Every day until camp begins on Aug. 5, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Maryland football team. So far, we’ve reviewed the defensive backs, linebackers, defensive line, special teams, offensive line and wide receivers/tight ends. Next up, the running backs.
Returning starters: RB Brandon Ross, FB Tyler Cierski.
Key backups: RB Albert Reid, RB Joe Riddle, FB Kenneth Goins, Jr.
Incoming: FB Andrew Stefanelli (transfer from Temple), RB Jacquille Veii.
Status uncertain: RB Wes Brown (suspended by university, pending hearing).
Competition: All eyes will be on Maryland’s starting running back job, currently a two-man race between Brandon Ross and Albert Reid, pending Wes Brown’s judicial hearing with the school that will decide his fate. (More on this later.) Ross and Reid experienced somewhat opposite seasons in 2012. As a true freshman, Reid began the season as a starter against William & Mary but eventually became a sparsely used short-yardage back, finishing with just 2.6 yards per carry on 36 attempts. Ross, on the other hand, was hampered by a nagging hamstring injury that kept him effectively neutralized eight games into the season. He burst into the picture with two 100-yard games over the final three weeks — 100 yards against Clemson and 141 against North Carolina — and carried that success into the spring. This spring, Edsall said the Terps want Ross to be their “every-down guy,” but that’s not a knock against Reid. He had a strong spring camp, too, flashing his developed speed with two touchdowns and a 57-yard run straight up the middle during an open scrimmage at Dunbar High School. And if Brown comes back into the picture, the competition will heat up even more, even though Justus Pickett’s transfer to Tennessee thinned out the ranks some.
1) What will become of Wes Brown? It’s the burning question on everyone’s mind. There’s no doubting Brown’s talents. Before ankle and shoulder injuries ended his season, he had hung 74 yards (14 carries) and one touchdown against Connecticut and 121 yards (25 carries) and one touchdown against North Carolina State, marginal statistics compared with his ACC peers but still enough to stand out as a true freshman. He’s big, fast and a workhorse. Brown was recently cleared of all charges stemming from his July 3 encounter with a Baltimore detective. However, Baltimore police still consider Brown a “person of interest” in an ongoing investigation into a non-fatal shooting. The University of Maryland still hasn’t set a date for Brown’s judicial hearing, where the school will rule on his fate. It’s entirely possible they’ll wait until Baltimore police department finishes its investigation. Plus, if Brown gets cleared and returns to the program, there’s still the matter of recovering from his injuries. There are plenty of question marks to go along with Brown’s immense potential. How it shakes out is anyone’s guess at this point; the program is pretty much at the mercy of the university and the Baltimore investigation right now.
2) Will the Terps stick to their “every-down back” goal? “Ideally, I’d like to have one guy who’s kind of the main guy, if it works out that way. That’s all depending on the players. The players will determine that.”
That’s Randy Edsall, on Sept. 6, 2012, after the season opener against William & Mary, when Reid never got going (12 carries, 29 yards), Justus Pickett scored the game-winning touchdown (11 carries, 45 yards), Wes Brown didn’t carry the ball at all and Brandon Ross never even saw the field.
“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.”
That’s Edsall on March 7, 2013, speaking about Ross. The coaching staff hasn’t hidden its desire to develop an every-down running back, but will it actually pan out this way? Players get injured and endure slumps. With plenty of options in the backfield, will the Terps be patient enough with whomever they choose and relegate the rest to backup duties, or will the available running backs impress enough to justify a committee approach, riding the hot hand like Maryland did last season?
3) Can Brandon Ross develop between the tackles? Ross spent the spring working on driving through the tackles, keeping his pads low to eat up yardage in the trenches. Last season, most of Ross’s success came on toss-sweeps, where he’d simply outrun the defense for seven or eight yards and then pop out of bounds. That, in a nutshell, was the biggest knock against the rising sophomore entering this offseason. But he packed on weight and, during open scrimmages, showcased an increased strength while still maintaining the speed that allowed him to turn outside in the first place. If he brings the total package this summer, it might be hard for Ross to be unseated in the starting role.