It was more than nine months ago the Terrapins football team trudged off the field at North Carolina’s Kenan Memorial Stadium after suffering their sixth-consecutive loss, a 45-38 defeat to the Tar Heels, to end an injury-riddled season.
The Terps' first chance to show the strides they’ve made on the field since sealing a 4-8 record in 2012 comes tomorrow when they open the 2013 season with a game against Florida International at Byrd Stadium. Here’s a list of things to look out for when the Panthers visit College Park:
1) C.J. BROWN’S RETURN
There’s little argument that the most important position on any football team is the quarterback, and the Terps have theirs back.
Last August, C.J. Brown tore his ACL in a drill during preseason practice and the Terps starter missed the rest of the season. The next three quarterbacks on the depth chart were also lost for the year over the season’s first eight games in a string of injuries that marred the campaign.
But now Brown is healthy, and according to Edsall, he’s elevated the level of the entire offense at practice.
“It’s more comforting knowing that C.J.’s there and as you watch him perform. I think he has had just an outstanding preseason,” Edsall said. “He’s thrown the ball better than he ever has since I’ve been here.”
So the most intriguing part of Saturday’s game will be to see whether the Cranberry Township, Pa., native can put it together in game action or if he shows some understandable rust.
Brown, who has started five career games, is a talented runner and passer, which Edsall said perfectly suits the Terps’ offense. And though he has only five career starts, Brown’s been in College Park since 2009, so he’s assumed the role of a veteran leader on the offense.
“It’s really exciting for me, you know,” Brown said. “Just with how things unfolded in the past it all comes down to this week, you know, it’s finally here.”
2) FRONT 7
In an Aug. 17 open scrimmage at Byrd Stadium, the Terps’ defensive front seven made quite the impression. The linebackers and lineman constantly put pressure on Terps quarterbacks and dominated the team’s offensive line throughout the entire exhibition.
The performance up front was a bit surprising considering the Terps lost five starters from last season’s front seven. Still, with a talent core of linebackers and a solid five-to-six man rotation of defensive lineman, there’s no reason that production from up front can’t persist.
“We’ve got great depth and I think we’re really filling in the players that we lost,” linebacker Cole Farrand said. “I think we want to sent a better tone for this year and show people what we can do.”
The question the young group will have to answer, starting Saturday, is if they can make up for the loss of players like A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano on a consistent basis.
“I feel good about where we are right now, defensively,” Edsall said. “It’s a group that communicates very well and I’m anxious to go out there and see them play starting Saturday.”
As the Terps front seven made positive impressions during the open scrimmage, issues began to emerge on the offensive line.
The Terps have a young group upfront; both tackles — Mike Madaras and Ryan Doyle — are sophomores and right guard Matt Dunn is a former walk-on redshirt freshman. The unit is still gelling, particularly because Dunn moved over from tackle to provide athleticism.
The Terps' ripe offensive line is a real question mark. They seem to have to the talent, but can they put it all together and give the team’s skill position players space to operate?
Maybe that question will be answered Saturday.
“We’re going to put the best five guys out there on the football field,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. “I’ve got confidence in[offensive line coach] Tom Brattan that he’s going to find a way to put a unit out there that’ll be able to execute the plan that we put in place. I think those guys have worked well together.”
4) THE DIGGS SHOW
Stefon Diggs is as exciting to watch as any player that has ever played at this university. As a freshman he lead the team in receptions (58), receiving yards (848) and touchdown receptions (6) while three four freshman — including one linebacker — were throwing him passes.
Not to mention, the All-ACC kick returner posted 1,896 all-purpose yards, good for second in school history.
With Brown back under center and junior college transfer wide receiver Deon Long keeping defenses honest, Diggs’ numbers should only improve as a sophomore.
Terps fans want to see how Locksley and Edsall use Diggs schematically and see if Diggs has built a report with Brown. But mostly, they just want to be entertained by one of the nation’s most electric players.
“Everybody knows he’s a tremendous player,” Edsall said. “He proved that last year as a true freshman. He proved that by what he did as a receiver, what he did as a punt returner, and by what he did as a kickoff returner speaks for itself.”