College Football Nation: Justus Pickett
Guys like Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett were known quantities. When they finished their careers, they ended up as some of the top rushers in school history.
But headed into this season, there are far fewer players established in the backfield. Scratch that. There are no established players in the backfield. Of the four running backs competing for playing time, true sophomore Justus Pickett is the only one with game experience. Brandon Ross, who has turned heads during fall camp, is a redshirt freshman. Wes Brown and Albert Reid are two very promising true freshmen who have earned praise so far this fall.
Mix in true freshmen Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe at quarterback, and a major youth movement is under way for the Terps in the backfield -- leaving Pickett as the elder statesman of the group.
"It's definitely strange," Pickett said. "I knew going into it that I was going to be the oldest guy but now that it's here, the coaches look upon me to do things the older guys would have to do. I have to assume that responsibility. With C.J. (Brown) going down, it's even more responsibility on me that I have to pick up."
Pickett has no problems with that. Even though he has only played one season, he can share some advice with the younger players. Last year, he ran for 274 yards and a touchdown on 74 carries behind Meggett. Though he does have game experience, coach Randy Edsall has also praised the play of Ross, Brown and Reid as well throughout camp. Ross seems to be the most likely candidate to start the season opener, though Edsall has called Ross and Pickett co-No. 1 starters.
“I’ve been really impressed with Brandon," Edsall told local reporters last week. "Again, he’s still got things he’s got to work on, but ... he’s got the ability to break a run just about every day. I like his speed, I like his power, but we’ve got to get him to be a better blocker, a better pass protector. But as far as carrying the ball, I really like the things that I do see out of him.”
No matter who starts, the Terps are going to feature various running backs. Both Pickett and Ross said the competition has made them better.
"We all feed off one another," Ross said in a phone interview. "If one of us makes a big play, the other one wants to go in the next play and counter it. It's a friendly competition. We all want to do well but it's a battle out there."
And given the loss of Brown, there may be more placed on the shoulders of the running backs.
"We want it that way," Ross said. "We want to be able to run the football when we have to and when we want to. We definitely take pride in that, and we want there to be pressure on us."
Maryland players watched starting quarterback C.J. Brown go down during a two-minute drill earlier this week and immediately started hoping for the best.
When they found out a short time later that he had torn his ACL and would be out for the season, the news was absolutely devastating.
"The team was hurt because all the hard work he had put in and the preparation -- he is a guy who did all the right things," running back Justus Pickett said in a phone interview Thursday. "But coach gave us a little speech and told us the backups -- we recruited those guys for a reason, because they can play the game just as good as the players we already have here. That picked all our hopes up, and they've done a good job."
Running back Brandon Ross called what happened to Brown "one of them freak kinda things. It's a cut he always makes and it just happens to be this cut where his knee bent the wrong way. I just talked to him to see how he's doing. He told me he's doing well, but you can tell he's not doing very well."
You understand why. Brown was the unquestioned leader of this offense, and this season was his time to really shine and prove to everybody how capable he is of running the offense. Maryland pinned all its quarterback hopes on Brown, the only experienced signal-caller on the roster.
Now the attention turns to true freshmen Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe, two players who were getting ready for their senior seasons in high school at this point last year. Between the quarterbacks and running backs, it is only the true sophomore Pickett who has game experience.
But Pickett and Ross expressed faith in the young quarterbacks.
"They've been doing very well," Pickett said. "They look poised in the pocket, and they've been able to make plays you wouldn't expect them to make as freshmen. They've been able to take control of the offense and just run it as if they were back in high school and look as comfortable and are doing just as good of a job as C.J."
Added Ross: "They both aren't afraid to take off with the ball. I'm seeing poise out of them, seeing confidence at the line. That's something you need to have. We're all going to rally around Perry and Caleb, whoever's back there for us."
Linemen: The depth here continues to be a priority on both sides. The decision of defensive end Max Holloway to declare early for the NFL draft was an unexpected loss, and tackle Dillon Quinn will be a senior. Offensively, the Eagles will have to replace two veterans and leaders in center Mark Spinney and guard Nate Richman.
Linebackers: All-American Luke Kuechly’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft was expected, but the staff is looking for about two or three more linebackers in this class.
Receivers: This was a young group to begin with, as Alex Amidon and Bobby Swigert were both true sophomores, but the staff could use one or two more in this class.
Linemen: The Tigers will lose three starters on the defensive line and three more on the offensive line from the 2011 ACC championship team. Center Dalton Freeman is a returning starter, but he will be a senior. Six players on the final two-deep depth chart on the offensive line were either seniors or graduate students in 2011, and four on the defensive line two-deep must be replaced.
Running back: Andre Ellington is entering his senior year, and while Mike Bellamy is back in school and in the good graces of coach Dabo Swinney, the future of the position is uncertain. Rod McDowell played well in the bowl game, and D.J. Howard has been a backup.
Defensive backs: The Tigers could start three seniors in the secondary in 2012: Xavier Brewer, Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks.
Kickers: The Tigers will lose punter Dawson Zimmerman, opening up an opportunity for a true freshman to play immediately.
Pick and choose: The Noles have built up enough depth that they can now be selective. Instead of building a class heavy on offensive linemen, Florida State can now pick and choose the best at each position. The Noles need at least one running back, one or two quarterbacks, a few offensive tackles, a linebacker to help replace Nigel Bradham and a safety or two.
Kickers: The Noles have big shoes to fill with the graduation of punter Shawn Powell, and kicker Dustin Hopkins is entering his final season.
Running back: This is a position where a true freshman could see some playing time this year. Justus Pickett returns, along with Brandon Ross, who redshirted last year.
Quarterback: The Terps ended the 2011 season with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster in Danny O’Brien and C.J. Brown. Both will be juniors and nobody is behind them.
Cornerback. Maryland has to replace Trenton Hughes and Cameron Chism at cornerback, leaving Dexter McDougle the only one with any significant playing time.
Defensive line: The staff already has about six linemen committed and ends were a particular focus. Half of the linemen in the two-deep depth chart for the Belk Bowl were either juniors or seniors.
Secondary: This should be a strength for NC State in 2012, but the staff needs to prepare for the future here. Cornerback C.J. Wilson will be a senior, along with safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop.
Quarterback: Mike Glennon is already listed as a graduate student, and his backup, Tyler Brosius, redshirted this past season. The position is thin and the future uncertain behind Glennon.
Offensive line: The Deacs will lose four starters up front, but coach Jim Grobe has only played one true freshman there in 11 years. He has several redshirt freshmen and sophomores who are expected to fill in, but the staff wants to continue to build the depth at the position.
Tight end: Wake Forest will graduate its top two tight ends and will turn to two redshirt sophomores in Neil Basford and Johnny Garcia who have yet to catch a pass. It’s possible this could be a spot where an exceptional freshman could see playing time.
Defensive backs: The Deacs have to replace starting free safety Josh Bush and starting strong safety Cyhl Quarles. Cornerback Kenny Okoro will be a redshirt senior.