ACC: Amba Etta

Weak and strong: Maryland

June, 27, 2013
6/27/13
10:30
AM ET
We move on in our series looking at the weakest and strongest positions on each team in the ACC with Maryland:

Strongest position: Receiver

Stefon Diggs returns to anchor a position that remains a strength despite the loss of Marcus Leak, who decided to leave the team for personal reasons. Diggs was dynamic in his first year last season, earning Freshman All-America honors. His 848 receiving yards were the third-best mark by an ACC rookie and his 54 receptions ranked sixth-best. Of course, Diggs provides so much more as an all-purpose player, but he will be the unquestioned leader of this group as a sophomore. The Terps got a big boost to the group with Deon Long arriving from junior college, and Nigel King had a good spring as well. Hopes also are high for young guys like Levern Jacobs, Tyrek Cheeseboro and Amba Etta to step up as well.

Weakest position: Defensive line

Maryland only returns one starter here -- Darius Kilgo at nose tackle. The other two losses are perhaps the biggest on the defense -- Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, two players proven to be invaluable for the Terps over the past several seasons not only as players but as team leaders as well. Vellano was an all-ACC selection once again after leading the team with 14 tackles for loss and tying for the team lead with six sacks. Francis added nine tackles for loss and four sacks. The two combined for 72 career starts. Without them, Maryland turns to guys like Quinton Jefferson, Keith Bowers, Andre Monroe and Roman Braglio. Monroe is the only one who has started a game. If he is completely healthy following an injury that cost him all of last season, the Terps will benefit in a big way.

For more in the series, click here.
Maryland starting receiver Marcus Leak has withdrawn from school for personal reasons but plans to re-enroll in January, he announced in a statement Thursday.

A source close to the situation said Leak is in good academic standing.

Here is the full statement from Leak:
“I have withdrawn from the University of Maryland and will return home to North Carolina to be with my family while I deal with some personal issues. I would like to thank Coach (Randy) Edsall, my teammates and the rest of the Maryland football program for their continued support as I work through these personal matters. It is my intention to return to College Park in January. I look forward to rejoining my teammates and continuing my education at the University of Maryland.”

Leak started the first seven games of last season but missed the final five because of a toe injury. That injury kept him out of spring practice, but he was expected to start for the Terps in 2013. Leak finished 2012 second on the team with 23 receptions and 393 yards and added two touchdown receptions.

The only good news here is that Maryland does have depth at the position. Stefon Diggs, one of the best receivers in the league, returns, and the Terps signed junior college transfer Deon Long. Nigel King will now be relied upon to take a bigger role. He seems prepared for that after starting three games last season with Leak out. King followed that up with a solid spring.

Others who could have bigger roles include Levern Jacobs, Amba Etta-Tawo, Malcolm Culmer and Tyrek Cheeseboro. The Terps also will have four-star receiver Taivon Jacobs for fall practice.
Maryland opens spring practice Saturday, with plenty of questions on both offense and defense. I had a chance to catch up with coach Randy Edsall earlier this week to preview the spring. Here is a little of what he had to say.

Going into the spring what’s your No. 1 priority?

RE: I want to get everybody to do their job, and to do their job to the best of their ability. Offensively, it’s to make sure that we’re going to take advantage of our playmakers and at least come out with eight offensive linemen we feel really good about and see how Ricardo (Young) can do handling all the snaps he’s going to get. Then defensively, for us to come out as a swarming, tough physical defense in terms of trying to find out who our best 11 are and then work to create a top 22.

You mentioned Ricardo, obviously taking the majority reps with C.J. Brown still limited. How do you approach building the chemistry you need on offense and getting everything done to prepare for the fall knowing you don’t have your starting quarterback?

[+] EnlargeMaryland's Randy Edsall
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIRERandy Edsall and Maryland begin spring practice on Saturday.
RE: Hopefully from a 7-on-7 standpoint, C.J. gets some of that work. That will be great, but if not, just being on the field and having the presence and seeing things -- there’s going to be plenty enough time between the summer and preseason practice in order to develop chemistry and consistency that we would want out of all those guys.

So the backup job is wide open for competition with Ricardo, and then Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills when they come back?

RE: There’s no question.

