ACC: Wes Brown

You want to find a good quarterback in the ACC? Plenty of places to look.

A solid receiver? Plenty of places to look.

A game-changing running back? Well, let's just say this is not a position of strength for the ACC headed into 2013.

Both 1,000-yard rushers from a year ago are gone. So are five of the top 10 rushers in the league. Now factor in recent developments from the offseason:

  • Virginia Tech back Michael Holmes was kicked out of school following his arrest after the spring game.
  • Pitt Rushel Shell decided to transfer, to hated rival West Virginia no less.
  • Maryland back Wes Brown has been suspended for the season after an offseason arrest.
  • Wake Forest leading rusher Josh Harris is not with the team while the Deacs wait for an answer from the NCAA on his eligibility.
  • NC State running back Shadrach Thornton was suspended one game after being charged with misdemeanor assault on a female following a June 6 arrest.
[+] EnlargeRushel Shell
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Running back Rushel Shell left Pitt for rival West Virginia.
Holmes and Brown were expected to be significant contributors this year; Shell and Harris were expected to start; Thornton led the Wolfpack in rushing last year.

So let us take stock of who remains. Essentially, the ACC has one big-time headliner in Duke Johnson at Miami, and several teams with talent and depth.

Take Florida State. The Noles have a great duo in James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Syracuse has a 1,000-yard rusher returning in Jerome Smith, plus more depth than nearly everyone in the league. Duke has its top six rushers back from a year ago.

Still, the league overall has improving to do in this important category. In 2012, the ACC had the fewest 1,000-yard rushers of the five biggest conferences. It also only had two teams ranked in the Top 30 in rushing offense (Georgia Tech and Florida State), tied with the SEC for fewest among the top five conferences.

But here is the big distinction between the two. The SEC only had one team ranked in the bottom 30 in rushing offense last season: Arkansas. The ACC had a whopping six -- Virginia, Duke, NC State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College -- the most among the power five.

Will fortunes improve this season? Let us take a look at one key statistic that could have some bearing. I broke down how many returning carries there are per team headed into 2013.

DUKE

  • Top returners: Jela Duncan, Josh Snead
  • Percent carries returning: 87 percent
  • What it means: Duke has perhaps the best opportunity of any team in the league to boost its rushing numbers this year, with its top six rushers back, a more mobile quarterback in Anthony Boone and four starters returning on the offensive line.
SYRACUSE

  • Top returners: Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley
  • Percent carries returning: 82 percent
  • What it means: Syracuse has had a 1,000-yard rusher in five straight seasons, and has pretty terrific depth going into the season. It is a pretty safe bet the Orange will make it six straight 1,000-yard rushers.
BOSTON COLLEGE

  • Top returners: Andre Williams, Dave Dudeck
  • Percent carries returning: 75 percent
  • What it means: Though the Eagles don’t have much in the way of depth, they do have experienced players returning in Williams and Dudeck. Given the way Steve Addazio likes to run the football, expect to see the Eagles much better than No. 115 in the nation in rushing.
VIRGINIA TECH

  • Top returners: Logan Thomas, J.C. Coleman
  • Percent returning carries: 70 percent
  • What it means: Even though this was a weak spot for the Hokies, they do return their top rushers even with Holmes gone. Thomas led the team in carries and rushing last season. Virginia Tech wants to change that this year.
GEORGIA TECH

  • Top returners: Zach Laskey, David Sims
  • Percent returning carries: 68 percent
  • What it means: Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith take nearly all the missing carries (176), meaning the Jackets have plenty of experienced players and depth to fill all their running back spots. Shouldn’t be a drop-off here.
NC STATE

  • Top returners: Shadrach Thornton, Tony Creecy
  • Percent carries returning: 63 percent
  • What it means: Once he returns from suspension, Thornton will carry the load with Creecy, the way they did last season. Given the emphasis Dave Doeren puts on the run in his offense -- Northern Illinois ranked No. 12 in rushing offense last season -- the Wolfpack should not be in the bottom 30 again.
CLEMSON

