Quarterback is the most important position on the field. For Maryland, its also one of the most undetermined.
Between every QB on the roster at Maryland, a grand total of 11 games (less than one full season) have been played. Just four of those games have occurred when the QB in question was a Terp. And there are only two players that aren't freshmen.
Needless to say, experience isn't a strong suit for Maryland's signal-callers. But there's an undeniable amount of talent, both competing for a starting job and further down the depth chart. Even if this year isn't great, Maryland should have an elite gunslinger in the next three or so years.
And although the lack of an entrenched starter is worrisome, it's also exciting. There's a blank slate, and the best can rise to the top. Hopefully. This is why we love football, right?
The starter. Okay, so like I said before, this is actually still in flux. Jamarr Robinson has the lead and was tentatively named the starter against Navy, but we still have several weeks of practice to get through and Danny O'Brien is hot on Robinson's tail. For this, though, we'll assume that Robinson, who's winning, is the starter.
You'll probably remember that Robinson wasn't always set as the QB of the future, or, actually, as a QB at all. He committed the same year as Jeremy Ricker, a highly touted gun-slinger from Pennyslvania. It was Ricker, not Robinson, that filled Maryland fans' heads with dreams. But Ricker lasted only a short while before leaving the program.
Then, of course, came a near position switch for Robinson that was well-documented in Terrapins Rising. Two years ago, he was so overwhelmed by learning and captaining the offense that he wanted to move over to defensive back, where his athleticism would be well-served. He stuck it out, though, and its a good thing that he did.
With all that background out of the way, Robinson was thrust into a backup role somewhat unexpectedly last year after Portis' transfer. With starter Chris Turner in his last year of eligibility, the coaches promised to give the unproven, under-the-radar, and potential future starter Robinson several looks throughout the year. They didn't really come until Turner went down to injury against N.C. State, and then Maryland had no choice but to throw Robinson into the fire.
And he did okay. In the final four games of the season, in which he was the de facto starter thanks to Turner's injury, he went 46-82 for 482 yards and 2 TDs. Those stats aren't mind-boggling, but he was often put in a position to fail. When he was given a chance, like he was against Florida State, he shined: 20-27, 213 yards, 1 TD, no interceptions. Those are the types of performances that give people hope that Robinson is an ACC-level starter.
But what might actually have been most impressive about Robinson in his time as a starter was his running ability. Chris Turner wasn't lauded for his speed, and Maryland fans were reminded of that fact every time the pocket collapsed, which was often. Robinson, however, was constantly able to make something out of nothing, and his scrambling more often than not was as effective as his passing (and that's meant as a complement). He's arguably the most athletic QB Maryland's had since Scott McBrien, and it shows. That'll come in handy with a porous offensive line like Maryland's.
Robinson, however, wasn't (and isn't) perfect. His accuracy, despite his cannon for an arm, was iffy. And one got the feeling that, as time went on, Robinson was becoming single-minded and scramble-happy. He can hardly be blamed with that offensive line - it was basically always okay to scramble - but as the line improves this year he'll be expected to stay in the pocket more. Whether that apparent discomfort in the pocket is solely a product of the omnipresent pass rush or rather his disposition or knowledge of the offense is unknown, but it doesn't instill confidence.
It could be argued that that's nitpicking, and to a degree it is. Robinson's performance last year could be described as "good enough." He wasn't bad, but outside of the Florida State game he never really showed that he was all that good. No one thought he showed he didn't deserve a shot at QB, and few - though some do - thought he was so good that he locked up the job. O'Brien and, to a lesser extent, C.J. Brown got their shots, and may get a few more. But Robinson's in a position to hold them off.
If he does, he'll be the one responsible for getting the wide receivers (namely Torrey Smith) their touches. There's too much talent there to waste for any reason. I'd expect a short leash if he struggles, especially considering O'Brien seems like one of Ralph's favored sons. But for now, we'll be contented with the flashes of brilliance Robinson showcased last year.
The backups. Again, calling Danny O'Brien a "backup" at this stage is a little misleading. O'Brien is still duking it out with Robinson for the starting spot, and he still holds a decent chance of winning it. That will probably be decided, if James Franklin is to be believed, in the fall.
O'Brien is a redshirt freshman who came in as the perceived "lesser" of the QB duo from last year's recruiting class (the "superior" being CJ Brown). It wasn't that people thought that O'Brien was bad, but instead that more highly-rated, faster Brown was the QB of the future. O'Brien, however, had none of it, and claimed the top spot early last year, no doubt thanks to his football IQ and familiarity with a pro-style offense (Brown ran a spread in HS).
