Season in Review/Looking Ahead: The Offense
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun
The Maryland Terrapins football team wrapped up their 2014 regular season schedule last weekend with a heartbreaking loss to Rutgers in College Park. It was a disappointing end to what was a solid regular season for the Terps, who finished their inaugural season in the Big Ten Conference with a record of 7-5, including a 4-4 mark in conference play. They were excellent on the road, losing just one game to Wisconsin. Their home record was significantly tougher, and they won just two games over James Madison and Iowa at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. Maryland will wrap up its 2014 season with a bowl game, the destination of which will be decided this Sunday. Most projections have them playing Georgia, in either Florida or Tennessee on or around New Year’s Day. While the season has yet to come to a close, it’s never too early to start looking ahead at the 2015 season for Randy Edsall and the Terrapins.
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Who Starts at Quarterback?
For the first time in two years, there will be a new starting quarterback for the Maryland Terrapins. C.J. Brown will finish up his Maryland career when the Terps play in their bowl game, and will leave a big gap at the quarterback position for the 2015 season. Brown holds the Maryland record for total touchdowns with 57, and is fourth all-time with 33 career passing touchdowns. He is also fifth all-time in career passing yards with 5,167. He has been a very valuable member of the Maryland football program during his time in College Park.
The heir apparent to the Maryland quarterback throne seems to be Caleb Rowe, who will be a senior in 2015. Rowe has seen playing time in each of his three seasons with the Terps, and certainly has the best arm on the team. Before tearing his ACL this season, he saw action in four of Maryland’s games. He completed 63.0% of his 54 pass attempts for 489 yards. He threw five touchdowns and four interceptions. He saw most of his career playing time come in 2013, when he started two games in C.J. Brown’s stead due to injuries. In that season, he completed 48.9% of his 131 pass attempts for 989 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Caleb Rowe has a reputation for being a gun-slinger. He isn’t afraid to make any throw, and this confidence occasionally becomes his downfall. He has thrown for twelve touchdowns in his career, but has also tossed ten interceptions. This is something he will need to improve upon if he is to have success as Maryland’s starting quarterback in 2015. His running ability leaves something to be desired as well. He is a pocket passer, and Mike Locksley’s offense changes quite a bit when Rowe is taking the snaps. In a previous article, I wrote about how Maryland’s option game changes when Rowe is in at quarterback. Maryland fans will certainly see a different style of offense from Mike Locksley next season if Caleb Rowe is the team’s starting quarterback.
With C.J. Brown, Locksley was able to run a spread-to-run attack built on the inside zone read. Most of the team’s running plays came out of a spread formation with Brown reading the play-side defensive end and determining whether to give the ball to his running back, or whether to keep the ball himself around the edge. Caleb Rowe simply doesn’t have the mobility to make that type of offense successful. Fans will likely see a more pro-style attack with Rowe at quarterback. C.J. Brown rarely stepped under center, but Rowe will likely take a good portion of his snaps from there. The Terps will likely pass the ball more in order to take advantage of Rowe’s arm. The biggest challenges for Caleb Rowe next season will be improving his accuracy, especially on short and medium-range throws, and making smarter decisions when he drops back to pass. C.J. Brown was normally very efficient with the football. Caleb Rowe needs to be able to do that in order to have success in 2015.
Replacing Long (and Diggs?)
In 2015, the Maryland Terrapins will have the unenviable task of replacing one or both of their star wide receivers from the last two seasons. Deon Long was the team’s starting split end for the past two years after transferring to College Park from Iowa Western Community College. Stefon Diggs has started for three straight seasons in the slot for the Terps. Both were 5-star recruits when they committed to Maryland, and have been an integral part of the team’s offense ever since they stepped foot on campus. There is no doubt that Long will be gone, as he will graduate after this season. Diggs is a junior who certainly could go to the NFL if he wanted to, but may elect to stay due to a kidney injury that kept him out of three games this season.
Deon Long was the team’s starting split end this season, but was a bit underwhelming in his performance. He was only able to amass 554 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and only went over 100 receiving yards in a game once. He had a few backups throughout this season, but will likely be replaced by either Amba Etta-Tawo or Juwann Winfree.
Etta-Tawo made waves last weekend when he caught a slant pass from C.J. Brown and took it 71 yards for a touchdown. His best season came in 2013, when he replaced Long after he suffered a broken leg against Wake Forest. Etta-Tawo racked up 500 yards receiving and two touchdowns in that season. He has the size and the speed necessary to play the split-end position, and should be a favorite deep target for Caleb Rowe in 2015. As a freshman in 2014, Juwann Winfree certainly showed flashes of why he was a 4-star recruit coming out of Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, New Jersey. He caught 10 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns this season, his first score coming on a 30-yard pass from Caleb Rowe against Indiana. Like Etta-Tawo, he has the size and the speed necessary to replace Deon Long at the split-end position, and is an excellent deep threat for the Terrapins.