In terms of the running back situation, I know Justus Pickett transferred, and Wes Brown is out with an injury. Do you have concerns over depth?

RE: Brandon Ross is going to be the guy who’s the No. 1 guy in the spring, and then Albert Reid, and Joe Riddle, and then we also have Kenny Goins. Kenny is a guy who can be a running back and/or a fullback. Wes had a shoulder done, then had ankle done from an old high school injury, so he’ll be ready to go come the fall. We’ll have four guys there, and then Kenny’s a guy that can carry the ball, too.

What will you work on this spring to try and get the run game going?

RE: That to me all starts up front with the offensive line and I really feel like going into the spring you’ve got Mike Madaras at left tackle, De’Onte Arnett at left guard, then you have Sal (Conaboy) and Evan Mulrooney at center, Andy Zeller at right guard, and Nick Klemm at right tackle. And Silvano Altamirano is a guard, and Ryan Doyle at tackle. My biggest thing is I want to find at least three tackles, three guards and we have two centers that have played. Now we have to get more consistent and do a better job up front. In terms of who we’ll have at quarterback, who we’ll have at running back, who we’ll have at wide receiver gives us some weapons from a skill position. Now we have to do is make sure we’re consistent up front, so that to me is the biggest thing offensively this spring is the offensive line and getting them to be more consistent with their assignments, more consistent with their technique and fundamentals and developing that cohesiveness with guys playing together and hopefully guys staying healthy.

You mentioned the skill position players you do have. At receiver, you’ve got this abundance of talent and depth. How do you see the competition playing out?

RE: Deon Long and then Amba Etta behind him right now. Amba showed us a lot last year and we redshirted him. There we’ve got to have tremendous competition and guys with the ability to make plays. Then on the other side, you’ve got Nigel King, who came on at the end of the year last year, made some plays against North Carolina, and then another freshman Malcolm Culmer, whom we redshirted and then you have Stefon (Diggs) as a slot guy. It gives you a lot of opportunities to get the ball in peoples’ hands who can make something happen after they catch it. Those are the things we have to do to make sure that we find guys who can make the plays on the ball and distribute that. We’ve got some weapons there. So if people want to load the box, you’ve got to make sure we can throw it and catch it, and if they want to worry about some of the receivers we have, then you’ve got to have the ability to run the football.

Is this the best group of talent and depth you’ve had at the skill positions?

RE: Yeah I think so. That’s where we have to get everybody to understand that yeah, they do have ability but they have to go out there and work hard each and every day. If they do that, we’ve got the ability to make a lot of things happen. We’ve got to get the people up front on the offensive line to be really tough, sound, good technicians and competing every play. If we do that, then because of the running backs and because of the receivers we have, that can make their job a little bit easier.

Defensively, you’re losing a lot of your leaders. Where are you looking for the leadership on that group?

RE: We played a lot of people on defense last year so it’s not like we’re going in with guys who haven’t played a whole bunch. But now guys like Dexter McDougle, Jeremiah Johnson, Cole Farrand, Darius Kilgo, Matt Robinson, who we’re going to make him an outside linebacker as opposed to a safety, and then Keith Bowers. Those are the guys that have to step up from a leadership standpoint. And then guys like Quinton Jefferson, who played last year as a true freshman. He has to be more productive for us this year and then Anthony Nixon is back, so it’s just a matter of other guys stepping up in those roles. The thing is, we’re going to be playing in the same scheme, so they’ll be better from that standpoint. They’ll be a year older more, a year more mature, a year stronger. But that’s the thing: who are going to be those leaders?

What’s the strongest part of the defense?

RE: The one thing I take a look at in terms of up front, I really think Darius Kilgo has a chance to take his game to another level. Quinton Jefferson, him and Justin Anderson fighting it out at the one end and then Keith Bowers and, Roman Braglio -- a young man with a tremendous motor that we redshirted last year. We’ve got to get one of the safety spots shored up, between Sean Davis and A.J. Hendy and then I think at the corner, Will Likely and Alvin Hill, you may see them because they have a lot of skill set. They can find a way to get on the field, whether as a nickel or dime package. I think the strength of defense is the athletic ability and the ability to be able to run. That’s something that’s going to help us.

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