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For Maryland football, running backs should be a great strength in 2016

A unit that can, and probably has to, make Maryland's offense go.

maryland football spring game practice
Maryland running backs Wes Brown and Trey Edmunds run through drills during spring practice.
Alexander Jonesi

When Maryland redshirt junior running back Wes Brown earned an indefinite suspension for a conduct code violation last November, it was easy to figure he’d never play another down in College Park. It was Brown’s second suspension in four years, and Maryland would soon have a new coaching staff on the way. Goodbye, probably.

But Brown was cleared by Maryland’s spring practices, and he participated in full under new head coach DJ Durkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell. Virginia Tech’s Trey Edmunds had transferred to Maryland in January, and suddenly the Terrapins had two senior backs to pair with electric rising sophomore Ty Johnson. Not a bad deal.

When Brandon Ross played out his eligibility last year and Brown looked on the outs, Maryland’s running back depth was whisker-thin. Now it’s sturdy, and Maryland has three players who could plausibly handle a major workload. That’s a luxury.

Even as the passing game collapsed, Maryland had a nice running game in 2015. That ought to continue.

The Terps’ ground troops handled themselves well. The team ran for 5.5 yards per carry and finished 12th in Rushing S&P+, which measures efficiency and adjusts for strength of schedule, although quarterback Perry Hills was responsible for much of that.

Brown was a four-star recruit in his day (which was 2012), and he’s definitely got the physical chops to thrive four years later in the Big Ten.

Johnson looked like a diamond in the rough last year, going for 7.1 yards per carry in somewhat but not totally limited action (35 attempts). When Johnson got past the 5 yards his offensive linemen owe him, he averaged a terrific 9 highlight yards per run.

Johnson can really boogie. Here he is in Maryland’s spring game:

ty johnson

It’s been a few years since Edmunds has really thrived, but he’s capable of being both awfully fast and awfully explosive sometimes. And against good competition to boot:

Maryland also has a trio of three-star true freshmen onboard: Lorenzo Harrison (speed), LaDerrien Wilson (power) and Jake Funk (a mixture). There’s likely some redshirting to be done from that group, but one or two may find himself contributing. Durkin has already publicly alluded to Funk playing as a true freshman.

maryland football spring game practice
Jake Funk at Maryland’s spring game.

Last year's Maryland rushing stats, in full, via my colleague Bill Connelly:

Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Hlt Yds/
Brandon Ross RB 5'10, 210 SR 152 956 10 6.3 9.5 35.5% 4 (3)
Perry Hills QB 6'2, 210 JR 92 639 3 6.9 7.2 47.8% 5 (2)
Wes Brown RB 6'0, 210 JR 71 317 3 4.5 3.4 38.0% 1 (1)
Ty Johnson RB 5'10, 184 FR 35 250 3 7.1 9.0 40.0% 0 (0)
Caleb Rowe QB 6'3, 220 JR 20 158 0 7.9 8.7 55.0% 3 (0)
Shane Cockerille FB 6'2, 235 SO 15 43 0 2.9 2.3 33.3% 0 (0)
William Likely DB 5'7, 175 JR 11 93 0 8.5 8.6 54.5% 3 (1)
Kenneth Goins Jr. RB 5'9, 233 JR 9 60 1 6.7 18.1 22.2% 0 (0)
Daxx Garman QB 6'1, 205 SR 6 20 0 3.3 1.0 33.3% 0 (0)
NOTE: Quarterback run totals above do not include sacks (which are counted toward pass averages below) or kneeldowns.

Ross is gone, but everybody else of consequence is back, and Maryland adds Edmunds and a whole bunch of freshmen.

"Opportunity rate" refers to the percentage of runs on which a ball carrier gets at least 5 yards, under the theory that offensive linemen are responsible for creating the first 5 yards and the man with the ball takes control from there. Both Johnson and quarterback Perry Hills were really explosive when they could get going last year, and I don't see any obvious reason for that to change.

On Maryland's quarterbacks

We still can't know exactly what kind of roles Bell will carve out for his various running backs. But given the talent here and the likelihood that a blue-chip-stocked offensive line only gets better, it's hard to imagine this unit being anything other than a positive for the 2016 version of the Maryland football team.