Several starting jobs unsettled as Terps football begins preseason practice

COLLEGE PARK — Inside coach Randy Edsall's office at Maryland's team headquarters, just to the right of his desk, sits a large magnetic board displaying his football's team's full depth chart.

How that depth chart will look come the Terrapins' regular-season opener Aug. 30 against James Madison is still largely to be determined.

Several players are essentially locks to be starters. Quarterback C.J. Brown and wide receiver Stefon Diggs fall into that category. But Maryland began preseason practice Monday with several starting positions unsettled, notably running back, tight end and left guard.

"I think that's the biggest positions that we have," Edsall said, "but that doesn't mean something couldn't happen at other positions based on people's ability and what they do out here, or the lack of production from somebody who was already a starter."

At running back, the Terps have junior Brandon Ross, a returning starter who ran for a team-high 776 yards last season. But they also have speedy sophomore Jacquille Veii, former four-star recruit Albert Reid and another top recruit, Wes Brown, who is back after being suspended last season.

The 6-foot Brown, whose listed playing weight is 210 pounds, increased to around 225 pounds during his time away, but he trimmed down for spring practice and received good reviews from teammates for his physical condition entering camp.

Brown appeared to move well Monday and had one run during which he elicited a loud reaction from his teammates with a move in the open field to avoid an oncoming defender.

"I'm really hoping that somebody at running back really takes the bull by the horn here in this preseason and says, 'Hey, I'm the starter,' and they separate themselves," Edsall said.

That's what Edsall is looking for at left guard and tight end, as well.

Junior Evan Mulrooney and senior Silvano Altamirano are listed as co-starters at left guard.

Mulrooney, 6-4, 295 pounds, started five games at center as a freshman in 2012, but he was strictly a reserve last season. Altamirano, 6-2, 290 pounds, is a former junior college transfer who also was a reserve last season. Highly touted freshman Damian Prince could eventually see work at left guard as well.

Tight end likely will be more interesting as preseason practice continues.

Former four-star recruit Andrew Isaacs, converted outside linebacker Derrick Hayward and sophomore P.J. Gallo are listed as co-starters at tight end, but none has caught a pass in a college game.

Isaacs is considered the best pass-catcher of the group, and he probably had the best day of the three Monday with some nice catches during both one-on-one drills and the team portion of practice.

Gallo is likely the best blocker of the three, but he had some struggles Monday. He also had the worst summer of the three, Edsall said, while the coach praised both Isaacs and Hayward for having productive summers.

Hayward, 6-5, 235 pounds, scored at least twice during the short-yardage portion of practice Monday.

"You'd like to have a tight end that can do it all for you rather than having situational guys, and I think that will start to shake out," Edsall said.

Isaacs was the first player Edsall referenced after saying that.

"I think he's a guy that can give us those opportunities that we're looking for there," Edsall said.

Wide receiver, right tackle and outside linebacker are three other positions that bear watching during camp.

Diggs and Deon Long are clear starters at two wide receiver spots, but Marcus Leak, Levern Jacobs, Taivon Jacobs, Amba Etta-Tawo and Juwann Winfree will battle for playing time at the other receiver spot.

At right tackle, Ryan Doyle is listed as the starter entering the fall, but freshman Derwin Gray could unseat him with a good camp.

And at outside linebacker, senior Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil will try to hold off sophomore Yannick Ngakoue to fill the starting job vacated by Marcus Whitfield.

Cudjoe-Virgil had three sacks in six games last year. He also was selected to the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award, which is given annually to the top linebacker in college football. But Edsall and teammates say they have seen growth in Ngakoue after he played primarily a reserve role last season.

"He's definitely maturing, really maturing," senior outside linebacker Matt Robinson said of Ngakoue. "He's getting in the film room a lot, asking a lot of questions, always trying to get better, and I think he's really just getting better at pass rushing. That's what he loves to do, and I think you're really going to see the results this year."

There are other positions where players could make moves up or down the depth chart as well. And whether it's at tight end, running back, left guard or somewhere else, those magnetic name plates that sit on that board in Edsall's office are likely to be moved around a lot between now and the first game.

"The bottom line," Edsall said, "is we're just trying to get the best guys in the best positions to make our team the strongest it can be."

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