All spring, Wes Brown stood on the sideline, a surgically repaired torn labrum still healing, an injured ankle still tender. The sophomore could only watch as his cohorts, Brandon Ross and Albert Reid, racked up run after blistering run, powering to more than 100 yards apiece in the spring game, in which they shared repetitions with the first team.
Maryland was dealt a blow last week when Brown, a sophomore, accepted a year-long suspension from the university because of his involvement in an early-July altercation with police. All three charges were dropped, but the university judicial system still deemed Brown’s actions a violation of its student code of conduct, and offered him the suspension, which can be shortened to one semester with good behavior.
Brown’s lawyer vowed his client would return in the greatest shape of his life, ready to compete next spring. But his absence leaves the Terrapins with two options in the backfield, the same two who impressed so thoroughly this spring.
In hindsight, Brown’s absence proved beneficial for Maryland. Rather than having Brown, Ross and Reid split first-team reps three ways, the carries were only divided in half, between Ross and Reid.
“That’s the big thing,” Ross said Monday at Maryland’s media day. “The positive thing about the situation is that me and Albert both have a lot of experience. Me and him got time to play last season during the season, and we were playing a lot during the spring, so we got a chance to learn the experience better, got a grip on what we were doing and what our assignments were. That’s the big thing.”
Currently listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart, Reid and Ross opened camp again splitting repetitions, though Ross usually lined up first when new drills began. The redshirt sophomore has worked this offseason on lowering his shoulder and bulldozing through the gaps, adding strength to complement the outside speed that earned him two 100-yard outings over the final three games last season.
“Really, I look at this year as a big opportunity anyway, despite anything that may have happened on our team,” Ross said. “I got healthy over the summer, I feel a lot better. From a physical and metal standpoint, I just feel I’m improving this year. I’m looking for this to be a breakout year.”
Reid, who started the 2012 season opener but found himself relegated to short-yardage roles, was one of the biggest surprises in April, carrying carried 23 times for 138 yards in the spring game.
“I don’t want to be just labeled as a specific back or a short-yardage back or a third-down back,” Reid said. “I want to be an all-around back. I worked hard and it kind of paid off in the spring.”
But will there be enough carries to go around? Coach Randy Edsall spent the offseason preaching the need for an “every-down back,” and Ross appears to be the early favorite. But don’t confuse “every-down back” with someone who will receive 30 to 35 carries per game.
“Obviously I think, in this day and age, the days of having one workhorse tailback are gone,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. “An every-down back is a guy who doesn’t have to come out on third down. One guy can be the primary guy, but even at that point, these days …running backs have a shelf life on them because of the amount of contact they take. If you look at the NFL or around colleges, very few guys are lining up, carrying it 35 times a game. There is a workhorse guy who will get the 25 carries, then you have the change-up who gets 10 to 12 carries.”
So who’s the featured back and who’s the change-up? Edsall lauds the leadership and work ethic of Reid, who represents the running backs on Maryland’s leadership council. Ross is more experienced and was more productive last season, rushing for a team-high 390 yards in six games. But times have changed with Brown shelved, and both eligible running backs are bracing for a lengthy, healthy competition.
“It’s still like that,” Reid said. “Me and Brandon learn different things from each other. He competes, I compete. Football is a competitive sport.”
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