University of Maryland football coach Randy Edsall said during Monday's media day that he's impressed by the leadership and conditioning of his 2015 Terps team. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)
COLLEGE PARK — The past is full of longtime stalwarts who helped build his program, and the future is filled with the tantalizing possibilities of sparkling facilities and blue chip recruits.
But on a drab Monday morning, Maryland coach Randy Edsall touted the present.
In what could be seen as a transitional year after a wealth of experience and talent left, and before a potentially-loaded recruiting class arrives in College Park, Edsall made it clear in his season-opening news conference at Maryland's media day that the Terps are planning to build on their first back-to-back winning seasons in more than a decade.
"We have a bunch of guys who have a chip on their shoulder," Edsall said. "Everybody says we lost all these guys and everything else, and of course we did, but the thing that's neat is to watch these kids. They're going to get their shot."
Entering his fifth year, Edsall has essentially torn down and rebuilt the program. He's led the Terps through a few injury-marred losing campaigns and helped shepherd them into the Big Ten Conference, in which they finished 4-4 in conference play last season. He's working almost entirely with players he recruited, and they've bought in to his philosophy and system.
"It's definitely been a lot of changes," said running back Brandon Ross, one of five Terps who was on the roster in 2011, Edsall's first year. "New guys come in and out. We've definitely become a more disciplined and mature team since coach Edsall has been coach here. We really have gotten better at playing smart and doing the right things on and off the field. I think that's the big thing here."
Maryland hopes that kind of uniformity leads to more success on the field. After massive turnover in Edsall's first two seasons, the Terps have been steady and fought off any additional major attrition. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is entering his fourth season in that role, and new defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski spent the past four years as the inside linebackers coach. Even additions to the coaching staff — defensive backs coach Darrell Perkins and running backs coach Terry Richardson — were part of Edsall's staff at Connecticut when he led the Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl.
The continuity isn't lost on the players. They have the opportunity to build better chemistry between themselves and the coaching staff. Those deeper relationships, along with camaraderie, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said, can lead to better results on Saturdays.
"It's pretty cool because we always keep it in the family," said Ngakoue, who recorded 37 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks last season. "We see the same faces every day. There's not too many guys leaving to go take different jobs, so that's a good thing. It's just like one big family. You don't look at the coaches as regular coaches. You look at these guys as father figures and mentors."
Despite Maryland's chemistry and familiarity, there are still a number of challenges looming between Monday evening's practice and the season opener Sept. 5 against Richmond. Under Dudzinski, the Terps are switching to a 4-3 defensive alignment after playing in a 3-4 set under former defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. They also must replace seven starters.
There's a three-way battle between senior Caleb Rowe, junior Perry Hills, and Oklahoma State transfer Daxx Garman to the starting quarterback.
The schedule, which features dates with defending national champion Ohio State and perennial contender Michigan State on the road, along with talented Penn State and Michigan, doesn't do the Terps any favors. The margin for error for staying in the race to win the Big Ten East division is slim.
But the goal remains to contend this season. No matter what was and no matter what will be, 12 games lie ahead of Maryland.