Friday, August 10, 2012

season preview: Maryland Terrapins


9/1: William & Mary
9/8: @ Temple
9/15: Connecticut
9/22: @ West Virginia
9/29: BYE
10/6: Wake Forest
10/13: @ Virginia
10/20: NC State
10/27: @ Boston College
11/3: Georgia Tech
11/10: @ Clemson
11/17: Florida State
11/24: @ North Carolina

Skip: Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech

Projected starters:

QB: C.J. Brown (rJr.)
RB: Justus Pickett (So.)
WR: Kevin Dorsey (5Sr.)
WR: Kerry Boykins (5Sr.)
WR: Marcus Leak (So.)
TE: Matt Furstenberg (5Sr.)
LT: Nick Klemm (rJr.)
LG: Bennett Fulper (Sr.)
C: Sal Conaboy (rSo.)
RG: Josh Cary (rJr.)
RT: Justin Gilbert (5Sr.)

DE: Joe Vellano (5Sr.)
DT: A.J. Francis (5Sr.)
DE: Keith Bowers (So.)
SLB: Kenny Tate (5Sr.)
MLB: L.A. Goree (rSo.)
MLB: Demetrius Hartsfield (5Sr.)
WLB: Darin Drakeford (Sr.)
CB: Jeremiah Johnson (rSo.)
CB: Dexter McDougle (rJr.)
SS: Matt Robinson (rSo.)
FS: Eric Franklin (Sr.)

K: Nick Ferrara (Sr.)
P: Nathan Renfro (rFr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Randy Edsall (2nd year)

Media prediction: 6th, Atlantic Division


2011 1st team: DT Joe Vellano
2011 2nd team: none
2011 HM: LB Demetrius Hartsfield
2012 preseason: TE Matt Furstenburg, DT Joe Vellano

(Italics indicate departed player.)

You know the story from last year.  Randy Edsall had about as infamously bad a start as any coach at any school has had in the past 20 years.  Yes, that includes Rich Rodriguez.  Edsall turned a 9-3 bowl team into a 2-10 disaster, turned off high school coaches in the DC area with his approach to recruiting, was savaged in the press for his gangbusters, my-way-or-the-highway approach and nitpicky rules in the locker room, and culminated the year by seeing off 25 scholarship players and being savaged in the press (again) for being a dick about Danny O'Brien's transfer.  Edsall went so far as to try and spite former Maryland OC James Franklin, now coaching at Vanderbilt, by putting Vandy on the list of schools O'Brien couldn't transfer to.  Oh, and they debuted a special uniform in the first game of the season that was meant to evoke Maryland pride but instead evoked epileptic seizures.  And that was the high-water mark of the year.


Quarterback C.J. Brown's stats from last year resemble those of a Georgia Tech signal-caller.  Brown was phased into the lineup in 2011, slowly replacing the ineffective Danny O'Brien, who was ill-equipped to run the option.  Brown led the team in rushing touchdowns, and added a sparkling 7.3 yards per carry; his ability to make plays with his feet was probably the only thing that ever worked consistently on Maryland's inept offense.

The flipside to that, though, is that Brown's passing was astoundingly atrocious.  Brown had both a completion percentage under 50%, and a terrible yards-per-completion average of about 10.2, worst in the ACC.  This means he wasn't just inaccurate; he was inaccurate in a passing game that consisted of short throws.  His throwing has to get better this season; it can't get worse.

He won't have the excuse of inexperienced receivers; his three primary targets will all be fifth-year seniors.  Maryland has an excellent tight end in Matt Furstenburg, whose 31 catches last year made him as much a part of the passing game as any of the receivers.  Leading WR Kevin Dorsey also returns; Dorsey owned every receiving category last year, and Kerry Boykins should be a quality alternate option should defenses focus too much on Dorsey.  Behind those two, there'll be a furious race to get touches, and don't be surprised to see freshman Stefon Diggs jump right into the mix.  Diggs was a consensus five-star recruit whose suitors came from all over the country, and who was lured to Maryland after they hired former New Mexico coach Mike Locksley to run the offense.  Locksley is a DC guy from way back, and was hired more for his recruiting chops than his X's and O's, but the move paid immediate dividends in getting Diggs.

There's a wide-open hole at tailback ready for anyone to jump into.  The most experienced returning player is sophomore Justus Pickett, whose stats were less than underwhelming last year, though it was as a true freshman.  Pickett will have a real fight on his hands to keep the top spot on the ladder, and really it's anyone's guess who'll get the lion's share of Maryland's carries.

The offensive line was one of the units hit hardest by offseason transfers, and it's reflected in the shuffling the unit has undergone since last season.  Notably, the nominal starter at the left tackle position is the newest member of the line; Nick Klemm spent the last two seasons as the reserve right tackle and has never started a game.  On the other side, Justin Gilbert has been penciled in as a starter for the last two seasons, but tore up his knee in 2010, did it again that offseason, and only returned to action late last season.  He's a fifth-year senior with obvious talent, but thanks to the tricky knee, relatively little experience.  LG Bennett Fulper is a longtime starter, but had his usual center position usurped late last year by Sal Conaboy, who's kept the job.  And RG Josh Cary has clung to a starting job, but might have hit the ceiling of his development and is constantly fending off challengers to his position.  This line is not without talent, and has a chance to be a solid, cohesive unit, especially if Klemm is up to the task at LT.  But there's very little playable depth, and the unit is at high risk of injury or just plain old not living up to potential to drag it down.

