Injury strikes every sports team, without exception. It's just a reality of playing the games. Certain teams get hit harder than others, either through the sheer amount of injuries or the specific ones that do happen. Maryland is a team that came into this year positioned to get hit hard by a severe injury, due to a terrible season last year that led to a mass exodus from the program and a lack of depth all around, and it didn't take long for the injury gods to make their mark.
We've all had a few hours to digest the horrible news - C.J. Brown, Maryland's only real quarterback option for this season, will miss the year due to a torn ACL suffered in non-contact drills. It's like some sort of sick joke - with all the stuff Maryland fans have had to deal with in the past year, a non-contact drill season-ending injury to the team's only signal caller seems the only logical way to start the season - but the truth is this is still about a young man who was starting to come into his own as a football player and as the leader of his team.
Last season, Brown started in five games, taking the job from Danny O'Brien, who transferred to Wisconsin. In his time as Maryland's quarterback, he was an electrifying presence on the ground but struggled with his accuracy in the passing game. As the excellent Bill Connelly said in his season preview of Maryland:
Brown saw quite a bit of playing time as a sophomore when O'Brien got hurt, and while he was clearly limited in his passing, he could thrive in what might once again be a relatively balanced attack. Brown completed just 49 percent of his passes and averaged just 4.5 yards per attempt (including sacks), but he was dynamic on the ground. Brown averaged 9.0 yards per non-sack carry last fall and, in just 71 carries, exploded for a plus-18.3 Adj. POE (meaning he was more than two touchdowns better than the average runner given his attempts, blocking and opponents). He is flawed, but he could still put points on the board, and he is ready to become a leader.
Brown had loads of potential to have a good year, especially with the weapons around him. With four (mostly unproven but freakishly athletic) options at running back and a bunch of talent at wide receiver and tight end, it seemed like just maybe, if the offensive line could hold it together, Brown could do well and lead Maryland close to a bowl game appearance.
By all recent accounts, Brown has turned into one of the team's leaders too, being named captain, and according to Randy Edsall (via Twitter), that role will not be diminished:
The main takeaway from all of this is how unfortunate it is for a young man who really had a chance to make his mark on a program. It's easy to dismiss athletes as just entertainment and a distraction, but it's important to remember that Brown is a fellow human being who just had his year destroyed. That being said, this is a Maryland blog, and we do have to talk about the football side of things, because the Terps will need a quarterback when they open up against William & Mary in just over two weeks.
I feel terrible for C.J. He’s worked incredibly hard to be the starting QB of this team. He’s stepped up, been a tremendous leader. He’ll continue to be an important part of this. As a captain and leader he’ll do everything he can to help mentor the other QBs on our team.
On the surface, the battle is between incoming freshmen Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe. Both are three-star prospects - Hills from Pennsylvania, Rowe from South Carolina - and each has his own advantages.
Rowe is the better passer, and had a very strong finish to his high school career, climbing up recruiting boards and proving to be one of the better throwers in the state. He only had offers from Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian (along with Maryland) but committed to the Terps over a year ago, so that's understandable.
Hills is the definite favorite, in most part because it was announced yesterday that he would be the likely number two behind Brown. In addition, he's more of a dual-threat quarterback than Rowe, making it less of an abrupt and awkward transition.
My personal pick, however, was just thrown into the ring - Devin Burns. A high school quarterback in Georgia, Burns redshirted behind Brown and O'Brien two years ago as a quarterback, before switching to slot receiver last year. He reportedly volunteered to help out at quarterback, and stands at third string, behind both Hills and Rowe.
Burns is also the most experienced and the most similar to Brown out of the three, and running with the ball was never an issue with him. With him at the helm, Locksley's offense could operate in a very similar way to how they had it planned yesterday, and it opens up some playing time opportunities for some of the younger wideouts (aka Stefon Diggs). The fact that he wouldn't have to burn a redshirt is just icing on the cake (although at this point, that's the last thing on their minds).
Quickly looking at next year, there will likely be a three-way battle - Brown, whoever starts this year, and former four-star recruit and current transfer Ricardo Young. He's sitting out this year, but should be pushing for a starting job next season. Don't sleep on incoming recruit Shane Cockerille, either - the young Gilman quarterback is making waves in recruiting circles and recently was a special selection for the Elite 11 by Trent Dilfer.
Let's not get too lost in the future. Injuries happen all the time, but that doesn't make them any less sad. A talented young athlete's career is in jeopardy, and it's hard to think of more bizarre circumstances for it to happen in.
Maryland was just starting to get some momentum after a disastrous 2011. Big-time recruits are coming into the program, the defense looks great, and there were enough weapons on offense to get by. The Terps have now lost the most important one of those weapons, and it's hard to imagine this season turning out any better than the last one.
Either way, this sucks. It sucks for C.J., and it sucks for Maryland. Here's hoping both can recover.