2009 Football Season Outlook - Part I
Aug. 3, 2009
The following is the first in a four-part series previewing the 2009 Maryland football team. The Terrapins open fall practice on Monday in preparation for their season opener on Saturday, Sept. 5 (10 p.m.) on the road against California.
Today's portion of the season preview takes an overall look at the team before focusing on the quarterback and running back positions.
Outlook Schedule on umterps.com: Wide Receivers/Offensive Line/Tight Ends Wednesday, Aug. 5 Defensive Line/Linebackers Friday, Aug. 7 Secondary/Specialists Sunday, Aug. 9
Overall Season OutlookThe Maryland Terrapins will have a dramatically different look in 2009.
Head coach Ralph Friedgen will maintain the same philosophy - a balanced offensive attack and hard-nosed defense - that has taken his squads to six bowl games in the last eight years.
But the Terps will have to replace a number of productive players from a team which went 8-5, including four wins over ranked teams and a victory in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl.
Friedgen said goodbye to his largest senior class (30) - a group that made the postseason in each of the last three seasons - with a win over Nevada in last year's bowl game. Now the Terps will have to find replacements for that productive group as 23 of those players started at least one game last year and 13 were either selected in the 2009 NFL Draft or signed free-agent contracts.
But the cupboard is not bare.
Maryland returns 38 letterwinners, including 10 starters (six on offense and four on defense) and a host of talented, young players. Eight players received preseason recognition this summer and only three of them are seniors.
The Terps will also welcome their highest-rated recruiting class in four years. Despite the youthful nature of a team with just 14 seniors, Friedgen, the eighth-winningest coach in Atlantic Coast Conference history, liked what he saw in the spring.
"This is a very young football team," Friedgen said. "Fifty-eight of our 85 scholarship players have three or four years of eligibility left. But I think we have talent and character, that is our strength. I felt we had an excellent spring. Our kids gave great effort all the way through spring and I'm excited about the season."
The offense has a chance to be one of the more exciting units in the ACC.
Senior quarterback Chris Turner enters his third year as a starter, junior running back Da'Rel Scott is coming off an all-conference season, and sophomore Torrey Smith, who had a breakout 2008 campaign, is one of a number of talented, young wideouts.
Scott, a 2008 first team All-ACC choice, rushed for 1,133 yards, the seventh-highest single-season total in school history, while Smith set the ACC single-season record for kickoff return yards (1,089) and had 24 catches for 336 yards.
The Terps will need to rebuild an offensive line which lost five of its top seven contributors from last season.
Senior Phil Costa, a preseason All-ACC selection, and junior Bruce Campbell, one of the top young tackles in the country, will anchor the line. Maryland also enters its second season under the system of assistant head coach/offensive coordinator James Franklin, and hopes to be even more efficient this fall.
"Offensively, they're continuing to learn the scheme and terminology, but hopefully there will be a carryover from last year," Friedgen said. "There's always a learning curve, but we should be able to take it to the next level this season."
The defense has just four starters back from last season, but coordinator Don Brown came on board after the 2008 campaign and has implemented an attacking 4-3 scheme which debuted with spring practice.
"Defensively, I thought our spring was much more productive than what I anticipated," Friedgen said. "I think Don Brown brought in a really good scheme. I think our kids really enjoy playing for him."
Brown will look to veterans in the secondary and linebacking corps for leadership and production.
Junior Alex Wujciak ranked second in the ACC in tackles (133) last season from his middle linebacker spot.
Junior LB Adrian Moten has started just one game in his career, but he's made a number of plays the last two years. His seven career sacks and three caused fumbles are tops on the team.
Another senior, Travis Ivey, is the lone starter back along the line, but he missed time with a foot injury last season. He will be counted on to have a productive final year.
Special teams, a strength during Friedgen's tenure in College Park, will be in transition.
On the plus side, the Terps return an All-ACC punter in Travis Baltz and a record-setting kickoff returner in Smith, but they will need to find a new place-kicker and punt returner with the departure of Obi Egekeze and Danny Oquendo.
Egekeze was a two-year starter at place-kicker and Oquendo handled punts the last three seasons.
Friedgen has a few keys to success this season.
"First, we are going to have to be able to run the football," Friedgen said. "I think we will be able to throw, but if we can run it and get the balance we want, then I think we have a chance to be pretty good offensively. Defensively, obviously, you always want to be able to stop the run. The other key I think is how we hold up on the one-on-one situations in the secondary, because we are going to be much more aggressive than we have been in the past. We are going to challenge receivers, we are going to challenge throws, and we are going to be out in one-on-one a lot so our corners have to be able to hold up better."
Spring was the first opportunity for the coaching staff to begin grooming the 2009 Terrapin squad. The last stage of the preparation gets under way on Aug. 10 at the first preseason practice.
"I think our players are excited for the season," Friedgen said. "They have been working harder this summer than I've seen them work and they have pretty good leadership in this football team. I also think the chemistry is pretty good."
