Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
I’m going out on a limb right now and saying CJ Brown gives Maryland the best chance to win.
OK, clearly not out on a limb, but last season Brown managed to convince me (one of his stauncher critics) that he was capable of guiding the Terrapins to a bowl game at the very least. That’s still not giving him a ton of credit, but after that clinching touchdown dive in Blacksburg last year and it ensuring us of some manner of postseason play, he’s still in good graces in my opinion. And he’s the best option on the roster right now, too.
But one problem the Terrapins will always (if history tends to repeat itself) run into with Brown is that, should they continue to trot him out in the same manner every year, he’s going to get injured. Brown has still never played a full season as a college player; last year it was his head (a concussion sustained after an illegal hit from eventual national champion Florida State) and shoulder (everyone remembers the ducks thrown in that Wake Forest game). It’s probably high time Maryland starts looking at how to stop utilizing Brown in the same manner given his propensity towards spending time on the IR. If they’d like to become a Big Ten contender this season.
Brown has been on the receiving end of some pretty monster hits throughout his career because of those crazy legs of his that he tends to use a lot. Last season, he was second on the team in carries with 140 which is only about 40 fewer than lead tailback Brandon Ross. His 4.1 yards per carry on those is a deceiving statistic, because only twice did he actually rush for more than 4 yards per carry during the games which matter most: conference play. Brown actually rushed for 3.4 yards per carry in the ACC; if you take out his two monster games against NC State and Virginia Tech, you want to know how many yards per carry he averaged?
-3.0 over four games.
My math isn’t wrong on that one, either. His Wake Forest stinker really put a dent in that average, but you get the point: Brown isn’t as formidable as we think he is. There are most definitely glimmers of pure and utter domination by a player, as in the cases of NC State and Virginia Tech. But NC State was the worst team in the ACC last year; half the QBs in the country could have done what Brown did there. This isn’t to say Brown isn’t a dynamic player capable of producing highlight reel plays at a moments notice, because he is. This is only suggesting that perhaps the Terps have better options against better competition.
To take away Brown’s playmaking ability with his legs is to make RG3 into a pocket passer; it’s not what he’s built to do. But there’s concrete statistical evidence that most of the time, Brown is better off handing it to a running back to do the dirty work or throwing it through the air. The inside zone read is predicated on quarterback mobility, but it’s also about correctly making that split second decision between handing it to your back or taking the ball yourself when that DE/DT commits.
Brown wasn’t great at that last year, and he put himself into scenarios where he was certain to gain either no yards, or at least take unnecessary hits. Maryland now has what appears to be four capable running backs on the roster, each able to grind out more yards than Brown on a consistent basis. Brandon Ross was not far off his average in conference play at 4.1 yards per carry (exactly what you want in a zone read offense), and Albert Reid was actually at 4.0 yards per carry. With Veii’s emergence as a shifty threat in the backfield and Wes Brown potentially being back to Wes Brown, it’s evident Brown has better options than himself.
Add into the fact that the offensive line is more than likely going to be substantially improved from last season, and there’s a chance Maryland could catapult from being 83rd nationally in rushing yards per game to a top 25 unit. That’s not a boisterous claim when you bring one of the best O-linemen in the country (Prince), a five-star from a season prior (Gray), and a JuCo 6’5 behemoth (Maczyk). Maryland has the talent at tailback that they should not be nearly as reliant on Brown; it’s just been the offensive line that needs a bit of shoring up to give those backs the space to run. Now that’s not a problem.
Brown doesn’t even need to alter the way he plays the game and Coach Locksley doesn’t need to substantially change the playbook, either. This still fits within a zone read scheme that gives any Maryland QB the flexibility to run if need be. But it does start with Brown’s decision making, and whether or not he’s okay with dumping that ball off to someone else more often than not. He’s dynamic, but with the weapons Maryland has all over the field offensively, the Terps don’t need dynamism at every spot, especially their most fragile.
The Terrapins need Brown to start doing dialing it back, because they can’t go another season without a healthy quarterback all twelve (or thirteen) games. With as many backs as they have right now and a strong O-line up front, if the carries are a bit more spread out, they might just get the best Crazy Legs Brown all year long.