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As is the case with most spring football games, competition for starting jobs and clamoring for position on the depth chart is a common theme. And that was even more imminent for first-year head coach of the Maryland Terrapins, Randy Edsall, as he coached his first Red-White showdown.
Headlining the seven returning starters on the offense is quarterback Danny O'Brien, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year winner a season ago. On the first snap of the game, O'Brien rifled a pass to Ronnie Tyler for a 65-yard touchdown, the first of four scored by the offense.
""I'm very pleased with the spring in terms of how we started and how we finished. I thought we made good progress throughout the spring. We still have a lot of work to do," Edsall said after the game. "I thought the overall attitude and intensity was good. I thought the players really understand what we're looking for, how we have to practice, what we have to do in order to win championships.
O'Brien continued with his precise passing on the afternoon, delivering 16 completions to four different targets, and 70 percent of his throws. He finished the game with 199 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Red squad defeat White 35-7.
It was the opening play, however, that instilled the confidence needed to jumpstart the offense.
To score on the first play, it really installed the confidence that we have had all throughout spring and solidified we can really do this," senior wideout Ronnie Tyler said.
Two mistakes by O'Brien in the final minutes of the first half dampened his stat line. A throw off his back foot landed in the hands of cornerback Cameron Chism – to which Edsall said O'Brien was trying to throw out of bounds – and a misfire on a deep toss on the final play of the quarter to Dexter McDougle resulted in consecutive interceptions. Previously, O'Brien had led the Terrapins offense down the field for three scores.
This will be O'Brien's first full season at the starter for Maryland. In 10 starts last season, O'Brien posted a 7-3 record and throwing for over 2,400 yards and 22 touchdowns. He finished the year with a 134.53 quarterback rating. And although he is now at the helm of a new offense, the productivity is expected to persist.
"The offense has been real explosive throughout the spring. Everything the offense did I already expected. They have been making plays throughout spring," defensive end David Mackall said. "Our offense is very explosive. They can score at any point. The most difficult part of matching up with our offense is the pace. It is a real fast-paced offense and with that the defense can lose focus and make mistakes. The offense is set out to make the defense make one on one tackles and make mental errors. Overall it's very explosive."
Earlier this spring, Edsall said there was competition at the quarterback position between O'Brien and fellow redshirt sophomore C.J. Brown, who was injured for most of last season. Brown, who got the nod as starting quarterback for the White squad, finished 9-26 for 96 yards, including a rushing touchdown, their lone score of the contest.
Depth concerns at quarterback continued when Tyler Smith saw action in relief of Brown. Smith threw an interception on his second of five total attempt to Anthony Green, who returned it 51 yards into the endzone for Red.
The Terrapins will attempt to fill a void left by All-ACC standout and recent second-round draftee of the Baltimore Ravens Torrey Smith, as well as seniors Adrian Cannon and LaQuan Williams. In their place: a group of unproven upperclassmen and inexperienced freshmen.
However, as the game went on most of the wideouts showed what they can bring to the table this season. Along with Tyler, Kevin Dorsey, Kerry Boykins, Quintin McCree and Devin Burns drew the start for the Red team. Tyler led the pack with 99 yards and two touchdowns.
Among the second- and third-stringers, early enrollee Nigel King made his presence felt. King, a 6-3, 200-pound North Carolina native demonstrated his athleticism and versatility in Gary Crowton's offense with three catches
Despite missing most of spring practices due to an NCAA violation, King was permitted to play because he has filed an appeal. Edsall said there is no timetable for a decision to be made.
Despite just six career starts, Meggett, the Terps leading rusher (720 yards) from a season ago, totaled a game-high 73 yards on 12 carries, including a 15-yard burst into the endzone.
The goal-line specialist Adams lived up to his resume with yet another score from the two-yard line. He also accounted for 56 yards on a team-high 13 carries. Adams scored 11 touchdowns in his first season with the team in 2010, a school record for touchdowns by a freshman.
A darkhorse candidate for carries is Jeremiah Wilson, the redshirt freshman who is transitioning from defensive back to provide the team with some depth. Wilson, who battled hamstring injuries throughout the spring, tallied 27 yards on just seven attempts.
Likely the most scrutinized position the past couple of seasons for the Terrapins has been the defensive backfield, which will have a different look to it this season.
Gone are Antwine Perez who graduated in the winter and Kenny Tate, the All-Conference performer who was moved to the STAR linebacker position by Edsall earlier this spring. In their place are Eric Franklin and M.T. Robinson, who combined for three starts last year.
At cornerback, incumbents Chism and Trenton Hughes are the projected starters. Chism, who registered 70 tackles and eight pass breakups in 2010, was second on the team amongst defensive backs only to Hughes (9).
But the competition at cornerback, as Edsall has alluded to earlier in the spring, is clear. With an interception to end the second quarter and a drop of what likely would have been returned for a touchdown, McDougle seems to be a prime candidate for playing time.
In addition, Titus Till showed off his coverage skills with back-to-back pass break-ups. Till, a redshirt freshman, earned all-state honors in 2009 and was ranked as the third-best player in the state of Maryland.
Senior Anthony Green, a walk-on defensive back, grabbed two interceptions during the scrimmage, including a pass throw by Smith returned for 51 yards. Green picked off both Smith and Brown on the afternoon.
On the whole, the defense looked suspect at the onset, but settled down as the game progressed. The first-team offense scored a single touchdown in the second half, and all three of the first-half scores came in the first quarter.
""We started off real slow but we were able to pick it up. Starting off slow was a problem for us throughout the entire spring. With a new defense it's going to take some time for us to get settled in. At the end of the day we settled down and made more plays," Mackall said.
Mackall switched from linebacker to defensive line this spring, one of three Terps who had major position changes. All-ACC safety Kenny Tate will serve as the team's STAR linebacker, while Demetrius Hartsfield will transition from outside linebacker to middle linebacker, replacing Alex Wujciak.
Not only are positions changing, but schemes as well. Under a defensive-minded Edsall and new defensive coordinator Todd Bradford, expect a new-look defense on Saturdays.
"I feel like [the defense] has more responsibility, and in our old defense we blitzed a lot so we didn't have to cover for as long as we do now," cornerback Dexter McDougle said. "We just have a lot more responsibility and we just have a lot more things that we have to do in this defense and I like it. I feel like it's better for us to because we get to really get a feel for the position and we've learned so much so far playing for [Coach Edsall]. I feel like I've learned more in one week than I learned in a whole year and it's crazy but it's just a lot more responsibilities to have."