There's a lot that needs improving here, but the pieces are there.  They just require a lot of ifs to come down on the right side of the ledger.  If the Terps can find a running back, if the offensive line gels and stays healthy, and if Brown improves his passing, this can work.  Oh - and if Mike Locksley is a as good in the booth as he is on the recruiting trail.  Locksley racked up like half a win in three seasons at New Mexico, which casts a shadow on his coaching abilities.  But he remains mostly an unknown commodity.


This unit also got a new coordinator and scheme change, and so this year, the Terps will trot out a 3-4 defense after years of being a simple, uncomplicated 4-3 team.  It's probably for the best, as Maryland's best unit is the linebackers.  Middle linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield is a stalwart; he led the team in tackles with 108 despite missing three games, meaning he averaged 12 a game.  He's flanked by two more veterans in Darin Drakeford and Kenny Tate, both of whom also missed portions of 2011 with injury.  Tate is a former safety, and it showed in his two interceptions in four games.  Both he and Drakeford averaged over 8 tackles a game, and the fourth member of the unit is likely L.A. Goree, who had an excellent freshman season in 2011, pressed into duty thanks to all the aforementioned injuries.  This unit is poised to clean up and post some impressive tackles stats in 2012.

Up front, the star is defensive end Joe Vellano, who moves to the outside from DT with the change in scheme.  Vellano is widely considered Maryland's best player overall, and 94 tackles as a DT helps to confirm that.  He'll draw nothing but double-teams all year.  Nose tackle A.J. Francis should also be a solid player, and to some extent, the defense will go as far as Francis carries it.  If he can be a playmaker it'll force opposing O-lines to pick their poison between he and Vellano; if not, they'll double and triple Vellano with impunity and force the line of scrimmage backward toward the linebackers.  Because the other DE spot is a question mark: Kenny Bowers was productive last year, especially for a freshman, but at 260 pounds he's way undersized for a 3-4 DE and can't be an every-down player.

The secondary has its holes.  Dexter McDougle is a lock to hold down one cornerback spot, but he's the only CB on the roster with anything even remotely resembling D-I experience.  Jeremiah Johnson has the lead for the other side of the field right now, and Maryland bolstered the unit somewhat with juco transfer Isaac Goins (who'll serve as the nickel corner, at a minimum), but quarterbacks are certain to pick on whoever lines up opposite McDougle, and if McDougle gets hurt, look out.  Safety is more solid; Eric Franklin had 106 tackles last year, and Matt Robinson, slated to start the whole season, piled up 36 in just three games before - you guessed it - getting hurt.  Robinson's injury gave the Terps a chance to develop some depth in sophomore A.J. Hendy, but beyond that it's another shallow position group.

You have to expect the Terps to be reasonably stout against the run this year.  The front seven was able to put some pressure on the quarterback in 2011, and that's a pretty talented group when healthy.  But the new scheme will take some adjusting to, and meantime, teams will likely be able to air it out against Maryland.  And even when healthy, this group didn't play up to its full potential.  Like the O-line, the pieces are there to have some success, but there's work to do to get to that point.


PK Nick Ferrara had a great freshman season and then fell off the face of the earth the last two seasons.  He lost his starting job entirely as a sophomore and then struggled in 2011, his junior year.  He even missed two field goals under 30 yards and his season long was a miserable 33.  Not having to worry about punting duties should help.


One of the mantras that Maryland fans are sticking with in the hopes that it'll have an effect: the remaining players are much more "all-in" than the team was last year.  There just might be some truth to it; it was obvious that a good portion of the team just checked out last season when it was clear nothing was going to be accomplished, and a lot of those 25 players were probably mentally out of College Park by November.

Still, 25 players is a lot to overcome.  It's a whole recruiting class.  It's a shocking number, and it left Maryland completely vulnerable to injuries; the playable depth behind the starters is limited.  C.J. Brown, for example, was the only scholarship QB in spring camp.  Another rash of injuries like last year would deep-six this season in a dramatic way.

If they can stay healthy, though, the Terps can compete.  They're good enough to, at a minimum, catch an NC State or a UVA off guard.  But the schedule stacks up badly against Randy Edsall.  There aren't many teams on it that Maryland is better than.  They'll have a puncher's chance in the first two months, but will still probably emerge with a losing record - and then the fun begins.  The Terps must host Georgia Tech and FSU, and visit Clemson and UNC.  The cross-division scheduling was terribly unkind; the Terps miss out on the preseason 5th and 6th teams (Miami and Duke) and of the Coastal's best, they're spared only VT.  However many losses they've racked up by the beginning of November, they're likely to add four to that total by the end of it.  And such a finish to the season will leave a bad tast and is not going to endear anyone to Edsall.  This isn't a bowl team unless absolutely, positively everything goes right.

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