The Terrapins football team reports for training camp Sunday to begin the 2013 season. The coaches and players will have media day Monday from 10 a.m. to about 1 p.m. before taking the field that night for their first practice. The Terps will have an open scrimmage Aug. 17, and everything leads up to their season opener against Florida International at Byrd Stadium on Aug. 31.
But the 30 days until that game mean it’s a long time away. Lots can happen, and there’s still much to be decided. The Terps experienced just how quickly things can change during camp last year, when they lost quarterback C.J. Brown for the season with a torn ACL. The team hopes to avoid the same fate this season, but there are still multiple questions and storylines as camp opens.
Brown’s saga has been well documented. He hasn’t played since Nov. 26, 2011. He tore his ACL in August 2012. He was granted an extra year of eligibility earlier this year. He enters the year as the Terps’ unquestioned starter.
But there are obviously questions. Is he the same player he was in 2011? Will there be any rust? Has he improved as a passer?
And while those questions won’t be answered until he takes the field, there are plenty of reasons to be confident in him, especially after cycling through the quarterback revolving door of 2012.
Brown had a year to learn offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s system. While Gary Crowton’s system in 2011 didn’t seem suited to Brown or former quarterback Danny O’Brien, the Terps were geared to Brown’s skill set last season before the injury and will be again this year. He’s had a year to learn, and that should pay off on the field.
Additionally, all the freshmen who earned playing time on offense last season — wide receivers Stefon Diggs, Nigel King and Levern Jacobs and running backs Brandon Ross and Albert Reid — have had a year to get acclimated to the college game and should be prepared for anything thrown at them this season.
But above all, Brown just needs to be back on the field. It’s been a while.
There was heavy competition for the starting job before Wes Brown’s suspension, and there will be more after. Ross and Reid both had strong showings in the spring, and the Terps seem poised to have a much better running game than in 2012. It’s hard to forget the minus-2 rushing line from the win at Virginia.
The biggest need from the Terps’ running game is consistency, and Ross, Reid, Brown or even redshirt freshman Joe Riddle could provide it. With a reliable running game, the pressure on Brown lessens, and the field opens up for the Terps’ myriad perimeter threats.
Ross came on strong at the end of last season, rushing for 141 yards in the season finale at North Carolina, but he battled injuries during the year. Reid was the starter, along with the now-transferred Justus Pickett, for the season opener, but he struggled through the freshman campaign. Brown rushed for more than 100 yards in the loss to N.C. State. The potential is there — it just needs to be tapped.
The defense had significant losses in the departures of defensive ends Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis and linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, and only one starter in the front seven on the preseason depth chart — linebacker Marcus Whitfield — is a senior.
The Terps quietly had one of the best defenses in the nation for most of 2012 before injuries took their toll. The defense held West Virginia to 31 points when quarterback Geno Smith and the Mountaineers were rolling through everyone they played.
There are only five years of varsity experience among the 13 players listed at defensive end or nose tackle, so there could be some growing pains. But there are options there, and some young talent as well.
The linebacking corps gets an interesting boost with the conversion of Matt Robinson to linebacker from safety. After two injury-marred years in which he showed flashes of tackling prowess, Robinson has the potential to emerge on the outside, opposite Whitfield, as an impact player.
Kicking woes haunted the Terps in a few close losses — most memorably in the N.C. State game — and the spring game did little to assuage any concerns.
Brad Craddock is listed as the starter entering camp, while there is a battle for the backup role between Brendan Magistro and freshman Adam Greene. Craddock was solid with some long makes in 2012, but the misses stand out more than the makes in some cases, and he missed enough to allow Magistro to see some time.
Punter Nathan Renfro enters the year as the starter at that position, and he was brilliant early in the season. His effectiveness waned as the year went on, though, and the defense was faced with protecting numerous short fields.