After Saturday’s open scrimmage, coach Randy Edsall said he’s finally able to identify the Terrapins football team’s strengths and weaknesses. Here’s what has stood out to me:
1) Linebackers: The linebacking core seemed to be a bit of a question mark heading into camp considering the team lost of Kenneth Tate, Darin Drakeford and Demetrius Hartsfield off of last year’s squad. But this year's revamped unit has impressed all camp, and Saturday, the linebackers were easily the most notable position group on the field at Byrd Stadium.
Both the first- and second-team offenses struggled to establish a rushing game because the Terps inside linebackers were always plugging up holes. And when it was time to pass, quarterbacks were often under duress as the outside linebackers, led by Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil’s four sacks, were applying constant pressure off the edge.
“I think we do have some pretty good speed and athleticism in the linebacker position,” Edsall said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “There is a lot of competition there.”
L.A. Goree and Cole Farrand are slated to anchor the unit as the starting inside linebackers this year, and Edsall seems confident in the two juniors. Farrand started 11 games last season and tied for the team lead with 78 total tackles, while Goree has made 10 starts over the past two seasons. In 2011, Goree was named an honorable mention freshman All-America by College Football News after he finished the year with 60 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Matt Robinson and Marcus Whitfield also provide experience as starters at outside linebacker, a critical spot in the Terps 3-4 defense. Robinson started eight games at safety over the past two injury-plagued seasons, and Edsall has maintained throughout camp that he’s looked good transitioning to his new position.
Whitfield is the more prolific pass-rusher of the duo. He made five starts as a defensive end in 2011 before moving to linebacker last season when new defensive coordinator Brian Stewart implemented the 3-4.
All four starting linebackers have provided some level of production in the past, but depth is the strength of the unit. With his dominating performance Saturday, Cudjoe-Virgil proved that he's a viable option for the Terps as a puss rusher and true freshman Yannick Ngakoue has been a standout at camp.
Both Ngakoue and Alex Twine, another reserve outside linebacker with starting experience, recorded sacks on Saturday.
“Maybe the backups don’t have the experience, but they have athletic ability and can run,” Edsall said Thursday. “It’s exciting because it’s nice to have a bunch of depth and a bunch of athletes.”
2) Wide Receivers: If Stefon Diggs is in your position group, you probably have a pretty solid unit. The sophomore ranked eighth nationally with 172.4 all-purpose yards per game as a freshman and led the Terps with 54 receptions for 848 yards and six touchdowns.
Add five-star recruit Deon Long into the mix — he had 100 catches and 25 touchdowns in 10 games at Iowa Western Community College last season — and the unit looks even better.
The most interesting part of the receiving corps, though, is the apparent balance between the three starters.
Diggs will provide yards after the catch for the Terps offense. The spry wideout excels on bubble screens, reverses and short slant routes, where he has space to make defenders miss. Long, though he's missed practice with a back injury, is primed to be a solid downfield option and Nigel King, the biggest of the three at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, showed that he can be a lethal red zone target with a four-yard touchdown grab over cornerback Dexter McDougle on Saturday.
"We learn together, the offense, so we all can teach other together," King said Saturday. “We definitely know how to play.”
The Terps should also have quality depth at the position despite potential starter Marcus Leak's departure from the university in the spring.
Diggs and Long sat out of Saturday's scrimmage, but King picked up the slack with a few key receptions. Sophomore Levern Jacobs caught a 55-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ricardo Young and though Amba Etta — who will miss practice this week because of a shoulder injury — was quiet in the scrimmage, he's performed well in practice while filling in for Long, who has been out with a back injury.
3) Cornerbacks: Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson have assumed the leadership roles on a Terps defense that lost some key components to graduation.
Both corners started all 12 games last year and Edsall seems well assured that he won't have to worry about many breakdowns in coverage so long as the "savvy" duo stays healthy.
"They’re good leaders and have been vocal on defense, and I think veterans should be,” Edsall said of the cornerback tandem Thursday. “They should be vocal, they should be leaders and they should go out there and be productive, which both of those guys have been.”
