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Ross and Isaacs emerging as offensive starters for Terps

The evaluations will continue even after preseason practice ends next week.

Maryland coach Randy Edsall and his staff are constantly analyzing the Terps' depth chart, and changes will continue leading up to Maryland's season-opening game against James Madison Aug. 30.

However, leaders have emerged at each of the two primary positions that lacked clear starters entering preseason camp.

Junior Brandon Ross, who led the Terps with 865 rushing yards last year, has emerged in the race for the starting running back job, and sophomore Andrew Isaacs has played his way into the top spot on the depth chart at tight end.

"Tight end has kind of separated itself," Edsall said. "Running back has [also] kind of separated itself."

At running back, Ross entered preseason camp competing with fellow junior Albert Reid, sophomore Wes Brown and sophomore Jacquille Veii, who has since been moved to wide receiver.

However, Ross has stuck out for three main reasons. According to running backs coach Andre Powell, Ross has been the most consistent of the running backs, has made the fewest mental mistakes and is the best pass protector of the group.

"I'm looking for the guy that is the most complete guy," Edsall said. "You see things with Brandon that he can catch the ball, he can run the ball [and] he can block. I'm seeing much more consistency out of him. Thank goodness he hasn't missed anything. One of his issues had been he had had a little bit of the injury bug that's kind of slowed him down a little bit, but I haven't seen any of that.

"I see a guy that has really caught hold of the system and is preparing well. He's out here being productive."

Reid and Brown remain in the mix, though.

Reid rushed for 294 yards in a reserve role last year and has been singled out by coaches and teammates for his work ethic and hard-nosed approach as a runner.

"Albert's a guy that's never going to be out-worked," offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. "He's going to be that guy that he's going to push to be the starter himself."

The 6-foot, 215-pound Brown is a former blue-chip recruit who is continuing to shake off rust after being suspended last season. But he has stood out at times during camp with his combination of size, power and athleticism. He is likely the most naturally gifted of the three backs, and coaches love his physicality.

"Wes, he's a guy that he's not fun to tackle," Powell said. "When he gets his shoulders squared and starts going downhill, not many people are volunteering to jump in front of him. He's got good ball skills. Again, he needs work because he missed a hunk of time, [but] I think by the time we get to game-week he'll be a guy that we'll find can help us win."

Isaacs has been competing for the starting tight end spot against fellow sophomore P.J. Gallo and redshirt freshman Derrick Hayward, a converted outside linebacker who is 6-foot-5, 235 pounds.

Isaacs, a former four-star recruit, has stood out since the first day of camp as a pass-catcher and has continued to make plays throughout the last week. He has also been praised for the progress he has made as a blocker.

"I think Andrew Isaacs has been a very pleasant surprise in that he played some last year as a true freshman and now he's taking a step to where he's becoming a complete tight end where we have the ability to play him" in multiple spots, Locksley said. "It gives us some advantages schematically."

The only other position that seems up for grabs is at the cornerback spot opposite Will Likely.

Senior Jeremiah Johnson and junior Alvin Hill have been competing during camp. But as Edsall said Wednesday, both are going to play significant roles whoever wins the starting job because Maryland is often likely to have three or more cornerbacks on the field.

mzenitz@tribune.com

twitter.com/mzenitz

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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