Nov. 30, 2019 was a chilly, overcast day in East Lansing, Michigan Maryland Football took on Michigan State at Spartan Stadium. No one on the roster or the coaching staff could’ve anticipated that to be the last time the Terps would put on pads until Sep. 30, 2020.
As the coronavirus pandemic postponed the season and created a truncated offseason, the Terps haven’t been able to practice traditionally. However, that changed Wednesday as Maryland returned to padded practices. It also marked the first day of Maryland’s daily testing regiment as part of the safety protocols implemented by the Big Ten Conference in its return to play plan.
“The excitement the first day back [in pads] was like being a little kid the day before Christmas waiting for a present,” sophomore linebacker Cortez Andrews said. “That’s how it felt for me and my teammates as well.”
With excitement in mind, Wednesday’s practice represents another step in the right direction for the Terps before their return to play Oct.24 at Northwestern. Prior to Wednesday, the Terps wore only helmets and shorts during practice. Despite not wearing pads, each practice remained important for a young roster in their preparation for the 2020 season.
“The period without pads was a great time mentally for us to understand the playbooks and understand what we’re trying to get accomplished,” Andrews said. “I would say the biggest thing without pads was the mental reps.”
Despite practicing without pads, the Terps weren’t lacking excitement or intensity. However, that excitement and intensity has only grown since putting pads on again. It also has galvanized the team’s competitive spirit. Redshirt sophomore Jeshaun Jones, who’s returning from a torn ACL has been flashing his big-play potential throughout training camp. He also hasn’t been shy about letting his teammates on defense know about it.
“I like to talk trash, so I talk a little bit to the defense,” Jones said jokingly. “They’re pretty happy to actually be able to get some pads back on and actually hit me.”
Returning to padded practices also means a return to conventional football with hard hitting and physicality. However, because the Terps haven’t had pads on in nearly a year, head coach Michael Locksley and his staff are placing a heavy focus on fundamentals early on. The Terps began padded practices with just shales or shoulder pads, before progressing to fully padded practices.
Locksley and his coaching staff have placed a heavy focus on “thudding”, when a player wraps someone without taking them to the ground. They’re also keeping in mind the importance of maintaining player safety in this new COVID environment.
“The physical piece is really important for a young team like ours to develop the callousness necessary as [football is] a physical sport,” Locksley said. “There’s a lot of teaching moments that go into putting the pads back on, how to thud properly.”
As the Terps aren’t traveling to Evanston to face Northwestern for about three weeks, the current practices are part of the “install phase” of return. These early practices which have featured important teaching moments are indicative of the practices that occur during a traditional training camp.
The main goal of these current practices is reacclimating the Terps back to the traditional physicality of football. It’s also meant to allow the coaching staff to implement the philosophy and schemes they want executed. Rather than beginning to gameplan for the Wildcats, the Terps are more focused on improving themselves.
“We have a plan set forth as to when we’ll start on the Northwestern preparation,” Locksley said. “We’ve allotted about a 10-11-day period of preparation for Northwestern.”