Maryland backup QB C.J. Brown is healthy and anxious to contribute

COLLEGE PARK — C.J. Brown didn't want to take his helmet off.

The Maryland quarterback had waited so long to get into a game — through the recruiting process and then a trying freshman redshirt season — and there he was in last year's second game, finally in the huddle with his teammates.

But something didn't feel right. On his first play, the mobile Brown — whose 4.42-second time in the 40-yard dash is striking for a quarterback — had bolted 12 yards on a run option and lowered his shoulder as he was hit by Morgan State tacklers from two sides.

He knew immediately he was injured but refused to surrender to the cruel notion that his day — perhaps his season — could possibly be over after a single play.

So Brown stayed in for three more plays until Maryland punted, even though he — and his father, Clark, a former Michigan State quarterback shooting video from eight rows up in the stands — suspected the worst.

Clark Brown initially thought his son's injury was a pinched nerve (a "stinger"), and can be heard on the video saying "shake it off." He quickly sensed otherwise.

The Browns learned afterward that C.J. had broken his collarbone — an injury that ended his season and left him hungrier than ever to make an impact in 2011.

"It breaks your heart," said his father, whose own college career ended after a knee injury. "C.J. said, 'When they take your helmet, you know you're done.' But I think there will be more opportunity."

While Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year Danny O'Brien is Maryland's established starter, some associated with the team would like to find spots to use Brown, a well-regarded Western Pennsylvania product who can pressure defenses because of his ability to throw on the run.

New Maryland coach Randy Edsall surprised some observers during spring practices by saying that the redshirt sophomore Brown "is putting pressure on Danny. Danny will be fine, but you've got C.J. who's right there who can do things."

"[Brown] is good," receiver Kevin Dorsey said Saturday after Maryland completed its first August practice wearing pads. "You watched today and you watched him outrunning linebackers. Before today, he outran a safety, which seems crazy. Crazy athletic. Both [quarterbacks] are definitely going to play."

Edsall was noncommittal Saturday about playing time, saying only that Brown would be ready if summoned. "He's out doing everything and doing all the things that we want him to do," the coach said.

There are a number of similarities between the two quarterbacks. Former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin, now the Vanderbilt coach, used to talk about how both are 6-foot-3, entered the same year and were top high-school basketball players. Franklin loves mobile quarterbacks, and Brown more than qualifies.

When prompted Saturday, Brown said he can do a 360 dunk on the basketball court.

"We're both athletic guys who can jump," Brown said.

While there is no quarterback controversy, Brown doesn't think or talk like a backup.

"Anywhere you go, there's going to be competition," Brown said. "I'm there to push him, and he's there to push me. He had a great year last year. I can only control what I can control."

Like a man given a second life, Brown's injury and rehabilitation have given him an even greater appreciation for the game. During Saturday's practice, Brown led the second-team offense, and when his unit scored in the red zone, he thrust his arms in the air.

"This was fun," he said afterward.

Brown's youthful appearance belies a fiercely competitive streak evident in practice.

"Some people since spring have been talking smack," he said with the hint of a smile. "Some people have got to get put in place."

Brown's speed may be his most impressive attribute. His 40 time is more typical of defensive backs than quarterbacks.

Because of that, Brown seems particularly effective on run-option rollouts, such as the play he was injured on.

It's a play he's had far too long to contemplate. He remembers how he was unable to bend down to pick up a low snap two plays later.

"I couldn't move my arm," he said. "You see stories all the time of people not being able to come back from injuries like that. I don't take anything for granted."

NOTE: Maryland defensive tackle Justin Anderson had foot surgery and is out at least six weeks, Edsall said Saturday. Anderson, a junior, started preseason camp second on the depth chart.

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