1.) Heading into preseason practice, what’s the biggest area of concern for the Terps?
Chris Bengel: In my book, the biggest concern has to be on the defensive side of the ball. With C.J. Brown 100% healthy and stud receiver Deon Long in the fold (and some guy named Diggs), the offense should be able to put up points at a premium. But the defense? This is a unit with a lot of turnover. Maryland has lost Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis, Kenny Tate, and Demetrius Hartsfield just to name a few.
As I talked about last week, losing defensive line starters in Vellano and Francis won’t be easy to replace. D. Coordinator Brian Stewart will lean on guys like Keith Bowers, Andre Monroe, and Darius Kilgo to replicate last season’s success. But the fact that this is now a healthy unit is a good sign in and of itself. Monroe is one guy that could have a big year after missing the entire 2012 season with a knee injury that he suffered in training camp. And I can envision Kilgo playing a lead role for the Terps after getting 40 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2012. The Terps have quite a bit of speed coming off the edge and should be able to get to the opposing quarterback.
The linebacking corps is another position on the defense undergoing a large amount of changes this coming season, too. Losing Tate and Hartsfield means having to replace a lot of talent, but Maryland has the playmakers in the unit to get the job done. Matt Robinson is a guy that I expect to have a big year. Despite missing seven games, Robinson still managed to rack up 26 tackles (21 solo) and a pass defended. That’s pretty solid production for a guy that only played in five games.
Cole Farrand was also an incredibly productive piece for the Terps in 2012, tallying 80 tackles (49 solo and two passes defended) and really showing a nose for the football. There is also a good amount of depth with guys like sophomores Abner Logan and Shawn Petty (who we won’t be seeing at quarterback) along with highly-touted freshman Yannick Ngaukoue. This group has the talent, but it’s going to come down to staying healthy and performing on the field.
If these two units perform up to their capabilities, this could be a very big year for the Terps. If the defense shows up, Randy Edsall and company should be going bowling in 2013. But that’s a lot of if’s.
Michael Willis: I’m going the opposite way on this one. The biggest question mark for me has to be the guy under center. I think a lot of people expect Brown to come in and be this gun-slinging, 3,000 yard passer for the Terps thanks in large part to all those weapons he has. The inconvenient fact we ignore is that CJ Brown hasn’t played a live-snap in over 600 days. 600. Days. I don’t care who you are, it took Peyton Manning a little while to adjust after missing that much time. And Brown isn’t even a passing quarterback.
He wasn’t some wide-eyed kid when he played in 2011; this was after sitting an entire season on the bench to study. Granted, Randy Edsall decided to essentially go with two quarterbacks throughout the season, but when CJ Brown was in (save for the Georgia Tech near-comeback), the offense was sputtering like an old jalopy. He made some dazzling plays with his feet, sure, but the passing game was non-existent with Brown.
So will his 600 days on the bench equate to a new, polished quarterback who can utilize those elite receivers? Or will it mean shaking off 600 days of rust and corrosion? Will Brown be able to hit open guys? Will Randy Edsall get disgusted when Brown gets stuffed up and try out Ricardo Young? There are so many questions at a key position that I can’t help but think it’s the biggest question mark.
2.) Let’s assume Wes Brown can play this year. Who is your starter and why?
Chris Bengel: If Wes Brown escapes a steep penalty for his recent run-ins with the law, I don’t think there is any doubt that he will be the starter for the Terps. Despite only playing in seven games in 2012, Brown showed that he has a tremendous amount of potential. The Good Counsel product isn’t a guy that has blinding speed or will bounce it outside at a moment’s notice. Brown is more of a between-the-tackles runner and definitely excels more when running up the middle. As my colleague Michael Willis pointed out his Positional Preview of the Maryland running backs, Brown’s forte seems to be draw plays and running out of the I-formation.
I think a lot of his success has to do with his patience. He waits for holes to develop and doesn’t feel the need to just bounce it to the outside. In games where Brown received double digit carries (four of seven games), he averaged 72.8 yards-per-game and has a ton of success. Over the course of a full season, I believe that Brown is capable of being a thousand yard back. If he plays a majority of this season, he will be extremely productive.
I do like Brandon Ross a great deal as a change of pace back. Ross is a bit quicker than Brown and does seem to excel in the open field. However, Brown is a great red zone option while that end of the field isn’t Ross’ strong suit. He also isn’t a very patient back which, coincidentally, is Brown’s strength. Brown and Ross would be a nice thunder and lightning combination if they are given a chance to do so this season.
Willis: Wes Brown starts, for all the reasons stated above. Brown is a superior red-zone back, he’s got tremendous lower body strength, and he is an absolute bruiser. For me, Brown fits more into a traditional offense, but I think he would do just fine in the read option offense because of how patient he is. He’s also got better (and underrated) hands than Ross or Reid.
