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Spring wrap-up: Maryland Terrapins

4/14/2015

Spring practice is finally over at Maryland, but it won’t be too long before the Terps are at it again: They’re scheduled to start their offseason training program Thursday.

That’s not a lot of time off, but Randy Edsall’s team needs all the help it can get as it tries to replace 13 starters from last season.

As a result, this spring was especially important for the Terps. So here’s a look back at the positives and negatives from this spring and beyond:

Reasons for optimism:

1. Lots of talent at wideout: Sure, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long are both headed to the NFL. But this group still has the potential to be explosive, and there are some intriguing players here. Marcus Leak was the Red-White MVP -- and laid claim to the title “deep threat” -- by catching six balls for 132 yards and three touchdowns. Levern Jacobs led the Terps in receiving in 2013 before serving a full-season suspension in 2014. Jacobs’ brother, Taivon, earned a start last season before suffering a season-ending injury. And Juwann Winfree and Amba Etta-Tawo are also wideouts worth keeping an eye on.

This is a speedy group with a lot of big-play potential. Still. And, as Leak said over the weekend, any of Maryland’s wideouts could step up and have a big game. That should cause plenty of headaches for opposing secondaries -- even without Diggs and Long.

2. Defense will improve from spring, has more time to learn 4-3: Defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski has preached patience as the Terps transition from the 3-4 to 4-3 so this unit can only get better with time. A few mistakes arose every now and then this spring, as players try to adjust, but those missed assignments are to be expected. It’s a fixable issue.

The important part is that young players, such as underclassmen Kingsley Opara and Jesse Aniebonam, have really taken to the new defense. Both have high ceilings and, while Darius Kilgo and Andre Monroe will be missed, there’s still talent here. Opara disrupted the middle and showed in the spring game that he can be a force this season; Aniebonam should bring some added speed to the edge.

3. Cornerbacks are solid: Will Likely was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection last season, while safety-turned-cornerback Sean Davis was an honorable mention. Only one other returning Maryland defender, Yannick Ngakoue, earned such an honor.

With the defense trying to focus on improving against the run, the Terps’ secondary still shouldn’t take a step back with these two. Davis has no problem making tackles -- he led all B1G DBs last season with 115 stops -- while Likely was a big-play magnet in 2014, with four TDs and six picks. Both players also boasted strong springs; Likely even finished with a pick in the spring game. Once Davis masters the press this offseason, this duo should grow even stronger.

Question marks:

1. How much can the running game improve? The backs combined for just 237 carries last season -- that’s just 18 carries a game -- while the offense ranked No. 108 nationally in rushing. Edsall would like to see a more balanced attack this season so that means these backs will need to shoulder a heavier load.

Wes Brown and Brandon Ross will likely see the most carries again, with Jacquille Veii and Albert Reid right behind them. Ross looked good in the spring game, Brown was injured, and Edsall said Veii needs to understand he can’t go for the big play every time. This group will be given every opportunity to put up better numbers over last season; whether it can take advantage is another story.

2. Will the backup QB show any consistency? Last season, Maryland had an insurance policy of sorts with Caleb Rowe backing up C.J. Brown -- at least until Rowe’s torn ACL. This year? Not so much.

Perry Hills outplayed Shane Cockerille in the spring game, but neither quarterback has looked all that sharp. Neither completed more than half their passes so -- if Rowe gets injured again -- there’s a huge question mark as to whether this offense can remain successful. Division counterpart Indiana struggled mightily last season when its starter went down; the Terps could end up in a similar position if Rowe falters or these backups can’t make a lot of progress in before the opener.

3. Can Maryland’s three new linebackers hold their own? Sure, the defensive line has its own question marks because most of the front-seven has to be replaced -- but linebacker is experiencing a complete makeover. Not only do no regular starters return from last season, but the remaining ‘backers are being asked to play in a different defense.

MLB Jermaine Carter Jr. has received a lot of praise this offseason, but he’s also just a redshirt sophomore who finished with 27 tackles last season. The two outside spots are even bigger wildcards. Because of that inexperience, it’s difficult to know what to expect.