If Maryland’s wheel-o-tailbacks indeed spins back to sophomore Justus Pickett when the Terrapins visit Virginia on Saturday, it won’t be difficult to pinpoint the reason.
It’s all about trust.
Pickett was on the field for most of the fourth quarter in each of Maryland’s three victories. He has more fourth-quarter carries (20) than tailbacks Wes Brown, Albert Reid and Brandon Ross combined (12). And he’s easily the most experienced of the bunch even if he’s in his second season.
“It’s a matter of trust in crunch time, knowing he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. “We’ve had to throw the ball and he’s our most reliable pass protector. So he’s been the guy who’s been out there in those situations. A lot of it is trust. We talk to our guys about that all the time. The more you do your job consistently and have production doing it, the easier it is for us to put you out there.”
On Sunday, coach Randy Edsall indicated Pickett and Brown would handle the heaviest load for the Terps (3-2, 1-0 ACC) this week. Ross, a redshirt freshman, started the last two games and had five carries for 1 yard in Saturday’s 19-14 defeat of Wake Forest.
Edsall did not provide any more illumination for the perpetually jumbled tailback situation. Maryland’s depth chart lists four starters.
Nonetheless, Locksley said Pickett and Brown have made the least amount of mistakes when they’ve found themselves in games.
“That’s the thing for us. When you look at us across the board, and it’s not just one guy or one position,” Locksley said. “I think during the course of the game we have enough of what we call mental assignments where a guy goes the wrong way, a guy blocks the wrong guy, a guy doesn’t take care of his responsibility. For us right now, everything we call and how we go about our game plan on offense, we have to be pretty perfect. Those two guys have been the most steady in knowing their assignments.”
This probably shouldn’t be taken as the end of Maryland’s tailback uncertainty. Three running backs have already drawn starts this season, and no one has started more than two games in a row before ceding to someone else.
Indeed, Reid – who got the nod in the opener – is far from forgotten even if Pickett and Brown happen to handle the bulk of Maryland’s work this week.
“Albert still has a role and you’ll see him,” Locksley said. “He came in and filled in when Wes went out for a minute and I think he’s still in the mix as well.”