Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
What concerns you about Maryland as the Terps open their football season Saturday against Florida International?
Jeff Barker: Let’s look at pressuring the quarterback. Maryland’s sack leaders – all of them – have departed.
Joe Vellano and Darin Drakeford, who each had six sacks last season, are gone. So are A.J. Francis and Kenneth Tate, who each had four. And Demetrius Hartsfield, who had 3.5.
In all, the Terps had 28 sacks in 2012. The returning players accounted for just 4.5 of them. Darius Kilgo led the linemen with 1.5 sacks.
Of course, the departure of Vellano and others has created opportunity for younger guys. One player who has impressed coaches with his outside speed is defensive end Quinton Jefferson. Another potential sack guy is Matt Robinson, who added weight to help with his offseason move from safety to linebacker.
The Terps will need somebody – anybody – to harass opposing quarterbacks.
Is placekicker Brad Craddock the most important member of Randy Edsall’s football team behind quarterback C.J. Brown and receiver/kick returner Stefon Diggs?
Don Markus: I think you can make a strong case for the shaggy-haired sophomore from Australia. Given the number of close games the Terps were in last season and the fact that at least one – a loss at home to North Carolina State when Craddock banged a chip-shot 33-yarder off the left upright – might have pushed Maryland to a 5-2 start, having a more reliable placekicker is extremely important this season.
Craddock should improve on last season’s performance (10 of 16) with experience alone, as well as on the refined technique Randy Edsall has talked about during the preseason. After a troubling start a few weeks ago, Craddock has become much more consistent the past couple of weeks, Edsall said at his weekly news conference Tuesday in College Park.
As critical as it is for C.J. Brown to stay healthy and show more consistency himself than he did before missing last season with a torn ACL, as explosive as everyone expects Diggs to be again after a terrific freshman year, the difference between the Terps being a bowl-eligible team in 2013 or having a third straight losing season under Edsall could come down to Craddock.
Not that Craddock’s position as the starting kicker is guaranteed. With freshman Adam Greene (Broadneck) having moved up to the No. 2 spot, Craddock is again feeling that he is a missed field goal away from being removed, as happened last year when he botched a 35-yard attempt early against Boston College and Edsall put in in Brendan Magistro.
Greene, who came to Maryland as a preferred walk-on, could be the Dan Plocki of his generation. Plocki came to College Park as a walk-on in 1985 and after a botched field goal by Ramon Paredes, the team’s scholarship kicker, cost the Terps the season opener against Penn State at Byrd Stadium, Bobby Ross eventually tried Plocki.
Plocki -- whose entrance into games would often prompt my longtime Sun colleague Alan Goldstein to say, “The Plocki thickens” -- wound up being put on scholarship after kicking a game-winning field goal at Clemson to give the Terps the ACC championship. He finished his career with 47 field goals, behind only Nick Novak and Jess Atkinson, and made all 92 of his PATs.
Edsall said that Greene still has some consistency issues himself, but has also improved during the preseason enough to supplant Magistro on the depth chart. Greene set a Maryland state high school record with 27 field goals and an Anne Arundel County record by kicking a 55-yarder as a junior. He has worked with former Ravens kicker Matt Stover for a number of years.
A year ago, Edsall went to using Magistro for short field goals and PATs, Craddock for long field goals and kickoffs. If Craddock gets off to a tough start this season, I can see Greene getting a crack at the job. He has been kicking for a number of years, while Craddock’s first field goal attempt came before last season’s opener.
In any case, I can see even more games coming down to a field goal for the Terps this season, given that they are expected to be more competitive than a year ago. So it’s pretty easy to conclude that behind Brown at quarterback and Diggs at wide receiver (as well as returning kicks), Craddock goes into Saturday’s opener against Florida International as the third most important player suiting up.
Which college football players from the Baltimore area that aren't at Maryland would be the biggest help to the Terps this season?
Matt Bracken: This question is a little outside-the-box, but I thought about it recently while compiling a list of the Baltimore-area's FBS players and then putting together a new Sun feature called 7-on-7, which identified the best offensive and defensive college football players from here. With 96 players on FBS rosters from the Baltimore area (including 21 playing for Maryland), there are plenty of options to consider.
If you're taking a long-term approach to roster building, three options stand out. There's Charles Tapper, a former City basketball star with minimal football experience that played defensive end as a true freshman last year at Oklahoma. True freshman Kendall Fuller, a five-star recruit from Baltimore that graduated from Good Counsel, is expected to start at cornerback for Virginia Tech opposite his older brother, senior Kyle Fuller. And Cyrus Jones, a former Gilman star, is switching to defensive back for Alabama as a sophomore, but is also a dangerous wide receiver and kick returner.
Wake Forest wide receiver Michael Campanaro, meanwhile, is down to his last year of eligibility. But could you imagine the former River Hill star and All-ACC preseason selection joining Stefon Diggs and Deon Long in Maryland's wide receiver corps? Ditto Darius Jennings, the former Gilman star who will play a major role this year for Virginia. Either option would make the Terps even more dangerous at wide-out.
On the other side of the ball, Maryland's front seven is unproven after losing Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis, Darin Drakeford, Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenneth Tate to graduation. East Carolina's Derrell Johnson (Cardinal Gibbons), Colorado State's Shaquil Barrett (Baltimore native) and UTEP's Horace Miller (Dunbar) are successful small-school linebackers that could probably help. And in the secondary, Blake Countess (Owings Mills native, Good Counsel grad), Michigan's No. 1 cornerback, would be an upgrade at the position for the Terps.
But for me, the answer comes down to a couple of teammates three-and-a-half hours north of College Park. Penn State junior Adrian Amos committed to Randy Edsall when he was the coach at UConn. When Edsall took the Terps job, Amos reopened his recruitment and ultimately committed to the Nittany Lions. The former Calvert Hall star suited up for Penn State as a true freshman, emerging as a top cornerback during his first two seasons in State College. This year, as a junior, Amos will start at safety. He's a versatile, physical player who could play any spot in Maryland's secondary.
And then there's Donovan Smith, an Owings Mills grad who will start for Penn State at left tackle this fall. The former four-star prospect was named to ESPN.com's All-Big Ten Freshman Team last year. In College Park this fall, there seems to be some question marks on the right side of the line, with two new starters in former walk-on guard Michael Dunn and redshirt sophomore tackle Ryan Doyle, who beat out Nick Klemm. Smith held a Maryland offer coming out of high school, so the coaches clearly liked him as a prospect. Adding him to this offensive line mix would be a no-brainer. Smith and Amos would be my picks.