He's done nothing in the meantime to relinquish the spot, and actually almost saw playing time last year. O'Brien was never lauded as a physical specimen the way the strong-armed, quick-footed Brown is, but he's incredibly smart on the field, knows the playbook, is mostly accurate, and not exactly slow himself (his 4.78 is still faster than Chris Turner, even if its not Brown's 4.5).
I've always seen him as a faster Sam Hollenbach, and I stick to that. Actually, he's almost a cross between Hollenbach and Scott McBrien. He's the type of heady QB that has found success in Ralph's tenure when the highly-touted, faster "stars" like Portis and Ricker fail. If Robinson doesn't lock down the spot with stellar play in practice, don't be surprised to see O'Brien see the field.
The fact that half of what I wrote about O'Brien was comparing him to C.J. Brown should tell you how much I (and most Maryland fans) think of Brown. Widely coronated as the QB of the future, Brown came into the program as perhaps the closest Maryland's ever gotten to replicating Scott McBrien and Shaun Hill, except maybe a little bigger. Eager to return to the glory days of the early 2000s, Brown's athleticism and rocket arm was appealing.
But patience is always required in these types of situations. He played a spread in HS (one coach, if memory serves, called it akin to drawing up plays in the grass) and needed time to adjust to the hefty pro-style offense Maryland has adopted. He fell behind O'Brien and now sits at third on the depth chart.
If you're Brown, the best thing you could hope for would be for Robinson to hold the starting spot until next year, at which time the battle may be able to begin again with a new knowledge of the system. I wouldn't expect him to pass O'Brien if he's able to grab the job, and probably doesn't have all that much of a chance this year. But however the future turns out, it's doubtful that you'll find a more talented #3 QB in any other non-elite school.
After that, it gets a little bit messier. Clay Belton, a strong-armed transfer from Miami (OH), is the wildcard in all this. He's experienced (relatively) and seems to have plenty of pure talent. Reports on him vary wildly, everything from "He's okay," to "He's pushing O'Brien and Robinson," to "He's nothing special." I don't know what to believe with him; he might end up being a bigger factor than we expect, or he may be surpassed by the incoming freshmen. I've written about Belton before, and I'd encourage you to check that out in the meantime; nothing's changed.
Devin Burns is also on the team, and for awhile he was my darkhorse pick. He's the fastest QB Maryland's ever had (4.4) and would be a perfect fit for the option offense Maryland is supposedly so keen on bringing in. As an early enrollee, he's had extra time to get acquainted with the offense and the team, so he has a leg up on the other true freshman, Tyler Smith. But he didn't make a big splash in spring ball, and the wealth of options in front him bodes poorly for his instant impact ability. Still, watch out for him in the future.
Ah, finallly: Tyler Smith. The big gun. All the other QBs listed above are great in their own respects, but Smith is probably the most highly-touted QB prospect Maryland's landed since the aforementioned Ricker. He, Titus Till, and Clarence Murphy were the only Terps who attended any major all-star games. He was the only prospect other than Javarie Johnson, who's no longer on the team, and Till who was rated as a four-star by any of the Big Three (Scout, Rivals, ESPN). He starred a few weeks ago at the Big 33, and at least one writer thinks he could be "scary good in three or four years." ESPN absolutely loves him: they called him "the very definition of upside" and said that "we will be seeing a lot [of Smith] in the future." He comes up when people talk about "impact freshmen", and he was one of our favorites from the recruiting class.
But he's a true freshman and will have been in the program for just a few weeks by the time Maryland takes on Navy. Unless he's either a lot better than we thought or Maryland's QB situation is a lot worse than we thought, Smith should probably be redshirted until next year, when he'll know more of the offense and be better situated to challenge for a job. Still, gotta love him.
Where to watch. The starter, obviously, but I'd also say to keep an eye on the depth chart behind him. There's a lot of talent back there, and even though O'Brien might be leading now, Smith and Brown have the natural talent to overtake him. Look at it around Week 8 and see if any changes have been made.
Importance level: high. The QB's success will be partially determined by the offensive line in front of him, but quarterback is probably the most important position on the field. You don't need for me to explain why, but if the QB falters, the team falters. Hopefully the line can give whoever's back there enough time to show they do or don't belong on their own merits.