  • Top returners: Tajh Boyd, Rod McDowell
  • Percent returning carries: 62 percent
  • What it means: Interesting stat here, considering the Tigers lose 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington. He is one of the biggest losses this team has to replace on offense. Having Boyd run as much as he does certainly helps these numbers, but there’s no question Clemson has to find a way to replace Ellington’s production.
MIAMI

  • Top returners: Duke Johnson, Eduardo Clements
  • Percent returning carries: 59 percent
  • What it means: Miami loses Mike James, but that just means Johnson moves into a starting role and will get more carries. If he continues the work he did last season, Johnson should be the leading rusher in the ACC this season.
WAKE FOREST

  • Top returner: Deandre Martin
  • Percent returning carries: 57 percent
  • What it means: Wake Forest is still waiting to see whether Harris will be eligible this season. There are serious concerns about this position right now, as coach Jim Grobe has said he still hasn’t seen anybody step up and prove they can be an every-down back.
NORTH CAROLINA

  • Top returners: A.J. Blue, Romar Morris
  • Percent returning carries: 56 percent
  • What it means: The prevailing storyline in Chapel Hill has centered around replacing Giovani Bernard, the other 1,000-yard rusher in the ACC last season. Blue and Morris combined for 151 carries a year ago, so there might not be as big a drop-off in total production as some might anticipate. Each averaged more than 5 yards per carry.
MARYLAND

  • Top returners: Brandon Ross, Albert Reid
  • Percent returning carries: 48 percent
  • What it means: The Terps lost significant carries from Brown (90) and Justus Pickett (69). I also did not count Shawn Petty’s 58 carries, because he went back to defense. Overall, Maryland feels good about Ross and Reid being able to carry the load, but questions still remain about whether this group can be consistent.
FLORIDA STATE

  • Top returners: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman
  • Percent Returning carries:45 percent
  • What it means: This one is the most misleading among all ACC teams, because the Noles do return two terrific talents and expect contributions from a third in Mario Pender. Those lost carries are from Lonnie Pryor and EJ Manuel, along with Chris Thompson (who was out for the second half of the season anyway). Florida State should continue to be an excellent running team.
VIRGINIA

  • Top returners: Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd
  • Percent carries returning: 44 percent
  • What it means: UVa lost carries from Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims, but the Hoos believe they will be better running the ball this season -- especially if Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is as good as advertised. He could be a breakout star.
PITT

  • Top returners: Isaac Bennett, Malcolm Crockett
  • Percent returning carries: 9 percent
  • What it means: I thought this number would be low with Shell and Ray Graham gone. But this is actually worse than anticipated. Pitt has little in the way of experienced players or depth at running back, and we are talking about a team that relies heavily on the run.

Wes Brown suspended for season

August, 2, 2013
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Maryland running back Wes Brown has been suspended for the 2013 season, the school announced Friday.

"We support the University of Maryland’s decision,” Head Coach Randy Edsall said. “I have spoken with Wes. He accepts the sanctions and understands what is expected of him moving forward."

Brown was suspended indefinitely last month after he was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. Earlier this week, prosecutors announced they would drop the charges against Brown because they believed he was resisting an unlawful arrest. A Baltimore Police spokesman told The Associated Press that Brown remained a suspect in a shooting in Baltimore in June. Brown's attorney maintains his client had no involvement in the shooting.

Brandon Ross and Albert Reid are expected to carry the load for the Terps this season.

Opening camp: Atlantic Division

August, 1, 2013
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North Carolina and Georgia Tech are the first ACC teams to open practice today. Three Atlantic Division teams open Friday. Here is a quick look at opening dates for each team in the Atlantic and what to watch as preparations for the season begin.

Boston College

Opening camp: Monday, Aug. 5

What to watch: One of the biggest issues the Eagles have is a lack of depth heading into the season. With all of his players in the fold now, there is the expectation that coach Steve Addazio will have to rely on true freshmen this year to help shore up several weak spots. Fall camp will determine just how many of these young faces will have to play for the Eagles to begin their climb out of the basement.

