Entering fall camp, Maryland has a number of questions for its second year in the Big Ten. There were some notable departures in the offseason, and now the attention turns to who can step up with the Terps trying to make their third straight bowl appearance under fifth-year coach Randy Edsall. Here are five storylines to watch when Maryland opens practice Monday.
Who will be quarterback?
Despite C.J. Brown's up-and-down career in College Park, the longtime quarterback did set a new standard of consistency of sorts last season by becoming the first Maryland signal caller since Sam Hollenbach in 2006 to start every game in a season. Plus, Brown led the Terps with 539 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. The void is there, and there's ample opportunity for any quarterback on the roster to seize the job.
Maryland's preseason depth chart lists a three-way battle for the starting spot between senior Caleb Rowe, junior Perry Hills and Oklahoma State senior transfer Daxx Garman. The trio has combined to start 18 games in their careers and throw 33 touchdowns to go with 29 interceptions. Hills has the highest caeer completion percentage of the bunch at 57 percent, but he's seen the least amount of action and hasn't made a start since 2012. Rowe is coming off his second torn anterior cruciate ligament and missed spring practice. Garman wasn't ruled eligible until the end of July and is at his third school.
Between injuries and ineffectiveness, it's possible that all three quarterbacks could see the field this fall. As Edsall showed with Brown over the past two seasons, he's not afraid to make a switch to give Maryland its best chance to win.
Stefon Diggs and Deon Long are gone. Who will step up at wide receiver?
When the season ended, Maryland seemed to be in a good place with a returning corps of Marcus Leak, Juwann Winfree, Levern Jacobs, and Taivon Jacobs. But Leak and Winfree are gone, and it leaves what was one of the Terps' most talented positions a year ago thin.
Before he missed last season because of a suspension, Levern Jacobs flashed his potential with big games against Clemson and Marshall in 2013. His younger brother Taivon is more of an unknown quantity after redshirting in 2013 and suffering a season-ending right knee injury in the season opener last year, but the former four-star recruit has sprinter speed and earned high praise last season.
In order for the Terps to truly replace the production of Diggs (62 catches, 792 yards, five touchdowns) and Long (51 catches, 575 yards, two touchdowns) — not to mention Leak (20 catches, 297 yards, three touchdowns) and Winfree (11 catches, 158 yards, two touchdowns) — they'll need marked development out of juniors Amba Etta-Tawo and Malcolm Culmer. The duo has received plenty of opportunities because of injury and absence the past two years but neither was able to get a strong grasp on a starting job. Culmer will compete with Taivon Jacobs for a starting spot, and Etta-Tawo is listed as a starter in front of freshman D.J. Moore.
New defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski and the switch to the 4-3.
After a few years of relative continuity on defense for Maryland, defensive coordinator Brian Stewart left to take a job on Mike Riley's staff at Nebraska, and Stewart's 3-4 defense departs along with him. The Terps promoted inside linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski to defensive coordinator, a capacity he last served in at Massachusetts from 2004 through 2010.
One of the most significant developments of the defensive switch will be the move from outside linebacker to defensive end for junior Yannick Ngakoue. The Bowie native was named to the Butkus Award Watch List this fall and is coming off a season in which he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors from the media after recording 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. With most of Maryland's defensive standouts from the past three years having moved on, Ngakoue's role with the defense becomes that much more significant.
There is some other talent on defense, such as middle linebacker Jermaine Carter, outside linebacker Abner Logan and defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson, but after recruiting and developing players for the 3-4 over the past few years, there could be some growing pains, especially against the Big Ten's elite offenses.
What is Brad Craddock's ceiling?
Kicker Brad Craddock solidified himself as one of the nation's top kicking talents last season a record-setting campaign that earned him the Lou Groza Award. He currently owns four Maryland kicking records — longest field goal (57 yards), season field goal percentage (18 of 19 for .947), consecutive field goals made (24) and current highest career field goal percentage (.817) — and has improved in each year of his college career.
So what's next for the Australian? What else can he do?
The Terps would welcome a repeat of last season's performance when Craddock made 11 field goals of more than 40 yards, especially with some questions looming about the offense's ability to move the ball. Craddock's prowess gives Maryland a unique weapon that can keep a game close or even win it — see last year's games at Penn State and Michigan.
It's clear that Craddock has the respect of Edsall and his teammates. After Maryland beat Iowa last October, Edsall told an Australian reporter, "If there are any other Australians like Brad Craddock, I'll fly over there and personally bring them back."
Craddock's role has expanded beyond just being a kicker, an unforgiving position that can sometimes fly under the radar. Craddock helped Ngakoue map out a schedule to help improve, and Edsall expected the rest of the team to follow his example. Craddock's made it clear he's become more than just a kicker for Maryland.
How will Maryland keep up in its division?
After a third-place finish in the Big Ten East a year ago, Maryland's margin of error has narrowed considerably. Ohio State, obviously, is coming off an undefeated season and is a favorite to repeat as national champions. Michigan State boasts a top quarterback in Connor Cook. Both those teams thrashed the Terps last season.
James Franklin and Penn State continued their success on the recruiting trail with a top 20 class in February, and with another year under his belt in State College, Maryland could face a much better iteration of the Nittany Lions in Baltimore in October. New Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made a ballyhooed return to his alma mater, and despite lack of results on the field, the departed Brady Hoke didn't exactly leave the cupboard bare. Meanwhile, Rutgers is replacing a longtime quarterback and Indiana lost its most productive player to the NFL in the offseason.
The competition in the Big Ten East got a whole lot stiffer, and while it might be easy to focus on the future and Maryland's burgeoning 2016 recruiting class, there's still a gauntlet of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State (with a bye week thrown in) in October to get through.