OC Scottie Montgomery Breaks Down Tagovailoa & Legendre, Talks OL and Tight End Adjustments
Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery and the rest of the Maryland staff remained hopeful for Taulia Tagovailoa’s immediate eligibility heading into Friday morning’s press conference following the announcement that senior Josh Jackson had opted out of the upcoming season. It wasn’t long after that the incoming quarterback transfer was granted eligibility for 2020, to bump the number of scholarship quarterbacks back to two alongside Lance Legendre. Montgomery opted not to compare the two quarterbacks as he noted what makes each special, but Tagovailoa’s experience with Locksley’s scheme has its advantages.
“[Taulia] has tremendous hands in the RPO world and great vision, great leadership ability, can really throw the football on an intermediate level down the field. Really pleased with where he is physically, but probably the most pleasing thing of it all I’m thankful that he knew our system but we have tweaked our system a lot but he has picked up the playbook as fast as anyone we’ve had in the program. He has more knowledge right now than our guys last year coming in even with a spring, so his knowledge because he’s been in the system but also he knows and has kind of adjusted to some of the tweaks in the system. Makes him a really pleasant person to have in the room but also a person to be able to evaluate the talent level of everybody else because he’s going to give people the opportunity to make plays because he understands a lot of times, some people miss the opportunities to make plays because quarterbacks especially new quarterbacks, opportunities are missed. Right now, I think he’s going to give a lot of people the opportunity to make plays.”
Tagovailoa will compete for the starting job against Legendre, who Montgomery said has added to his arsenal in the passing game. “Lance has grown physically, his understanding of what we do on a daily basis has grown so much. Tremendous arm strength and ability to go downfield with the ball, he has grown in his intermediate ability to pass the ball from what some of our guys have told us, but probably the most Lance has grown is his understanding of how to get us into what we want to be in on certain plays and how to utilize his skillset, his ability to run, his ability to run action passes, ability to dropback pass and his ability to manipulate the defense late in his down. Those are the things we look forward to seeing in-person and we look forward to being able to see them at full speed.”
The year-over-year development from the former 2019 signee bodes well for his future success as a true-dual threat quarterback. After attempting just three passes a season ago, Montgomery is encouraged with the early returns from his offseason worth of development. “From top to bottom, right now we really don’t have groups and depth charts set up that way so we’re going to coach them all super hard from the standpoint that Lance has probably has had the most growth of any quarterback both physically and mentally that I’ve seen from one year to the next, I think that this was a good offseason for him. He’s chiseled right now, great physical condition and he really took advantage of this time off and this time back in the building but mentally is where I think he worked as hard as he could. We worked on his fundamentals, we worked on other things that can help but what I’m really proud about with Lance right now is the fact that he’s worked on the things you do when no one is looking. Being in this playbook, understanding all of the fundamentals at this position but mostly understanding our offense and how it works and how he can be utilized in the offense which gives us more flexibility with the ability to run, throw, understand the scheme at the line of scrimmage to get the best possible football play, which is always hard for guys to do in their first year. It’s really hard for guys to do when it’s their first year and first year the system is going in. now with this being his second year in coach Locksley’s system, and then also his understanding of a great offseason and working hard, we expect a lot of him but we’re also coaching them all like they’re able to go out and play.”
While Maryland hopes for a smooth transition at quarterback, a pair of familiar faces rejuvenate Maryland’s rushing attack. Senior running back Jake Funk has drawn consistent praise from many throughout the offseason as he enters a feature role in his final year with the program. Montgomery noted his strong start in 2019 as a point of optimism, adding “if you look at his efficiency rating last year, it was one of the highest in our football club before he was unfortunately injured.” Funk could lead the way in 2020 alongside senior Tayon Fleet-Davis.
“I do think we have an established back, I just don’t think we’ve seen an established back as much as we’ve seen with the other guys that’ve come through. I really think Jake Funk and Tayon Fleet-Davis have the ability to be every down backs, I think that Jake funk is tremendous in all settings. I think he’s an every down back, I think he can protect the passer, I think he’s an excellent runner, he blocks on the perimeter well. Last year if you look at how we started the season, he was on fire and then it was unfortunate to see him go down so I think he’s a special player. Tayon gives us the ability to do so much when he catches the ball great out of the backfield, he can run it between the tackles, the ability to make people miss and I feel really good about the young talent we have in the room. It’s different than a lot of people’s, you’re going to see Peny Boone and he is a huge man and then you’re going to see his agility, ability to make people miss which makes you smile. Then you see Isaiah Jacobs who I think, if he continues on the path of learning and doing and executing at the way he’s been executing for us at this point in time, he’ll be in line to be a great one at the University of Maryland.”
The holes along the offensive has forced Maryland to find replacements at center and right guard following decisions from Johnny Jordan and Austin Fontaine, but the returning experience within the unit helps ease concerns among the staff in rounding out the depth chart. “One of the things about that room is we have a lot of experience with playing time in that room. Of course a tough situation when you lose players the caliber of Fontaine and Jordan, it’s always tough, but now we’re in a situation where we aren’t reaching to a guy who’s never played. We got an opportunity to get guys involved like Spencer Anderson and Marcus Minor now that they can start in and step into roles where they’ve actually had a good amount of playing time and now we can also look at some of the guys that have played maybe not here but have played elsewhere that are coming into the fold, but we do need Jaelyn Duncan now with all those starts under his belt. He’s probably the most physically talented and gifted guy at the position and now we need him to grow his role a little bit more but Marcus Minor will be a calming force for us on the interior. I thought we did a really good job last year of recruiting the position and we brought in a whole lot of guys. A lot of people, you don’t realize how many guys you have to bring in on the offensive front but we wanted to grow that position, we thought that we’ve grown it with athleticism from the guard position, some length and girth at the tackle position, so we’re looking forward to it and now we have to continue with Johnny not being here. Now we have to cross-train a couple of guys in the back end, two to three guys to make sure we’re not going into a position in week two with no one at the two and three position at center. And now we do have a couple of people right now that have had center snaps, so we feel good about that but you feel a lot better when you got three or four guys at the position.”
Meanwhile, the tight end room will look vastly different from a season ago as position coach Mike Miller will look to replace both starting tight ends from a season ago. After Mabry’s graduation from the program and junior Chigoziem Okonkwo medically disqualified for the 2020 season, head coach Mike Locksley announced that defensive end Tyler Baylor and linebacker Kam Blount have been moved to offense to bolster the depth at tight end. While the raw athleticism helps provide assurance moving forward, they’ll hope to acclimate the unit through practice reps.
“We’ve made some transitions for people from defense to offense. I’m not going to put a tremendous amount of stress on any of them, their names out there that we need them to do this or to do that, but we do need them to come in and be open-minded as far as the way we go about our practice, the way we go about learning. We do need contributions at that position for a couple of reasons, we don’t want to live in a situation where we have to be in a two-back, three-wideout set or four-wideout, one-back set and if we can have a steady balance of a closed edge or maybe two closed edges. We’re really looking forward to Malik Jackson stepping into a role in his second year, he’s had great development in our weight program last fall and bringing Tyler over has been very helpful for us. We also transitioned Kam Blount over, it’s been one of those situations where going into the position we have some great athleticism, added some great length with Tyler coming over and we just have to get them on the grass. We’ve done a lot of Zoom meetings, a lot of things, quizzes, Jeopardy’s and all that, but the last part of it is football is a physical sport. We have to go out and get on the grass and understand how important every single blade of grass is, that’s kind of the next step we have to be able to do and go accomplish while still maintaining the health and safety of our football club.”