The disappointment was still fresh when the Maryland football team started looking ahead, beyond the seniors who said their goodbyes after a 31-20 Military Bowl loss to Marshall. Over the next several months, the Terrapins must deal with a bevy of off-the-field matters, not to mention the standard offseason rigors which, if the Twitter accounts of the players are to be believed, began as soon as the Thundering Herd started celebrating in Annapolis.
So what lies ahead for Coach Randy Edsall, his staff and his players? Here’s a checklist for the upcoming months, of everything football-related without delving into the actual football.
1) Get healthy
The ranks of the walking wounded has thinned considerably since midseason, but several players still face long recoveries ahead. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs graduated from crutches to a walking boot and was bouncing around the sideline at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Both he and Deon Long, who has been off crutches for at least a week now, are expected to be either limited or sidelined for spring practice with their broken legs, but barring any setbacks will form a potent wide receiving corps next season alongside Marcus Leak, Nigel King, Amba Etta-Tawo, Levern Jacobs, Malcolm Culmer and freshman Taivon Jacobs, who redshirted this season.
Cornerback Jeremiah Johnson didn’t play in the Military Bowl, perhaps an indication that the “nick” he received during practice was bad enough to sideline him, or that his fractured toe wasn’t fully healed. Johnson logged just two snaps in the regular season finale against North Carolina State, weeks after his intended return date against Syracuse, but has an entire offseason to ready himself to start again in 2014. Maryland will also return linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, a leading candidate to replace Marcus Whitfield as the starting “Will” linebacker, from a torn pectoralis muscle.
Cleanup surgeries always happen after the season ends too, and this year should be no different. Specific names often trickle out in media sessions with Edsall over the upcoming months.
2) Handle the contracts
Every assistant coach besides offensive coordinator Mike Locksley has a contract that expires within the next month, so Edsall has some choices on his hands. Wide receivers coach Lee Hull recently interviewed with Morgan State for its head coaching job and appears, regardless of that decision, to be headed for another opportunity outside of College Park.
The biggest move will be securing an extension for defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, whose contract expires on Jan. 31, 2014. By all accounts both he and the Terps want this to happen.
Everyone else’s contracts, save Locksley, Stewart and Edsall, expire on Tuesday. Offensive line coach Tom Brattan is not expected to return and defensive line coach Greg Gattuso has already began his duties at Albany.
That leaves Keith Dudzinski (inside linebackers), Lyndon Johnson (outside linebackers), Andre Powell (running backs/special teams) and John Dunn (tight ends/recruiting), not to mention strength coach Drew Wilson and director of operations Fran Foley, though all are expected to be welcomed back provided they choose to return. Replacing whoever leaves should become top priority as the college football season winds down.
3) Round out the recruiting class
The Terrapins endured a rough recruiting week before the Military Bowl. Offensive linemen Marcus Applefield and Brock Ruble pledged elsewhere, offensive lineman Jared Cohen decommitted to explore a sudden offer from Penn State and linebacker Melvin Keihn surprised no one by choosing Virginia Tech. Including junior college lineman Larry Mazyck and prep school lineman Derwin Gray, Maryland currently sits at 14 players for its class of 2014, which ranks 52nd nationally according to 247sports.com and 10th among Big Ten schools.
Two big fish lie ahead for Edsall: five-stars Damian Prince and Jalen Tabor, the top-ranked players in Maryland and the District, respectively. Tabor is scheduled to announce on the Under Armour all-American game on Jan. 2, while Prince will wait until his late grandmother’s birthday on Feb. 14, nine days after National Signing Day.
An enigmatic teenager throughout the recruiting process, Tabor lived up to his Twitter handle — @HesSuchATEEZ – on Christmas day, posting a picture of Arizona and Alabama gear with the caption, “Who Will It Be ? #beardown #rolltide”
The Wildcats have a commitment from Friendship Collegiate teammate and running back Jonathan Haden, whose oldest brother Joe stars for the Cleveland Browns. The family is apparently close with Haden, but should the allure of Nick Saban at Alabama – or perhaps even the idea of a hometown movement – sway Tabor in a different direction, it wouldn’t shock at all given the savvy – and teasing — way he’s handled the recruitment process. According to his Twitter account, he leaves Saturday afternoon for an official to Florida.
As for Prince, the Bishop McNamara offensive tackle is close friends with Tabor, and the last time colleague Brandon Parker spoke with him, he was fresh off an impressive visit at Florida State. Not much has trickled out since then.
Before Feb. 5, expect some other smaller-name commitments to pledge to Maryland, if only because backup plans have been set in motion once Applefield, Ruble and Keihn made their decisions last week.
4) Handle personnel moves
Attrition always happens. There’s no way around it. Last season, the Terps got off relatively easy, losing defensive back Makinton Dorleant to Northern Iowa, Justin Anderson to Massachusetts and running back Justus Pickett to Tennessee. Dorleant appeared in all 12 games at the Football Championship Subdivision level, intercepting one pass and recording 54 tackles. Anderson started 11 of 12 games for U-Mass., which recently fired coach Charley Molnar following another 1-11 season, and led the team with four sacks. Pickett didn’t play for the Volunteers.
Wes Brown (suspension) and Marcus Leak (personal reasons) also left the program, but both are expected back next month for the upcoming semester and should dive right into contributing roles.
Quarterback-wide receiver Ricardo Young was suspended for the Military Bowl for violating team rules, so his future with the program remains up in the air. He was not with the team during its bowl festivities in Washington D.C.