The linebackers of the offense. The wide receivers of the backfield. The strongest position on the field. Call them what you want, but there's no denying that Maryland's running backs are stacked with both talent and depth. Sadly, though, they, even more than the rest of Maryland's team, rely on the fragile and uncertain offensive line. But if the line can find success, the running backs will certainly be there to take advantage of it.
The starters. The past few years, Maryland hasn't really used a sole feature back. Actually, they arguably haven't since Bruce Perry, or maybe Chris Downs. With the surplus of talent in the backfield right now, there's no reason to expect they'll start doing that this year. However, there are two players that will see more playing time than the rest, and for that reason we'll consider them the starters.
Da'Rel Scott, you may remember, has been on the verge of stardom nearly since he started playing for Maryland. I nhis redshirt freshman year, he seemed a threat every time he touched the ball. That potential was exemplified best on a 57-yard TD against 8th-ranked Boston College late in the season. He ended up leading the team in all-purpose yardage for the season.
The following year, he became Maryland's starter at RB, rushed for 197 yards in his debut, memorably had 174 yards in little over a quarter in the Huminatarian Bowl, and was second in the ACC in rushing yardage behind only Jonathan Dwyer. With his spectacular bowl performance fresh in our memories, Scott seemed destined for greatness in his junior year.
Unfortunately, that didn't quite work out. DRS couldn't control his fumbling problems, which were a new development in his game. The offensive line couldn't give him any protection to burst through holes, which made it impossible to gain significant yardage even when holding onto the ball. And a reliance on passing combined with a long-term injury and his fumbling penchant to limit his carries greatly; he only carried the ball 85 times, well less than half of his 205 of the previous season.
So this year, it's time for redemption. Scott is now healthy, the line is (hopefully) improved, and the only thing that remains to be seen is his ability to hold onto the ball. Make no mistake, he's still one of the ACC's most dangerous players, and his quickness and agility is difficult to match. Just go back and rewatch the second half of the Humanitarian Bowl game if you need reminding of that fact. But the key for him will be regaining that form after last year's disastrous outing, and he seems to be doing it; unfortunately, he'll need help from the offensive line to reap the rewards.
Next to Scott is Davin Meggett, a favorite of plenty of Terp fans. The son of Dave Meggett, Davin arrived on campus as an unheralded, two-star RB recruit with offers from Towson and JMU. But he exploded onto the scene his freshman year when Morgan Green went down to injury and he was forced into the #2 spot to spell Scott. He actually received 89 carries and went for 457, good for an impressive 5.1 yards per carry. As the season went on and Meggett became more involved, fans loved what they saw, but it was his game against North Carolina State - including a 1-yard TD run and a 31-yard reception that sealed the game - that really sold Maryland fans on Meggett.
Last year, like Scott, he regressed. Much was expected of him, and the combination of the line's ineptitude and the lack of a consistent second option in Scott caused problems. He ended up with 99 carries, ten more than his first year, but had over 100 yards fewer. With Meggett in particular, the line was necessary; he's a downhill runner, but needs a hole to run through. They were rarely presented.
Like Scott, his success next year will heavily depend on the success of the offensive line. If they can't open holes, Meggett won't be particularly successful. He's deceptively fast, very strong, and almost never goes down on first contact - I've always considered him a sort of mini-Riggins - and if his freshman year is any sort of indication, he'll succeed with a line. Now we're just waiting for that line.
Scott and Meggett may split carries, though Scott may end up getting the lion's share. With Scott's speed and Meggett's strength, they're very good complements, and Maryland should utilize them as such. Both have the talent to be #1 backs; Maryland just doesn't need them to be.
The backups. Maryland might not know how to recruit linemen, but they sure can bring in the running backs. The past couple of years they've received commitments from multiple future starter-level backs, and its created a glut of talent in the backfield behind the already talented starters.
A lot of fans' favorite is Caleb Porzel, a running back with absolutely ridiculous speed and acceleration. Exciting is an understatement for him. He's probably the quickest player on the team. He burnt his redshirt mostly needlessly last year, but the hope is that he'll get even more playing time this year as a Brian Westbrook-type of utility player; get him on the field on two-back sets, a WR, kick returns, punt returns, etc. He had to sit out the spring for academic reasons and there have been rumors that he'll be an academic casualty, but they're just rumors for the moment.
Then there's D.J. Adams, a redshirt freshman that came in with Porzel but didn't burn his redshirt last year. If Porzel is the Scott of the future - a quick home-run hitter - then Adams is his Meggett - strong and tough to bring down. Relatively highly-touted out of HS, he's only impressed in practice. He's been called the most complete of Maryland's three primary backups at RB, so there's reason to believe that, although he might not be the most exciting player on the field, he could be the future of Maryland's offense.
In terms of what happens this year, Adams' spring success - both in practice and the spring game - bodes well for his potential involvement. If Porzel isn't a consistent contributor for whatever reason, I'd expect Adams to at least a few carries a game.
The last major backup is Gary Douglas, who's been sort of an afterthought almost since he first stepped on campus. He came in with Meggett and had a higher ranking, but was passed quickly. Then Porzel and Adams arrived, and he was relegated to the back of the line. Ultimately, that's unfair; Douglas is a complete back, and though he's not spectacular he's shifty with good hands. He was great last year against Wake Forest - 81 yards of total offense - but lost PT to Porzel and eventually was injured. He's talented and somewhat experienced, but - though no one knows the depth chart officially - he has an uphill battle to receive playing time.
Where to watch. The offensive line? That's honestly what's most important in this position, but for the sake of keeping it in the position, I'll say Porzel's positioning. He's incredibly dangerous, but as a true RB the two in front of him and Adams are probably better. Porzel needs to touch the ball a few times a game, even if that means sticking him out wide next to Torrey Smith.
Importance level: low. I'm not trying to say that Maryland's RBs aren't important to the offense, but there's almost no chance that they're bad unless the OL is bad. The RBs will be as good as the line allows them to be, and there are just too many options for the backs to fail if the line is okay.