As the experience level of Maryland’s quarterbacks tumbled from “incumbent starter” to “true freshman” to “converted wide receiver” to, finally, “converted true freshman linebacker,” the Terps have found themselves removing certain packages from their playbook, narrowing down and focusing on the bare minimum.
During the weekly ACC coaches’ teleconference, Coach Randy Edsall said Maryland is currently utilizing “less than 50 percent” of its playbook, which has been chopped down to zone reads, sweeps and screens. Occasionally, the Terps will drop Shawn Petty back to pass off play-action fakes, but those calls are few and far between at this stage.
And so Maryland has been reduced to each week answering one basic question:
“Can Shawn execute it?”
“If that’s what Coach said, that’s the number,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said Wednesday. “We’re doing what Shawn’s capable of executing. Oftentimes you get in a game plan, with some creativity of wanting to do things, things you think and know about an opponent, but you have to temper it down.”
Had Petty actually practiced under center throughout the spring and into the preseason, things would have been different. Heck, if he had even practiced the eight weeks prior to his conversion from linebacker, things would have been different.
“But it’s so unfair to throw a playbook onto a freshman quarterback who’s only had three weeks to prepare,” Locksley said. “We’ve got to do whatever it takes to try to win, do what our quarterback’s capable of executing first and foremost. That’s what we’ve followed through all the guys playing. Doesn’t allow you to always do what you want to do, but do what you can do.”
What’s resulted is a stagnant offense now ranked 120th nationally among 120 qualifying teams after Saturday’s loss to Clemson, when Maryland was further limited by the absences of wideout Stefon Diggs and running back Wes Brown, both of whom were sidelined by ankle injuries. With all the medical upheaval at quarterback, any prior relationships with Maryland’s wide receivers have been throw out the window. Timing and chemistry, at a premium within the passing game, have been restarted over and over.
“It’s built on that,” Locksley said. “When a guy comes in, there’s a reason they do so much in the offseason with quarterbacks to develop the timing and chemistry. It’s been an adjustment, they’ve made the most of it, they’ve continued to come out, whoever’s back there. May have to make a tough catch because he won’t necessarily be where you think it’ll be. All those guys have taken in stride.”
Kevin Dorsey is one of those receivers whose statistics have suffered. A senior who will play his final home game on Saturday against Florida State, Dorsey has just 15 receptions for 208 yards and one touchdown. Part of that can be attributed to Diggs’s gaudy numbers (43 receptions, 721 yards, 6 touchdowns), but at times Dorsey and his fellow receivers, through no fault of their own, have seemed out of sync in the passing game, the season hardly going the way these Terps expected as the seniors’ careers wind down.
“I can tell you this: I’m proud of the way Kevin’s handled all the changes that have taken place,” Locksley said. “I know with the different guys who have been behind center, he’s been a consistent force on the perimeter. Statistically, it may not show, but he does everything you want out of a senior. I can’t thank those guys enough for fighting through adversity. They’ve had to deal with quite a lot. They’ve worked diligently, to try to go out and find a way to win.”
Petty, for his part, had the benefit of learning under four quarterbacks with college experience in C.J. Brown, Perry Hills, Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe, all of whom are out for the season. The position’s meeting room at Gossett Team House, Locksley joked, should probably be switched with the offensive line room. You know, because of all the crutches.
For those sidelined until spring practices, these moments have become about mental preparation, staying sharp with the system. Petty’s positional future is uncertain, but Locksley coyly shed some light into the situation.
“Those are the decisions Randy makes,” Locksley said. “But anybody’s played quarterback, I’d anticipate being quarterback.”