Ten subplots to ponder as Maryland opens preseason camp

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Maryland opens preseason camp Monday afternoon, one step closer to what the Terrapins hope is a season that cleanses them of the misery endured during last year’s 2-10 debacle.

Truth is, 2-10 hangs over this team just as much as it did the 2010 bunch. There’s only one way for Maryland to push it into the past, and that’s to win a lot more this fall than it did the previous win.

So the overarching story of this season isn’t going to change in the four weeks of practice leading into the Sept. 1 opener against William & Mary. It probably won’t change until October.

But there are things to keep an eye on, be they returns from injury or position competitions or even what’s different from a year ago under Randy Edsall. Here’s 10 subplots certain to draw some attention in the next few weeks.

1. The Stefon Diggs Show. He has not played a snap in a college game, won’t be chatting with reporters during camp after today’s media day and the history of highly touted wide receivers making an instant impact is spotty at best. There’s reason to doubt Diggs will be the dominant on-field story for the Terps.

He’ll still likely be a constant subject. Maryland landed only one other top-10 recruit in the last decade (Melvin Alaeze), and he didn’t even make it to College Park. For those who obsess over recruiting rankings, Diggs’ presence dwarfs everything else. For those who care more about Saturdays than Signing Day …

2. How C.J. Brown handles the new offense. Maryland is on its third offensive coordinator in three years, and the starting quarterback job belongs to Brown alone. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes as a sophomore, but also scampered for 574 yards (a Maryland quarterback record).

Enter Mike Locksley and his “pro-style offense with spread principles.” It’s a descriptor about as all-encompassing for an offense as “sunny with a chance of clouds and maybe rain” is for the weather. But based on the talent available, expect Brown to run a fair bit. Just don’t expect to know what to really make of things until the opener. One thing that might be learned is …

3. Who is Brown’s backup? No Maryland quarterback has started wire-to-wire since 2006, so odds are there will be a need to learn the name of either Caleb Rowe or Perry Hills at some point this season. One thing camp should surely shake out is who will be on the spot in case Brown is nicked up somewhere along the way.

In case it’s necessary: Only five freshmen have ever started at quarterback for Maryland. There’s a distinct Vanderlindenian imprint on the list: Ken Mastrole, Randall Jones, Calvin McCall, Latrez Harrison and Danny O’Brien. O’Brien didn’t play in that 1997-2000 time frame. He was however a teammate of …

4. Kenny Tate, who returns this month. The senior linebacker was last seen on the field walking around during warmups of three conference games. He ultimately underwent knee surgery, received a medical hardship and is back for a fifth season.

He’ll compete with Alex Twine for Maryland’s strong-side outside linebacker position. Edsall said Tate will probably only practice once a day during camp, even when Maryland has multiple sessions. Tate will generate his share of questions, too; it’s easy to remember what a dominant force he was in 2010. One position he probably won’t be asked to play is …

5. Defensive end, where there’s a three- (or four-)way battle. Go ahead and chisel Joe Vellano’s name into the starting spot at one defensive end position. Veteran A.J. Francis will handle nose tackle. As for the last spot up front in Maryland’s 3-4 defense, there’s a sophomore who finished strong (Andre Monroe), a sophomore who missed most of the spring with heart palpitations (Keith Bowers) and two juniors who were derailed by injuries last season (Justin Anderson and Isaiah Ross).

Odds are, nearly all those guys will be regularly rotated in to keep the entire line fresh. But it’s anyone’s guess who will be the most productive of the bunch if they’re all healthy. Speaking of coinflips …

6. Tailback is up for grabs. Justus Pickett is the most experienced tailback on Maryland’s roster. He’s also the only experienced running back on Maryland’s roster. Redshirt freshman Brandon Ross and newcomer Wes Brown figure to make a run at playing time as well in a decidedly muddled backfield situation (even if Pickett begins camp as the starter).

Another position that’s somewhat young is middle linebacker, where the top of the preseason depth chart prompts the question of …

7. L.A Goree or Cole Farrand? A pair of sophomores enter camp as the starter at the Mike spot inside. Does one of them retain the job, or will a freshman (maybe Abner Logan?) make a run at a starting job. Goree did start seven games last season, the same number of starts Peter White owns on the offensive line. He might factor into the uncertainty of …

8. De’Onte Arnett or Josh Cary? Or White for that matter. Maryland appears to be committed to playing erstwhile center Bennett Fulper at guard while moving Sal Conaboy into the lineup at center. Justin Gilbert will be a starter at right tackle. Nick Klemm will get the first crack at left tackle.

That leaves right guard as a genuine toss-up. Cary, White and Arnett have all started games for Maryland, and Arnett got his first extended look at the end of last season. White is coming off surgeries on both shoulders.

Health isn’t so much an issue in the secondary, where the biggest competition might be …

9. Jeremiah Johnson or Isaac Goins? Dexter McDougle is a good bet to start at one corner spot. That leaves Johnson, a redshirt sophomore who played mostly on special teams last year, and Goins, a junior college transfer, to chase after the other spot.

A name to keep in mind: A.J. Hendy, who switched over from safety during the spring. He might find his way into a larger role at corner at some point. But that won’t be as scrutinized a development as …

10. Edsall on the spot. Even Edsall, who rarely shows an inclination to stray from his preferred message, would acknowledge his first year in College Park wasn’t all seashells and balloons. Year Two will probably go better because it almost has to.

The frequent question in the offseason is just how embattled Edsall is. He did, after all, ditch his offensive and defensive coordinators, and there’s a real chance Maryland’s less-than-appealing home schedule deflates attendance numbers that figure to decrease anyway coming off a 2-10 season.

But here’s the element of common sense: Edsall has $8 million left on his deal after this year, and Maryland just cut seven sports while pleading poverty as an athletic department. The Terps would have to be dreadful – as in somewhere in the ballpark of last year’s abysmal campaign – for a dismissal to become a remotely realistic topic of conversation. Even then, that’s a whole lot of money for a destitute organization to pony up.

As it stands now, Edsall will have at least a couple years to try to climb out of a 2-10 crater, and will surely do it his way. This month will at least start to show if there are any on-field alterations in his manner of doing things in College Park.

Patrick Stevens

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