COLLEGE PARK—Three games into the season, Maryland football coach Randy Edsall is eagerly looking for playing time for the right guys — Edsall guys — and those players have increasingly turned out to be freshmen.
Through his early-season use of first-year players, Edsall seems to be delivering a not-so-subtle message to his team about the sort of Terp he is looking for.
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As Maryland (1-2, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) practiced for Saturday's game against Towson (3-0, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association), Edsall had positioned 14 first-year players — true freshmen and redshirts — on the 44-man depth chart of first-teamers and backups.
After using a handful of true freshmen in earlier games, the coach said he anticipated playing three more, at least on special teams, against the Tigers. Those three — wide receiver Tyrek Cheeseboro (Milford Mill), linebacker Cole Farrand and defensive back A.J. Hendy — were part of Edsall's first Maryland recruiting class. Edsall, hired from Connecticut, had been at Maryland for only a month when the class was announced in February.
"I see things out of [those three] that I don't see out of other guys," Edsall said.
On some teams, playing waves of young players can suggest desperation. In Maryland's 2-10 season of 2009, then-coach Ralph Friedgen played 24 freshmen, a high for a Friedgen-coached team. Injuries to starters often forced freshmen into action.
Edsall's changes to the depth chart might have the feel of a shakeup, but the coach says it's not a rebuilding year for Maryland. He said he's playing for the present and not just trying to stockpile experience for the next several years.
His task, Edsall says, is to identify players with "energy, excitement and passion for 60 minutes every time they go out there. It's a learning process for me to find out who those guys are. This is the first time that we are on the field competitively and I am able to watch them compete in person."
In elevating the freshmen, some older players — such as longtime starting defensive tackle A.J. Francis — have been moved to the second team. Francis, an animated player who writes poetry and does freestyle rap, was not among the Terps made available by Maryland this week for media interviews.
At other positions, young players are receiving playing time because of injuries or suspensions. Wide receiver Marcus Leak, a true freshman, had two catches for 14 yards in Maryland's 38-7 loss to Temple last week — a game in which senior receivers Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree were kept out. Tyler and McCree, who are roommates, were suspended before Maryland's second game after they were out late and Tyler allegedly got into a fight. Both will play this week.
Edsall said it's inevitable that his younger players are going to make mistakes on the field. "There are going to be some growing pains with the freshmen. I do know this: They are going to go out there and give me everything that they have every play," he said.
Mackall, who played as a freshman last season, said: "One of the biggest things I learned is that the ball might not be coming to you at that moment but you always must maintain your job because a play can snap back the other way."
It's not just young backups who are finding their way onto the field.
Another "new" player set to start against Towson is defensive tackle Maurice Hampton. Hampton is a fifth-year Terp who has started only one game in his career — as an offensive guard against Rutgers in 2009. He was switched to defense before the 2010 season.
His career has been rejuvenated under Edsall, who was impressed by his five tackles against Temple.
Hampton said Edsall "didn't pick favorites right off the bat. He had no choice but to see what he had and work with what he had."