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 football and basketball. For the first edition of this feature, Barker, Markus and Bracken each give their take on all three questions.
In an interview with The Sun, Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson defended his hiring of Randy Edsall and spoke about the challenges he faced during his first 18 months on the job. What’s your main takeaway from Anderson’s comments?
Jeff Barker: I think Anderson knew there would be a learning curve in the first year. If he had to do it again, he clearly wouldn't have made the statement that Ralph Friedgen would return for his final contract year. That was an "oops" remark. But he's consistent in his message. I remember asking President Loh early on about Anderson's credentials, and Loh cited "the fact that he comes from a squeaky-clean program (at West Point)." Anderson is fixated on winning and is very competitive -- just ask his golf partners. But his allegiance to Edsall also comes because the AD believes Edsall has his values in order, that he cares about academics, character etc.
Don Markus: Having been a critic of Anderson's since he hired Randy Edsall, I came away with a little more understanding of the decision to go with Edsall rather than Mike Leach. Anderson's belief in the philosophy of Jim Collins, the author of "Good to Great," explained why he would rather go for someone with Edsall's track record rather than Leach. I still think that recovering from last year's 2-10 record is going to be difficult for Edsall when it comes to winning back what can only be described as a fickle (or frontrunning) Maryland fan base, and so I think it's going to be tough on Anderson as well. But I respect the fact that he stands by his man. Some ADs I have known over the years might be trying to push Edsall out.
Matt Bracken: I found it interesting that Anderson cited Maryland's recruiting triumphs in the 2012 class as support for Edsall and the program's direction. "The high school coaches around here have received him (Edsall) very well and a young man like (Stefon) Diggs and some of these other people, if their parents and these kids thought he wasn't a good coach or a good person, they had a lot of other options," Anderson said. Edsall has been a lot more visible locally than Ralph Friedgen was during his latter years in College Park, so I certainly believe that high school coaches here are responding favorably to him. But it's extremely unlikely that the Terps would have landed Diggs if Mike Locksley wasn't on staff. Perhaps that comment is Anderson's way of speaking to Edsall's willingness to make changes after the disaster that was the 2011 season. Either way, I agree with Don that Anderson's continued public defense of Edsall is something that a good AD simply has to do.
Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz committed to the Terps on Monday. The 6-foot-9 power forward will redshirt this season and have two years of eligibility left starting in 2013-14. What can we expect from Smotrycz?
Jeff Barker: After months of getting double-teamed (remember those Duke games?), I think Terrell Stoglin knows as well as anybody how badly Maryland needs another shooter to attract defenses' attention. Smotrycz shot 43.5 percent on 3-pointers. Think the Terps want some of that? With a heavy dose of Stoglin, Maryland shot 33.9 percent from beyond the arc last season. Knowledgeable Maryland fans would probably want Smotrycz to suit up tomorrow. Or yesterday. Too bad they have to wait a year.
Don Markus: Smotrycz'sinterest in Maryland is interesting, considering that he wasn't exactly warming the bench for the Wolverines. I realize that his playing time might have dwindled with the arrival of Mitch McGary in Ann Arbor, but he's coming to a pretty crowded frontcourt with the Terps as well. I think a lot of Smotrycz's playing time a year from now will depend on the development of freshmen Shaquille Cleare and Jake Layman. Smotrycz is a bigger, stronger version of Layman, but if Layman puts on muscle his first year in College Park they might essentially be the same player -- a face-up power forward. If Layman remains more of a small forward, then it makes perfect sense and it will be a matter of finding a rotation that could also include Alex Len if he's still at Maryland by that point.
Matt Bracken: The only basketball program I watch more than Maryland is Michigan. I was born and raised (by two Michigan alums) in The Mitten and graduated from U-M in 2005. So over the past two years, I've probably seen 90 percent of Smotrycz's games with the Wolverines. I think we can all admit that diehard college sports fans are notoriously fickle, so the reaction to Smotrycz's depature from a Michigan perspective was decidedly mixed. Some said good riddance and claimed he'd be passed by players in a Top 10 incoming class. Some said it was a significant loss and he would've played a bigger role for the Wolverines going forward. Count me among those in the latter camp. Without question, Smotrycz needs to get tougher defensively and continue improving as a rebonder (although 4.4 per game in 21 minutes isn't too shabby). But he's a talented offensive player and an excellent 3-point shooter. He's also probably a better fit in the ACC than the rugged, frustratingly-football-esque Big 10. In fact, the breakout game of Smotrycz's Michigan career was against Clemson in the 2010 ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The future Terp scored 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting, helping the Wolverines to a 69-61 road win. Maryland's influx of front-court players over the next two seasons makes it hard to predict exactly what role Smotrycz will play, but I see no reason why he can't be a double-digit scorer for the Terps that's more than capable of the occasional 20-point outburst. The Terps got a good one here.
Spring football comes to a close Saturday with the annual Red-White game at Byrd Stadium. What have we learned about this Terps team this spring?
Jeff Barker: Running back Brandon Ross runs really hard, cornerback Dexter McDougle could be ready for a solid season and may also return punts. But there's much we don't know. I think so much depends this season on the newly configured offensive line that saw its starting tackles transfer. How well will the new line -- which will probably feature some guys playing in new spots -- mesh? Quarterback C.J. Brown is really quick, and I like the physical style and breakaway speed of Ross. But will they have holes to run through? Too soon to tell.
Don Markus: I think it's difficult to gauge anything from spring football for any team. I haven't been around the Terps this spring, but I hear that the mood is a lot better than it was a year ago in that the players who stayed know what to expect and there's a lot less complaining about Edsall than there was last spring. How much talent remains will become pretty evident in the first month of the regular season, but for now I think the play of running backs Brandon Ross and Justin Pickett has been the most pleasant surprise and should be interesting to watch when Wes Brown and Albert Reid show up for the summer workouts. I also hear the defense under Brian Stewart looks a lot better than it did under Todd Bradford -- could it look any worse? -- and it's going to look more like Edsall's teams at Connecticut in terms of playing grind-it-out football, winning with a strong running game and defense.
Matt Bracken: The transfers of R.J. Dill and Max Garcia were major losses that can't be discounted, but there still appears to be a decent amount of depth on Maryland's offensive line. It remains to be seen whether or not the five guys who ultimately compose that starting line are able to do what it takes to make Edsall's power running game work. Fifth-year senior Justin Gilbert, finally healthy, provides a steadying, veteran presence at right tackle. On the left side, Nick Klemm had the upper-hand over redshirt freshman Ryan Doyle as of a couple weeks ago. At center, redshirt sophomore Sal Conaboy seems to have stepped up and claimed that spot. The guards are a little tougher to figure out, with one-time defensive end De'Onte Arnett and former starters Josh Cary and Bennett Fulper all in the mix. Guys like Jake Wheeler, Evan Mulrooney, Andrew Zeller and Stephen Grommer, meanwhile, are waiting their turn, and Pete White could be a factor once he gets healthy. Offensive line coach Tom Brattan called this group "a work in progress." Finding the right combination of linemen would go a long way toward drastically improving the ACC's 10th-ranked scoring offense.