In college football, though, two cornerbacks isn't always enough. With offenses using spread passing attacks, defensive coordinators often need to send three or four corners onto the field at one time.
And Stewart shouldn't worry when's forced to do that. The Terps have a solid option at nickel back in Isaac Goins, who started two games last season. Goings made a nifty interception on a deep pass quarterback Caleb Rowe intended for Jacobs early in Saturday's scrimmage.
Will Likely is also pushing for playing time. Edsall has lauded the 5-foot-7 freshman for his competitiveness in practice and he had one interception and 30-yard punt return on Saturday.
McDougle and Johnson’s leadership should help Likely develop.
“Coming into this summer, me and [Johnson] took on that role,” McDougle said. “To look out for everybody else.”
1) Offensive line: Time and time again Saturday, quarterbacks Young, Rowe and Perry Hills had pass rushers streaming toward them. Sure, the defense deserves some credit, but Edsall wasn't going to give the offensive line a break, either.
"I am still not happy with the guys on the offensive line in terms of their technique and fundamentals,” Edsall said.
The starting offensive line seems to be shaping up with Mike Madaras returning at left tackle, De'Onte Arnett at left guard, Sal Conaboy at center and Andrew Zeller at right guard. Ryan Doyle and Nick Klemm are battling to be the starting right tackle.
Klemm began last season as the starting left tackle before he moved over to make room for Madaras. Doyle, meanwhile, impressed coaches during the first week of practice while filling in at left tackle for Madaras, who was serving a suspension. When Madaras returned and Doyle moved back over to right tackle, Doyle got a shot at the starting job.
Now that Edsall is close to determining who will start, he wants to find some depth behind them.
“I am trying to get to eight guys to be able to count on,” Edsall said. “I don’t know if I’m to eight yet.”
Regardless of who's on the line for the Terps, they'll need to play better then they did Saturday so that they can keep starting quarterback C.J. Brown upright.
2) Kickers: Edsall probably won't feel comfortable sending out his field goal unit Brad Craddock proves his worth in game competition.
Craddock made 10-of-16 field goals last season, but just 3-for-5 inside 30 yards. The then-freshman missed a 33-yarder against N.C. State on Oct. 20 as to time expired to seal a 20-18 loss.
Craddock does have a strong leg: he converted on a 52-yard field goal last season and was 4-of-6 on field goals of more than 40 yards. But on Saturday, he missed his only two attempts, a 42-yarder and a 51-yarder.
Freshman Adam Greene has impressed in practice, but he also missed a 42-yard attempt Saturday.
“From a field goal standpoint, I think we still have some work to do,” Edsall said. “We do not have to be ready tomorrow. We still have time to get ourselves ready.”
3) Tight Ends: If Dave Stinebaugh stays healthy, the Terps could get plenty of production from the tight end spot. The fifth-year senior was stuck behind NFL-bound Matt Furstenburg last season, but he has the experience and size to be a quality blocker and pass catcher.
But Stinebaugh has had a history of injuries and the depth behind him is shaky.
The Baltimore native missed the last seven games of his redshirt freshman season in 2010 due to injuries to his knee and shoulder and then missed the entire 2011 season while recovering from shoulder surgery,
If Stinebaugh goes down again this year, the Terps will have to turn to one of five freshmen to replace him.
Redshirt freshman P.J. Gallo was ranked No. 23 nationally at the position in the class of 2012 and is listed second on the Terps’ depth chart. But he’d be thrust into a tough situation if he assumes a great deal of playing time in the event of a Stinebaugh absence. The coaching staff would much rather integrate him into the offense slowly, so he can earn experience before he’s asked to do too much.
The coaching staff moved true freshman Derrick Hayward from linebacker to tight end last week to improve depth at the position.
“We had a little bit of a void at tight end,” Edsall said Thursday. “We felt that’s where [Hayward] can make the best contributions for out team in terms of where we’re at.”
The Terps have another open practice Tuesday, so look out for more updates from The Diamondback.