This is the most important spring in Ralph Friedgen's decade at the helm of his alma mater's football program. There are a lot of jobs to be won and lost, which is part of the reason, but the big thing is that for the first time since he got the head coaching job he's truly on the hot seat entering the 2010 season.
That wasn't true a year ago, when Maryland was coming off a disappointing trip to the Humanitarian Bowl but was hoping for better things to come. However, what resulted was a 2-10 record -- the first 10-loss season in Terrapin history -- and talk of Friedgen being replaced might have become reality were it not for the money owed him on his contract.
Friedgen is back, along with offensive coordinator and designated head coach in-waiting James Franklin. The big task for them in March and April is to shore up the areas where poor performances and a lack of depth -- or both -- proved particularly costly a year ago.
The coach had a reputation of developing quarterbacks when he was a coordinator, and he'll have the challenge of doing just that this season. With Chris Turner gone, the only quarterback who's seen the field for the Terps is Jamarr Robinson, and he doesn't have a lock on the starting job. Redshirt freshmen Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown, Miami (Ohio) transfer Clay Belton, and true freshman Devin Burns will all get a chance to compete for the job this spring.
Whoever wins it may need to have quick feet. The offensive line was a weak link last season, yet Bruce Campbell not only decided to leave early, he's a first-round pick in most mock drafts. Starting center Phil Costa graduated as well, and Stephen St. John decided to end his pursuit of his college career because of a series of shoulder injuries. The cupboard isn't bare, but it's certainly an area where the coaching staff would like to see some cohesiveness, and health, by April's spring game.
The defense was terrible early in the year, but then improved as it began to grasp Don Brown's system. All-ACC linebacker Alex Wujciak returns, but the team is looking for answers at both defensive line and in the secondary.
This might sound like the recipe for a rebuilding year, but Friedgen doesn't have that luxury. He has some of the key pieces already in place, like receiver/returner Torrey Smith and running backs Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett.
SPRING OBJECTIVES: The marquee battle heading into the season is at quarterback, with Chris Turner's departure leaving a void under center. But even more important than that is the question of who is going to be protecting whoever wins the job.
Offensive line was a weak point for the Terrapins in 2009, and the decision of Bruce Campbell to leave school early for the NFL didn't do anything to help that improve. With projected starter Lamar Young out with a shoulder injury, it's anyone's guess who will be the starting five at the end of camp. Paul Pinegar is moving from guard to tackle to replace the departed Phil Costa, and starters R.J. Dill and Andrew Gonnella return, but there's still a lot of work to do to get that unit up to speed.
Defensively, the problem areas are the line and the secondary. A.J. Francis is the only d-lineman returning to the starting lineup, though Derek Drummond and Zachariah Kerr have looked good in practice, and redshirt freshman De'Onte Arnett will push for time as well. Meanwhile, the secondary loses three starters from a unit that struggled mightily a year ago, but much improvement is expected from projected starting safeties Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez.
Ultimately, though, the spring story will be the quarterback. Though Jamarr Robinson enters with the lead, Danny O'Brien, C.J. Brown, Clay Belton and Devin Burns could all put a lot of pressure on him with a strong performance in March and April.
BUILDING BLOCKS: All-ACC linebacker Alex Wujciak is participating in spring practice this year. That's significant because the leader of the Terrapin defense has struggled with injuries throughout his career and was on crutches at this time a year ago. It's also significant because the defense has most of its core players returning, bringing back eight of its top 10 tacklers from a year ago. He and Adrian Moten will anchor the linebacking core, as deep and talented as anyone in the ACC.
The offense lacks for experience at quarterback and offensive line, but has plenty of standouts returning at the other skill positions. Torrey Smith is a threat every time he touches the ball, and the junior will once again see it as often as possible whether is as a wide receiver, getting the ball on a reverse, or returning kicks. RB Da'Rel Scott hasn't shown the speed he displayed in making the All-ACC squad in 2008, but between he and Davin Meggett, plus redshirt freshman D.J. Adams and sophomore Caleb Porzell, there are plenty of options in the backfield.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think our team is very excited to show we're not a 2-10 team. I really haven't had a season like that for a long time, to be honest with you." -- Coach Ralph Friedgen, in the Baltimore Sun, kicking off the start of spring practice in March.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Orange Bowl, Gator Bowl and Peach Bowl trips in his first three seasons at Maryland seem like a long time ago for coach Ralph Friedgen. He'll need to at least get to a bowl game to have a realistic chance of saving his job, which will require his offensive line and his starting quarterback -- whoever those players may be -- to grow up in a hurry and avoid the early-season disappointments that got the Terrapins season off the rails before the first month of last season.
LB Javarie Johnson -- Johnson, a true freshman, de-committed from Miami to sign with Maryland in part because he could enroll early enough to compete in spring practice. If he impresses early, he could see time in the rotation at weakside linebacker.
QB Devin Burns -- It's a long shot that a true freshman could win the starting job, and odds are good that Burns will redshirt. But one thing he has going for him is his speed and elusiveness under center. That may prove to be too much for the coaching staff to ignore, especially if the offensive line struggles to provide protection.
CB Dexter McDougle -- The 5-10 redshirt freshman missed the 2009 season, but could benefit from the loss of Anthony Wiseman and Nolan Carroll to graduation. He starts the spring listed alongside junior Trenton Hughes as the most likely candidate to join Cameron Chism in the starting lineup this September.
--OL Lamar Young is out for the spring with a shoulder injury. The redshirt junior is expected to be a starter once the season begins.
--Another year, another position for Drew Gloster. He began his Terrapin career as a tight end, was then switched to linebacker, and will spend the spring on the defensive line.
--Mautice Hampton is switching sides. The redshirt junior was an offensive lineman his first three years in the program and started a game at guard last year, but will try his hand at defensive tackle this spring.