Clemson

Opening camp: Friday

What to watch: There are a few areas to keep an eye on during practice, especially the development of the young players in the secondary. Coach Dabo Swinney has said repeatedly that his team has got to find answers quickly for this position, the weakest spot on the defense. Five-star Mackensie Alexander is the true freshman to watch, as many expect him to play right away. Will he?

Florida State

Opening camp: Tuesday, Aug. 6

What to watch: The quarterback competition remains open in theory but just about everybody expects Jameis Winston to be the opening-day starter. How will coach Jimbo Fisher handle the reps, and when will he go ahead and name his starter? There also are now concerns over depth at tight end, and the Noles will begin training several players at multiple positions to make up for some of these questions.

Maryland

Opening camp: Mon., Aug. 5

What to watch: Quarterback C.J. Brown says he is 100 percent and will be full-g0 when practice opens. He was limited in the spring and really only did individual drills, so it is important to see how he does now that he is back and in full control of the offense after sitting out for so long. Running back Wes Brown remains suspended indefinitely, so whether there is any change to his status also is something to watch.

NC State

Opening camp: Friday

What to watch: Surprise, surprise -- the quarterback competition. Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell has been added to the mix, and this is the coaching staff's first opportunity to see him in practice. He joins Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker as the most experienced quarterbacks on the roster. Coach Dave Doeren says he is going to begin to adjust reps pretty early in camp so a front-runner can emerge quickly.

Syracuse

Opening camp: Mon., Aug. 5

What to watch: Let's stick with the quarterbacks. Like NC State, Syracuse has welcomed a transfer quarterback in Drew Allen from Oklahoma. Coaches will get their first glimpse at what he can do, as he joins Terrel Hunt and Charley Loeb as the top three players in the competition. Hunt seemed to take the lead after spring practice, but coach Scott Shafer has repeated that the competition remains open.

Wake Forest

Opening camp: Friday

What to watch: The offensive line has been a major concern because of injury and depth problems, but coach Jim Grobe says his unit is healthy and he is looking forward to seeing how they do in camp. Their development goes hand in hand with the running back situation, which remains murky at best. Grobe wants somebody to step up and become a workhorse back.

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 1, 2013
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Georgia Tech and North Carolina open practice today!
Prosecutors have decided to drop charges against Maryland running back Wes Brown, who was accused of assaulting a police officer earlier this month.

A spokesman for the Prince George's County state attorney's office told The Associated Press that prosecutors decided to dismiss the case after reviewing the evidence before a scheduled preliminary hearing. After Brown was arrested for second-degree assault on an officer, misdemeanor theft and illegal use of wiretapping, he was suspended by the university.

A school spokesman said Tuesday morning that Brown remains suspended by the university.

For more on the story, click here.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 9, 2013
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Vacation is over in this house. Let the season begin.
This past spring, Maryland’s running backs were a highlight.

The recent suspension of Wes Brown -- last year’s second-leading rusher -- doesn’t change that, as Brown didn’t participate this spring because he was recovering from two surgeries. It does weaken the overall group, but it won’t diminish Maryland’s chances of getting to a bowl game this year. It’s not clear how long Brown will be suspended, as the investigation is still ongoing, but Maryland is deep enough at the position that it could survive without its most talented back if need be.

Even if Brown weren’t suspended, odds are Brandon Ross and Albert Reid would have had a leg up on the competition because they were so impressive this spring, along with redshirt freshman Joe Riddle. In the spring game, both Ross and Reid ran for over 100 yards. Ross, who was praised by coach Randy Edsall this spring for his ability to run inside or outside, had 123 yards on 10 carries, while Reid had 138 yards on 23 carries in the spring game. Ross came on strong toward the end of the season, as he had at least 100 rushing yards in two of the final three games.

