- Brandon Ross, RB
This one should be obvious. Despite the fact that Brandon Ross rushed for 390 yards and only one touchdown last year, there’s probably no other player on the roster more poised for a breakout season. Reason being? He won’t have to play with Bruce Perry at quarterback, and he’ll be healthy.
Ross began last year as the starter, but injuries relegated him to the pine pony until week four against West Virginia, where he was clearly still getting into rhythm. Then he got hurt again versus Wake Forest, and missed another four weeks of football. His inability to stay healthy hindered everything he did, and the stats show for it.
Of course, it didn’t help that the offense was incredibly one dimensional, allowing defenses to hone in on Ross anytime he touched the ball. A stacked box on virtually every play due to a complete lack of air game stagnated any chance Ross (or any back) had of shining. Sure, Perry Hills had his on days, but Ross didn’t get to play with him much before he got injured. He had to create opportunities on his own through sheer force of will.
Lost in the mix of that six game losing streak to finish the season, however, was Ross rounding into form. Ross finally got back against Georgia Tech in week nine and he really started to shine, picking up 66 yards on 12 carries. From that point on, he had two 100+ yard rushing games and averaged 84 yards per game over the final four games on 5+ yards per carry. Doing so when you have a Pepsi machine at quarterback is a particularly admirable feat.
So imagine the Brandon Ross you’re going to see when C.J. Brown starts to threaten secondaries with a well-placed deep ball. Ross already hits the hole with some real tenacity, and with even more space to work and a full head of a steam, he should pick up some major chunks of yardage. We got to see it against North Carolina in the final game, when he picked up 77 yards on one carry, and he’s likely to do it again with the weapons at receiver. When he’s healthy and ready to roll next year, Ross is going to thrive with a lot of carries and a quarterback to offset some of the defensive pressure.
- Matt Robinson, OLB
Robinson’s career has been plagued by injury after injury; in 2011 it was his right shoulder that required fixing; in 2012, it was a torn labrum in his left. Robinson initially started as a safety, but coach Edsall decided to move him over to linebacker during the spring in a similar fashion to former Terp Kenneth Tate.
I am well aware that the injury bug often tends to resurface, but I think Robinson has had enough bad luck for one man. The AMHFG will spare him this season, allowing Robinson to show off the athleticism and intelligence that everyone knows he has in him. Robinson finished last season with 26 tackles and one interception, and in the limited playing time he had on the field, everyone was aware he was out there. Against Clemson, Robinson finished with ten solo tackles, displaying his ability to wrap guys up in short order.
At 6’3 235-pounds and an athletic freak, you get the feeling that Robinson will really thrive as a strong-side linebacker. Robinson is a very physical player who has great tackling form (as well as an eye for interceptions), and because of how much field he can cover in little time, I can imagine his stats are going to make NFL scouts ignore the injuries he sustained. Robinson understands football through and through, and the coaching staff is very high on that fact, so Edsall is going to want to put him in a position to be successful.
Look for Robinson to really become a key player on a defense that needs them.
- C.J. Brown, QB
I’ll round off the list with the guy manning the position that will receive more scrutiny than any other on the field: C.J. Brown. We all know the story: Brown tore his ACL before the 2012 season even began, thus placing Maryland’s hopes of being a successful team into a blender mixed with oil, vinegar, and tears. He was supposed to lead the Terps to glory, but instead had to watch from the sidelines as QB injury after QB injury turned Maryland into a sideshow.
Well, he’s healthy now, the definitive starter on the team, and ready to show off those legs that made fans get awfully excited in 2011. That year, Brown rushed for 574 yards and five touchdowns, playing some electrifying football and keeping Maryland in games they otherwise may not have been in. Those yards weren’t even in a full season’s worth of action, either, as he only started in six games.
If Brown can shake off the rust early, he has the chance to be an absolute stat machine within this run-heavy offensive system. The O-line might not be the most impressive group right away, which means Brown will get the chance to show off those legs more than ever. Brown’s pocket extends from one sideline to the other, and with the weapons he has in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, he’s going to be a nightmare for defensive coordinators to plan for.
Brown connecting on what passes he does attempt is going to open the field up significantly for him, so much so that I’m going to go out on a limb and say he might end up being our leading rusher. If not the leading rusher, then second on the team. His speed (well, the speed he once had) puts most linebackers he’s going to face at a huge disadvantage. Should they try to blitz corners, Brown has two targets that will take balls to the house with ease.
It’s a win-win for Brown, and if he can capitalize on his opportunity by remaining healthy, his passing numbers will shoot through the roof. That’s saying nothing about how much he’s going to be able to scoot for big yardage with his legs. I mean it when I say if Brown can get into a groove early, he’ll be considered one of the toughest quarterbacks to play in the ACC with ease.