A thin roster for Maryland’s spring football game

April 20, 2012

Those who venture out to Byrd Stadium for Maryland’s spring game won’t see the team’s two best defensive players, second-team all-American lineman Joe Vellano and linebacker Kenny Tate, make a tackle. They won’t see any of the 13 players who departed the program prematurely since season’s end.

And they won’t see anything resembling a traditional game.

With a spring roster depleted by injuries and transfers — and yet to be bolstered by February’s strong recruiting class — Coach Randy Edsall has ditched the typical two-team game structure for a scrimmage that will pit the first-team offense against the first-team defense for much of Saturday afternoon. Points will be awarded for big plays, sacks and turnovers as well as touchdowns and field goals.

It is a creative finish to a six-week, 15-practice spring session for a team that is a shell of the one that will open Edsall’s second season in the fall. Edsall has remained jovial despite the lack of numbers this spring, including when asked to talk about his quarterback situation. With a laugh, Edsall said it “will take a little amount of time to talk about the quarterback situation, since we only have one.”

What Saturday’s festivities will offer fans is an early glimpse of schemes recently installed by first-year coordinators Brian Stewart, a former head of the defense at the University of Houston, and Mike Locksley, who returned to the offensive staff after spending six seasons earlier in his career as a Maryland assistant.

Locksley, most recently the head coach at the University of New Mexico, is pleased that he has been able to install about 70 percent of his offense, a pro-style system that includes some spread principles. While he is also encouraged by the players’ work ethic, spring practice has been a mixed bag as he directs players with a variety of learning curves.

“The execution is nowhere near where it has to be,” Locksley said.

He said he and rising junior C.J. Brown, the team’s only scholarship quarterback this spring, have become “fast friends” as Brown tries to become an on-field extension of Locksley. Brown’s mobility is indisputable — he set a Maryland single-season rushing records (574 yards) for a quarterback last season — and Locksley likes his arm strength.

But Locksley cautioned that consistency remains an issue for Brown, who needs to more reliably do “the things mechanically to ensure that he is throwing the ball efficiently and also getting us in the right plays when we need to be.”

Edsall said the MVP of the spring may be walk-on quarterback Ricky Schultz, an Ellicott City native whose presence has made for more complete practices.

In addition to having senior leaders Kevin Dorsey and Kerry Boykins at wide receiver in the fall, the Terrapins will have five-star prospect Stefon Diggs, and intriguing wide receivers in powerful Marcus Leak and red-zone threat Nigel King, who did not play last season because of an eligibility issue.

Locksley applauded the wide receivers’ skills but acknowledged that he would like to see the players “grow up quicker.”

After the transfers of tackles R.J. Dill and Max Garcia, Maryland was left with two returning starters — versatile Bennett Fulper and Justin Gilbert — along the offensive line. Edsall said he has not identified the six players who likely will compete for five starting roles on the offensive line.

The most dramatic defensive change is the switch to an aggressive 3-4 scheme. Stewart has a deep crop of linemen at his disposal, including invigorated nose tackle A.J. Francis, who hardly committed a mental error all spring, and two promising players shaking off rust from injuries, Isaiah Ross and Justin Anderson. Vellano, who could dominate his end position in the fall, saw his spring practice cut short by injury.

What the linebacking corps lacks in depth it makes up for in the strength of its starters, including a few who saw significant action as freshmen during the defense’s injury-ravaged season. There’s also senior-to-be Demetrius Hartsfield, who has starred during the spring.

Tate moved from safety to linebacker last season with mixed results before his season was cut short by a knee injury. Edsall said he expects Tate to play one of the team’s two outside linebacker spots in the fall.

Edsall’s priorities for Saturday include identifying players who are most consistent throughout the game and seeing his offense get off to a quicker start than it did in the team’s scrimmage. And, of course, avoid further injuries to an already thin roster. (No tackler should get within a country mile of Brown.)

Despite the lack of bodies, score will be kept, winners announced and prizes awarded.

“The winners will get steak and lobster,” Edsall announced, “the losers will get beans and franks.”

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