If you're an avid follower of football recruiting, you can't help but be excited on days like Friday, when Maryland landed coveted guys from Texas and from Florida within the span of a few hours. The last time that happened had to be .... never, right? In fact, the day before, Maryland landed a pair of linebackers from Virginia and from Pennsylvania, and the week before that came another Texas pledge as well as an Ohio lineman and a prized cornerback from New Jersey.
Add it all up and you can see that the last seven commits come from six different states -- all outside of Maryland. So maybe Randy Edsall hasn't quite put the proverbial fence up around the DMV and Baltimore, but he and his coaches are targeting quality kids from all around the country and getting commitments from them earlier in the recruiting cycle than we've been used to.
What can we attribute this to? Well, one obvious candidate is the coaching turnover at the assistant level. Newcomers Keenan McCardell (Texas/Florida) as well as midwesterners Greg Studrawa and Chad Wilt all come from fertile grounds the Terps haven't really been farming lately, so as a whole the coaching staff seems to be expanding the map and connecting with the kids in a really positive way. Maryland probably needs to have a breakout season on the football field before they can compete better with schools like Penn State and Alabama for elite DMV prospects like Adam McLean and Richie Petitbon, but in the meantime, the coffers are filling and the depth chart looks better each passing year.
Has the game done changed? I'll go with Slim Charles on this one and say it hasn't -- yet. I'd still like to see that fence get built. But the Terps are hitting their primary recruiting targets earlier and with more frequency these days, as opposed to past years when the commitment list filled up later in the cycle, often with second and third choices or fallback options who still happened to be on the open market. What is the effect of this? It probably means the commits coming in are better physical prospects.
And the mere mention of "physical prospect" is probably a good segue to today's topic, quarterback commit Gage Shaffer.
Shaffer was an unheralded and relatively unknown entity from rural West Virginia, but his physical profile is something you just can't find everywhere. He's tall, he has a big arm and he can move. Is he refined? In a word, no. But quarterback is the one position out of all of them that requires an investment of both time and patience. Let's take an early look at what the future might hold for young Gage Shaffer based on his junior year film.
The Recruit: Gage Shaffer
High School: Frankfort High School, Ridgeley, W. Va.
247sports composite: Three stars, 39th-best pro-style QB and the No. 2 ranked player from the state of West Virginia. Shaffer was not rated at all before he arrived at Maryland's camp, so the jump to his current levels is actually quite impressive. Watch out for a possible further jump now that he's under a closer microscope by the recruiting services and making the camp circuit.
Measurables: You hear it all the time in basketball: you can't coach height. This is true with Shaffer. 6-foot-7 guys who are skilled enough to play quarterback simply don't grow on trees. Shaffer is one of them, but he's still skinny at a listed 210 pounds while his listed bench press of 205 pounds, frankly, needs work. His 40 time of 4.9 is fine. Raw speed isn't as important for a pro-style passer as things like pocket awareness and sound footwork.
Junior season: Shaffer's Falcons team was a game 8-3, reached the playoffs, then suffered a first-round loss to Byrd, 21-17. Shaffer finished the year 70-for-127 (55 percent) with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. His offense was run-heavy and gained its yardage rushing by a 2-to-1 margin over passing.
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Offers: Shaffer arrived at Maryland's camp with no reported offers but interest from West Virginia, James Madison and Delaware, among others. The Terps offered him and he accepted. We know he's attended camps at West Virginia and Penn State since then, but I hope this process is over and done.
On film: These highlights offer much to like about Shaffer, and we'll start with his arm. His raw (and I'll emphasize it: raw) passing talent strikes me as borderline special. He clearly has a strong arm, but he also has touch. Check out the third clip that starts at about the 20-second mark. He throws a soft ball on a line that hits the receiver in stride for a touchdown. Now look again and notice that he released it at his own 45 and it was caught at the 20. So that's 35 yards downfield with pretty much just a flick of the wrist. I've watched a lot of high school football over the years and, at that level, for most kids, a 35-yard pass looks like a bomb. If you're an average guy like me, grab a football, go outside, walk off 35 yards and wing it. It's a long way and I bet you had to rear back and put some air under it. Shaffer makes the distance effortlessly -- no full windup, no running start -- he just flicks his wrist and snaps it downfield. He also shows us cerebral-type passes he floats into contained areas on out routes, as well as some nice zip on midrange passes.
