The wounds are healed and the crutches have been put away — or so the Maryland football team hopes. On Sunday, when the Terrapins reported to College Park for preseason camp, many arrived totally healthy.
Injuries at quarterback — four of them went down, forcing Maryland to start converted linebacker Shawn Petty under center for its final four games — and at other positions sent the Terrapins tumbling down the conference standings last season. But a new year brings new stability.
C.J. Brown has completed his rehabilitation from an anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered last August, as have fellow quarterbacks Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills. Maryland has its entire coaching staff back, the only ACC school to enjoy zero attrition. And of course there’s preseason all-ACC selection Stefon Diggs, owner of the conference’s freshman all-purpose yardage record and a consistent power source even as the Terps fell to 4-8 last season.
“That’s the biggest thing: We have so much talent coming back, being back under the second-year offense and defense, being more comfortable with what’s going on, the sky’s the limit,” Brown said. “With last year, we feel it wasn’t an excuse of what happened, but we’re excited that it won’t happen again. We didn’t start feeling sorry for ourselves, but it was just like why is this happening to us? It just never stopped.”
Indeed, the reporters who gathered around Coach Randy Edsall at the ACC’s media kickoff two weeks ago seemed to follow the same three-pronged script: First, ask about the injuries; next, inquire about moving to the Big Ten in July 2014; and finally, talk about Diggs.
But entering camp, the Terps have more pressing questions that require answers. The offensive line, which allowed an ACC-high 39 sacks last season, needs work, as does an inconsistent kicking game that features sophomores at punter and place kicker. Without veteran stalwarts such as Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis and Demetrius Hartsfield, the defense has similar retooling to do. So the onus falls on the offense, the only ACC unit to average fewer than 300 yards per game last season, to set the tempo with its woodshed of playmakers, all patched up and ready to go.
“We have to come out, we have to win and I feel like we’re going to do that,” senior cornerback Dexter McDougle said. “It’s definitely important for us to get off to a good start. We have everyone we need. We have everyone healthy and in place. It’ll be a perfect situation for us.”
The work begins Monday night beneath the lights, in the first preseason practice of Coach Randy Edsall’s third season. He’s 6-18 at Maryland, a mark that has incurred the wrath of many fans, yet optimism reigns inside Gossett Team House.
August will feature camp battles at starting running back — with Wes Brown out for the season on a disciplinary suspension, Brandon Ross and Albert Reid will battle for the top spot — and free safety. Otherwise, any competition will occur among the backups, youngsters who, by virtue of medical calamities ahead of them, were given unexpected playing time in 2012.
“Our guys don’t have to learn new things this year,” Edsall said. “And you can see it in the spring. They were more comfortable with what we were doing. Now, with their own preparation, studying in the summer time, now as we go into the fall, they’ll be much more in tune with all the things that are going on. It’ll allow them to be faster. There won’t be as much hesitation or as tentative as they were a year ago. They know exactly what they’re doing, and they have experience doing it.”