Spring Football Previews: Running Backs

A preview of Maryland's running backs heading into spring practice March 7.

A month or so ago it appeared Terps’ freshman Ty Johnson was going to be one busy man this spring as the only returning running back in head coach D.J. Durkin's first backfield.

What a difference a month makes.

Not only did fifth-year graduate senior Tre Edmunds, the Terps’ legacy, transfer in from Virginia Tech this winter, but don't be shocked if junior Wes Brown is eligible come the fall after being suspended last year for a University rules violation.

Brown, who appealed the decision, will suit up this month in spring camp, while the Terps also added mid-year early graduate Jake Funk, the record setting back out of Damascus High School (Md.) who was part of the 2016 signee class.

All of a sudden a very thin spring looks more encouraging for new running backs coach Anthony Tucker.

Let's start with Brown, the star-crossed former 4-star talent out of Good Counsel (Olney, Md.), who is still looking for a complete season after three tries, having been saddled by injuries, suspensions, and sometimes plain underachieving.

The Terrapin Council leadership committee member of a year ago ranked second among Terps backs with 317 yards on 71 carries (4.5 yards per carry) and found the end zone three times. He played in 10 games with one start, but for the most part the Terps run game, behind a patchwork line, was fits and starts all season long, beyond some big quarterback option plays.

Brown still represents the best "one-back" look for the Terps, with his ability to run, catch, and block. But it's the "little things" that still seem to hold him back. Be it knowing his assignments, getting flagged for untimely penalties, etc., the beat has gone on.

Many would like to see Brown become the workhorse, with 20-22 carries a game, but he has to round out his game and become more trusted by the coaches to get such a role. But when he puts his mind to it, and runs lower and stays healthy, he could represent everything Maryland is looking for in a full-time back.

Brown has good vision, balance, and power, and when motivated a full head of steam running between the tackles or popping one outside. It will be a big spring for him indeed under the new staff.

Next up is the talented freshman Johnson, out of Fort Hill High School, who surprised many with his burst and toughness for a once-skinny rookie who racked up a gaudy 7.1 yards-per-carry average in his first year. Johnson, pressed into duty with injuries (and also his ability to offer a different, fast-twitch look to the backfield in 2015), rushed 35 times for 250 yards and three scores. He capped the year with a dazzling performance at Rutgers, rushing for 43- and 44-yard touchdowns in the come-from-behind win. Johnson has the best home-run ability of any Terps’ back, and is a real catch-and-run threat in the open field. He has added the necessary bulk in short order to take more of the pounding between the tackles, and was a tough runner during his rookie campaign playing through some injuries.

That brings us to Edmunds, son of ex-Terp Ferrell Edmunds, the former all-ACC tight end and NFL veteran, and the only of three football sons to finally find their way to College Park, Md.

After a quick start to his Hokies career, rushing for over 600 yards three years ago, Edmunds had been a backup for the last two years and saw his touches and numbers dwindle with each season.

Consider him a bigger version of Albert Reid, who left Maryland last year as a post-grad looking for greener pastures at Virginia, also after being phased out at Maryland. A solid, bigger back, Edmunds could be good between the tackles at 6-1, 215 pounds, and provides more depth.

What will be interesting to note this spring is how Durkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell use the fullbacks/H-Backs in their new, up-tempo spread. The H-Back gets a good amount of work, and former fullbacks Kenny Goins, Drew Stefanelli and maybe even Shane Cockerille (if he stays on offense), should get some new ones.

Goins had just nine carries for 60 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and a score in 2015, but is noted as one of the team's best blockers. But look for all the Terps big-backs' roles to change more to pass catchers as well in the new, open system, 

The freshman Funk begins work this spring, and envision a bigger, but not as fast/shifty Steve Suter when projecting the Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year. He hung some massive numbers up as a senior, and for his career at Damascus, and is simply a "football player." Funk had nearly 3,000 yards while amassing 52 touchdowns as a senior, including a record-setting seven scores in the state title game in Baltimore.

After lots of fits and starts, overall, searching for a consistent, full-time back these last three years, hopefully the Terps can find one from this group to hang their hat on.

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