In each of Randy Edsall’s first two years as Terrapins football coach, the Terps were weaving in new pieces: new coordinators, new systems, new players, new quarterbacks, even new uniforms. Much of what was in place for Year 2 wasn’t what was in place before Edsall’s first season.
But entering Edsall’s third year at the helm in College Park, there’s a sense of stability and sameness that bodes well for the Terps, who kickoff the 2013 season tomorrow against Florida International at Byrd Stadium.
Both coordinators — Mike Locksley on offense and Brian Stewart on defense — return, and quarterback C.J. Brown is the team’s unquestioned starter. While the team lost some key starters, most notably on defense, the players stepping in to fill the void have prior experience.
“Continuity is always big in your coaching staff,” Edsall said Tuesday. “Everybody has been through a season now together, in terms of how I do things, how we ran practice, how the coordinators conduct their meetings, how you do things in terms of the player meetings, it’s huge. You know how each other thinks, you know what everybody’s doing, you know that everybody is on the same page, there’s not as many questions being asked about certain things.”
The most important stability for the Terps could be at quarterback. The team’s injury woes at the position last season were well-documented as the national media’s punchline. But this year, Brown returns from his torn ACL at full strength and feels ready to build on a healthy training camp.
In his year on the sidelines, Brown assumed a coach-like role, still attending all the team meetings and helping mentor backups Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe, who both enter the season as backup quarterbacks. The experience gave him a chance to learn Locksley’s system from the sideline and then apply everything he saw in camp.
“I know the offense in-and-out being my second year in it,” Brown said. “Maybe I didn’t play in it last year, but I feel very confident in the system and in knowing it like the back of my hand. It just goes to show they have trust in me, and I have trust in them.”
With weapons like wide receivers Stefon Diggs, Nigel King and Deon Long, plus running backs Brandon Ross and Albert Reid, Brown has options. That, combined with the comfort in Locksley’s system, could have the Terps poised for offensive outbursts this season.
The same goes for the other side of the ball. The Terps defense lost more than the offense — stalwarts Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis, Kenneth Tate, Demetrius Hartsfield and Darin Drakeford graduated— but in the second year under Stewart, filling the vacancies seems to be simpler: just plugging in new players to a familiar system.
“I think it helps us one, because were in the same scheme so they understand how we want to play the blocks what we want to do and from another standpoint that there’s no surprises,” Stewart said. “We’ve got a pretty good idea of how guys are going to handle game stuff.”
Nine of the 15 players listed on the Terps’ two-deep depth chart for the defense’s front seven have game experience, while the team’s secondary could be its strongest position. Cornerbacks Jeremiah Johnson and Dexter McDougle return as the starters, while freshman Will Likely impressed throughout camp and will see time in packages with multiple defensive backs.
“I think that anytime you can have that continuity, it’s a big bonus,” Edsall said. “It’s a big bonus to us as a staff. It’s a bonus to the players because there not getting used to somebody else, there not getting used to different techniques, there not getting used to a different scheme and you can really see if you start to go out there to practice and do things. It just makes the ship sail a lot smoother.”
In their final year in the ACC, the Terps have their eye on a return to a bowl game. They haven’t been since 2010 when this year’s seniors were freshmen, and that Military Bowl win is the team’s only bowl appearance since 2008.
For a team that’s won only six games in the past two years, the goal is to go out on top.
“It’s definitely important making a bowl game this year,” inside linebacker Cole Farrand said. “It’s our last year in the ACC, and we’re trying to leave behind a statement that people remember. Everybody’s working hard to get to the games in December. We’re definitely looking forward to a bowl game this year.”