Sometime recently, Maryland running back Brandon Ross told something to his younger brother, cornerback Jarrett Ross, that might annoy fellow Terrapins at other positions, but it’s something he believes to be true just the same.
“We’re probably the most competitive group on the team,” Ross said. “No offense to everybody else.”
He was standing beneath a slight drizzle at Byrd Stadium on Friday evening as fireworks boomed in the background, celebrating another spring game in which the running backs created an even muddier logjam of options for their coaching staff to evaluate as preseason camp approaches.
Ross stood out after turning a cluttered mess into a 75-yard touchdown run and followed that with a one-yard plunge during the fourth quarter. But he did so against the second-team defense, relegated there despite his starting experience over the past two seasons. Albert Reid, who carried 17 times for 79 yards, and Jacquille Veii, who carried nine times for 75 yards, split repetitions with the starters.
And that is without mentioning Wes Brown, the running back who many presume to be the position’s most talented. Back from a semester-long suspension, Brown did not receive a single carry, though he has impressed throughout the spring.
“It’s fun,” Reid said. “We get to compete against each other but at the same time we’re helping each other out, we’re joking around. At the end of the day there’s always going to be competition, wherever you go. It’s D-I football. Those guys work just as hard as I do. But you have to learn to keep going and encourage each other. This is how we do it.”
When the dust finally settles, sometime around the opener versus James Madison in late August, Maryland will find itself with a four-deep rotation at running back. Yet the dust continues to swirl. Ross and Reid opened the spring as co-starters. Veii and Reid shared that distinction on Friday. Soon, a new depth chart will emerge. That may shift things even further.
“On a college team, you want to have that much depth, so if one guy gets injured or tired you want somebody else to go in,” Reid said. “In the Big Ten, that’s where they run the ball at. You’re going to need two, three backs. It’s good that we get to compete against each other every day.”
So far, according to Coach Randy Edsall, no clear-cut starter has emerged, a trend that has lingered for the past two seasons. Without Brown, Ross handled the lion’s share of legwork last fall, averaging 4.7 yards on 166 carries, 26 more than anyone else on the team. Reid (70 carries) and Veii (39 carries) both chipped in, and Edsall evidently saw enough progress to elevate them above Ross this spring.
“It’s a good thing,” Edsall said. “I don’t know who our starter is. I think we’ll have Albert and Jacquille and Wes and Brandon all competing. As we get back to preseason camp, it’s a great thing to have. Competition is what you need and we have that at that position.”
This creates a unique situation of hyper-competitive running backs also practicing cautiously, knowing full well that one error could tip the scales, at least for that day.
“It’s a battle every time we get to practice,” Ross said. “The running back group is in that situation where if you make one mistake, you come out and you may not come back on the field. It’s a lot of competition, but we feed off each other and make each other better.
“You just got to play. You really can’t think about it. Know what you’re doing, know your responsibility, know your assignment, go out and execute as best as you can.”
On Friday, that was Ross. A handoff initially appeared stuffed at the line of scrimmage, until he cut sideways and accelerated forwards. The safeties had bit up, so barely anyone touched Ross as he sped into the end zone.
Over the summer, Ross said, he wants to work on running lower and reading the defense better. The time may come when he moves back into the starting spot. Not that anything has been settled yet.
“That’s not my call,” Ross said. “I’m definitely making a push for the front spot.”