Watch this one
Watch this one
It's clear from his 2013 Hudl highlight reel that he has a strong arm, great potential, and some nice game experience in which he executed big plays in a complex offense. It's also important to remember that these Hudl highlight reels are compiled by high school coaches who are trying to sell the prospect. They're highly edited compilations of the kid's very best moments, but you don't see the mistake plays or even the ho-hum ones. It's like a first date. You're presented with the dressed up, rehearsed and best-behaved version of your date, but you don't really know what's underneath all those layers.
The footage from PSU camp is much more honest and it can serve as a possible explanation why this tall, skilled passer was without offers before Maryland gave him one. For every pass he connects on, he misses on another. Penn State did not offer Shaffer that day at that camp in Happy Valley and you can see why in this footage. He does hit on some difficult throws to covered guys, but then he also misses on some easy throws to wide open targets, too. Shaffer is clearly a project, not a play-now guy, at this moment in time, but that's perfectly OK, especially when you consider his physical gifts.
Another area Shaffer will need to focus on is his mechanics. He has a tendency to throw off his back foot, which puts too much burden on his arm and not enough on his foundation. However, the fact that he still passes so well in game action despite having unpolished form is probably more positive than negative. What it tells us is that if Maryland can get his mechanics corrected, we might be talking about a ferocious passer with a giant arm.
And we'll wrap this section up with another positive: Shaffer's mobility and footwork. Though he's not a dual-threat quarterback and never will be, he moves around quite well for a big guy and can even tuck it and run surprisingly well. Watch the clip at the 50-second mark and you see him being very aware of his surroundings, finding a gap and taking off for a nice rushing gain. His 40-time isn't good, but he doesn't look stationary either. Not at all. Even on pure passes, he shows pocket awareness, slides around effectively in the backfield, evades pressure and instinctively finds room to operate. Just like how his passes show us he has good, soft hands and touch, his rushes and footwork show us he has good feet and good balance. He's just a nice, coordinated athlete, period.
2015 outlook: Gage Shaffer needs some work between now and if/when he ever takes live snaps at Byrd Stadium. That's pretty clear. To be fair, though, a guy who is 6-foot-7 with good hands, good feet and a big arm and doesn't need work would be a 5-star with every major program in the country fighting over him. It feels like Shaffer will be a redshirt and a three-year project, but let's not jump to that conclusion quite so quickly. C.J. Brown will be recently graduated in 2015 and the job will likely be open to all comers. Right now, Shaffer is at the bottom of a long list of contenders that includes Caleb Rowe, Perry Hills, Shane Cockerille, Will Ulmer and another 2015 recruit who, I hope, has a name that rhymes with Fry Frocksley. Shaffer is a longshot to beat all those guys out, but none of them are slam dunks yet either. Will Shaffer be the guy as a true freshman? Almost certainly not, but he does have a full year to develop and grow and he also has all those physical gifts you've got to love. You can't totally rule it out.
Longterm outlook: It's tough to tell what the future holds for a guy like Shaffer. Quarterback is such a tricky position. There's so much to learn, so many variables and so many intangible qualities that factor in beyond just physical skill. Look at the NFL and you just never know which guy has "it" and which guy doesn't. Tom Brady was a platoon guy in college and a 6th-round pick who became an all-time great. Russell Wilson was too short and too wild but has all the intangibles, just won a Super Bowl and is now a star. Sam Bradford was a blueblood No. 1 pick who might be playing his way out of a job. Ryan Leaf was supposed to be a comparable prospect to Peyton Manning but didn't have the mental makeup and was a train wreck. So Shaffer, at his young age, is simply this: a good risk and a good guy to have in the program. He's like a set of building blocks. Maybe they'll stay in a box in the closet, or maybe they'll become a castle. You just never know. All I do know is that when I first watched film of this 6-foot-7 kid with tantalizing raw skills, I was hooked. I can't wait to see him cross the state line, join the Terps and get to work under Mike Locksley's tutelage.
How do you feel about Gage Shaffer's prospects for early playing time?