Maryland football fires back against scrutiny brought on by rash of ACL injuries

November 6, 2012

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Randy Edsall came prepared to his weekly get-together with reporters on Tuesday. He knew the numbers. Per team trainers, over the past six years, the Maryland football team had suffered a cavalcade of ACL injuries, including five each in 2007 and 2008. Four Terrapins tore their ACLs in 2010. Three did last season. The only difference? This year’s bevy of knee injuries have been localized to one position.

Frustration and speculation snowballed Monday after it was announced that linebacker  Demetrius Hartsfield had, like three Maryland quarterbacks before him, suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Byrd Stadium’s new synthetic turf emerged as a potential culprit in fans’ eyes, as did Under Armour’s cleats and the Terps’ strength and conditioning program.

Edsall promptly dismissed these notions. Quarterback C.J. Brown tore his ACL in the preseason during a non-contact drill on a bad cut. Perry Hills got crushed by an illegal block in the back against North Carolina State. Caleb Rowe got hit while running out of bounds, and Hartsfield got undercut by a low block at the line of scrimmage against Georgia Tech.

“I hear all this stuff about strength and conditioning, turf, it’s unfortunate that these injuries happen, but it happens in the game of football,” Edsall said.

Bad luck. Coincidence. Correlation without causation. Call it what you will, but Edsall backed up defensive lineman A.J. Francis’s Twitter tirade on Monday, when he shot down suggestions that Maryland’s training program somehow could have prevented this.

Director of strength & conditioning Drew Wilson “is doing a great job in the weight room with our guys,” Edsall said. “It’s just unfortunate. Like I said, a lot of it’s been, just because we’ve had three quarterbacks that have ACLs and it’s unheard of to not only lose three but four quarterbacks in a year. It’s brought a little more light.”

As for the walking wounded, Brown has progressed to a knee brace and could be ready for spring football. Hills underwent successful surgery last Friday, Rowe will have surgery next Friday and Hartsfield’s date with the knife will be determined.

“I would think his might be the following week, depending on how things go, maybe they’ll do both Caleb and Demetrius next Friday,” Edsall said.

Quarterback Devin Burns, who suffered a Lisfranc injury, and wide receiver Marcus Burns, who broke his toe, have begun rehabilitation after successful surgeries.

But while they heal, the Terrapins enter the most grueling stretch of the season, beginning with a date in Death Valley with No. 10 Clemson on Saturday. Shawn Petty will receive his second straight start at quarterback, while L.A. Goree gets the first-string nod in replacement of Hartsfield, a senior captain and the team’s leading tackler.

It’s all part of the “next man up” mentality that Maryland’s players and coaches so often speak about, the mind-set that, according to them, has helped excise the frustration of losing four quarterbacks and arguably their best defensive weapon.

“Guys understand, there’s going to be adversity that strikes during the season,” Edsall said. “Probably didn’t expect this much adversity to strike. But it’s all in terms of how you approach it. We have the mindset here that, we can only control what we can control.

“That’s been the truest measure for this group. You can see, they’re a team. They believe in themselves, they believe in each other, they want each other to do well. It’s a test. I told them this when we lost him. This is just a test to see how strong we are and how much resolve we have as a team. Are we going to stick together. Those are the messages I send and I tell our team about. There’s nobody, regardless of what happened, that can pull us apart.”

If anything, the Terps made one thing clear: There’s no sense in digging for causation, not when it doesn’t exist.

“Simple. It’s just football,” Francis said. “There’s no stretch or lift that you can do that will prevent a guy from blocking you in the back and then folding your leg up under you, tearing your ACL like Perry did. There’s no strength or conditioning drill that can prevent having your knee driven by another blocker like it happened to [Hartsfield]. It’s just a collision sport. Everyone says it’s a contact sport? No. It’s a collision sport. Forces collide and injuries come out of it. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s unfortunate the way things work out.

“There’s no running backs been hurt. No d-linemen been hurt. There’s a lot of positions that haven’t gone through any injury problems.”

Francis pounded on the round table after listing off each healthy position. He was knocking on wood.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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