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Terps' future hinges on their ability to find and develop a quarterback

Terps' future hinges on their ability to find and develop a quarterback
Caleb Rowe (7) and Shane Cockerille (2) are two options for next year, but Maryland's quarterback of the future might still be in high school. (Steve Ruark, Baltimore Sun)

Walking back toward the tunnel leading to Florida State's locker room, Jameis Winston stared toward the crowd at Miami's Sun Life Stadium and put his finger to his lips.

The Florida State quarterback had silenced Miami's fans with his play, leading the Seminoles back from a 16-point deficit to win and preserve his team's hopes of defending its national championship.

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That is what Maryland is looking for, a game-changing quarterback who can step up in the biggest moments and take the Terps to a level typically reserved for teams with signal callers the caliber of Winston.

"If you have a top player at quarterback, Maryland can challenge anyone in the Big Ten," said former Terps and NFL star Shawne Merriman, who serves as an analyst on the Big Ten Network. "Physically, they'll match up against anybody. They need to fix some problems on the offensive line. The defensive line, they need to beef it up there a little bit. But [aside] from a few key opponents, Maryland can already match up with anyone in the Big Ten."

Consistent play from the quarterback position is one of the primary areas that has been lacking.

At times, sixth-year senior C.J. Brown has been more a detriment than an asset, misfiring on potential big plays down the field or making poor decisions like he did on a backbreaking interception returned for a touchdown late in the third quarter of last week's loss to Michigan State.

The story on Brown has been all but written: He's a talented runner who was just never able to develop into an efficient player within the pocket.

The question is: How quickly can Maryland find and develop the upper-tier starter it has lacked for the most part since Neil O'Donnell and Scott Milanovich played for the Terps in the late 1980s and early 1990s?

"I'm pretty pleased with what we have now depth-wise," said Mike Locksley, Maryland's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, "and now we just have to continue developing them, and that's on me."

The two most promising options on the Terps' roster are redshirt junior Caleb Rowe and redshirt freshman Shane Cockerille.

Rowe is a gunslinger with a strong arm who has thrown for 1,768 yards and 12 touchdowns in spot action during his Maryland career, including 489 yards and five touchdowns this season before he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in October.

Rowe is expected to be healed in time for next season and could be eligible for a medical hardship waiver since he was injured during the first half of the year and saw limited playing time.

Cockerille (Gilman) is a physical 6-foot-2, 215-pound player whom ESPN ranked as a four-star recruit coming out of high school.

While Cockerille has yet to see any game action on offense for the Terps and has mechanical flaws that coaches would like to see refined, some teammates believe he has Tim Tebow-like qualities. He is unconventional and may make some mistakes, but he can make plays if given the opportunity.

"Shane was highly rated. He's going to be a good player for us," Locksley said, later adding, "He's a young quarterback developing, and it takes quarterbacks time to develop sometimes. I feel like we've recruited pretty well at the quarterback position."

More likely, Maryland's long-term answer at the position will have to come through further recruiting.

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Highly touted Class of 2016 quarterback prospect Dwayne Haskins from Bullis High School in Potomac would represent a big get for the Terps if they are able to beat out schools such as Ohio State for him.

ESPN ranks the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Haskins as the second-best pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2016 and the No. 26 player in his class nationally.

Even if Maryland is unable to land Haskins, the Terps have a verbal commitment from intriguing Class of 2015 quarterback prospect Gage Shaffer, a 6-foot-7, 205-pound signal caller from West Virginia whom ESPN rates as a high-end three-star recruit.

"He is the real deal. I'm telling you," said former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, who watched film of Shaffer during the summer and recently attended one of Shaffer's practices at Frankfort High School. "He processes well. He has tremendous raw physical talent. I don't know what the competition is going to be like at Maryland, but I can tell you, I can't imagine too many people throwing the football as well as this kid throws it. …

"If I'm a University of Maryland alumni and you had a chance to go up and see this young man play football, you've got to say to yourself, we have a chance to have some somebody who can be pretty special."

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