In early April, all three of the running backs scored in a scrimmage -- a sign of much-needed improvement. All three were listed as co-starters on the depth chart heading into summer camp, but if Ross picks up where he left off, he could steal the spotlight. Ross last year led the team in rushing with 390 yards and Reid had 92, as Maryland had one of the worst running games in the country.

Don’t forget, though, that the Terps were counting on a backup linebacker as their starting quarterback. If Maryland can actually pass the ball this year (and it should be able to, with the return of C.J. Brown), the Terps won’t have to be so predictable and one-dimensional. Last year, Maryland’s running game ranked No. 112 in the country at 103 yards per game.

While Brown’s suspension will hurt the team’s depth, it shouldn’t hurt Maryland’s chances of improving those numbers.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 8, 2013
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Hope everyone had a happy Fourth of July!
2012 record: 4-8

2012 conference record: 2-6 (fifth place in Atlantic Division)

Returning starters: Offense: 7; Defense: 5; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners:

QB C.J. Brown, WR Stefon Diggs, TB Brandon Ross, CB Dexter McDougle, LB Cole Farrand

Key losses:

WR Kevin Dorsey, TE Matt Furstenburg, G Bennett Fulper, DE Joe Vellano, DE A.J. Francis, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, LB Kenny Tate, S Eric Franklin, LB Darin Drakeford

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ross* (390 yards)

Passing: Perry Hills* (1, 336)

Receiving: Diggs* (848)

Tackles: Hartsfield/Farrand* (78)

Sacks: Vellano/Drakeford (6)

Interceptions: Four players with one each (Hartsfield, Vellano, Anthony Nixon*, Matt Robinson*)

Spring answers:

1. The running game is improving. The Terps’ running backs were a highlight this spring, as Ross, Albert Reid and Joe Riddle each had their moments -- and that was without Wes Brown, who sat out this spring with injuries. Coach Randy Edsall said one of the biggest differences was the increased competition among the group. It was a welcome change, as the running game ranked No. 112 in the country at 103 yards per game last year.

2. Healthy quarterbacks. Finally, the Terps have healed. C.J. Brown, Hills and Caleb Rowe, each who missed all or part of last season with a torn ACL, are expected to be cleared to participate in fall camp. Brown was back atop the post-spring depth chart, and former fifth-string quarterback, Shawn Petty, is back at his original position of linebacker.

3. The receivers should be a strength. Diggs is back, and he should again be one of the best players in the ACC this year, but it’s not a one-man show. The Terps are loaded at receiver with Diggs, Deon Long, Nigel King, Marcus Leak and others. Long is facing high expectations after his record-setting junior college season at Iowa Western, and Diggs is coming off an impressive performance as a true freshman in which he made a push for ACC Rookie of the Year.

Fall questions:

1. Rusty quarterbacks. Not only has Brown not played since 2011, but he has yet to be a full-time starter. That season, he was in the midst of a quarterback controversy with Danny O’Brien, who later transferred to Wisconsin. Brown has proven he can run, but will he have the arm strength and accuracy to make use of all of the talent at wide receiver? And will he have the time to throw it?

2. The offensive line. The Terps have three returning starters in Mike Madaras, De’Onte Arnett and Sal Conaboy, but Edsall said finding an eight- to 10-man rotation remains a priority heading into the summer. Maryland also still needs to replace Bennett Fulper and Justin Gilbert, who combined for 36 career starts, and the group's depth is a concern.

3. New faces on defense. Maryland has to replace six starters on defense, but it’s not just their playmaking abilities that will be missed, it’s also the leadership of guys like A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano, who became the faces of the program. There is only one returning starter on the defensive line, but the group did find some depth with Andre Monroe and Roman Braglio locking up the No. 2 spots at defensive end.
The Terps have released their summer depth chart, and there weren't many changes or surprises from how it looked in the spring.

Quarterback C.J. Brown, who was very limited this spring while he recovered from a torn ACL, is listed as the starter once again heading into summer camp. That should be refreshing news to Maryland fans, but sad news to Shawn Petty fans. Petty took over as the fifth-string starting quarterback last year, but he has since been relegated back to irrelevance as the team's third-string inside linebacker. Ouch. The good news is that Maryland's quarterbacks will be much, much healthier come August, as both Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe -- who also suffered torn ACLs last year -- are scheduled to be cleared in time for practice.

Maryland's running backs were a definite highlight for the Terps this spring, so much so that it's still unclear who the starter will be for the season opener. Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Wes Brown will all compete for the starting job. Sal Conaboy will enter as the starting center.

ACC spring game recaps

April, 15, 2013
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Seven ACC teams held their spring games this past weekend as practice begins to slowly wind down until August.

Heather provided her Pitt recap earlier this morning. Here is a quick look at the headlines from the other spring games across the league:

CLEMSON

The Tigers suffered a big hit during their spring game last Saturday, when the team lost backup quarterback Chad Kelly to an apparent torn ACL. Kelly was in a heated competition with Cole Stoudt for the backup job, but it now appears he could be lost for the season. Coach Dabo Swinney said Kelly was hurt while making a cut at the end of a run. Starter Tajh Boyd was held out of the game so the Tigers could get a good look at Kelly and Stoudt. The backup last season, Stoudt set a Clemson spring game record with 304 yards passing and threw four touchdown passes, but his White team lost to the Orange team 34-26 in front of a spring-game record crowd of 30,000.

Sammy Watkins led all receivers with seven catches for 156 yards and two scores, while Grady Jarrett had three sacks. Vic Beasley had two sacks, giving him 10 sacks in four scrimmages.

Tight end Sam Cooper and tackle Kalon Davis also sustained knee injuries in the game, but they are not believed to be as serious.

DUKE

Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder were the stars of the spring game as the Blue Devils showed a glimpse of how good they can be on offense this season. Boone went 18-of-30 for 273 yards with two touchdown passes to Crowder, and two interceptions. Crowder finished with four catches for a team-high 71 yards as the Blue team beat the White 27-12.

Blue team end Britton Grier had two sacks and seven tackles, including three for loss. Lucas Fisher, Sam Marshall and Keilin Rayner each added sacks for the Blue team.

“I like where we’re headed,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’re building some depth. I think we can be a more energetic defense. The big thing is focusing on why we give up big plays, but trying to play defense, trying to force longer drives. It’s going to be interesting film to study. We got a lot out of this game.”

FLORIDA STATE

Coach Jimbo Fisher did not name a starting quarterback after the spring game, so the competition will go on into the offseason. But highly touted Jameis Winston sent jaws dropping with his standout performance, going 12-of-15 for 205 yards with two touchdown passes before leaving the game early to play in the Noles' baseball game against Duke.

"He came in there and he took advantage of opportunities," Fisher said. "That's what you got to do. You've got to go make plays and he's done a nice job of making plays. He took the opportunity to take the day with the stage he had and I thought he played pretty well for the most part."

Winston and Clint Trickett split time with the first team for most of the afternoon. Trickett was just 10-of-16 for 98 yards and an interception before switching to the second team, where he was 12-of-16 for 161 yards and a touchdown. Jacob Coker, also competing for the starting job, went 15-of-26 for 186 yards, a touchdown and two late interceptions.

MARYLAND

Running backs Brandon Ross and Albert Reid took center stage, as both ran for over 100 yards in a 13-13 tie between the White and Red teams on Friday night.

Ross had 123 yards on 10 carries, while Reid had 138 yards on 23 carries in the game. Wes Brown, who missed the spring with a shoulder/ankle injury, is expected to be healthy in the fall so the competition at this position is going to be an intriguing storyline during the offseason.

"I limited what the defense could do. It was still good to see them," coach Randy Edsall said. "That is what we have seen out of Brandon and Albert all spring along with how they run. The one thing we have to be able to do is run the ball efficiently. When we do that it opens up the passing game. With the skill guys we have at wide receiver it will make us more productive and a chance to get big plays. They ran the way they have been running all spring.”

MIAMI

Stephen Morris threw for a game-high 256 yards and four first-half touchdowns to lead the Orange team to a 35-20 win over the White team. Meanwhile, ACC freshman of the year Duke Johnson led all rushers with 120 yards on 10 carries as the Hurricanes showed how explosive they can be on offense this season.

“We’re pretty dominant,” receiver Rashawn Scott told local reporters. “Everyone is communicating and … no one is frustrated. If we mess up, we all talk instead of yelling at each other.”

At halftime, the Canes handed out four Spring awards to Nantambu-Akil Fentress (305 walk-on award), Olsen Pierre (defensive most improved player), Danny Isidora (offensive most improved player) and Herb Waters (special teams most improved player).

NORTH CAROLINA

Bryn Renner went 16-of-27 for 216 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Blue team to a 34-10 win over the White. The running back who took center stage in the game was not A.J. Blue or Romar Morris but true freshman Khris Francis, who ran 20 times for 101 yards to lead the White team. Blue had eight carries for 30 yards, and Morris had 15 carries for 80 yards to lead the Blue team as the Tar Heels work to replace Giovani Bernard. Blue added a 33-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass.

"I thought all three of our running backs played well," coach Larry Fedora said. "But Khris, for his first time out there in a game-type atmosphere, he did a good job. He hit some holes and exploded in them. One time I thought he got stood up. I said something to him and the next time he's got his shoulders down and he's running north-south. That's what he's got to do, so he did some nice things."

Defensively, end Kareem Martin had seven tackles, including four sacks. Travis Hughes added a team-high 14 tackles, including two sacks.

Terps' RBs highlight scrimmage

April, 1, 2013
4/01/13
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Maryland entered this spring in desperate need of some help in the running game, and there were some encouraging signs on Saturday in Baltimore. The Terps took a small road trip this past weekend, as the team scrimmaged at Dunbar High School on Saturday, and the running backs were the highlight.

Brandon Ross and Albert Reid each ran in two touchdowns, and Joe Riddle scored once. Quarterback Ricardo Young threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Ross, who also scored on a five-yard run. Reid caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dustin Dailey in the first half.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Reid also added rushing scores of 28 and 55 yards.

“We’ve got some good competition there at running back," coach Randy Edsall said, according to the team's scrimmage report. "Brandon [Ross] is the starter right now, and Wes [Brown] isn’t out here right now, but Albert [Reid] is pushing. Brandon is a lot stronger out there this year. You don’t see him going down as easy as he did a year ago."

Ross led the team in rushing last year with 390 yards and one touchdown. It was a long season for Maryland's offense, as the running game ranked No. 112 in the country at 103 yards per game. Any signs of improvement this spring should be good news for Maryland fans. Edsall said Ross' ability to run inside or outside could be an added advantage for the Terps this fall.

“When you have a guy like Brandon, who has the ability to run the sweep, stick his foot in the ground and get north or outrun people going to the sideline, then what happens is he gets a crease up the middle with that burst or they get their hands on his leg, he can run through that," Edsall said. "He can get you an extra five or 10 yards. I’ve just been pleased with Brandon’s focus because he’s better from a mental standpoint in the spring than what he was in the fall.”

Young and Dailey split time at quarterback, while C.J. Brown took reps with the team in 7-on-7 drills to start the practice.

The Terps scheduled two scrimmages at local high schools in the spring to widen Maryland's presence in the state. The Terps head to Middletown High School in Middletown, Md., on April 6 for a 12 p.m. ET open scrimmage.
MARYLAND

If you’re just joining us, this series looks at the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. Florida State and Clemson are not included because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders.

Maryland? The Terps still have a long way to go.

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Why they're a contender: If the Terps are going to make some noise this season, they are going to have to rely on their offense out of the gate. Maryland has seven starters returning, including dazzling freshman Stefon Diggs, who finished No. 8 in the nation last season in all-purpose yards. The Terps have what they hope to be a nice complement at receiver as well, with transfer Deon Long, and what looks to be plenty of depth at the position. Their top two rushers are back in Brandon Ross and Wes Brown. And what's more, Maryland is hoping to avoid a repeat of the quarterback nightmare it had to navigate last season, when it ended the year with a linebacker playing the position. C.J. Brown is expected to be back and healthy for the start of the season. It goes without saying that his return is absolutely huge for this program. One more factor to keep an eye on: There is finally some staff stability, as both offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart are back for Year 2. A jump in production should be expected.

Why they're a pretender: There are some pretty major holes to fill on defense, with only five starters returning. Gone are All-ACC stalwart Joe Vellano, along with A.J. Francis, Kenneth Tate, Darin Drakeford, Eric Franklin and leading tackler Demetrius Hartsfield. There are definitely guys returning with playing experience, but how they all mesh and fit into starting roles remains to be seen. Also, who emerges as the leader of this group? The defense was the definite strength of this team last season -- ranking No. 3 in the league in total defense -- so there is work to be done. Then there is the offensive line, which was not very good last season. Coach Randy Edsall knows this is an area that needs some major improvement if some of the talent he has assembled on offense is going to do what it is capable of doing.

Final verdict: Pretender. I think Maryland has the capability of getting back to a bowl game this season after two straight losing campaigns, but I don't think the Terps will be able to contend for an ACC title in their final year in the league. There are too many question marks on defense and along the offensive line to stamp this team as a contender.

More in this series
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.
Heather dazzled you all earlier today with her five bold predictions for 2013.

So that got us thinking -- how did I do with my 2012 ACC preseason predictions? If I played baseball, I would win the hitting crown! But this is football, so ... see for yourself.

1. Florida State will win the ACC. Ding-ding! Florida State was the preseason favorite to win the league, so it's not as if I went out on a limb here. But I still get credit, especially since the Noles have had a history of failing to live up to preseason expectations.

2. The ACC will win its BCS game. 2-for-2! On a roll!

3. Travis Blanks will be freshman of the year. Did I write Travis Blanks? Ha ha, silly me! I meant Miami running back Duke Johnson! Blanks did play as a true freshman, starting eight games and finishing with 51 tackles for Clemson. But Johnson was dynamic with 2,070 all-purpose yards.

4. Maryland will be better this year. I was looking really smart with this prediction when the Terps were sitting 4-2. But then they were forced to go with their 105th string quarterback and the season went downhill. Still, four wins are better than two wins, so count this for AA!

5. Miami will be better than expected. Boom! Miami was picked to finish fifth in the Coastal in the preseason. Instead, the Canes finished at the top of the division and would have gone to the ACC title game had they not self-imposed sanctions. Note: in this write-up, I mentioned Johnson. Classic mix-up! Should have had him in the freshman of the year category!

6. Perry Jones will rush for 1,000 yards. Well, it certainly appeared that way in the preseason, with a returning starter at quarterback and some excellent returning offensive tackles as well. But the Hoos could never get their running game going consistently, and Jones finished with just 463 yards and two touchdowns while sharing time in the backfield.

7. The ACC will have five teams ranked at some point this season. Uh ... umm ... way overvalued Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and NC State, along with just about everybody else out there. Head-scratching year to say the least when only two ACC teams end the season ranked.

8. Boston College will struggle. Again, not going out on a limb with this prediction, but I had a feeling this would be its worst season in years. The Eagles only won two games and Frank Spaziani was fired.

9. Rookie running back attack. Not so much. Johnson was the only one in the group of freshmen backs I mentioned who actually did well. The others? J.C. Coleman (492 yards), Wes Brown (382 yards), Albert Reid (92 yards, injured), Jela Duncan (553 yards) and Shaquille Powell (93 yards, position switch to safety) played but were not ACC standouts.

10. Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner will get 20 sacks combined. Half credit. Why? Jenkins' replacement, Tank Carradine, combined with Werner for 24 total sacks. Huge testament to the depth the Noles have at that position.

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