C.J. Brown has the second-most famous recovering right knee of any Washington-area quarterback. Brown’s return to uniform for Maryland isn’t being followed with nearly the same intensity as that of Robert Griffin III’s to the Redskins, but the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Pennsylvanian is pretty important to the Terps.
Eight months ago, Brown was all set to be Maryland’s unquestioned starter. Then the red-shirt junior planted to make a cut during practice and his right knee buckled. Suddenly, Brown was done for the year, and in essence, so too were the Terps, who were left without a quarterback who had thrown a college pass.
“It was just a fluke,” Brown said of his the ACL he tore last Aug. 15. “I’ve been out to the spot, ran all over it. It’s just part of the game.”
Freshmen Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe and converted receiver Devin Burns all suffered season-ending injuries as well as Maryland’s 4-2 surprising start turned into a predictable 4-8 finish in coach Randy Edsall’s second season.
“Experience is your best teacher,” Edsall said. “At the quarterback position, the command in the huddle, taking charge, when you have a guy that’s been around like C.J. and has the mindset that he does, it’s comforting as a coach. You just watch the way the kid has worked since [the injury]. You talk about somebody that wants it real bad. He has worked his tail off to get himself back.”
Brown won’t play in Maryland’s annual Red-White spring game tonight at Byrd Stadium, but he has been taking 7-on-7 snaps for three weeks and is on pace to be restriction-free when the Terps next take the field on Aug. 5.
“C.J.’s made a ton of progress from the first day he came out and did 7-on-7,” Edsall said. “He was very tentative. He wasn’t driving off that back leg. You see him today, it’s just night and day. He’s got that confidence back and you can see that he’s really been studying and working and doing those things that you want out of a quarterback. He’s just going to keep getting better and better the more that he’s able to do as he goes through the summer.”
Brown, who turns 22 in June, was also granted a medical hardship year by the NCAA on Tuesday, meaning he should be Maryland’s quarterback for the next two seasons.
“Coach pulled me out of our quarterback meeting [to deliver the news],” Brown said. “It was exciting. … I feel really good. I’m really pleased with where I’m at. I feel confident in my knee and excited to keep going forward. I’m just excited to be back out here. I had been taking the mental reps for so long. It feels good to finally take the physical ones. Going through individual [drills] is a lot more footwork, but to come out here to do team work 7-on-7 against defenders and see [pass] coverage has really helped.”
Brown helped the Terps while splitting duty with Danny O’Brien in 10 games (including five starts) in 2011 after lasting just four plays before suffering a season-ending broken collarbone in 2010. Brown set a school quarterback record by rushing for 574 yards, including a Maryland game mark of 162 against Clemson. His 7.27 yards per-carry was the third-best in a season for any Terp with at least 75 attempts and was the best for any Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback. He led Maryland with five rushing touchdowns.
As a passer, Brown threw for 842 yards and seven touchdowns compared to six interceptions. His passer efficiency rating was just 98.7 because he only completed 49.4 percent of his attempts. But the ever-upbeat Brown even found positives in missing last season.
“No one wants to be injured, but there is a positive you can take out of it,” said Brown, who has yet to throw a pass that counts to receiver Stefon Diggs, who was superb as a freshman in 2012. “Stepping back from the situation and learning from a different perspective, working with [offensive coordinator Mike Locksley] and seeing how he runs his offense … My mental game is a lot sharper. When I get out [there], I’m going to hold it down and we’re going to do great things.”
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin