Coach Randy Edsall has been living at the Maryland football facility for nearly three weeks, on the go each day of camp and sleeping on an air mattress at night. But maybe the most difficult part of the preseason grind will come later this week, when Edsall and his staff trim their roster to 70 players. That is the number of athletes allowed to travel in the Big Ten, the players who will be at the heart of Maryland’s first season in the conference. Edsall acknowledged Tuesday the decision-making process in forming the depth chart has only become more difficult as he begins his fourth year.
“You want to have those tough decisions to make as you narrow it down and as you’re getting there,” Edsall said. “That’s the thing. The more competition we have, the better we’re going to be. We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re getting a heck of a lot closer now than where we were before.”
Maryland has built considerable depth at several positions, including defensive line and wide receiver. Veteran defensive ends Quinton Jefferson and Andre Monroe (St. John’s) are key cogs for defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s 3-4 scheme, and the competition at nose tackle between seniors Keith Bowers and Darius Kilgo is exactly the type of difficult decision the Maryland staff is embracing. Both are likely to be consistently in the rotation; Edsall said earlier this week he will play six or seven linemen if he has to. That group also has found an important piece in senior Spencer Myers, a standout on the Maryland wrestling team who is playing football for the first time since high school and is the leading candidate to be Jefferson’s backup.
“There’s more of an urgency as the season is getting ready to come to a start. I feel like people understand that this year we want to win,” Bowers said. “They’re coming out here, they’re competing each and every day.”
With nine starters returning on both offense and defense, Maryland entered preseason camp looking to breed competition at those entrenched spots and address primary position battles at running back, tight end and left guard, the latter of which was going to pit veterans Silvano Altamirano and Evan Mulrooney against each other. But Mulrooney was hospitalized with a viral infection and has missed the duration of camp, and Altamirano took command of the spot with consistent play.
The running back logjam has been one of the more intriguing story lines of camp, with four players fighting for carries. Early on, juniors Brandon Ross and Albert Reid (Friendship Collegiate) were lauded by teammates for their downhill style, as was Wes Brown (Good Counsel), who showed up in shape following his suspension last season.
But by the second week, Edsall said Ross was leading the competition, and he quickly moved the fourth contender, freshman Jacquille Veii (Avalon), from running back to wide receiver. Edsall reaffirmed his position on Ross on Tuesday. Reid and Brown are currently the second- and third-team backs, respectively.
“We are going to continue to look at it and continue to evaluate it. We’ve got a couple more days here, and we’ll see where it all shakes out. Those guys are working hard and doing a good job,” Edsall said.
Edsall indicated midway through camp that sophomore tight end Andrew Isaacs led classmate P.J. Gallo and redshirt freshman Derrick Hayward — although he hasn’t ruled out the possibility that multiple tight ends might play in certain offensive packages.
Depth along the offensive line and defensive backfield are two of the chief concerns. Edsall hasn’t been afraid to tinker with players or positions this offseason — he moved blue-chip offensive lineman Damian Prince (McNamara) from left tackle to guard last week and created more first-team reps at wide receiver for brothers Levern and Taivon Jacobs (Suitland) by placing star Stefon Diggs (Good Counsel) with the second-team offense during Saturday’s scrimmage — but the crop of players up front and at defensive back are unproven.
“If one of our corners goes down or a safety goes down, it’s good to have somebody right behind them who knows what they’re doing who can come in and execute,” safety Anthony Nixon said Tuesday.
The offensive line has four of five starters back, but with Mulrooney out indefinitely, left tackle Jake Wheeler is the only one upperclassman backup in the group with game experience.
The defensive backfield is loaded with talent at the starting positions — including sophomore corner Will Likely and junior safety Sean Davis (Maret) — and although there are a group of veterans at safety, only one cornerback backup, Jarrett Ross, has seen the field for the Terps. And that was mostly on special teams.
“We have some time over the weekend to decide where we are with all these positions and how we go into preparing for [James Madison] next week,” Edsall said. “There are still a couple big days left for guys to be able to show what they can do, so we are looking forward it.”