Thoughts on Charles Mitchell, Big Ten football and 2014 recruiting class superlatives

Baltimore Sun reporters Don Markus and Jeff Barker and producer-editor Jonas Shaffer weigh in on three topics from the past week in Maryland sports.

Should the basketball team stick with Charles Mitchell in the starting lineup against Florida State?

Don Markus: The first few minutes of Mitchell’s first start of the 2013-14 season Tuesday night against North Carolina did not go well. He missed a couple of seemingly easy shots, committed a turnover and did not get back in transition.

But the 6-foot-8, 260-pound sophomore was a major reason why the Terps made a game of it at all after falling behind 19-3. He dominated the boards, had a nice 3-point play and blocked a couple of shots.

His final stat line – 13 points, five rebounds and three blocked shots in 20 minutes – showed that he at least contributed to Maryland’s cause in what turned out to be a 75-63 defeat to the Tar Heels.

Yet I would not keep Mitchell in the starting lineup – at least not at center. Nor would I play Mitchell and fellow sophomore Shaquille Cleare together, something Mark Turgeon envisioned doing at times when he recruited them.

Going into Saturday’s game against Florida State, a team many consider the best around the rim in the ACC outside of Syracuse, the Terps need to get bigger and more athletic inside.

Which brings me to Damonte Dodd.

All season long, Turgeon has been saying that he needs to find more minutes for the 6-9, 250-pound freshman from the Eastern Shore. Dodd didn’t get off the bench in Chapel Hill, while Cleare got one rebound in 15 minutes.

Those who are privy to what happens at – from Turgeon and his assistant coaches to Dodd’s teammates and to others who are allowed to watch from inside the court-level curtains at Comcast Center – rave about Dodd’s defensive ability.

Why not start Mitchell, who still has some major defensive flaws but can be active on the boards, along with Dodd at center and either Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz at small forward? At least there is a shot blocker (11 in 54 minutes) on the floor if Mitchell, Layman or Smotrycz get beat.

Turgeon has tried Jon Graham a couple of times in the starting lineup, but as hard as the 6-8 junior from Calvert Hall plays, he’s a good role player, one of the few who is capable of giving the Terps a defensive lift off the bench.

When the Seminoles crushed Maryland by 24 points in Tallahassee a few weeks ago, they did it by hitting 16 3-point shots. Yet they will go into College Park Saturday with the idea of beating the Terps with their athleticism and length inside.

I know that Turgeon is not ready to give up on Cleare. There are players all over the country – big men in particular – who take longer to figure it out. I wouldn’t either, knowing how hard Cleare works.

But if this season is still salvageable – something many fans doubt and media types are at least questioning – Mitchell might have to get more minutes. If so, he'll need help inside from someone bigger and more athletic, starting Saturday against Florida State.

Someone like Damonte Dodd.

With the addition of its new football class, how equipped will the Terps be to handle the Big Ten next season?

Jeff Barker: It will be a challenge, obviously. Playing at Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin will be a whole new deal for the Terps. Maryland’s best frame of reference will be its games at Florida State and Clemson. But no stadium in the ACC comes close to the 100,000-plus capacity of the Big House or Beaver Stadium.

But the timing is pretty good for the Terps. You want to enter the Big Ten with a quarterback who will not be easily rattled. C.J. Brown has been a leader on this team for years. He’s been around since 2009 -- longer than the coach, the university president and the athletic director. They should give him tenure. They should endow a chair in his name.

Brown is the guy you want going to stadiums that hold about twice as many fans as Maryland’s.

Imagine if Maryland were represented in its first Big Ten season by the 2011 team that defeated just one FBS team and lost its last eight games. You only get once chance to make a first impression.

The 2014 team will be vastly superior to coach Randy Edsall's first Maryland squad. This will be a season in which the college careers of Maryland’s two most coveted recruits in years – receiver Stefon Diggs and offensive lineman Damian Prince – will overlap.  Receiver Deon Long is another NFL-caliber talent. Receiver Marcus Leak and running back Wes Brown return after missing 2013. Cornerback Will Likely is another Terp who could play for any program.

There are significant concerns, of course, on both sides of the ball. Even with the addition of Prince, the offensive line remains a work in progress. Lines need time to develop cohesion, particularly if freshmen are asked to play starting roles. Brown absorbed some brutal hits last season, and the competition is only getting tougher.

But  -- like the stock market -- college football programs are often cyclical. And the Big Ten is catching the Terps on the rise.

Which players in Maryland's 2014 football recruiting class are worth following?

Jonas Shaffer: To borrow an idea from my predecessor, I present to you some class superlatives:

Most wanted: Offensive tackle Damian Prince and linebacker Jesse Aniebonam. The Terps needed talent in the trenches as they lay the foundation for their future in the Big Ten Conference. That Prince and Aniebonam were the top-rated players in the state was just a bonus for a team lacking elite-level linemen.

Most likely to contribute early: Offensive tackle Larry Mazyck and linebacker Nnamdi Egbuaba. Mazyck, a junior-college All-American, only has two years to play in College Park. He might not be as talented as Prince or Damian Prince, but physically, he should be more ready for a starting or key reserve role. Egbuaba, meanwhile, has the physical gifts you look for in a special teams ace.

Most underrated: Quarterback/athlete Will Ulmer and linebacker Tyler Burke. Ulmer will be given the chance to play quarterback, where his future is, barring a technical overhaul, somewhat limited, but he better projects as an elusive slot receiver and punt returner. Burke, meanwhile, though not blazing fast or awesomely big, seems to be what you look for in a middle linebacker: smart, no-frills and steady.

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