The Washington Post

Terps football looks for separation in crowded backfield

(Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

As Jacquille Veii went through the list of fellow Maryland running backs after a recent spring practice, he could be forgiven for wondering if there would be enough room for him, too.

“Brandon, I learned to just be a vet and try to get the mental part of the game right, because he’s really good with the concepts,” Veii said following a recent Terrapins spring practice. “From Al, he’s a tough runner and a hard worker. I try to practice like he does, because he’s great to practicing. Wes, he’s a tough back. He runs low. I try to run low as well. I’m a small guy so I’ve got to do that.”

With Veii, Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Wes Brown at running back, Maryland finds itself entering the Big Ten with a surplus of backfield options. None of them have starred during their respectively short careers in College Park, but all have experience at varying levels and all are competing for playing time.

“It does make things challenging, because you want to make the best of each rep,” Ross said. “You want to enjoy what you put on film. Each rep, we’re just going hard just because you don’t get that many, it’s that much of a reason to give it all you’ve got.”

In this department, Ross already boasts a leg up. He has rushed for 1,116 yards in two seasons with the Terps, 202 more than the Reid, Brown and Veii have combined. Last season, Ross was sporadic in his production, hinging primarily on the health of quarterback C.J. Brown and the coinciding effectiveness of the zone-read option offense, but he topped 100 yards twice – against Old Dominion and Marshall – and received at least 10 carries in 10 of 12 games.

Ross has proven himself capable of east-west running, taking sweeps around the edges and outrunning defenders, but  since high school he had always wanted to be the type of bruising running back who could earn yards up the middle. That is his biggest challenge this offseason.

“I think I can work on it a lot,” Ross said. “Extra read, looking at how the defender plays you. If the defender’s playing me outside, I’ve got to get up-field. If he’s inside, sometimes I have to bounce it. You really just got to play to work on it. It’s not something you can learn in meetings or in the playbook. … Sometimes bouncing is not always efficient as when you’re going north south.”

In two full seasons, mostly in short-yardage situations, Reid has carried 106 times for 386 yards and was featured in just one game last season – against Clemson, when Ross got hurt. Then, he carried 15 times for 70 yards, but had more than six carries only three times in 2013.

Brown, meanwhile, returned to school in better shape following his semester-long suspension and began spring with an uphill battle thanks to his time away. He has been an active leader during several open practices, encouraging teammates and barking instructions during team drills, but his repetitions have been limited, alongside the third team.

As for Veii, one of the Avalon School’s first two Football Bowl Subdivision recruits, he played sparingly in garbage time last season. He initially committed to Maryland thinking cornerback was in his future, or maybe even wide receiver, but Coach Randy Edsall wanted his speed in the backfield.

“It’s just a rush, then excitement, then straight adrenaline,” Veii said when asked about playing running back. “Me personally, if I get to the second level and I see someone there, I’m going to try to give them a move. I’m going to try to get my adrenaline all the way up.”

But Veii, more so than the rest, has a battle ahead for playing time, in a crowded backfield with few signs of separation thus far.

“It’s definitely a challenge because they know everything and everything comes easy to them,” he said. “It’s more of a blessing because they can teach you. You’ve got to take it how it is and you try to stand out. That’s what I’m trying to do.”



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