Maryland football was poised to have an excellent backfield in 2017. The Terps returned Ty Johnson, who led the nation in yards per carry as a sophomore, and Lorenzo Harrison, who wasn’t too far behind. That was before Anthony McFarland committed to Maryland on Friday.
Johnson enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him capitalize on his blazing speed. Harrison surprised many with his immediate impact as a true freshman, and was on track to break Maryland’s single-season freshman rushing record before a suspension for shooting an airsoft gun at students on campus ended his season.
Now offensive coordinator Walt Bell has a versatile weapon to use out of the backfield and the slot. Maryland didn’t need another “running back” to go along with Johnson and Harrison, but McFarland’s far from just a running back.
DeMatha Catholic coach Elijah Brooks made use of McFarland’s receiving abilities during his time there.
Now imagine McFarland in an offense that uses different types of pre-snap motion and creative formations. He figures to — at least on occasion — play a role similar to the one wide receivers DeAndre Lane and Teldrick Morgan occupied at times for Maryland this season.
This’ll mean lining up in the slot...
... maybe it’ll mean lining up with Johnson, Harrison and Maryland’s quarterback in this formation:
McFarland gives Maryland even more options, and this is a team that needs whatever offensive help it can get. The Terps had the 12th-best rushing attack in the country by S&P+, but their passing game was 101st. While the latter will probably get better this season, the backfield will still have to pick up as much slack as it can.
Running back is a brutal position. Maryland needs as much depth there as possible.
The competition between Johnson, Harrison and McFarland figures to be one of the most exciting ones in camp, even if it doesn’t really matter who “wins” the starting job. Walt Bell likes to spread his carries around and keep the burden off any one back. Still, Johnson and Harrison emerged out of a stable of older backs to claim most of the carries by midseason. The number of carries each receives in any given game could vary greatly, but this is a good problem for Maryland to have.
Here’s what Bell told me before last season started:
Running back, physically, is one of the more demanding positions to play because you’ve got 11 guys on the other side trying to knock his face off every play. So that’s a very violent position to play in terms of the amount of collisions you’re going to be involved in and the amount of snaps you’re going to play, those guys are going to get beat on. It typically takes three or four guys per game, maybe four to five to make it through a season, so the depth will be needed. So the best guy is going to play. He’ll get the lion’s share of the carries, but there will be two or three other guys that are in there helping and will be counted on to be productive.
Maryland will also have sophomore Jake Funk, redshirt freshman LaDerrien Wilson and true freshmen Javon Leake and Tayon-Fleet Davis on the roster next season. This’ll be a deep backfield, and Bell’s past words suggest he’ll find a way to find roles for most of these guys in 2017.
Everything’s in place for Maryland’s run game to be even better than it was last season.
Maryland’s young offensive line does lose left tackle Michael Dunn, but it also gains a valuable year of experience. The Terps should be starting four blue-chip recruits in a unit that excelled at run blocking in 2016 (they ranked 15th in adjusted line yards). They also bring in five wide receivers who share a common trait: size. Here’s 6’2, 205-pound Jayden Comma leveling an opposing defensive back in high school.
If Maryland can combine that kind of effort on the outside with continued development on the offensive line and a quarterback who stays healthy enough to be a rushing threat, it’ll have three running backs who can take care of the rest.