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Terps offense making progress after slow start to preseason practice

FootballMaryland TerrapinsC.J. BrownRandy Edsall

COLLEGE PARK — For five days, Maryland's offense was out of sync.

The chemistry did not seem to be there between quarterback C.J. Brown and his top receivers. There were dropped passes, fumbles, bad decisions and unimpressive practice sessions that irritated coach Randy Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, especially because of the talent the Terps have on offense.

But Brown connected with receiver Amba Etta-Tawo for a breakthrough moment of sorts during team drills Saturday, a 60-yard touchdown that provided possibly the first long touchdown pass for the first-team offense during preseason practice. The offense then followed Sunday with a scrimmage that Edsall said served as another step in the right direction.

"I thought we had a better day yesterday [during the scrimmage]," Edsall said Monday. "There were some things that we did in the scrimmage that were better. … And again, this week as we continue to go we'll continue to make that progress."

Some of the mistakes are normal at this point. As both Edsall and Locksley pointed out Monday, defenses typically look better than the offense during this point of preseason practice.

"We start off a little slow because of the big volume of install the first five or six practices," Locksley said, "and then you'll see in Week 2 and Week 3 we go back and we install the same plays, and that's where things happen a little quicker. They'll make faster decisions, less mistakes, and then you'll start seeing some things click."

Still, there is plenty with which Edsall and Locksley have been frustrated.

Brown has made some bad decisions, and Edsall said he wants to see the sixth-year senior quarterback be more decisive than he has been.

"He's better than he was in the spring," Edsall said. "But the biggest thing is we've always got to focus and concentrate on those little things. Those are one of the things that we've got to get C.J. to just always be cognitive of — be decisive, a little bit more decisive and also understand [to] utilize whatever the defense gives you, if that means taking off and running with it, throwing it. Whatever it is, don't hesitate."

Edsall is also looking for more out of his wide receivers, a group that is supposed to be one of Maryland's strengths and one of the deepest and most talented groups in the Big Ten.

Stefon Diggs and Deon Long are arguably the top two wide receivers in the conference, but Edsall has been clearly annoyed with both players at different points during preseason practice.

He was openly critical of Long before practice Wednesday. Diggs, meanwhile, has yet to produce any signature Diggs-like plays during camp and has also had some uncharacteristic drops and lapses in concentration, like jumping offsides during practice Saturday.

Other receivers have struggled at times as well.

Etta-Tawo had the big play Saturday, but he has had several drops. Reserve Daniel Adams has had problems with dropped passes as well. And prior to that big play Saturday, this receiving corps that is supposed to be so good just wasn't making of the dynamic plays that Edsall feels it is capable of making.

Edsall also wants to see more consistent effort from his receivers with blocking.

"We're not looking for receivers that can just catch the ball around here," Edsall said. "This isn't flag football. This isn't 7-on-7. We've got to have complete receivers, and we've got to get our receivers to do that, and our receivers have to make sure they listen to [receivers coach Keenan McCardell] and do exactly what he asks them to do.

"If they do that with the talent that they have, they can be very good. But we're not there yet, and we've got a lot of work to do."

However, Sunday's scrimmage was a positive step for the receivers, for Brown and for the offense as a whole.

Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart has two primary goals for his defense: Stop the run and prevent the offense from generating big plays.

The Terps defense had issues at times doing both during the scrimmage.

According to Locksley, the offense scored touchdowns on each of its trips inside the red zone and converted more than 40 percent of its third-down opportunities.

"All of the things that as a staff that going into training camp we were focused on, we were productive at yesterday, and we need to build on that," Locksley said.

Edsall also praised the performances of individual players like running back Brandon Ross, left guard Silvano Altamirano and receivers Levern Jacobs, Taivon Jacobs and Marcus Leak.

"I've seen a lot of improvement," Long said. "We started to move faster. [Coach Edsall] gets on us a lot because he expects certain things out of us, which is good. And after he got on us, we picked it up a lot and started blocking more, started moving faster, having a better pace like he wanted."

mzenitz@tribune.com

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FootballMaryland TerrapinsC.J. BrownRandy Edsall
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