Stefon Diggs has started at the slot receiver position for the Terps since he arrived on campus in 2012. He is one of the best receivers to ever play in College Park, and his speed and quickness have drawn the eyes of NFL scouts for some time now. He missed the team’s final three games due to a kidney injury this season, but will return to practice this weekend and play in Maryland’s bowl game. Diggs caught 52 passes for 654 yards this season, scoring five times. He also added 28 yards on 5 carries. He surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark in three games, and had a touchdown in each one of those. While he never recorded double-digit receptions in a game, he only had one in which he caught less than 5 passes.
Levern Jacobs was projected to be Diggs’ backup this season, but was suspended for the year for violating the university’s student code of conduct. By all accounts, it appears as if he will be back on the team in 2015. If Diggs leaves for the NFL, the Terps will need Jacobs. He had an excellent season in 2013, and took over for Diggs after he broke his leg against Wake Forest. That season saw Jacobs catch 47 passes for 640 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 26 yards on 6 carries. He is smaller than Diggs, but has the speed and agility necessary to play the slot receiver position for the Terps in 2015. Jacquille Veii spent most of the 2014 season as Diggs’ backup in the slot after Jacobs was suspended. Veii started his Maryland career as a running back, but made the switch to slot receiver a few weeks before the 2014 season began. He caught 16 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown this season. He also added 105 yards on 19 carries, and scored two touchdowns on the ground. With one season at receiver under his belt, Veii will certainly improve at the position if the Terps elect to keep him there. However, much of that will likely depend on whether or not Stefon Diggs is still on the team in 2015.
What About the Offensive Line?
Maryland’s offensive line struggled for the majority of the 2014 season, failing to open holes for their running backs and allowing defensive lines to penetrate far too easily on passing plays. After the team’s loss to Michigan State, Randy Edsall moved LT Michael Dunn to RT and made backup LT Jake Wheeler a starter at the position. While the team played only two games with this new offensive line, they looked like a much more cohesive unit. They ran for over 145 yards in each of those final two games, including a 281-yard rushing performance in the loss to Rutgers. The Terps will be losing two starting members of their offensive line from 2014: LG Silvano Altamirano and C Sal Conaboy. However, those two positions may not be the only ones with new starters in 2015.
After Mike Madaras abruptly left the program in the middle of the 2013 season, the Terps have struggled to find a starting left tackle. They thought they had one in Larry Mazyck, the junior college transfer from Iowa Western Community College, but he was ruled academically ineligible. They also thought they had one in Moise Larose, but he was suspended for the 2014 season due to a violation of the athletic department’s student code of conduct. 2015 will likely see the team attempting to find a solid left tackle once again. Larose is certainly a candidate for the job, as he saw minimal playing time after Madaras left and before he himself suffered a season-ending injury. Another candidate for the job is Damian Prince. Prince was the crown jewel of Randy Edsall’s 2014 recruiting class, a 5-star offensive tackle who chose the Terps over countless other prestigious programs. While he was not ready to start as a freshman, he will almost certainly be ready as a redshirt freshman.
The right tackle position is also one where the Terps may want to look for a new starter. Ryan Doyle spent most of the 2014 season there, but was bumped out of the starting lineup when Michael Dunn shifted over from left tackle after the Michigan State game. Doyle started at both right tackle and left tackle in 2013, and certainly knows Mike Locksley’s offense. However, the Terps may have a better option to replace him: Derwin Gray. Gray was supposed to join the team in 2013 as a 4-star freshman, but was forced to attend Hargrave Military Academy to boost his grades. He enrolled early in 2014, but was unable to practice with the team due to an injury. As a result, he failed to beat out Ryan Doyle for the starting right tackle job. He will be ready for the start of the 2015 season, and has a good chance of being Maryland’s new starting right tackle. Michael Dunn and Ryan Doyle will certainly be in the running for the job as well.
All three interior offensive line positions will likely be up for grabs as well, especially the left guard and center spots. Silvano Altamirano spent the entire season as the starter there, but will be graduating after this year. Evan Mulrooney was his backup this season, but failed to grab the starting job due to a viral infection he suffered at the beginning of fall camp. However, due to Sal Conaboy’s graduation, Mulrooney could very well go back to center and become the starter there for his senior season. That leaves the two offensive guard spots, which have a large number of players competing for those jobs.
Andrew Zeller started at right tackle for the entirety of the 2014 season, and will have a leg up on that job in 2015. Michael Dunn played right guard to start the 2013 season, so he will be in the running for one or both of the guard spots. Mike Minter spent a good portion of this season as Zeller’s backup at right guard, and will certainly be competing for both of the guard positions. Other players who will be in the running include JaJuan Dulaney, Maurice Shelton, and Stephen Grommer.
I projected how the 2015 depth chart would look in a previous article, and I believe that this will be the team’s starting offensive line:
LT – Damian Prince (RFr.)
LG – Evan Mulrooney (RSr.)
C – Stephen Grommer (Sr.)
RG – Michael Dunn (RJr.)
RT – Derwin Gray (RSo.)