GREENSBORO, Ga. | The Maryland football team’s latest new start is a mere two weeks away.
Even better: The Terrapins won’t limp into camp when it begins in a fortnight.
Maryland, riddled with injuries as it endured a 6-7 season last fall filled with hints the record might have been better with a full roster and occasionally more plucky play, has plenty to improve as it chases its oft-stated dreams of an ACC title.
Keeping everyone in one piece would be a good start.
“It’s very refreshing, and the goal is to keep it that way,” senior Jeremy Navarre said at the ACC’s kickoff event. “We’re an older team, and we have to get in there and do our work and get out.”
Navarre, who has been moved from defensive end to tackle, neither missed time last year nor was thrust into significantly different roles because of others’ ailments, but he is an exception among Maryland’s likely starters.
Defensive end Mack Frost, tight end Dan Gronkowski, fullback Cory Jackson, wideout Danny Oquendo and guard Jaimie Thomas all were sidelined for stints last year, and middle linebacker Alex Wujciak blew out his knee during camp.
Yet injuries weren’t the only arbiter in sending the Terps to a losing season after squeezing into the Emerald Bowl. Coach Ralph Friedgen, who generally remained upbeat about his players last season, still bemoaned their inconsistency on a week-to-week, day-to-day and even hour-to-hour basis.
It’s a partial explanation for how Maryland could beat two top-10 teams (Rutgers and Boston College) and still lose to rebuilding North Carolina. And it provides a glimmer of insight into squandering a 21-point lead in the second half at Wake Forest.
Yet it’s also a guidepost for what must be different if Maryland is to rise above the undeniable mediocrity of the last four years, during which the Terps are a combined 25-23 with three losing seasons.
“You really have to think about what you did last year before this season,” senior center Edwin Williams said. “What sort of workouts you did, how hard you prepared. You have to step that up. You have to say, ‘Well, if what we did last year was a 6-7 effort, to come back this year with a 14-0 effort, it’s going to have to be two times or even three times harder than what we practiced.’”
There at least will be a different look on both offense and defense. The Terps have instituted a 3-3-5 stack defense, an aggressive scheme Navarre believes ultimately will permit a smaller, more agile defensive line to be effective.
The changes could be more noticeable on offense with new coordinator James Franklin taking over. A combination of injuries and ineffectiveness often rendered the Terps inert last year and prompted questions of how efficiently options like wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey were used.
One thing likely to increase: Heyward-Bey’s average of four receptions a game.
“You’ll see a lot of plays to our playmakers - the ball to the playmakers’ hands early and often,” Williams promised.