To say that this August has been better for Maryland football coach Randy Edsall than last August is like saying it rains a little more in the Amazon than in the Sahara.
A year ago, having prompted 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O’Brien to transfer by benching him during the 2011 campaign, Edsall watched in horror as replacement C.J. Brown suffered a season-ending torn ACL as practices for 2012 began.
Maryland was left with freshmen Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe and untested sophomore Devin Burns at quarterback. All three would go down for the year by the eighth game, leaving the final four contests (all defeats) of a 4-8 campaign to converted linebacker Shawn Petty.
Today, Brown is healthy and in full command of the offense as the Terps prepare for Saturday’s opener against visiting Florida International.
“We can be a better offense just by having some continuity [at quarterback],” said second-year coordinator Mike Locksley. “This was the third different offense these guys have been through in three years. This is the first time most of these guys have been in the same system two years in a row so I expect improvement. C.J. did a great job in the spring with limited practice. He’s thrown all summer long and he’s made improvement in the mechanics of throwing the football.”
Brown, who set a school quarterback record with 674 rushing yards in 2011 while starting five games and playing in 10, said he’s more than ready for his delayed return to the lineup.
“I know the offense a lot better,” said Brown, who’s now enrolled in graduate school. “I feel very confident in my abilities. I’m much more mature. I’m really looking forward to this year.”
So is Edsall, who’s thrilled to have Brown back as his quarterback.
“[C.J.] has had just an outstanding preseason,” Edsall said. “He’s thrown the ball better than he ever has since I’ve been here. He’s very poised. You can just see, in terms of how he carries himself, there’s a sense of calmness out there with the whole group. You see how the guys rally around him and listen to him.”
One of those guys is receiver Stefon Diggs, who hauled in a Maryland freshman record 848 receiving yards last season and is one of five players on the offense back in his spot from 2012.
“Stefon’s got some special skills that you can’t teach,” said receivers coach Lee Hull.
Coordinator Brian Stewart’s defense also returns five starters and welcomes back Andre Monroe, who missed 2012 with a knee injury after recording five sacks in 2011, the most by a Maryland freshman in nine years.
Ten regulars back – plus Brown and Monroe — from a 4-8 team likely elicits yawns, but the Terps still won twice as many games in 2012 as they did during Edsall’s strife-filled 2-10 debut in 2011.
And don’t forget that Maryland was 4-4, 2-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference (with the losses coming in the final minute by a total of five points after Brad Craddock missed field goal tries of 33 and 35 yards) before being forced to play Petty at quarterback. The Terps should have won those games over Boston College and N.C. State and been 6-2 heading into November despite not having Brown for a single snap.
This fall, the Terps shouldn’t sweat much against Florida International and Old Dominion to start 2-0. They could avenge last year’s home loss to Connecticut – Edsall’s former employer – before likely losses to West Virginia and Florida State. Maryland will be favored to beat Virginia and Wake Forest before losing to Clemson. If that form holds, the Terps would be 5-3 before the dates with Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Boston College and N.C. State — their final ACC game after 61 seasons. So doubling last year’s victory total to eight isn’t out of the question if Maryland stays healthy and plays to its potential.
“I feel very good about the focus and the attitude of this team,” Edsall said. “This team trusts each other. People believe in what’s going on. They’ve bought into it. I see a lot of guys that are very passionate about what they’re doing. You can tell they’re excited about what this season can bring. If we prepare and do the things that we’re supposed to do, we can very successful. I like the focus. I like the attitude. I like the chemistry. I like the camaraderie. I like the fact that we’ve got plenty of depth at quarterback just in case. Hopefully we don’t get just in case.”
Given that Maryland moves to the football-crazed Big Ten in 2014 and faces the likes of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State next fall, Edsall and the Terps need a major sense of urgency in 2013. It might well be the last season that they can be truly competitive in their conference for a long time.
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.