Maryland’s rushing attack never quite picked up the slack when the Terrapins’ quarterbacks started dropping like flies last season. Maryland finished the season ranked 112th nationally at 103 rushing yards per game, operating behind a patchwork offensive line.
Albert Reid rushed for 29 yards on 12 carries as the starter against William & Mary in the opener, but tumbled into short-yardage duties and never got more than six carries in any game the rest of the season. Justus Pickett proved a serviceable third-down option and was by far the backfield’s best receiver, but has since returned home to North Carolina, attending to a serious family matter.
That opened the door for freshman Wes Brown, one-third of the Good Counsel trio (Stefon Diggs and Mike Madaras being the others) who made an instant impact in College Park. The soft-spoken Brown broke out against Connecticut with 14 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown, and became the first Terps running back of 2012 to top 100 yards with a 121-yard, one-score effort against North Carolina State.
His numbers dipped from there, however, culminating in season-ending shoulder surgery to repair an injured labrum suffered against Wake Forest. Brown played through pain, but when an ankle injury kept him out of the Clemson game, the Terps decided to proceed with the shoulder surgery. Brown actually got that ankle fixed in surgery this offseason, too.
So that left Brandon Ross, who battled a hamstring injury that kept him out of the season’s first three games and entered the final four weeks with just 25 carries for 53 yards in three games. Even so, the redshirt freshman finished as Maryland’s leading rusher at a paltry 390 yards, though he topped the century mark against both Clemson (16 carries for 100 yards) and North Carolina (season-high 141 yards, including a season-long 71-yard run, and one touchdown).
With Brown still recovering, Ross hopes to use spring practice as a springboard into a more normalized backfield gig. Through two practices, Ross has taken the majority of first-team repetitions, working particularly on his pass-catching out of the backfield with quarterbacks Ricardo Young and C.J. Brown.
Showing flashes of promise last season gave Ross “more confidence, because I know what I can do if I put my mind to it,” but now the trick becomes carrying those efforts through the spring and into preseason practices come summer.
“It could definitely be a foundation,” Ross said Tuesday. “You take the good with the bad. I learned a lot from last season, getting the little playing time that I did. But it’s an everyday thing. You have to constantly be in football every day so you can keep improving.
“It was really off-and-on last year. But shoot, that’s my goal as a running back. I want to establish that spot I want it to be mine. That’s a goal, to keep getting better, so I’m the guy that’s called on.”
At least Ross has earned the trust and support of Coach Randy Edsall, who had no qualms about relaying his intentions for the rising sophomore.
“We want to try and get him to be an every-down guy,” Edsall said. “First, second, third down, short yards, goal line — we want him to really be able to do it all. He’s out there running hard. I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence. I think he understands the offense, and with that understanding and the confidence he gained from last year, we expect his production and his play to go to a higher level.”
Ross clearly possesses the inside track at running back. But what, in his mind, does being an “every-down guy” actually mean?
“First off, it takes stamina,” he said. “It takes a lot of endurance. You can’t be the kind of guy who gets tired all the time. That’s what I need to improve on. You need to be football smart, in your playbook, know what to do every play, so you don’t make that big mistake for your team. And you need to be trustworthy. And you also need to be physically fit, able to take that pounding and deliver blows yourself.”