On paper, Maryland's running back talent and depth looks good heading into 2014, as head coach Randy Edsall has pegged no fewer than four Terps backs as potential starters. Three of the four formed UMD's 2013 unit, which averaged a respectable 4.1 yards per carry and averaged almost 150 yards per game.
Peel back the layers, however, on the four separated only by "or" on the fall depth chart, and many questions remain.
Will junior Brandon Ross, the Terps' top returning back with 776 yards and four scores a year ago, ever stay healthy?
Will sophomore Wes Brown, the former four-star Under Armour All-American out of Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) who missed last year under school suspension, bounce back physically and mentally, and start to live up to his potential?
Will junior Albert Reid, who has seemingly been lost in the shuffle at times, expand his game or remain mostly a between-the-tackles, red-zone guy?
And will sophomore Jacquille Veii, seemingly a coaches' favorite who brings some "shake" and make-you-miss ability the other backs don't have, do enough to be the feature back?
The Terps are no doubt looking for some separation at the top this coming month in camp from the long list of candidates, who are followed by sophomore Joe Riddle, a spring ball warrior who has yet to take it to the fall, and walk-ons sophomore Tehuti Miles and freshman Zac Morton.
In their first foray into the Big Ten this fall, the Terps are going to need to run the ball successfully to set up their dangerous zone-read game under sixth-year dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown. Playaction off of that, and then some deep shots down the field to uber-talented receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, could be the order of the day.
Ross, who has improved steadily each season as a blocker and with his pickups, has to keep progressing and stay healthy. In the spring, in the first big scrimmage at North Point High School (Waldorf, Md.), his strong start to spring camp was halted when he missed the workout with a hamstring injury. Shades of De'Rel Scott before him, another former talented track athlete who sometimes the slightest ding could send to the shop, Ross missed a chance to grab the reigns completely. Ross has the 4.5-second 40-yard dash speed, improved vision and footwork, but now needs to go the distance health-wise to emerge as the No. 1 guy. He has been dinged every year as a Terp, be it in camps or in-season.
Brown, the Terps' runner with the most feature-back qualities with respect to size, speed, vision and ability to catch out of the backfield, returned in the spring form suspension and was 10 pounds lighter and had fresh legs in camp. He hit a bit of a wall as camp progressed, and didn't get a lot of run in the Red-White Game. If and when he puts it all together, he has the greatest upside of any Terp back with his natural instincts and homerun ability.
But it's still a work in progress for the mercurial would-be star, who everyone hopes finally hits stride this fall. Brown is still refining his pickups and blocks, too, but all the physical tools are there.
Reid, a blue-collar grinder, isn't going to peel off 80-yard touchdown runs. But he will churn out the tough yards between the tackles, he will block, and he's the guy you want on the goal line. Last season he rushed for 294 yards and two scores and this year hopes to get over the hump and into a more full-time role.
Veii, who rushed for 146 yards as a true freshman last season, has "East-West" ability the other Terps backs don't. So he represents a change-up type of runner in the UMD stable. He, too, is working on soaking up the playbook and becoming more physical as a blocker.
At the fullback position, junior Kenny Goins returns as the starter, and he's a physical, improved blocker not afraid to stick his nose in there. But Goins must keep working on his hands. Last season, and in the spring, he dropped a handful of would-be touchdowns on swing and screen passes.
Senior Tyler Cierski, coming off various leg injuries last season, missed the balance of the spring and hopes to remain healthy and get back in the mix after starting three years ago as a freshman.
Fall Camp Positional Preview: Running Backs
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