Wes Brown paced the far sideline in his sweatpants and jersey at Byrd Stadium, acting as a motivator during huddles but helpless once the action began. Instead, the sophomore watched as two fellow running backs displayed their offseason improvements beneath the Friday lights, likely wondering when he can join the fun.
Reports from assistant coaches indicate Brown will fully recover from his shoulder and ankle surgeries by preseason camp in August, but Friday’s spring game showed just how far both Brandon Ross and Albert Reid have come since the fall. Both topped 100 yards, albeit against a limited defense, and their cuts, vision and burst showed far more than the statistics.
Last season, Ross had 25 carries for 53 yards through eight games before Brown’s injury creaked open the door. He topped the century mark against both Clemson and North Carolina, ultimately overtaking Brown for the team’s rushing lead. In Coach Randy Edsall’s search for a feature back, Ross entered the offseason as the top option.
“Really, I just attribute it to knowing the offense better, watching a lot of film, taking a lot of notes in meetings and knowing what you’re doing,” Ross said. “That’s something you need to work on, so going to practice every day and committing it to memory is definitely what helps.”
Except Reid, who coaches have praised for his tireless work ethic in practice and in following his offseason training regimen, kept pace against the second-team defense Friday night and kept himself in the conversation. He finished with 135 yards, or 43 more than he posted last fall, and carried 23 times, 13 short of his 2012 total.
“I’ve just been working hard every day,” Reid said. “Offseason, I’ve been trying to get in the backfield, work on my technique and footwork. I’m trying to get better every chance I have. I feel like I’ve taken a pretty big step, but there’s always more work to do.
Last season “was kind of difficult. But hey, it’s a business. You have to work hard every day. That’s all I can say. It’s a business. I learned a lot.”
Ross was equally powerful between the tackles, surging for 122 yards on 19 carries, including 100 yards by halftime.
“I limited what the defense could do, but it was still good to see that from them,” Edsall said. “This is what we have seen out of Brandon and Albert all spring long with how they run. The one thing we have to be able to do is run the ball efficiently. When we do that it opens up the passing game. With the skill guys we have at wide receiver it will make us more productive and a chance t get big plays. They ran the way they’ve been running all spring.”
If all goes to plan, the rushing attack might serve as a mere footnote to the parade of budding superstars along the outside. Even Ross admitted he aims to “run the ball, keep the clock moving, give them a chance to make plays.” But that’s causal in some fashion. Without a strong ground game, defenses can key onto Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and others on the outside.
Ross said he’ll spend the summer honing his vision and working on cuts, but he’ll enter August anticipating a three-way battle until the end. Reid admitted the same.
“You know what, I don’t even know,” Ross said, when asked about the depth chart. “It’s a competition every day. No one has a spot secured. The main thing is to keep working hard every day.”
Maybe Reid got the last word, at least in the bragging rights department. Neither touched the end zone themselves, but Reid tossed a 23-yard trick play to tight end Daniel Adams for the game’s first touchdown. He never threw passes during high school and his Red Team didn’t practice that play beforehand.
“I definitely didn’t expect it,” Ross said, smiling. “It was kind of wobbly though. I’m not a very good thrower but I probably could have done that too.”