Yeah, that's right, football begins anew today! Kinda. While spring practice starting is a regional holiday some places (looking at you, Ohio, Florida, and Alabama), we here in Maryland are a little more reserved when it comes to the gridiron (except in combination with crab cakes). Even so, it's plenty exciting, with more than enough storylines to track.
What happens with the wide receivers? And who becomes the #1 guy? Torrey Smith went pro and Adrian Cannon graduated, leaving Maryland without their two leading pass-catchers from last year. The two of them combined for 103 receptions and 13 touchdowns (albeit 12 of those coming from Smith), and that's a pretty solid chunk of production to replace. Ronnie Tyler returns, but he was academically ineligible for the bowl game last year, leaving his status somewhat in question. Even if he's available, he's known far more for making ridiculous grabs than being consistently productive.
There's no worrying over the pure talent at WR for the Terrapins. There are three former four-star prospects at the position between Adrian Coxson, Kerry Boykins, and Kevin Dorsey, a glut of talent that's unusual for Maryland at any position. But Coxson is a freshman and, though Boykins and Dorsey are both entering their junior years, they've combined for just 9 catches. If talent isn't a concern at the position, experience definitely is.
Coxson is the hot name of the bunch. He originally committed to Florida but transferred to Maryland weeks after arriving on campus in Gainesville, and he has all of the physical tools that a phrase like "former Florida commitment" would indicate. As such, he's considered the most likely guy to become a go-to target. Or his progression may follow the path of Boykins or Dorsey, needing more time to contribute. As far as personnel goes, WR is the position I'll be watching most intensely over the spring.
How do the defensive position changes fare, and how does Todd Bradford treat them? David Mackall moved from middle linebacker down to defensive end, Kenny Tate switched from safety to "Star" linebacker, and both Mario Rowson and Desmond Kearse moved from the secondary to the linebacker corps. Though Mackall makes tons of sense and I can understand Kearse, the other two are slightly head-scratchers. Tate in particular is a question, as he likely would've been a Thorpe Award frontrunner had he remained at safety.
But the upshot is that Maryland's defensive versatility is ridiculous. Without subbing a single player, Maryland can realistically move between the 4-3, 3-4, and 3-3-5 at will. I'm guessing that's what Bradford meant when he talked about using a defense that's "multiple." It'll be interesting to see how much he attacks with his faster, smaller defense, as well as which set-up becomes his go-to. The "swing" positions - that is, Mackall and Tate - aren't given traditional names like DE and LB, but instead "ROCK" and "STAR", lending credence to the belief that they'll switch roles often.
Who's the yearly spring breakout star? It seems like someone randomly bursts on the scene every spring. Remember Joe Vellano last year? Though these seemingly-random rises generally defy logic, my candidates for breakout star are: D.J. Adams, De'Onte Arnett, and Rahsaan Moore. Adams has superstar potential based on his limited touches last year when you look at his swagger, intensity, and vision. Arnett is a former four-star DE, but he moved to the offensive side of the ball last year. The talent and physical tools are definitely there, and I'm just waiting for the dominance to come. And Moore...I don't really have any justification for Moore. He's my unjustified "hey, maybe this guy will do well!" guess.
Don't forget about special teams. Maryland has traditionally had pretty strong special teams units. Last year's was troublesome at times, but ultimately still more of an asset than a detriment. Aside from the occasionally up-and-down placekicking spot, the Terrapins can usually rely on top-notch punting (Punter U!) and, recently, return men.
But Torrey Smith, who handled kick returns, and Travis Baltz, who was both the punter and kicker last year, are now gone. That leaves only one significant contributor remaining, but at least he's a good one: Tony Logan, last year's breakout sensation punt returner. If there's any luck, he'll be just as good as he was last year, which is to say he'll probably be the best (or maybe second-best) in the nation.
As for the other three spots, though, there's nothing but question marks. I'm not terribly upset that Smith won't be returning kickoffs anymore; his effectiveness seriously waned there as the season went on. Who is replacement will be, though, is little more than a guess. Logan may take the spot, though the skills needed for punt returning and kickoff returning are rather different. Dexter McDougle and Trenton Hughes have both been listed as kick returners in the past, so perhaps they'll take some kicks. Or maybe it'll be a running back (Gary Douglas is the obvious thought) or wide receiver (Devin Burns maybe?). I'm guessing they'll hold what amounts to open tryouts.
Then there's the kicking spots. Junior Nick Ferrara handled both the kicking and punting duties in his true freshman year, and I imagine he'll do it again this season. Ferrara was actually great his freshman year (I gave him the nickname MVP Kicker) but injuries derailed his sophomore year, leaving Baltz to handle both spots. Hopefully Ferrara will rebound, because past him there's true freshman Nathan Renfro and a group of walk-ons. In other words, for at least two of the four main ST spots, we have no idea what's going on. Not unusual for a lot of teams, but it is unusual for Maryland.
Oh, yeah, there's that "new coach" thing, too. Yeah, about that. Perhaps you've heard, but Ralph Friedgen was replaced by Randy Edsall over the offseason despite going 9-4 and building a base that was, in all honesty, pretty encouraging for the future. It was, uh, a rather spirited debate in the fanbase.
There's time and space to rehash the firing, the search process, the hiring, and everything else, but I won't do it, because you probably already know the story by now. The fact of the matter is that the firing wasn't done primarily for performance-based reasons, but that is how Edsall will be judged. Almost everyone already has an opinion about Edsall, most of them negative or at best apathetic, and his arrival has certainly stunted the excitement that would otherwise be felt.
Winning spring practice isn't very important in the big scheme of things. When it's all said and done, Edsall will be judged solely on how much he wins - and given what his alumni predecessor was supposedly "kicked out" for, most fans will be expecting him to win a lot. But it's only natural to be interested in seeing how he fares in his first spring practice in College Park - the mind games he plays, if any, the progress we see, the sound bites he gives. We'll get a more in-depth look when Terrapins Rising returns in the late summer, but until then we imagine the new-look regime will be a focus of headlines across the area - and, probably, here.