21 Til Kickoff: Maryland's Battle For (And Importance Of) #2 Quarterback

For all intents and purposes, Jamarr Robinson is the starter for the Maryland Terrapins, and it will probably stay that way. After getting playing time in four games last year after Chris Turner was injured, Robinson is the most experienced and knowledgeable of Maryland's wealth of quarterbacks. He was named the starter (tentatively) out of spring practice, and early on has already impressed in the fall.

Of course, Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown will (nominally) be given a shot to start, if they can impress enough. But it seems that Robinson has the position pretty well locked down. So all that position jostling and what-not will probably be for naught.

Or maybe not. Now that Robinson is moderately well-entrenched, the real battle isn't to see who will be the #1 QB, but instead the #2. After all, recent history isn't on the side of the starter going into the season starting every game.

As a statement, that might be pretty obvious for a lot of teams. But since 2004 - also known as "The First Year After Scott McBrien", Maryland's had just one season with one starting quarterback, due either to injury or ineptitude: Sam Hollenbach's senior season. And that was after Hollenbach already put 10 games under his belt as a starter the year before.

(In fact, Ralph Friedgen has a pretty poor track record of picking the "right" starter after an established winner leaves. After McBrien, he picked Joel Statham, who was a pretty big failure outside of one great Florida State game. After Hollenbach saved the day, Friedgen picked Jordan Steffy, who was almost as bad as Statham. Chris Turner, of course, ended up being the right choice there.

Interestingly enough, it's tough to fault Ralph on not choosing Hollenbach or Turner, both of which were third- or fourth-stringers going into the fall. In other words, C.J. Brown and Tyler Smith, we have good news!)

Or, if you want it more statistically, Maryland's starter of the first game of each year since 2004 ended up starting about 82% of the games. Over the course of a twelve-game season, that's 9.83, or roughly 10, games, leaving two games up for grabs.

That's even a tad generous, since I gave Chris Turner the "opening day starter" spot in 2008, even though Jordan Steffy started the opening day there (Turner ended up starting every other game after Steffy was injured). Plus, Hollenbach's full season was included, and of course this was to see how many games the starter doesn't start, so including it was questionable. If we only switched Turner (and kept Hollenbach the same) the percentage drops to 68% - or roughly eight games out of 12.

The reason for most of the second-string starts is, admittedly, injury, so this may seem like a bit of a pointless exercise. But there is a different angle this time, too: the heat of Friedgen's seat.

Fridge said he ignored most of the criticism last year and will do it again this year, but based on his reaction after a single, overdue win, that's clearly not true. He obviously knows how fragile his job security is. What happens if a Jamarr Robinson-led team falls to 1-3 after losses to Navy and West Virginia (especially if they're bad), or ends up losing the ACC opener to Duke at home? What if Robinson doesn't look good in those games?

Traditionally, Friedgen has given a long leash to the guys that he likes, but I don't get the feeling that Robinson is a coaches' pet, ala Staham and (especially) Steffy. If games start to drop, the heat might just be enough for Friedgen to make a change - and a last-ditch attempt at keeping his job.

There's also, of course, the potential that Jamarr Robinson does just fine, or even finds success. He seems to have the natural talent, and if he masters the playbook and gets time to throw, he has the potential to be a threat.

But then there's the danger of injury, which has afflicted four of the past five opening-day QB starters for the Terps. With a shaky offensive line, the potential for more than a few sacks, and Robinson's penchant for scrambling (and potentially leaving himself open for hits from blood-thirsty linebackers), there's definitely the potential that he ends up worn down or hurt in some fashion.

Actually, a little part of me would be surprised if Robinson made it the entire way through the season - not because I don't quite have confidence in him, but rather because the past six years have made it seem almost impossible. It's a rather difficult task to begin with, and Maryland doesn't have a great history with it.

There's a little bit of bonus importance for the #2 candidates. With odds on Friedgen's and Franklin's returns low, any appearance would be a nice campaigning point for a spot starting for the new regime, even if Robinson only missed a start due to injury.

So, if he goes down or gets the hook, who takes over? That will be decided this fall and in practice.

Danny O'Brien has been the coaches' favorite since day one, mostly thanks to his quick wits. He's a Hollenbach type of QB with an accurate, if not powerful, arm and an ability to make smart decisions. His ability to pick up the playbook got him the early lead over his more highly-recruited classmate, C.J. Brown. In fact, if you asked me three weeks ago who would start if Robinson got hurt, there's no doubt I'd answer O'Brien, and feel very comfortable.

But with some recent developments, that might be changing. Brown holds an athletic edge over O'Brien, and is one of the fastest QBs Maryland's ever had. His arm is stronger, too, and that makes him sort of similar to Robinson. There have been indications that he's started to pick up the playbook, and Friedgen said he showed "marked improvement." It's too early to tell if he can make a move on O'Brien, but if Robinson stays the starter long enough in the season, Brown has the physical tools to close the gap.

A story about Clay Belton impressing always seems to pop up once every couple of months. And who knows, maybe even Tyler Smith could factor in if he grasps the playbook fast enough.

When looking at injury reports, passing statistics, and national recognition for Torrey Smith, I'll always be keeping one eye on that QB depth chart. Because any change at #2 will probably have effects that reverberate far past a simple backup-switch.

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