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In a deep Maryland running back room, Roman Hemby leads the charge

Hemby returns after nearly rushing for 1,000 yards a season ago.

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Maryland
Roman Hemby returns as Maryland’s top option out of the backfield in 2023.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

To continue our Maryland football position previews, we take a look at the team’s running backs, one of the few groups which heads into the 2023 season with all of its production from last year retained.

Led by Roman Hemby — who flirted with a 1,000-yard campaign last season — the Terps’ running backs seem poised for a big season.

As a team, Maryland averaged over 141 rushing yards per game last season, which ranked seventh in the Big Ten. And now, each member of that ground attack has another year of experience under their belt.

Working under first-year running backs coach Latrell Scott, Hemby and company will look to establish one of the better running games in the conference.

Maryland’s 2023 running back depth

Player Year 2022
Player Year 2022
Roman Hemby Sophomore (RS) 164 Att, 924 Yds (5.6 Avg), 10 TD
Antwain Littleton II Sophomore (RS) 72 Att, 311 Yds (4.3 Avg), 5 TD
Ramon Brown Sophomore 34 Att, 122 Yds (3.6 Avg)
Colby McDonald Junior 30 Att, 140 Yds (4.7 Avg), 2 TD
Nolan Ray Freshman High School
Eli Mason Sophomore N/A

Hemby leads the group, but production will be spread throughout

Hemby, now a redshirt sophomore, had one of the more memorable breakout seasons of any Terp last season. His total rushing yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns each ranked among the top 10 of Big Ten running backs. And now he’ll look to make an even bigger leap in his second full season.

“I feel like I can learn defenses a little bit better and know the things to do on the field to kind of help my team,” Hemby said. “You know, I had a pretty good year rushing the ball. But as I look back over film, there’s a lot of things that I could have done differently and a lot of things that I could have done better.”

“I think the next step for Roman is obviously creating extra yards after contact, breaking at the second and third level,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said.

As the bonafide leader of the team’s running backs, Hemby will also be tasked with taking on more of a leadership role within the offense.

“The thing I think that’s really shown itself for Roman is his leadership,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “Not a big talker, but the people in that locker respect his work ethic and when he talks, [they] listen.”

While it looked like the Terps might field a running-back-by-committee last season following the departure of Tayon Fleet-Davis, Hemby quickly established himself as the No. 1 option. Behind him in the pecking order went Littleton, McDonald and Brown. And this year looks to be much of the same.

“I feel like the strength of our offense is the experience that we’ll have with the young running backs that came in and played really well for us a year ago,” Locksley said.

Even with a new offensive coordinator in Gattis in the fold, it makes sense that Maryland’s rushing attack should present similarly to last season — at least in terms of production splits.

With Hemby sure to be the most frequently-used back, Littleton will likely continue to see the second-most snaps. His 6-foot-1, 235-pound frame provides a different look than the flashy quickness that Hemby possesses. Last year, Littleton finished with five touchdowns, second on the team only to Hemby, although all his touchdowns came in the first five games of the season.

Behind the top duo are two players with different sets of expectations. McDonald’s role is pretty much locked in following his first two seasons. The rising junior is a three-down back with explosive qualities, and he can handle a heavier workload in case of an injury. He didn’t get much playing time last season when Hemby burst onto the scene, but averaged close to five yards per carry in his 30 attempts.

Alongside McDonald is a player with much more intrigue: Ramon Brown. Brown headlined Maryland’s 2022 recruiting class on the offensive side of the ball, as he was the 10th-ranked running back in the nation. Unfortunately for him, he fell to the misfortune of a very crowded position group and a star back a few spots ahead on the depth chart.

The skills are clearly there for Brown, and there’s plenty of precedent of a Maryland running back taking a forward stride in his sophomore season, so the former four-star recruit’s second year will be worth keeping an eye on.

And despite being unlikely to see the field much — if at all — freshman Nolan Ray is also someone who Gattis applauded during spring workouts.

“Later in the season, you got to be able to run the ball ... you got to be able to run the ball to close these games out,” Gattis said. “We feel like the depth we have there will help us tremendously.”

The Terps have impressive running back depth, and will need to use that to their advantage as the season progresses.

Ill-effects of a new offensive line?

Locksley was the first to admit that the Terps “lost a lot of production and experience up front,” but most have equated that with the effects it will have on Tauliga Tagovailoa and the passing attack.

Last year, when the Terps boasted their best overall rushing attack since 2019, they had the luxury of returning their entire offensive line — with three of those players making their way to the NFL this offseason.

It’s the polar opposite this season, with tackle Delmar Glaze acting as the only returner up front.

Maryland’s rushing production increased in three of the past four seasons as its core of linemen came through the ranks together, but with questions about the group’s cohesiveness this season, it’s fair to wonder how the offense will manage and adapt as the newcomer-laden offensive line continues to gel with itself and the rest of the team.

Fortunately for Maryland, it has a bit of a feeling-out period to begin the season, with games against Towson and Charlotte almost certain to allow for a dominant downhill showing in the running game.

While Hemby said that the offense has “all the tools to be whatever [it] wants to be,” a large bulk of that optimism lies on the shoulders of the linemen up front who bear the responsibility of unlocking that toolbox.