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.
Maryland opened football training camp this week. Which unit – offense or defense – stands the best chance for improvement over last season?
Jeff Barker: I think both will improve – this was a 2-10 team last season, after all.
I consider the offense a wild card – lots of unanswered questions – but I think the defense has a chance to make notable strides.
When last we saw the defense, it was trudging off the field after the Terps surrendered a 27-point, third-quarter lead en route to a 56-41 loss at N.C. State. You think the team remembers those six unanswered touchdowns as if they were part of a recurring nightmare? All that was missing was scary clowns.
This was a unit that gave up an average of 34.2 points and 457.2 yards per game.
Here’s what happened last season: injuries to key guys. The injuries – linebacker Kenny Tate and safety Matt Robinson were among those out – meant that younger players stepped in and gained valuable experience.
That’s the lone positive about injuries – they allow young players to get on the field, and force teams to figure out which reserves can play.
This year’s defense, anchored by defensive lineman Joe Vellano and a solid linebacking group, returns 11 of its 13 top tacklers from 2011.
So there you go – a bit of optimism from College Park.
How do you explain Mychal Parker ending up at an NAIA school?
Don Markus: When I first saw that Parker was going to Georgetown, I was a bit surprised given the academic troubles he had that caused Loyola to pass on the former Maryland swingman. When I realized it was little Georgetown College, an NAIA school in Kentucky, I was shocked. This was a kid who three years ago was a four-star recruit coming out of the Miller School in Charlottesville, a player who looked the part of a big-time college player more often than he played it in College Park.
I thought Parker was going to have a chance under Mark Turgeon last season after barely playing as a freshman under Gary Williams. But the same problems that plagued Parker under the old regime -- an inability to remember what offensive set the Terps were running and a lack of understanding about how to play help-side defense -- drove Turgeon as batty as it did Williams. Occasionally, Parker would show flashes of what got college coaches excited when he was in high school, but you never knew what you were going to get from Parker from one game to the next. Maybe one half to the next.
Then there was the little matter of his one-year suspension handed down by the university. Given that Parker's suspension was announced the same day as Terrell Stoglin's, I figure that they were punished for the same offense. Stoglin told me he had tested positive for marijuana during and right after his freshman year, but swore that he didn't smoke after Turgeon arrived. Parker never addressed why he had been suspended, but you figured that he too wasn't long for the program. When you have a one-year suspension and academic issues, you'd better have NBA talent. Parker clearly didn't, which is why he wound up at the other Georgetown.
But look at the positives. He will be playing for a program that has made the NAIA tournament every year dating back to 1992, won the national championship in 1998 and, according to the school's website, has sent 44 players to the pros. There are also only five players currently listed on the team's website -- Parker hasn't been mentioned yet -- so there should be plenty of playing time. That Georgetown is not very far from Lexington, Ky. means that Parker could get in a few runs with the Wildcats in pickup games, and John Calipari might need a body in a year or two. And we all know how much Coach Cal loves one-and-dones.
Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Ian Evans, who was part of Maryland's No. 36-ranked recruiting class in 2010, left the Terps this week. With yet another early departure from this relatively highly touted group, is it too soon to call that class a bust?
Matt Bracken: The early exit of Evans -- who appeared in just four games as a redshirt freshman -- wasn't totally surprising. But what is fairly staggering is just how many members of that 2010 class -- 10 out of 21 -- are already gone from College Park. Here's the list:
** offensive tackle Max Garcia (transferred to Florida)
** linebacker Javarie Johnson (transferred to New Mexico)
** linebacker Desmond Kearse
** defensive end David Mackall (transferred to Delaware)
** fullback Rahsaan Moore (transferred to Old Dominion)
** linebacker Mario Rowson (transferred to Delaware)
** quarterback Tyler Smith (transferred to Elon)
** safety Titus Till (transferred to James Madison)
** running back Jeremiah Wilson (transferred to James Madison)
Plenty of the remaining 2010 class members, meanwhile, still have much to prove. Will converted quarterback Devin Burns be a factor at X wide receiver? Can Tyrek Cheeseboro bounce back from last season's injury and make his mark at the Z wide-out spot? Will Nate Clarke be a better fit on the D-line than he was on the O-line? Defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, linebacker Clarence Murphy and offensive tackle Jake Wheeler are also still waiting their turns. Lots of question marks obviously remain.
The 2010 class isn't without its success stories. Cheeseboro is competing with Nigel King and Marcus Leak for a starting role. Center Sal Conaboy, linebacker L.A. Goree, cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, defensive end Andre Monroe and strong safety Matt Robinson all entered fall camp at the top of Maryland's depth chart at their respective positions.
For a class entering its third college season, five or six starters out of 21 is certainly a lower number than you'd want. There's still time for many of those players to make an impact, but if you're looking for contributing factors in Maryland's 2-10 season last year, too many misses in 2010 is an obvious culprit. You can't truly judge a class until its four or five years are up, but early returns on this group are far from promising.