A strong case could have been made for junior quarterback C.J. Brown's being the player the Maryland football team could least afford to lose this season. Not only is Brown the most experienced player at the position, he is the only quarterback to have played in a game for the Terps.
How much Maryland misses Brown will be learned quickly after it was announced Wednesday that he would miss the entire season with a knee injury suffered during a noncontact drill at practice Tuesday night.
Second-year coach Randy Edsall said after practice Tuesday morning that Perry Hills had moved ahead of fellow freshman Caleb Rowe for the job as Brown's backup.
Edsall said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters that Hills will now assume the No. 1 job as Maryland prepares for its season opener Sept. 1 against William & Mary at Byrd Stadium.
Edsall added that Devin Burns, who was recruited by former coach Ralph Friedgen as a quarterback but was moved to wide receiver last season, came to see him Wednesday and asked to be be returned to the position he played in high school. Burns will work with the third team, Edsall said.
"The one thing that impressed me today was that Devin Burns came in to see me and he said, 'Coach, I really think I can help the team at quarterback' and that was before I got the result of the MRI that C.J. had," Edsall said. "After we got the results, I brought Devin back in and said, 'You'll come in and work with the 3s. You have a lot of catching up and a lot of work to do.' It showed that guys were concerned about how they could help the team."
Mostly, Edsall expressed his concern for Brown, who also missed nearly his entire redshirt freshman year after breaking his collarbone in the team's second game.
"I'm very devastated for C.J. as I watched him put in all this hard work to be the starting quarterback at the University of Maryland, to see it go away with one cut is just heartbreaking," Edsall said.
Edsall said he met with Brown after the injury occurred on the new turf field at Byrd Stadium, then again before and after an MRI revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the right knee. Edsall said Brown was running a two-minute drill and had burst into the clear when he collapsed. Edsall said the injury happened after Brown made a cut he had made "thousands of times."
Edsall said Brown's injury didn't have anything to do with the high-tech field recently installed at Maryland.
"This is an injury that could happen on turf, it could happen on blacktop, it could happen on grass," Edsall said. "It was just one of those things that he made the cut and it happened. I've seen the same injury happen on multiple surfaces."
Brown was not available for comment. Edsall said the knee still had a little swelling and that the surgery would likely take place in the next couple of weeks.
Edsall said Brown was understandably upset about the injury but that he is hoping for Brown to still play an important role this season.
"As you can imagine, it's tough on him; he's got a lot of emotions now, but I told him and I just got finished addressing the team, C.J. is going to be as big a part of this team as if he was the starting quarterback," Edsall said. "He's still our captain, he's still going to be a leader for us, a coach for us, a mentor for the young quarterbacks. He's going to do all the things he can do to make this team better even though he's not going to be on the field contributing to the success that we'll have."
Brown, who twice replaced Danny O'Brien last season and wound up starting five games, was considered the clear favorite for the job after O'Brien transferred to Wisconsin in the spring. Rushing for 574 yards, a single-season school record for quarterbacks, Brown seemed more comfortable in former offensive coordinator Gary Crowton's spread offense than O'Brien, who as a redshirt freshman was the Atlantic Coast Conference's Rookie of the Year.
In the first two weeks under new coordinator Mike Locksley, who is using more of a pro-style offense, Brown appeared to improve as a passer, where he struggled last season, completing 82 passes in 166 attempts for only 842 yards (a 5.1 average) with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.
At 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, Hills is considered the best passer of the three quarterbacks on the Maryland roster. He was a football and wrestling star at Central Catholic in Pittsburgh, the same high school that produced Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino and former Ravens quarterback Marc Bulger.
"He's tough as nails, he's a leader, he's a winner [and] he's tough," Central Catholic coach Terry Totten told The Baltimore Sun in June 2011. "I mean, he's had certain games, definitely, where he throws and you said, 'Wow, he's really on the verge of becoming a big-time kid.'"
Edsall said he and other coaches on the Maryland staff have used freshman quarterbacks to open a season in the past.
"As much as I'm devastated for C.J. and upset about it for him, I'm also excited about it for Perry and Caleb; that was one of the reasons why we recruited them to come here," Edsall said. "We felt that they were outstanding football players that would have the opportunity at some point in their career to help the University of Maryland win football games. It just so happens that that opportunity is going to come this year in their freshman year. We knew coming into the season with C.J. being there that we had to get both of these guys ready to play."
Edsall said he wouldn't scale back the playbook under Locksley.
"We really don't have to do anything," Edsall said. "Those guys have been doing the same exact things for the first 11 practices as C.J. has been doing. They had the same menu, the same plays as C.J."
Perry Hills, freshman: Hills threw for more than 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns, with only two interceptions, as a senior at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Hills was also an All-State wrestler. He was ranked 29th in the country for quarterbacks by Scout.com. Hills was considered a three-star recruit who picked Maryland over West Virginia, Temple and Kent State.
Caleb Rowe, freshman: Rowe was a prolific passer in high school in Landrum, S.C., throwing for 7,860 yards and 78 touchdowns, including 2,722 yards and 33 TDs (with seven interceptions) as a senior, when he was a finalist for the state's Mr. Football. He is the same height (6-2) as Hills but weighs only 185 pounds. Rowe was ranked 30th in the nation by Scout.com.
Devin Burns, redshirt sophomore: Burns came to College Park two years ago as a quarterback out of Columbus, Ga. The 6-3, 200-pound Burns was moved by Randy Edsall to receiver last year and caught one pass, against West Virginia. He had been competing for time at slot receiver with top freshman Stefon Diggs when he asked Edsall to move him back to quarterback after Brown's injury.
-- Don MarkusCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun