At some point in the past few weeks or months, Wes Brown started seeing things differently in practice. The Maryland running back couldn't pinpoint exactly what had come into focus more than before, but his practice habits improved, and the coaching staff took notice.
It translated to more snaps and more carries on the field. There were more opportunities for Brown to showcase himself and give glimpses of the talent that made him a four-star recruit out of Good Counsel in the Class of 2012.
When Maryland released its depth chart for Saturday's game at No. 13 Michigan State, Brown was listed as the starter over senior Brandon Ross, who had started the first nine games of the season. It's another chance for Brown to carry over what he showed his coaches in practice onto the field in a high-profile game.
"The way you practice and the way you prepare yourself mentally for practice will determine the way you're going to practice," Brown said. "You can have the grit to go out and do what you've got to do, but if you're not preparing yourself the night before or the day of, you ain't going to go out and remember what you did last night."
Brown had 10 carries in Maryland's 31-24 loss to Wisconsin, his most since carrying 13 times in the season opener against Richmond. He rushed for 34 yards and a 7-yard score against the Badgers, and he has carried 18 times for 67 yards over the past two games.
This season, Brown has 59 rushes for 265 yards and three scores.
"Wes has just been busting his butt all year and trying to get better and trying to figure out things of how he can be the best that he can be all year," quarterback Perry Hills said.
After the loss to Wisconsin, interim coach Mike Locksley said Ross had missed two blocks that had led to sacks early in the game, which led him to use Brown more. Between the two running backs, the 6-foot, 210-pound Brown is regarded as more physical — Brown referred to Ross and him as "lightning and thunder" during the preseason. And Brown has often been used as a short-yardage or goal-line back.
Eight of Brown's 11 career touchdown runs have been from 1 yard out, with the other three coming from 2 yards, 7 yards and 19 yards.
Dating to the preseason, Brown has focused on his pass blocking in an effort to become a more complete back. He has been effective on the ground and as a pass catcher — he was Maryland's top returning receiver in terms of catches entering this season — but he hadn't yet mastered blocking.
"I took full pride in making sure I improved in that area because I believe I can run the ball, I can catch," Brown said. "But the one thing I was missing was being able to stay on your guy and block and not give up sacks. So this year I was pretty much basing my success off of, 'How many sacks am I going to give up this year?' And I plan on giving up none."
Brown said he is "angry and mad" about the way this season has gone, and he feels responsible for some of the Terps' shortcomings as an offensive player. It helped motivate him to "put more into it because it's something that's missing." His effort to become more well-rounded and his push in practice was noticed by his teammates as well.
"Wes has been doing a great job for us, whether it being running the football or blocking or running routes," Hills said. "He's a competitor, and he loves the game. He's getting his opportunity, and I'm sure he's going to do great things."
Three years ago during Maryland's homecoming game against N.C. State, Brown provided a glimpse at the skills that made him a high school All American. He rushed 25 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. He showed that he could be a featured back and handle the bulk of the carries.
Injuries, though, derailed that freshman season, while a suspension ended his true sophomore season in 2013 before it began.
Nine games into this season, Brown is still working to improve and realize his potential down to the finest detail, including pass blocking.
"I'm satisfied with where I'm at, but I'm not happy enough to stop working on my craft," Brown said. "So, as long as I keep finding ways to improve my technique based off of what they taught me and I'm out doing extra work, I'm going to put myself to use and work at it."