Maryland football's fall practice starts in a matter of days: August 9. Who knew, right? Randy Edsall, for one; he took to the podium yesterday to address the media about where the Terrapins stand heading into the fall. Unfortunately, nothing particularly interesting was said, past that Pete DeSouza has been cleared for contact.
But still: fall practice! This is a holiday in the states of Florida, Texas, and Alabama, I'm pretty sure. We're only about a month away from real football season, and one thing I've learned over the year: Maryland may not be a football school, but football is a hell of a lot better than no sports.
So get excited, at least a little bit. And check out the things we'll be watching for when practice kicks off, courtesy of the Marines (hence the ad at the bottom of the page).
Who steps up at wide receiver? One of the reasons Danny O'Brien was so successful last year was that he was throwing to Torrey Smith and, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, Adrian Cannon. Both are in the NFL now, and O'Brien's top targets are now neither particularly proven nor experienced. Case in point: no returning WR had more than 16 receptions last season.
Seniors Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree are the most experienced and the favorites to start, but neither played in the Military Bowl last year due to academics, which isn't a quick way to endear yourself to Edsall. Tyler is more well-known for his occasionally sensational grabs than his consistency; he's dropped a few easy ones over the years, which isn't traditional go-to material. And McCree has 21 career receptions to his name over the past three years.
Past that, there's a host of talent and a dearth of experience. Kevin Dorsey and Kerry Boykins, both juniors, were four-stars coming out of HS and were simply unfortunate enough to be stuck behind Smith their first three years. Adrian Coxson is another option; again a former four-star, he transferred over from Florida and will be a redshirt freshman.
With someone as talented as O'Brien throwing the ball, the wide receivers don't need to do too much work on their own (think: the Tom Brady Effect). But a poor WR corps could easily derail an otherwise promising passing game. With so little experience at the position, I'm guessing it'll be one of the most-watched spots in fall ball.
Where does Maryland draw offensive line depth from? Justin Gilbert, a starter at tackle, is out until October, and Justin Lewis, expected to push to start at guard, left the program in the fall. That left Maryland particularly thin up front, going barely two deep at some positions.
The potential return of Pete DeSouza, who has been cleared for full-contact, could be a boon, but it'd be foolish to rely much on someone who is returning from a major injury and hasn't played football in months. I'm expecting heavy reliance on true freshmen and players that have, up till now, existed under the radar, like Jake Wheeler and Cody Blue - both of which Edsall mentioned in his press conference - and DeOnte Arnett, who could push for a starting spot.
What shape is the secondary in? Maryland's passing defense was so-so last year. Having two star safeties over the top in Antwine Perez and Kenny Tate kept it from being a lot worse. Both of the safeties are gone now - Perez to graduation, Tate to linebacker - and are being replaced with Eric Franklin and Matt Robinson, two big linebacker-y types. That means much of the onus falls on Cameron Chism, Trenton Hughes, and Dexter McDougle to perform better on an island than they did last year.
Chism and Hughes are both seniors, and have had past successes. But Chism had struggles last year, while McDougle failed to live up to his out-of-HS hype. A strong fall would go a long way to calming down me (and other fans) about the passing game.
How's the kicking game looking? Nick Ferrara had a fantastic freshman year, handling both kicking and punting duties with aplomb. But then he had struggles his sophomore year, injuring his groin and missing the first two games. Travis Baltz took over the PK spot in addition to punter, and never released it. Ferrara will now be expected to kick and could potentially be asked to punt as well. Sophomore walk-on Michael Tart is also competing in that area, as is true freshman (on scholarship) Nathan Renfro. Kicking is usually "figured out" in fall practice, so this is no different, but I'm interested to see what direction things take.
The front four is made up of Joe Vellano, David Mackall, and ... who else? Right now, Andre Monroe and Clarence Murphy, if you listen to the depth chart. Both are redshirt freshmen; neither was considered a potential four-year starter out of high school. It's not as though Maryland doesn't have options here; Monroe is above junior A.J. Francis, who has started since his freshman season, and Bradley Johnson and Isaiah Ross have seen time at DE in the past.
In his press conference, Edsall mentioned that some players "up front" who had been starters in the past weren't starters now, and he wanted to see how they responded. I'm assuming Francis falls into that category, and potential Johnson or Ross as well. They certainly have plenty of time to regain their spots, and I definitely expect Francis to - he has too much talent and experience not to.
How does the team respond to a new type of coach? Edsall is a ... controversial ... guy. Disciplinarian, Coughlin-esque, blah blah blah, you know all the words that've been used to describe him. In fact, given the sponsor of this post, "drill instructor" might be the best phrase. That style can work, but the players he's coaching right now didn't sign up for that. They signed up for Ralph Friedgen, who might not've been particularly likable either but certainly was more relaxed.
So, the big question: can Edsall's tougher new rules surrounding everything from being late to practice (obvious and good rule) to no names on the jerseys (um ... okay...) to restrictions on hats (uh, what?) win over the team, or will they stifle morale? Once Edsall gets more of his own players in the program, this should become less and less of a problem, but right now he's a new thing coaching players who aren't "his" - the end result could be good, or it could be really bad. We'll find out.