COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- After spending double the amount of time at Maryland than an average pro spends in the NFL, Terps sixth-year senior C.J. Brown is quite used to the “old guy” label he’s been saddled with. But even as reporters regularly pepper the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder with the term, and even as teammates needle him almost daily, Brown has always taken a good-natured approach to his advanced age (relatively speaking), accepting it with a sheepish grin and chuckle.
“Every day I come in,” said a laughing Brown Aug. 26, four days before Maryland’s 2014 season opener against James Madison, “I feel like I’m the old guy.”
And given his status as the resident old guy, Brown, more than any other Terp save head coach Randy Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, is most qualified to offer up a “state of the offense address.” Which is exactly what the Pennsylvania native did in the Tuesday media session before the JMU bout.
“[The offense is] really coming along. We’re getting better each and every day and we had another good practice [Aug 26]. Everyone is excited for this upcoming week and everyone is looking forward to [the JMU game],” said Brown, whose younger brother, Jordan, is actually a redshirt freshman defensive back at JMU. “Throughout camp you put everything in you’re going to use during the season … Right now we have a game plan and everyone understands what’s going to be on the call sheet [against JMU]. And everyone is getting down to the nitty gritty understanding that… Everyone feels very comfortable they know what to do to win [against the Dukes].”
Yes, after three-plus years learning from Edsall and Co., Brown is well-versed in the art of coach speak. But by his own admission, he’d probably like to be just as proficient in the art of quarterbacking. While Brown is coming off a season where he passed for over 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 500 -- the first Maryland Terp to do so -- he still hasn’t reached his potential as a triggerman.
“The biggest thing with a sixth year guy is just in terms of leadership and having a feel and command of what we’re doing offensively, but then also taking control of the situation in practice and on the field,” Edsall said. “And for him to show he is the true leader of our offense… I’ve seen those things, but I think C.J. still has to be more consistent with some of the things he’s doing. He’s working on it hard every day. But I want to see him take control of that team, and handle it and make sure he’s got everybody on the field doing everything they need to do when he’s out there. And off the field, getting with the coaches, and performing at a level his experience and talent will allow him to.”
Brown, of course, is his own worst critic. Even though he made numerous pro-level throws this August, he bluntly admitted he did not have the best fall camp, missing several open targets and failing to consistently deliver the deep ball.
“It was an OK camp for me. I wouldn’t say it was one of my better camps,” Brown said. “But at the same time I learned from my mistakes and was able to get through it, so it won’t happen again. I’m just excited fall camp is over.”
A couple prime Maryland wideouts probably are as well. The team’s top two receivers, senior Deon Long and junior Stefon Diggs, both drew their share of criticism this August, the former for lackadaisical effort and the latter for a variety of reasons that had little to do with on-field potential. At one point, Diggs was even demoted on the depth chart before being promoted to No. 1 on the final preseason list. (Edsall said in order to motivate Diggs he had to take something away from him. It seemingly worked as Diggs, along with Long, are back in favor with their head coach.)
Meanwhile, former starter Marcus Leak, who left the team for personal reasons and was reinstated in January, had an up-and-down camp and is now Long’s backup. Not to mention ex-Terp Nigel King, one of the squad’s best blockers, transferred to Kansas at the beginning of August.
But while the star-studded group has had its issues, some of the less-heralded UMD receivers stepped up. Junior Levern Jacobs and his brother, freshman Taivon Jacobs, both earned praise, while converted running back Jacquille Veii made plays out of the slot.
“I’m very happy with the receivers. Obviously with the guys coming back there’s [a rapport], and now having Taivon out there… just understanding when to throw back shoulder, when to lead them downfield, things like that – it’s coming along and hopefully we’ll see [the development against JMU],” Brown said.
Brown went on to praise the younger receivers’ development, including freshman Juwann Winfree and the aforementioned Taivon Jacobs.
“I think the biggest thing is knowledge of the game. Knowing when to settle, when to stay on the move, recognizing coverages,” he said. “The biggest thing with young kids is understanding the playbook, and I think they’ve mastered that… and are continuing to grow. They’re only going to get better and better.”
The tight ends had a rather shaky fall as well, though that was to be expected. No current Terps tight end has caught a regular season pass before, and none of the trio has more than two years’ experience. Eventually, sophomore Andrew Isaacs separated himself during camp and claimed the No. 1 job, but freshman Derrick Hayward has shown he can be a threat. Sophomore P.J. Gallo, the starter during the spring, is now running third.
“I think all the tight ends are doing really well,” Brown said. “They’re a competitive, young group of guys, and I think once they get on the field they’ll make the most of their opportunities.”
Unlike the tight ends, Maryland’s running backs are all familiar faces. Junior Brandon Ross led UMD in carries (166) and rushing yards (766) last year, while backup Albert Reid had 70 totes for 294 yards. Neither took the proverbial bull by the horns this August, though each made enough of an impression to keep their respective jobs and hold off talented third-stringer Wes Brown.
Brown is back with the team after a year-long suspension, and while he’s flashed the power-speed combination that made him a high school All-American, there was evident rust as well. Edsall said Brown has made strides, but it wasn’t enough to supplant the incumbent, Ross.
“The biggest thing for [Ross] is he was able to stay healthy, keep his body good… Obviously he’s an incredible back when he gets the ball in his hands and he can make people miss,” C.J. Brown said. “I think that’s a big factor; he can make that first guy miss, and he’s a playmaker.”
The guys blocking for Ross, and the quarterback for that matter, have perhaps made more progress than any offensive unit. Though there have been some inconsistencies, Brown has noticed an evident performance uptick, and he praised new offensive line coach Greg Studrawa for helping to cull the most of out of the offensive line.
“That all starts with their O-Line coach. I think Coach Stud has done a great job. I think the guys have really bonded and just grasped onto his positivity, enthusiasm and excitement for the game -- and I think it’s carried onto the field,” Brown said. “And I think in terms of our protection… I think we’re very sharp with understanding where the [defensive line] is playing and just different stunts …. That’s been the biggest improvement on that side of the ball, the run game [blocking] and the protections. It’s a whole new level of excitement on the offensive line.”
It helps that it’s a veteran line with 55 combined starts between the quintet. Senior center Sal Conaboy anchors the unit, and tackles Mike Dunn and Ryan Doyle -- along with guards Andrew Zeller and Silvano Altamirano and recent injury recoveree Evan Mulrooney -- have all seen significant game action.
“It’s a lot of guys I’ve played with and that brings a whole new level of comfort,” Brown said. “That amount of starts, that experience, I think it definitely helps a lot. I know everyone is really excited [about the line].”
Now, Brown and the offense will get its first test later this week against JMU. The Dukes featured a formidable front seven last year, and their run defense is still considered a major strength in 2014. At the same time, JMU had a porous secondary that ranked among the worst at the FCS level.
“[The Dukes] have a new staff coming in, so it’s kind of up in the air until we get out there, but their head coach [defensive mastermind Everett Withers] comes from [defensive stalwart] Ohio State,” Brown said. “But we have a pretty solid game plan coming in, and now we just have to go out and execute our stuff.”
C.J. Brown's State of the UMD Offense Address
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