mason Lunsford to LSU and backup center Coltin Deery to TCU.

“It’s definitely a concern when you don’t have experience coming back at that position,” Gattis said.

He also noted that the Terps ended spring practices with just nine healthy offensive linemen.

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“We’ve got to be smart in how we protect those guys because, as soon as that position falls apart, typically your team and you’re all going to fall apart,” he said.

Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maryland allowed 43 sacks last year, the worst mark in the Big Ten, and Tagovailoa was battered by the end of the season. Ayedze and Bullock also bring potential — the former is considered a potential NFL prospect and received a Senior Bowl invite in 2022.

There are other options, including Marcus Dumervil. The former four-star tackle prospect and nephew of longtime Raven Elvis Dumervil transferred to Maryland after a stint with LSU.

“The next 30 days will be important to find the best five and put them in the best possible position,” Locksley said.

Receivers could be more specialized because of depth

Jeshaun Jones stiff-arms Derrek Pitts Jr. of the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the first half of the Duke's Mayo Bowl. Jones leads an intriguing group of returning receivers for the Terps. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Even after losing Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus Jr. and Jacob Copeland, the Terps still have an exciting group of wide receivers. The position group’s depth could allow Gattis the potential for versatility, mixing and matching players based on their abilities rather than sticking to a steady group of three receivers.

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“I think we’re gonna find creative roles for all of those guys,” he said.

Jones chose to come back for his sixth season at Maryland and is surrounded by a young group of returners: junior Tai Felton along with sophomores Octavian Smith Jr. and Shaleak Knotts.

In the Terps’ Duke’s Mayo Bowl win, Jones had 79 yards, Felton added 69 and Smith caught the lone Maryland touchdown.

Locksley also brought in a pair of transfers: Tyrese Chambers and Kaden Prather from Florida International and West Virginia, respectively. The two boast widely different skill sets. Chambers is a true deep threat who averaged nearly 24 yards per catch in 2021. Prather’s production isn’t as gaudy, but he has a 6-foot-4 frame that could make him an attractive target on contested plays.

Defensive continuity

There’s less reshuffling going on for the Maryland defense, a unit that finished 17th among FBS teams in CFBGraph’s expected points added allowed per game.

Brian Williams is back for his second year as defensive coordinator and noted the continuity should help the returning Terps — particularly in the defense’s spine — communicate the ideas to newcomers.

“They’re more confident in recognizing formations. They’re the quarterback of the defense,” Williams said of his linebackers, the unit responsible for getting the other defenders lined up properly.

Maryland will have to replace both starting outside corners, Deonte Banks and Jakorian Bennett, along with Greg China-Rose, Durell Nchami and others along the defensive line.

Ja’Quan Sheppard, a transfer from Cincinnati, should slide into one of those starting cornerback roles after being named All-American Athletic Conference and leading the conference with nine pass breakups per Pro Football Focus.

Former Saint Francis defensive end Donnell Brown and former Tennessee defensive tackle Jordan Phillips could also see roles. Freshman linebackers and four-star recruits Neeo Avery and Dylan Gooden could also compete for time.

All part of the plan

Locksley said he came to Maryland with a five-year plan to establish a culture and a foundation that would allow the team to compete for conference championships.

This is Year Five. How does Locksley feel it’s going?

“I’d say we’re right on schedule. The COVID year kind of throws a wrench into some things,” he said. “... There’s no doubt, I feel like we’re a program that’s on track with where I wanted us to be in Year Five.”

But, as the coach noted, those words sound best in an air conditioned room at the beginning of August.

The next 30 days will determine what the Terps look like in their Sept. 2 season opener against Towson.

Varun Shankar is a senior at the University of Maryland. His work has also appeared in The Washington Post, Boston Globe and Charlotte Observer.

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