Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs and defensive back Sean Davis lined up across from each other near the end of Monday’s first practice of training camp, and soon the two players engaged, locking arms. They are two of the program’s premier players, local products who have become stars. Yet they were digging into the soft turf for leverage like their starting jobs depended on it. After they unlocked, there was a nod from each player, and then they patted each other on their helmets. It was both a sign of respect and further proof that football has returned to College Park in earnest.
The first four days of camp will not involve full pads, but Maryland Coach Randy Edsall sent the message loud and clear before Monday’s session — that it would be the first day of fierce jostling for positions across the field. It turned into a practice that lasted about 1 hour 45 minutes, a sweltering introduction that left players dripping in sweat as they came off the field. After a summer of celebrating the move to the Big Ten, the step into unchartered territory became real with official opening of practice.
Maryland has nine starters back on each side of the ball, including some electrifying playmakers on offense (with Diggs atop the list). More importantly, after being devastated by injury during a 7-6 campaign in 2013, the Terps enter this season with a clean bill of health — only two players on the roster sat out practice. There was energy that stirred throughout the first practice.
“It definitely feels good,” linebacker Matt Robinson said. “We run the same defense again, the same offense, and I think moving forward we just need to build on what we have. Just come back and refresh ourselves.”
The goals for this week are pretty clear-cut for Edsall and his staff, who will put their team through one more helmet-only session Tuesday before adding shoulder pads on Wednesday — installing base schemes on both sides of the ball while evaluating potential starters and backups across the roster.
Edsall hinted Monday that three position groups on offense will be slugfests, including the left guard battle between veterans Silvano Altamirano and Evan Mulrooney. At tight end, two sophomores (P.J. Gallo, Andrew Isaacs) and one freshman (Derrick Hayward) are vying for a slot in the starting lineup. All made plays to a limited extent Monday. Gallo has the most experience (13 games played in 2013) while Hayward, a converted linebacker, is a raw talent who looked thicker at 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds. Isaacs made several nice fully extended catches during 11-on-11 drills.
The four-way logjam at running back could end up being one of the camp’s most intriguing story lines. Sophomore Wes Brown looked shifty on Monday, making several impressive cuts during seven-on-seven drills, while redshirt freshman Jacquille Veii looked hungry in red-zone drills. And juniors Albert Reid and Brandon Reed looked the part of physical running backs who could add another dimension to their case for playing time once the full pads come on Friday.
“I’m really hoping somebody at running back takes the bull by the horn here in this preseason and says ‘Hey, I’m the starter,’ ” Edsall said. “We’re looking for that at guard, we’re looking for that at running back as well.”
This isn’t a rebuilding team, noted senior quarterback C.J. Brown after practice, and many of the players are now in their third camp of the current offensive system. C.J. Brown looked crisp at times, completing several slants to Diggs and hitting Deon Long on another long pass play that went for a touchdown during seven-on-seven drills.
“We have a lot of potential. That’s all it is right now is potential,” Brown said. “We’ve gotta go out there and prove it on the field, against a lot of new opponents.”