There’s always that fumbling issue of his, though. There were times when Brown failed to protect the rock last year and coughed it up enough times to frustrate the heck out of a coach. Can we chalk that up to youth? Yeah, I think so. But if the problem resurfaces, I’d think Edsall wouldn’t hesitate to throw Brandon Ross in there. Conveniently, I could see Ross becoming equally as potent with CJ Brown under center (and healthy). That’s the thing, Wes Brown doesn’t entirely fit a read-option offense, whereas Brandon Ross is almost ideal given how fast he is.
It’s an interesting scenario, but I think in terms of an every down back, you want Brown.
3.) Do you think C.J. Brown can regain the wonder he displayed two years ago?
Chris Bengel: There is little doubt in my mind that C.J. Brown can regain his 2011 form. Brown has spent the last year rehabbing from the torn ACL that he suffered last August and is back up to 100 percent. In 2011, Brown took over for the struggling Danny O’Brien and never looked back. His coming out party was a mid-October battle with Clemson where Brown tossed three touchdown passes and ran for another. I expect more of the same in 2013 from the Pennsylvania native.
One of Brown’s biggest attributes is his blinding speed. At a moment’s notice Brown can bounce it outside and take one to the house. But it’s not all about speed. Brown can also toss the rock around with great precision. The Terps signal caller tossed seven touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 49.3 percent of his passes and rushed for 574 yards in only 10 games. Over the course of a whole season, I’d expect those numbers to improve. Especially since Brown now has guys like Stefon Diggs, Deon Long, and Nigel King to throw the ball to.
Willis: I hope not.
Part of me wants to say that CJ Brown will be the blazingly fast quarterback we saw in 2011, but another part of me keeps wondering whether or not CJ Brown can stay healthy an entire season.
As we saw during his few stints at quarterback, Brown took some absolutely vicious hits (see: Florida State, where he was almost carted off the field). His style of play is the same reason why you’re on pins and needles watching RG3 play: at some point, he’s just got to get hurt, right? I’d never ever wish that on a player, but it still happens.
and I see him missing receivers that are so, so wide open. Is that much time off going to make that any better? In my mind, CJ Brown has spent this entire time training with Leonidas and Peyton Manning, throwing balls off a cliff directly at sharks swimming in the waters below, but that might be unrealistic.
Brown presumably added a good amount of muscle, which should make him sturdier. I’d think he’d be a little more hesitant to run so recklessly as he did two years ago as well. He also has better receivers, but not as sound a running game. So instead of seeing him regain his former glory, I’d much rather see him exceed that goal. I want closer to Braxton Miller, not Logan Thomas.
But I could also see the offense stagnating after a couple games and Edsall just throwing in another quarterback…much like 2011.
4.) Who can Maryland upset this year? Who will upset Maryland this year?
Chris Bengel: This year is tough to predict because there are a few question marks on this year’s squad. If the defense plays well, Maryland could be go bowling and win seven or eight games. If you look at the schedule, there are a few matchups that the Terps won’t be favored in but definitely can win. In week four, Maryland will host West Virginia at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Last season true freshman Perry Hills, traveled to Morgantown and nearly knocked off the highly-touted Mountaineers. Flip the script to this coming season, and West Virginia no longer has Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey to torture the Terps. Maryland also has an experienced quarterback in C.J. Brown and a phenomenal aerial attack. I’d chalk this one up as a potential Terps victory.
I will preface this by saying this is a monumentally crazy prediction. But I think the Terps have a chance to knock off Clemson when the Tigers travel to Byrd Stadium in late October. Obviously, Clemson has a ton of hype with Tahj Boyd being a potential frontrunner for the Heisman. However, Maryland has the offense to go blow-for-blow with the Tigers. It’ll all come down to how the defense plays. It may not have been the closest contest this season, but the Terps gave Clemson all they could handle in 2011 with Brown nearly pulling off a huge upset. It’s crazy no doubt, but I wouldn’t say it’s an impossible task.
As for who will upset Maryland, I’m a little nervous about Connecticut on the road after two subpar teams. The Terps have Florida International and Old Dominion at home to start off the year before travelling to face the Huskies. Connecticut flustered the Maryland offense last year and won a defensive-minded game. I could see the same happening this year. I also have an uneasy feeling about the Syracuse game in early November. The Orange aren’t a great team by any stretch but this is the type of contest that Maryland might look past as they have a tough road test against Virginia Tech the following week.
Willis: Well considering the Terps are pretty much 5-point dogs in every preseason prediction this year, technically every game they win could be considered an upset. But if we’re looking at, a few months from now, who Maryland could upset, I could actually see the same two games as Chris in Clemson and West Virginia.
The Terps get Clemson at home (where teams are by default given a few points) the week after they play Florida State. These guys are going to be battered and bruised after that tilt which will likely decide the ACC, and if they lose they might be mentally unprepared and we could catch them sleeping. And believe it or not, three of the last five times Maryland has played Clemson, the game has been decided by ten or fewer points.
As for West Virginia, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, and Geno Smith are all gone. I’m not sure anyone knows what that team is going to do this year.
Upset wise, at Connecticut looks terrifying. The Huskies typically have a pretty stingy defense, and if they can get anything at all by way of their quarterback, it could be a tough draw.