There might be better high school players - defensive end DeOnte Arnett and tailback Caleb Porzel - who join Maryland’s football program this year.
But the class that will join the Terrapins on Wednesday could be judged heavily on the performance of the two quarterbacks who might be needed relatively early in their careers.
Western Pennsylvania product C.J. Brown and North Carolina native Danny O’Brien are expected to sign letters of intent with Maryland, part of a haul that includes 24 commitments. But both soon could be scrutinized as the Terps likely transition from one quarterback to another after next season.
It also summons one of the mysteries of coach Ralph Friedgen’s tenure - the absence of recruiting and developing a quarterback into an all-conference-level performer under a coach known for his offensive mind.
Friedgen inherited Shaun Hill, and Scott McBrien took the Terps to two bowl games after transferring from West Virginia. Both Sam Hollenbach and current starter Chris Turner proved capable of leading Maryland to bowl games, but it was only after injuries and implosions basically made the pair default options.
“Ralph Friedgen has a reputation for being an offensive genius,” said Matt Alkire, an analyst for Scout.com. “When is he going to get the quarterback to complete the system? Maryland this year was a crazy team. You never knew what to expect. When are you going to be able to develop that quarterback and get that guy? They’ve had a long time now. I don’t know if either are these two are that guy.”
Maryland has not lacked candidates. Jordan Steffy, who had two brief stints as the starter, was a coveted recruit when he signed with the Terps in 2004. Yet a couple concussions as well as other injuries derailed his chances of becoming a dominant quarterback. Jeremy Ricker, another Pennsylvania product, also didn’t work out; he left the program after one season.
Maryland also hoped its dalliance with Josh Portis would prove more fruitful. The athletic Portis sat out 2006 after transferring from Florida, then was suspended in 2007 for cheating on a quiz. He took only 45 snaps last fall and decided to transfer when the season ended.
With the struggles of Portis and Ricker in particular, Maryland probably needs one of this year’s signees to develop into something more than just a competent option.
“I think C.J. Brown has that potential,” rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. “He’s improved every year under center in high school, but most importantly he’s very smart and can learn the offense at Maryland. Guys like Jordan Steffy, Josh Portis and Jeremy Ricker all had great athletic ability and live arms, but none of them had the football smarts of Brown, and in Ralph’s system, brains are the most important thing.”
The relative success of both Hollenbach and Turner backs that assessment as well. But Turner, the prohibitive favorite to start next season, is entering his senior year, and Maryland soon could have its greatest instability at the position since a forgettable 2004 season.
Joel Statham started 10 games in 2004, though Steffy played plenty and Hollenbach took over for the season finale. No matter the quarterback, Maryland’s offense was painfully inert that fall.
The only quarterback besides Turner remaining on the roster is rising sophomore Jamarr Robinson, who has yet to take an offensive snap. As it stands, Robinson, Brown and O’Brien likely will be Maryland’s options in 2010 - and there’s a chance none will enter that season with substantial experience.
“It’s shocking in the sense Maryland should have an ace in the deck with Ralph Friedgen’s reputation for teaching quarterbacks,” said Dave Glenn of ACCsports.com. “Most kids coming out of high school who have interest in an ACC-level program to some extent see themselves as having a chance to play pro football. For most, that reality changes. But you would think the Terps wouldn’t have trouble finding a quarterback.”
Certainly, Maryland hopes Brown or O’Brien emerges as that guy. At a minimum, the pair replenishes the Terps’ quarterback depth after losing Portis and Steffy from an 8-5 team.
Yet with uncertainty looming in the near future, Maryland might need one of them to possess the smarts needed to emerge quickly as more than scout-team fodder.
“It is also true it is a complicated system Maryland teaches, and it’s not enough to be a great athlete with a strong arm,” Glenn said. “Ask Scott McBrien what the most important qualities are. He’s not going to tell you it is a cannon arm. You’ve got to be good between the ears and above the neck.”