By Maryland Insider
COLLEGE PARK – There was good news and bad news on the quarterback front for Maryland football heading into the season opener against Florida International.
Speaking at his first weekly press conference of the 2013 campaign, head coach Randy Edsall was effusive in his praise for starter C.J. Brown, who has rebounded nicely from reconstructive knee surgery and really taken leadership of the offense.
“It’s more comforting knowing C.J. is there as you watch him perform,” Edsall said. “I think he’s had just an outstanding preseason. He’s thrown the ball better than he ever has since I’ve been here. He’s very poised, brings a veteran presence and carries himself with a lot of confidence. There is a real sense of calmness with the whole group when he’s out there playing. You can see how the other players rally around him.”
Brown was a real revelation as a redshirt sophomore in 2011, starting the final five games and setting a single-season school record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 574. The Pennsylvania native posted three of the top eight single-game rushing efforts in Maryland history with 162 yards versus Clemson, 124 against Georgia Tech and 110 on Wake Forest.
Brown, however, was not nearly as effective throwing the ball – completing just 49 percent of passes (82-166) for 842 yards and almost as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (seven). One year removed from a torn ACL and with more experience under his belt, Brown is out to prove he’s more than just a running quarterback.
“It motivates me because I know that’s not what I am,” Brown said of the label he’s been given. “I’m an athlete. I’m an athletic quarterback that can run and pass. But when it comes down to it, people are going to say what they’re going to say. There’s nothing I can do. You know, quarterbacks have to pass. That’s why you play quarterback instead of running back or receiver. At the end of the day, I’m just going to go out there and lead my team.”
Brown is blessed to have many more reliable weapons than he did as a sophomore, notably game-breaking wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Unbeknownst to many outside the program, Brown graduated with a Communications degree last January and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration. After petitioning the NCAA, the 6-3, 210-pounder was granted an extra year of eligibility and, barring further injury, should be the starter for the next two seasons.
In order to create some separation between Brown and the young signal-callers on the roster, Edsall would love to redshirt sophomores Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe. Both played as true freshman in 2012 because of the unprecedented wave of quarterback injuries suffered by the Terps, and it would be helpful to get their redshirt seasons back.
Hills has not recovered very well from the knee injury he suffered against N.C. State on Oct. 20. The Pittsburgh native is not moving as well as he did while starting the first seven games of 2012, and appears headed for a redshirt year unless absolutely needed.
“I’m not the medical staff, but I saw Perry at 100 percent last year, and it’s safe to say that I don’t think he’s back to where he was at the point prior to his injury,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said.
That leaves Rowe and junior college transfer Ricardo Young battling for the backup role, which is where the bad news comes in. Five days prior to the opener, Edsall expressed disappointment that neither Rowe nor Young had stepped up and seized the job.
“You would love to come out and say somebody is just the clear-cut guy,” Locksley said. “Coming out of camp right now, I’d say they both have had their moments, that’s Ricardo and Caleb. It’s something we’d like to try to get figured out sooner rather than later. We need someone to step up and maybe take ownership of it. And we haven’t gotten that.”
Edsall said he might need to go with a gut feeling and choose between Rowe and Young. Rowe replaced Hills against N.C. State and then started the following game at Boston College, passing for 240 yards before suffering an ACL injury of his own. Young has yet to take a collegiate snap after sitting out as a redshirt at Virginia Tech and as a transfer at New Mexico and Maryland.
“Maybe if the separation hasn’t taken place, I’ll make the separation myself and decide that somebody’s going to be the No. 2 guy,” Edsall said. “Right now, we’re working both guys, Caleb and Ricardo, and I’d like to get where we have a No. 2 and give that guy all the reps. Hopefully he won’t have to play, but I’d rather have one guy getting all the reps and the other guy standing over there, rather than sharing the reps.”
If Young, a junior with two years of eligibility, can take charge and stay healthy, it could possibly allow Edsall to redshirt Rowe, as well. That would give Maryland two quarterbacks with game experience and three years of eligibility remaining going into the 2014 campaign.
Depth Chart Tidbits
Perhaps the biggest surprise going into the season opener was that Michael Dunn, a walk-on redshirt freshman, would start at right guard. The 6-5, 295-pounder is a local product, having prepped at nearby Walt Whitman High.
Dunn only had FCS offers coming out of high school and accepted a non-scholarship invitation from Maryland instead. Andrew Zeller, who started three games at right guard as a redshirt freshman in 2012, opened preseason camp atop the depth chart, but he was overtaken by Dunn.
That turn of events could be looked at two different ways. Either it’s scary that a walk-on with no varsity experience is the best the Terrapins have at the position, or Dunn was simply overlooked by recruiters and is much better than expected.
“I just like the way Michael Dunn has been playing,” Edsall said of Dunn, who was moved from tackle to guard during training camp. “We put Michael in there and watched him and liked what we saw in the scrimmage. We want to put our best five guys out there, and right now, he’s one of them.”
That Zeller started last season and isn’t good enough to do so again this year provides further evidence for why Maryland struggled to move the ball last year behind an offensive line that did not run or pass block very well.
“Andrew has some things he needs to work on, some areas he needs to improve,” Edsall said.
In addition to Dunn, the Terrapins will start redshirt junior Sal Conaboy and redshirt sophomore Ryan Doyle at center and right tackle, respectively, along with true sophomore Mike Madaras at left tackle. Redshirt sophomore Evan Mulrooney is the backup center ,while true freshman Moise Larose is the backup right tackle. That is some serious youth for a unit that is normally dominated by redshirt juniors and seniors.
Another mild surprise came at fullback, where redshirt freshman Kenneth Goins will open as the starter. Goins primarily played defensive end at the Gilman School in Baltimore and was named Metro Defensive Player of the Year by the Baltimore Sun, but he was recruited as a fullback by the Terps and has apparently really taken to the position.
Goins was a highly touted recruit, so it’s no surprise he is playing so early in his collegiate career. What did catch beat writers off guard was that projected starter Tyler Cierski wasn’t even on the depth chart for the opener. Cierski, a 255-pound battering ram, played in 11 games with one start last season and seemed head-and-shoulders above the other fullbacks on the roster during spring drills. However, Cierski was bothered by an injury during August camp and had fallen behind.
“Kenny was pushing Tyler all along,” Edsall said. “Kenny is very versatile in that he blocks well and can also run or catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s just a football player, a real competitor.”
Edsall said the closest battle of preseason practice came at free safety, where sophomore Sean Davis edged out junior A.J. Hendy. It came down to the wire and Edsall said it was tough to tell Hendy he would be relegated to nickel and dime packages.
“A.J. was upset, but I told him that I consider him a starter on this team,” Edsall said. “That competition was as close as you can probably get. Sean knows he’s got to perform each day to stay ahead.”