Terps, Edsall seek some stability

COLLEGE PARK - For now, at least, the upheaval surrounding the Maryland football program the last few years seems to have subsided.
In the last four seasons, the Terrapins have:
Suffered through the only two 10-loss seasons in school history (2009 and 2011);
Fired a coach (Ralph Friedgen) who won nine games and the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year Award;
Hired a coach (Randy Edsall) whose old-school, no-nonsense approach led to the defection of two dozen scholarship players with eligibility remaining;
Endured a catastrophic run of bad luck at the quarterback position in 2012, with four players going down, a state of affairs that ruined a 4-2 start and led to a six-game losing streak to close the season.
The aforementioned list doesn't include the turmoil the athletic department as a whole has experienced in recent years, what with mounting debts, the elimination of sports and the controversial decision to leave the ACC after 60 years and join the Big Ten.
Suffice to say, everyone in the Maryland athletic community would settle for a couple of months devoid of drama. So, when Edsall said on the first day of practice, "I feel very comfortable going into the season with this group of guys," it must have come as a huge relief around campus.
Edsall has reason to feel comfortable. After the great player purge of his first two seasons, his roster is populated mostly by players he brought into the program. And, many of these players were good enough to get Maryland off to a 4-2 start last season - and were a missed last-second field goal away from 5-2 - before everything fell apart.
C.J. Brown is back at quarterback after missing all of last season with a torn knee ligament suffered during August practice. In 10 games and five starts in 2011, he showed himself to be a serious threat as a runner and an adequate passer.
He'll have to improve in the latter category (49 percent completion rate in 2011) to make Maryland's offense go, because wide receiver is definitely a position of strength for the Terrapins. Brown needs to be able to get the ball to playmakers Stefon Diggs (54 catches, 848 yards in 2012) and Deon Long, who had 100 catches for 25 touchdowns in the junior college ranks last season.
"I definitely feel I have [improved] as far as my accuracy," Brown said. "I just feel more confident knowing where the ball is going."
Tailbacks Brandon Ross and Albert Reid, both sophomores, will be counted on to get the running game going. Wes Brown, who would probably have won the job, was suspended for the year after an off-campus run-in with police. Brown flashed his potential with a 121-yard effort against N.C. State last season.
Nobody - including Brown and the two primary backs - will be able to get anything going without a good year from the offensive line. That's an area that has been a concern. The group struggled against the pass rush in Maryland's most recent scrimmage and doesn't have much in the way of experience.
Micahel Dunn, a freshman walk-on, will start at one guard. Sophomore De'onte Arnett, one of only two seniors on two-deep roster, will start at the other guard. Junior Sal Conaboy will start at center, with sophomores Mike Madaras and Ryan Doyle at the tackles.
"I like what those guys are doing," Edsall said. "I think they're ready to meet the challenge. We'll get guys ready to play and see how it all shakes out."
The defensive line is also a concern. There, stalwarts Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis (Severn) have graduated after solid careers. The prospects for that group improved greatly when Maryland added Houston transfer Zeke Riser, who had 11 tackles for losses for the Cougars last season. He'll join holdovers Darius Kilgo, Keith Bowers and Quinton Jefferson. Kilgo (11 starts last season) is the only regular, though.
"If we keep everybody healthy, we can be one good team," Kilgo said. "That's one thing we're focused on - showing everybody in the ACC what a good team we are."
Two key linebackers (Kenny Tate and Demetrius Hartsfield) are gone, too. This year's starting unit will include juniors Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree and Matt Robinson, a converted safety, plus senior Marcus Whitfield. Farrand (11 starts in 2012) and Robinson (five starts at safety) have the most game experience. Farrand matched the departed Hartsfield for the team lead in tackles last season with 78.
The secondary, like the receiving corps, is a position of strength. Cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson started every game last season. Safeties Anthony Nixon (five starts) and Sean Davis (two starts) also have experience. A.J. Hendy, who Davis beat out for the starting job, will serve as the top reserve.
In the kicking game, Edsall has a returner he can count on in the speedy, shifty Diggs, who accounted for 934 yards and a pair of scores as a true freshman. The players who do the kicking themselves - placekicker Brad Craddock and punter Nathan Renfro - are less reliable. Renfro averaged just 39.7 per kick, while Craddock made just 10 of 16 field-goal attempts last season, including a 33-yard attempt that thudded off the left upright that would have beaten N.C. State on the last play of the game.
The Terrapins open their season August 31 at home against Florida International.

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