Maryland will rely on a veteran quarterback to run its offense in 2009.
Chris Turner is in his third year as the starter, but just his first with the job heading into the season.
"If I had to choose between a veteran offensive line and an inexperienced quarterback, or an inexperienced line with a veteran quarterback, I think I'd go with the veteran quarterback," Friedgen said.
Turner has a chance to end his career as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in school history.
The senior enters 2009 ranked seventh on the Maryland career passing yards list (4,474), fourth on the career completion percentage chart (59.7) and 11th in passing efficiency (125.76).
He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 2,516 yards last year, the fifth-highest single-season total in school history. He also threw 13 touchdown passes to go with 11 interceptions.
The Simi Valley, Calif., native has generally been at his best against the top competition. He led the Terps to a 4-1 mark against Top 25 teams last season and has been on the winning side six of the seven times he has been on the field against a ranked opponent (AP poll).
He also directed three fourth quarter game-winning drives last season.
Franklin likes his progression in his west-coast based offense and would like to see him improve his consistency this season.
Turner made a number of the more difficult plays, but Franklin would like him to improve on the percentage of plays "he's supposed to make."
"He really made some tough plays last season, he really showed some resilience," Franklin. "He's a tough guy."
Turner is coming off a solid spring.
"He is practicing so much better and preparing so much better," Franklin said. "He is bigger, stronger and faster than he has ever been."
Turner's backup heading into the preseason is sophomore Jamarr Robinson who took extensive snaps in the spring as the only other true quarterback on the roster.
"I do not think he could have had a stronger spring," Franklin said. "It obviously wasn't perfect from beginning to end, but he started out strong, faded a little towards the middle and then came on strong at the end."
Robinson, who yet to take a snap under center in the regular season, gives the Terps a different dimension.
"He's not as tall as Turner, but he has got really good athleticism, quickness, speed and has a very strong arm."
A pair of true freshmen round out the depth chart.
Brown is dual-threat quarterback who was one of the top players in the state of Pennsylvania as a senior.
O'Brien was more of a pro-style quarterback during his prep days in North Carolina.
Initially the two will battle for the No. 3 job, but could push Robinson for the back-up role depending on their progression.
Maryland possesses one of the deepest backfields in the country this season.
The Terps have just one senior, but tons of experience at running back as their top three tailbacks and fullbacks return.
They also recruited the 12th-best running back class.
At this time last season, the Terps were looking to replace two of the top running backs in school history in Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball. But after the emergence of Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett last season, as well as the solid play of Morgan Green down the stretch, has Maryland boasting one of the most talented backfields in the ACC.
"It's definitely one of our deepest positions," Friedgen said.
Scott is coming off one of the best seasons for a Maryland back in recent memory. He earned first team All-ACC honors after rushing for 1,133 rushing yards, the eighth-highest single-season total in school history. He also scored eight touchdowns and earned MVP honors of the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl by rushing for 174 yards.
"Da'Rel is an All-ACC, All-America type candidate," Franklin said. "Da'Rel is really growing up and becoming more of a complete back. Although he ran the ball well last year, I don't think he has scratched the surface in terms of his ability to block and catch the ball. I am really excited about him this year."
Green, one of the strongest players on the team, came on at the end of last season, rushing for a career-high 72 yards in the bowl game. He has struggled with injuries the last two seasons, but has the talent of a No. 1 back.
"Morgan really showed some flashes in the spring of what we'd love him to be," Franklin said. "We'd like him to be able to come in and be the power back."
Meggett was a pleasant surprise last season. As a true freshman, he secured the No. 2 tailback role in the preseason when Green was hampered with an injury.
"Davin is a high character kid who is somewhat of a combination of Da'Rel and Morgan," Franklin said. "He got a ton of experience last year with the injury to Morgan."
The product of Clinton, Md., rushed for 457 yards, the most by a true freshman since Lamont Jordan posted 689 in 1997.
"We've got a legitimate five-deep at tailback which creates good competition," Franklin said. "That's what we want."
Redshirt freshman Gary Douglas, who shined on the scout team last year, will be added to the tailback mix this season.
"He might be the most natural running back of them all," Franklin said.
Junior Dan Bonato, one of the steadiest players on the team, is behind four talented guys.
"Dan does everything right," Franklin said. "He is Mr. Productive, and is faster and quicker than people give him credit for. You can't have enough guys like Dan on your team."
The veteran of the backfield is senior Cory Jackson, who has been the starting fullback since the end of his true freshman season. He's one of the toughest players on the team and has been a team leader the last three years.
Jackson sat out the spring while rehabbing from off-season knee surgery, but should be ready to go in the preseason.
"Cory is a legitimate All-ACC candidate at fullback," Franklin said. "But there is a battle after him."
Brown has played in 17 games in his career, while Watson saw action in five last season.
Berman moved from linebacker to fullback late in the spring, but impressed the coaching staff in his short time there.
The Terps will have some backs waiting in the wings.