The decision belonged to Shawn Petty. The linebacker-turned-quarterback who helped the Maryland football team finish its injury-wrecked 2012 season by throwing for one touchdown and running for another in a shootout loss at North Carolina was given a choice by coach Randy Edsall going into spring practice.
Petty, who had played both positions in high school (Eleanor Roosevelt), could return to inside linebacker and renew his climb up the depth chart in 2013. Or he could remain at quarterback, at least for the spring, in order to show Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley what more he was capable of doing.
"Our goal going into the spring was to leave him at quarterback because we still didn't have healthy quarterbacks. We still basically had only [junior college transfer] Ricardo Young and Dustin Dailey, a walk-on," Locksley said last week. "There was talk of, 'Let's leave him at quarterback and see what he could do.'"
With the expected return of senior quarterback C.J. Brown as the projected starter as well the presence of Young and rising sophomores Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe, both of whom showed promise before joining Brown with season-ending knee injuries a year ago, Petty quietly returned to inside linebacker. He is currently listed as third string, behind junior Cole Farrand and senior Bradley Johnson.
Given what the 6-foot, 240-pound sophomore with the long, braided locks had done over the past four games of his freshman year by going from a scout team linebacker to starting quarterback after an almost unprecedented rash of injuries, Edsall and Locksley believed they owed it to Petty to let him make the call.
"The effort that he gave, the situation that he went into and how he handled it and how he went out there and competed was remarkable," Edsall said last week on Media Day when asked about Petty. "When you see a young man do what he did, you can't have anything but the utmost respect and admiration for him."
Sitting inside the auditorium at the Gossett Team House later that morning, Petty said he used his emergency stint as Maryland's starting quarterback to improve his approach to playing linebacker for the Terps.
"When I had to go to quarterback, I had to learn how to read coverages and see defenses in different ways and I learned certain things that I think really helped me," Petty said. "In the spring, I could really see a difference and I was picking up little things a lot quicker. Playing those four games really got me up to the game speed on the college game."
Edsall compared Petty's transition back to defense to what the third-year coach went through early in his coaching career, when the former college quarterback was moved to help coach the secondary by Frank Maloney at Syracuse.
"He knows all the little things about offense that you have to know [playing defense]," Edsall said. "I think it is beneficial. When there's guys that have played one side and they play the other side, they understand how people are going to attack them and be able to read things a little bit quicker and react a little quicker."
Inside linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski said he has noticed another change in Petty.
"I think he has a little more of a sense of urgency about him," Dudzinski said.
"Being put in that situation, when he suddenly realized he was the starting quarterback and he had to go out there, I think that has helped him understand the urgency as an inside linebacker is the same. You might not be the starter coming out of the spring, but he goes into the fall having a chance and he knows how to compete now."
Petty said the biggest improvement he made was in his preparation off the field.
"In high school, we watched a little bit of film, but I didn't exactly know how to watch film and what to look for," Petty said. "Playing quarterback really taught me how to watch film and know what to watch for. Playing linebacker wouldn't have taught me that."
In the days leading up to his debut as a starter against Georgia Tech, Petty said he spent hours holed up, studying for the Yellow Jackets as he would for a test in one of his classes. He spent most nights going from academic study hall to watching film. Over the course of the remaining games, he wound up sleeping on a couch in the basement of Gossett a few nights rather than walking back to his dorm room.
"It was really hectic. There was a lot of stuff I had to learn," Petty said. "One thing I've been good at is at picking up plays — it wasn't too much. But it was a lot of stress just trying to make sure I got everything in and ran plays the right way and not move us back because we were already in a bad situation."
Though the Terps would not win a single game, finishing a 4-8 season on a six-game losing streak, Petty showed improvement to the point where Locksley thought he might be worthy of a longer look in the spring. Now back trying to earn playing time at linebacker, Petty said his short-lived career as a college quarterback helped him satisfy a long-time goal.
"I always felt like I could [play quarterback], but the last game was a good way to go out even though it didn't end with a win," he said. "It left me with a better feeling that I had an opportunity to play quarterback on the D-I level."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun