Report from last nights open practice

You could not ask for more beautiful weather in late July than the Ravens fans received as they filed into M&T Bank Stadium for the first public practice of this seasons training camp. It was warm, not hot, and there was a nice breeze as the sun set on the Pigtown side of the field. The breeze led to a brief period of rain, but that didn’t dampen the 28,000 fans in attendance spirits one bit.

Discuss your thoughts, and your experience if you were there, on this topic on our message board. 

Lardarius Webb was still sidelined with the back spasms. Chykie Brown however returned to practice and ran with the first and second teams, along with Asa Jackson. Chris Canty was also absent with a family issue, and Terrance Cody on the PUP list.

Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, and Richie Leone were first on field. Tucker and Leone warm up by playing catch and running routes like a QB and WR. I don’t think Tucker is vying for third QB though, despite his exaggerated “happy feet” Peyton Manning impression.

Some return game drills were up first, and it finished with Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata fielding punts. Hey, you never know, like when Chad Johnson used to kick field goals in preseason, just in case. How much do the Ravens have to lead by in order to have Haloti Ngata on punt return? Over 50 with under one minute left in the game?

Ray Rice got a nice ovation when he was shown upon the big screen for the first time. He interacted with a couple of the kids that we’re on the sidelines.

Ray Lewis and Brian Billick were in attendance last night. The Ravens radio crew interviewed Ray, and the might as well have just stopped practice for five minutes because no one had their eyes on the action on the field.

Defense got the better of the offense in the running game drills. Timmy Jernigan’s name was called often making a stop. Justin Forsett had the best run of the session, practically untouched to the DB level. Forsett actually had the best runs of any RB. He’s quicker than originally thought. Appeared slimmer too.

Torrey Smith had the catch of the day hauling in a high ball with one arm outstretched in the first play of red zone drills. A catch that was so tough that if this was a game it could have been the catch of the season. It set up 1st and goal from the two yard line. The Ravens failed to find the endzone and Flacco was nearly picked off by C.J. Mosely.

The second team offense would find the endzone in their first red zone shot, Lorenzo Taliaferro rushing from two yards out.

The first team offense wasn’t any better the second time around in red zone drills as Joe Flacco was “sacked” twice.  Flacco was just off all night long, and threw his first INT of camp. Matt Elam came down with it, and was nearly tackled by a golf cart driven by Ravens owner, Steve Bisciotti, just shy of the endzone.

Michael Campanaro is making a case for kick returner opposite Jacoby Jones. He had a nice return on the first rep of special teams drills. Deonte Thompson was next up and made a seemingly weak effort in getting “tackled” inside the 15. Campanaro had a nice return on his next attempt as well. He had a nice session, but did drop what should have been a TD pass from Tyrod Taylor late in the game.

The defense definitely won the practice overall. Flacco was a little off most of the night, Forsett was the only RB to get something going.  There were some good pass break ups by all of the secondary units and the defensive front was often making a push into the backfield.

Tyrod Taylor hooked up with LaQuan Williams late in practice during the team portion. It set up an 18 yard TD catch from a dump off pass to Lorenzo Taliaferro. The rookie from Coastal Carolina scored three TDs in red zone and game situation drills.

Following practice, the players stayed on the field to sign autographs for kids. Ray Rice was nowhere to be found, and was absent from the locker room later on. This night was about the fans, the military members in attendance, the kids getting up close to their favorite players. The team likely wanted to keep it that way, rather than have the event overshadowed by Rice’s ongoing response to his current situation.

I was able to grab some sound bytes on the field and in the locker room as the night came to an end.

Coach John Harbaugh on Ray Lewis in attendance, – “We all commented when he showed up that he looked very dapper. We don’t remember him looking very dapper out there when he was playing football. He looked great. We had a chance to talk to him. Our young guys were pretty thrilled. “

Harbaugh on Lardarius Webb’s injury, – “Backs are a little weird…At first it was no big deal, but now it’s starting to linger a little.”

Marshal Yanda on the defensive line he faces in practice, – “It’s a good front. They’re a talented group and they’re making us better. It’s good for us. The stiff competition is making us better.”

Jimmy Smith on Asa Jackson playing with him on the first team, - “He’s out there running with the ones right now. He’s very quick. He has confidence and he’s making plays. He needs to continue doing what he’s doing.”

Special thanks to the Baltimore Ravens for providing us at BSL, and myself the opportunity to cover the event.

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Project 2014: The Offenses of the Big Ten

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Image Credit: isportsweb

The Maryland Terrapins football team is getting closer and closer to their debut in the Big Ten Conference, and many have wondered how the team’s schemes will fit in the historically more physical conference. While the physical nature of the Big Ten is still present in many of its teams, some others are having a lot of success with more modern offensive styles. Most conference games in the Big Ten will still be won in the trenches, but there’s no reason to think that the Terps can’t have success with their spread-to-run scheme.

(Discuss this article on the BSL Message Board here.)

Illinois Fighting Illini

Offensive Coordinator: Bill Cubit
Offensive Style: Spread
Player to Watch: RB Josh Ferguson (Redshirt Junior)

Illinois is the former home of Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who led the Illini’s offense and quarterbacks from 2005-2008. Last season, they had no problem throwing the ball with senior QB Nathan Scheelhaase, but they ranked 94th in the country in rushing yards per game. They also struggled to score points, ranking 62nd in the country in points scored per game.

The Illini run a spread offense, and sprinkled in some zone-read concepts with the dual-threat Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback last season. They will look to spread opposing defenses out, and want to have a prolific passing attack. More often than not, they want to pass to set up the run, not the other way around. They are a no-huddle team, but aren’t quite as fast as some other teams in college football.

One of Illinois’ obvious struggles was that they fell behind early in many of their games, forcing the team to move away from their rushing attack in favor of their passing game. Josh Ferguson was their do-it-all back however, ranking 1st on the team in rushing yards and 2nd on the team in receiving yards. He scored 7 touchdowns on the ground, and 4 through the air.

Unfortunately for the Illini, they will lose a large portion of their offensive production in 2014. Nathan Scheelhaase has graduated, and the team will be forced to go with Reilly O’Toole at quarterback. O’Toole is a senior and has experience, but only threw 16 passes last season. He isn’t quite the rusher that Scheelhaase was, so Illinois will need to lean on their running backs heavier in 2014. The leading returning receiver is Martize Barr, who ranked 6th on the team in receiving yards in 2013. It will be a very inexperienced receiving corps for the Illini, who will be looking to improve on a 4-8 record from last season.

Indiana Hoosiers

Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Johns
Offensive Style: Air Raid
Player to Watch: QB Nate Sudfeld (Junior)

While Indiana is one of the worst football teams in the Big Ten, their problems certainly don’t lie in their offense. Last season, the Hoosiers ranked 18th in the nation in passing yards per game, and 30th in rushing yards per game. They also scored plenty of points, ranking 17th in the country in points per game. However, their defense ranked 117th in the country in points allowed per game, leading to plenty of high-scoring losses.

The Hoosiers run a modified version of the Air Raid scheme, made popular by Hal Mumme at Kentucky and brought to new heights by Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Kevin Johns will run a very balanced attack, much unlike Mike Leach, who is known to throw the ball over 60 times per game. The Air Raid part of this offense mostly lies in the passing schemes. You will see a lot of crossing routes and spacing routes, aimed to give the quarterback a quick outlet to his receiver to make a play in space. This is a tough offense to defend, as you can almost never play zone defense against it. If you can match up well against the Air Raid’s receivers in man coverage, you have a chance. One of the biggest parts of the Air Raid is tempo, and the Hoosiers are a no-huddle team. They may not be quite as quick as some other teams in college football, but they do like to push the tempo after big plays.

The Air Raid is known for having quarterbacks who put up monster numbers in a short amount of time. Nate Sudfeld will lead Indiana’s attack in 2014, after seeing action in portions of the last two seasons. He isn’t much of a runner, but has a great arm. He threw for over 2,500 yards in 2013, slinging 21 touchdowns while throwing just 9 interceptions. He also completed about 60% of his passes. Indiana lost their top two receivers to the NFL (Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes), so I would look for the Hoosiers to lean a little more on their ground attack with Tevin Coleman this season.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Offensive Coordinator: Greg Davis
Offensive Style: Pro-Style
Player to Watch: RB/FB Mark Weisman (Redshirt Senior)

The Iowa Hawkeyes have long been known for a smash-mouth offensive style, and it will be no different in 2014. They always boast an impressive defense, while their offense’s job is to simply score enough points to win the game and avoid mistakes. Last season, their rushing attack ranked 50th in the nation, while their passing game ranked 96th. That doesn’t seem too impressive until you see that their defense was 9th in the country in points allowed. That’ll make any offense look good.

Iowa runs a pro-style offense, but they added an interesting twist last season. That twist is the no-huddle. You don’t see too many pro-style teams running a no-huddle attack, but it is becoming more popular around college football. Last season, Penn State and Texas were two of the more notable teams to move to a no-huddle pro-style attack. The Hawkeyes reportedly want to go even faster this season, while still maintaining that ground-and-pound style that they enjoy.

Mark Weisman is the epitome of Iowa Hawkeyes football. He is an absolute beast at 6’0″, 240 pounds, and can play both running back and fullback. Defenses cringe when he carries the ball, as it usually takes more than one man to bring him down. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has a loaded crop of running backs this season, but will surely get Weisman his carries. Expect to see him lined up at both running back and fullback in 2014.

Jake Rudock returns for his junior year as the Hawkeyes’ quarterback after throwing for over 2,300 yards last season. Iowa needs him to be more careful with the football however, as he threw 13 interceptions in 2013. His favorite target will undoubtedly be Kevonte Martin-Manley, who led the team in receiving yards last season. Rudock’s favorite red zone target, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, has left for the NFL, so his 6 touchdown catches from a year ago will need to come from somewhere else.

Michigan Wolverines

Offensive Coordinator: Doug Nussmeier
Offensive Style: Pro-Style
Player to Watch: QB Devin Gardner (Redshirt Senior)

Changes are coming in Ann Arbor, as former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has made the move to the Big House in an effort to jump-start what was a very stale offense last season. While the Wolverines have long been known for a physical running attack, they ranked 104th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. They threw the ball better, but still were only able to gain the 54th spot in passing yards per game. Hopes were very high for Devin Gardner’s first season as the full-time Michigan starting quarterback, but he ultimately failed to deliver the improvement that was necessary.

2014 is a new season, however, and Gardner will be looking to impress NFL scouts with both his arm and his legs. Doug Nussmeier ran a single-back offense at Alabama, but will likely move to a more traditional pro-style attack at Michigan this season. The Wolverines used a good amount of the pistol formation last season, and expect more of the same as they try to exploit Devin Gardner’s rushing ability. He is the team’s leading returning rusher, as Fitzgerald Toussaint is in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. The Wolverines are one of the few remaining teams in college football who runs their offense with a huddle.

Nussmeier will lean heavily on the running game this season however, as the team has a number of very talented backs. I’d expect the Michigan running game to improve a lot, and Devin Gardner will surely be a big part of that. They shouldn’t be too worried about Gardner going down either, as Shane Morris is a very capable backup who started against Kansas State in the Wolverines’ bowl game last season. 

Michigan State Spartans

Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman, Dave Warner
Offensive Style: Pro-style
Player to Watch: RB Jeremy Langford (Redshirt Senior)

Coming off of their Rose Bowl victory last season, the Michigan State Spartans will look to improve on what was a surprisingly potent offensive season for them. Michigan State has long been known for their strong defenses and rushing attacks, but QB Connor Cook sparked life into the Spartans’ passing attack last season. The team ranked 59th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 85th in the country in passing yards per game. That doesn’t look great until you see that their defense ranked 3rd in the country in points allowed.

Connor Cook had a great season, one in which he progressively got better and better with each game he played. He threw for over 2,700 yards last season, and had 22 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. His Rose Bowl game was amazing, as he threw for 332 yards and 2 touchdowns. He will only continue getting better, especially since the Spartans return RB Jeremy Langford for his senior season. Langford ran for over 1,400 yards last season and scored a mammoth 18 touchdowns on the ground. After the team lost leading WR Bennie Fowler to the NFL, expect to see more and more of Langford in this offense in 2014.

The Spartans run a pro-style attack similar to the one run by the Wolverines. They huddle after every play, and are not worried about going fast. They do not employ the read-option with Connor Cook, opting to get their rushing yards with their running backs out of single back and I-formations. It is a smash-mouth offense that employs excellent offensive line play. If you aren’t a disciplined defense, you will have serious problems with this offense.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover
Offensive Style: Multiple
Player to Watch: RB David Cobb (Senior)

Running the football is the name of the game for the Golden Gophers, and they do it very, very well. Last season, they ranked 37th in the country in rushing yards per game, while they were 118th in passing yards per game. Don’t let those numbers fool you, as the Golden Gophers are on the rise. They fell to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl last season, but have improved in each season that Jerry Kill has been at the helm. They’ll look to have a more balanced attack this season, but don’t be surprised if David Cobb is in the NFL come 2015.

While Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State run the football out of traditional pro-style formations, Minnesota likes to do it in a wider variety of ways. They will employ a huge number of formations, from single-back and I-formations to pistol and shotgun formations. Their quarterbacks are always a threat to keep the ball, opening up lanes for their talented running backs. They huddle on every play, looking to keep the ball as long as possible. David Cobb is a great downhill, physical runner who rushed for over 1,200 yards last season and will aim to do even better in his senior season.

After splitting time at quarterback with Philip Nelson last season, Mitch Leidner is now the full-time starting quarterback for Minnesota. Nelson was the leading passer and the third-leading rusher on the team in 2013, but Leidner possesses the better rushing ability of the two quarterbacks. He ran for over 400 yards last season and scored 7 touchdowns on the ground. He also threw for over 600 yards in relief of Nelson. The read-option will certainly be an even bigger part of Matt Limegrover’s offensive attack, and designed quarterback runs are popular in this offense as well. One thing is for sure: they love to run the football. You will normally never see a Minnesota quarterback attempt over 20 passes in a game.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Offensive Coordinator: Tim Beck
Offensive Style: Multiple
Player to Watch: RB Ameer Abdullah (Senior)

Much like Minnesota, Nebraska’s offense relies heavily on its power rushing attack. They like to run the ball in many different ways, including with their quarterbacks. Last season, they ranked 19th in the country in rushing yards per game and 98th in the country in passing yards per game. Normally this would be enough for them to have a good season, but their highly-touted defense vastly underperformed.

Ameer Abdullah will play a huge role in this offense in 2014 after rushing for over 1,600 yards last season. Imani Cross is a great secondary running back who ran for 10 touchdowns last season. Tommy Armstrong will be the Huskers’ starting quarterback this season after splitting time with both Ron Kellogg III and Taylor Martinez last season. Kellogg III and Martinez have both graduated. Like Martinez, Armstrong is a very talented dual-threat quarterback who likely boasts the better arm between the two.

Nebraska runs a multiple offense that likes to run the ball out of many different formations. They use their quarterbacks in the run game a lot, with read-options and pitch options along with designed quarterback runs. They’ll run from under center and from pistol or shotgun formations. Tom Osborne revolutionized football at Nebraska with his triple-option offense out of the I-formation, and they have some of the same principles still in place today. They are a no-huddle team, though they don’t often go with a ton of tempo.

Northwestern Wildcats

Offensive Coordinator: Mick McCall
Offensive Style: Spread
Player to Watch: RB Venric Mark (Redshirt Senior)

Northwestern has enjoyed good success on the football field over the last few seasons, and it all starts with their spread-to-run offense. Last season they were hit hard by a season-ending ankle injury to Venric Mark, and were only able to manage 5 wins. They ranked 63rd in the country in rushing yards per game, and 72nd in the country in passing yards per game a year ago. Those numbers certainly suffered due to Mark’s absence, as he is one of the most explosive players in the Big Ten.

2014 will see QB Trevor Siemian become the full-time starter after splitting time with QB/WR Kain Colter over the past two seasons. He isn’t the runner that Colter was, but he has a great arm, throwing for over 2,100 yards last season. While the read-option won’t be as important as it has been over the last few years, the Wildcats have to find ways to get the ball in Venric Mark’s hands. He ran for just 97 yards last season before breaking his ankle, but was able to rack up over 1,300 yards in his 2012 campaign.

Northwestern runs a spread-to-run attack that also utilizes some tempo. They’ll normally go without a huddle, looking to exploit holes in tired defenses. They rely heavily on the inside zone running game and quick passes to the 3-4 receivers that are split wide at any given time. Defenses will likely find that playing zone against the Wildcats isn’t a good idea, as Trevor Siemian has the arm talent to find holes in any zone.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Offensive Coordinators: Tom Herman, Chris Warriner
Offensive Style: Spread
Player to Watch: QB Braxton Miller (Senior)

Ohio State boasts one of the country’s most potent offensive attacks led by one of the country’s most exciting players in QB Braxton Miller. Last season, they ranked 5th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 91st in the country in passing yards per game. Any team with Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde on it can be expected to put up huge numbers on the ground. The Buckeyes will have to replace Hyde this season, but having Miller back for one more season should help with that.

Braxton Miller threw for over 2,000 yards and ran for over 1,000 last season, all while missing three games due to injury. The Buckeyes will likely lean on him to account for the majority of their offense this season, as they lose Carlos Hyde and his 1,521 rushing yards this year. Miller will be looking to improve his arm, as that has long been his achilles’ heel. However, there is no doubt that he will once again be one of the most exciting players to watch in all of college football.

When Urban Meyer took the head coaching job at Ohio State, he brought with him the spread-option offense that he made famous with Dan Mullen at Florida. Tim Tebow ran their offense to perfection, leading Florida to national prominence. Mullen took the offense to Mississippi State, where Dak Prescott is a popular Heisman Trophy candidate this year. Meyer brought it to Ohio State, where Braxton Miller has had wild success with it.

It’s an offense built on a strong inside zone running game, with read-options and play-action passes off of that. The difference is that the running is done out of pistol and shotgun formations, and Meyer’s offense goes fast. The Buckeyes utilize a no-huddle with some tempo, and they want to go even faster this season. Look for Braxton Miller to have complete control of this offense, and to be better with both his arm and his legs.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Offensive Coordinator: John Donovan
Offensive Style: Pro-style
Player to Watch: QB Christian Hackenburg (Sophomore)

2014 sees James Franklin take over the football program in Happy Valley, and his offense should be very good right off the bat. He’ll bring a more physical nature to the Nittany Lions’ pro-style attack, but will also have a great weapon at the quarterback position for the passing game. Last season, Penn State ranked 58th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 38th in the country in passing yards per game.

In 2013, the Nittany Lions used a no-huddle offense to go along with their pro-style attack, but James Franklin will be moving Penn State back to a huddle in 2014. Christian Hackenburg is one of the best quarterbacks who people haven’t heard off, as he burst onto the scene as a true freshman last season. He threw for over 2,900 yards in 2013, and ran the no-huddle offense very well. He threw for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, good numbers considering how young and inexperienced he was. 

Hackenburg does lose his favorite target at wide receiver, Allen Robinson, this season. Robinson accounted for over 1,400 yards through the air last season, and caught 6 of Hackenburg’s 20 touchdown passes. He will be playing on Sundays for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season. The Nittany Lions will go to a number of talented but inexperienced wideouts this season, so Hackenburg will need to make good reads and put the ball in good spots for his receivers.

James Franklin has long employed a version of the West-Coast offense. This is a pro-style attack predicated on short and intermediate passes and a good running game. However, with Hackenburg’s arm talent, you should see a good number of vertical passes as well. The Nittany Lions return both parts of their two-headed attack at running back this season, Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton. Zwinak ran for over 900 yards last season, while Belton ran for over 800. Zwinak accounted for 12 touchdowns on the ground, and Belton scored 5 times on the ground and twice through the air. This attack will be crucial for the Nittany Lions this season, as Franklin has expressed the need to have a powerful ground attack in 2014.

Purdue Boilermakers

Offensive Coordinator: John Shoop
Offensive Style: Pro-style
Player to Watch: WR DeAngelo Yancey (Sophomore)

Darrell Hazell’s first year as the head coach of the Boilermakers was a dismal one. Purdue mustered just one win all season, and their offense was absolutely horrible. They ranked 125th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 80th in passing yards per game. They are a team that was constantly behind in games, and could rarely use the running game that Hazell and offensive coordinator John Shoop wanted to get going.

Hazell brought a true West-Coast offensive scheme with him to Purdue, and they believe that they have found their future at the quarterback position with Danny Etling. Etling started the final 8 games of the Boilermakers’ season last year, and finished with over 1,600 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He did all this as a true freshman on a team without a whole lot of weapons around him.

One of the more exciting players for Purdue in 2014 is WR DeAngelo Yancey, who was also a true freshman last season. He has a chance to rack up big yardage this season, after finishing last year with over 500 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. He will be helped out mightily by having a quarterback with a year of experience under his belt, and an entire offense that has had time to learn John Shoop’s system.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Offensive Coordinator: Ralph Friedgen
Offensive Style: Pro-style
Player to Watch: RB Paul James (Redshirt Junior)

Maryland fans should be very familiar with the offense that Rutgers will run in 2014, as it will be coordinated by former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen. While Ralph said that he’d like to run some option plays in his offense, it looks like they’ll stick to what they’ve run over the past few years, the pro-style. In 2013, the Scarlet Knights ranked 102nd in the country in rushing yards per game, and 60th in the country in passing yards per game. Friedgen will be tasked with turning around what has been a very stale offense over the past few seasons.

Gary Nova will be the starting quarterback for Rutgers this season, after throwing for over 2,100 yards a season ago. His job will be to become much more efficient, as he threw 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2013. His favorite target should be Leonte Caroo, a very talented junior receiver who caught 9 touchdowns in just 10 games last season. The running game will be key for this team, and it will be led by Paul James. James ran for over 800 yards last season, despite being absent from 4 of the team’s games. In Rutgers’ wins over Norfolk State and Eastern Michigan last season, James ran for 3 touchdowns.

Wisconsin Badgers

Offensive Coordinator: Andy Ludwig
Offensive Style: Pro-style
Player to Watch: RB Melvin Gordon (Redshirt Junior)

Wisconsin enters 2014 in the second year of the Gary Andersen era, after Bret Bielema took his hard-nosed running style to Arkansas. While the head coaches have changed, the offense hasn’t. Wisconsin still wants to run the ball down the opposing defense’s throat, and they have some great pieces in place to do that. Last season, the Badgers ranked 8th in the country in rushing yards per game, and 96th in the country in passing yards per game.

Melvin Gordon leads the Badgers’ rushing attack into 2014 after an incredible sophomore campaign last season. 2013 saw him run for over 1,400 yards and score 12 touchdowns on the ground. If you think that’s impressive, James White ran for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. White has since moved on to the NFL, so it’s Gordon’s time to shine.

Joel Stave returns as the Badgers’ starting quarterback after throwing for over 2,400 yards last season. He slung 22 touchdowns while throwing 13 interceptions as well. He’ll lose his favorite target, Jared Abbrederis, as he will be playing his football for the Green Bay Packers in 2014. But as long as the Badgers have Melvin Gordon in the backfield and the defense that they normally have, the passing attack isn’t too worrisome.

So, how do the Maryland Terrapins fit into all of this? First, let’s recap the type of offenses that exist in the Big Ten:

Pro-style: 7 teams
Multiple: 3 teams (including Maryland)
Spread: 3 teams
Air Raid: 1 team

Let’s also recap who runs a no-huddle offense and who doesn’t:

No-huddle: 7 teams
Huddle: 7 teams

Now, if we were to do a similar offensive preview for Maryland, here is how it would look:

Maryland Terrapins

Offensive Coordinator: Mike Locksley
Offensive Style: Multiple
Player to Watch: WR Stefon Diggs (Junior)

Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley runs an offense that is most similar to the ones run at Minnesota and Nebraska. His main goal is to spread the defense out in order to run the football with both his running backs and his quarterback. Last season, the Terrapins ranked 85th in the country in rushing yards per game and 50th in the country in passing yards per game.

Stefon Diggs is the undoubted star of this Maryland team, as he racked up over 500 yards receiving last season despite being absent from the team’s final 5 regular season games after breaking his leg against Wake Forest. He only continues to get better after his stellar freshman campaign, and has taken College Park by storm. He will be joined once again by Deon Long, who also had a very impressive season before breaking his leg against Wake Forest. Long had accounted for over 400 yards through the air before missing the final 5 games of the regular season.

C.J. Brown returns for his final season as the quarterback for the Terrapins, after passing for over 2,200 yards and rushing for over 500 last season. He accounted for 13 touchdowns through the air and 12 on the ground. He missed two of the team’s games with injury, and missed a large part of two other games for the same reason. He is working to improve his passing this season, as he wants the Maryland passing attack to take full advantage of the plethora of talented receivers on the roster.

Mike Locksley runs his offense out of many different formations, and likes to run the ball out of each one of them. He will run counters, inside zone, outside zone, read-options and inverted veers as part of his very diverse rushing attack. His passing attack strongly resembles a pro-style one, with a good number of vertical passes to take advantage of Deon Long and Stefon Diggs’ speed. Offensive line play will be key for the Terps this season, as they may start two true freshman at their two offensive tackle spots.

So, as you can see, the Maryland offense fits just fine into what the Big Ten already has. They are one of three teams who run a Multiple offense, and also fit into some of the spread offenses. These offenses have been able to have success in this conference, so Maryland should be just fine. They are an offense built on running the football, which is what the Big Ten does best. With some improved offensive line play, the Terps should be able to have a lot of success in their new conference.

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Two Months Left

With roughly two months to go in the 2014 Regular Season, BSL Colleagues Patrick Dougherty, Jeff Long, and Chris Stoner trade some thoughts on the Baltimore Orioles.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

C/O CBS Sports

C/O CBS Sports

1) We are days away from the Non-Waiver Deadline; what are you hoping to see the O’s achieve?

Dougherty: The Orioles are on something of a tear right now, going 6-4 on a very difficult trip out west that could have easily been a 7-3 or 8-2 stand. Frankly, they’re one of the teams that nobody wants to play right now. To keep it that way for another two months and beyond, I’d love to see a starting pitcher added, but only if he’s a 1 or more likely a 2. This team doesn’t need any more 3-5s to hopefully punch above their weight; if they’re going to make a move, I want it to be a splash.

Long: Obviously improving the roster is a priority, though it’s not clear that we could achieve that through trades. I think there are some names out there that the O’s have been linked to like Kennedy or Suzuki, but I really don’t think they are difference makers for the club. Honestly, with the way the club is playing right now the only upgrade that might need to be made is adding a relief arm to supplement Britton and O’Day late in games.

Stoner: My mantra in June was that the players that were currently on the roster would determine through their play what the O’s should do at the Non-Waiver Deadline. I think those players have done enough to expect their Front-Office to help augment what exists. 

The O’s could use a LHH LF, improvement at 2nd, another reliever (though that could be addressed internally with the ’6th’ starter going to the ‘pen), and a starter better than what you have. 

Baltimore is 10th overall in runs scored due to being one of the premier slugging teams, and in-spite of their on-base % limitations. I’d love to see Altuve pried from Houston. My sense is the Astros would prefer his contract and known production vs. a package of something like Rodriguez and Schoop.

Showalter and Duquette were both quoted several times in the past Month as stating they would prefer to not have their Pitching Staff have to build-up a relationship with another Catcher. That stance was softened by Duquette this past week. Suzuki has defensive limitations, but is having a career year with the bat. For ’14, he would make the lineup deeper.

The Rockies LF Corey Dickerson intrigues me. I don’t have a great sense of what Colorado could expect in-return for him. If he was realistically obtainable, he seems like an ideal option for the O’s to pursue.

If you can not improve the rotation, I’m comfortable going with what exists. My definition of improving the rotation, would be adding a SP that you would want starting Games 1-3 in a Playoff Series. Kansas City’s ‘Big Game’ James Shields fits that definition for me. His peripherals show he is more of a good pitcher than an ACE; but in my opinion the O’s odds of advancing in a Playoff series would be increased with him part of the rotation.

2) One of the existing threads on the BSL Board asks, “What move could Duquette realistically make, which would upset you?” How would you answer that?

Dougherty: There isn’t one specific move that would upset me. I’d be upset if DD got fleeced, which doesn’t really seem to happen. Trading away anyone that might be worthwhile for the next few years for, like, K-Rod might do it. 

Long: I think for me it’s moving any of the “big 3″ prospects. To me, Gausman, Bundy, and Harvey are all guys with top of the rotation potential, something the O’s haven’t had since Mike Mussina wore orange and black. I honestly don’t see any big names out there that would be worth moving any of those guys for, especially given the fact that the O’s will need to save money as guys like Davis, Wieters, and Hardy become free agents.

Stoner: I could see moving 2 of 3 out of Gausman, Bundy, and Harvey if you were talking about getting Sale, Stanton, or Darvish back in return. I don’t think any of those three players will be wearing Orange & Black in a few days. Right now it is hard for me to envision a scenario I consider plausible where I would support the trade of any of those three.

3) Showalter indicated to the local Beat Writers that ‘Interesting’ changes could be coming to the rotation in the near-term. The most logical explanations for that phrasing are a 6 man rotation, or potentially going with tandem starters. How would you feel about the O’s operating under either scenario?

Dougherty: Their starters aren’t good enough to go with 6 (which would likely deplete the bullpen, since Buck wants a handful of bench bats ready to go) and they’re not bad enough to double up in starts. As of right now, they’re pitching pretty well, so I guess if I had to pick, it’d be 6 starters. I might also read into those interesting changes as the wacky rotation manipulation Buck is implementing for matchups and/or the announcement of a time machine that allows us to swap 2014 Ubaldo Jimenez for 2010 Ubaldo Jimenez.

Long: I’m really not a fan of either direction there, but the Orioles are in a serious conundrum when it comes to their rotation. They’ve got a couple of guys that I have a lot of faith in (Tillman & Gausman) with 4 other guys who don’t instill a ton of confidence. That said, everyone in the rotation is pitching well right now, so a 6-man rotation would be the lesser of two evils in my opinion.

Stoner: I would be fine with the O’s incorporating a 6 man rotation for a couple of turns through the rotation. I would think that could benefit Chen, Gonzalez, and Gausman. (OTOH, I could see Tillman being uncomfortable with an extra day.) Overall though, at some point the O’s will have to make a decision of who stays in the rotation, and who goes to the bullpen. Jeff’s short piece on Jimenez to the bullpen last week, made me more optimistic on that as a possibility.

4) Showalter took over as Orioles Manager July 29th, 2010 (with the O’s sporting a crisp 32-73 record). How do you currently view the Baltimore skipper 4 years in?

Dougherty: Buck did a great job steadying what was, at the time, an unevenly sinking ship and seems to have instilled the virtues of fundamental baseball and contributing when you’re not an everyday player. I get the impression that the guys on this team not only want to win, but feel like they can always run with the big dogs. I get the sense that that sentiment wasn’t always around this clubhouse or even the fans in Baltimore. I get a headache every time Buck does something suboptimal (read: anti-sabermetrics) and traditionally baseball, like bullpen mismanagement or trading in too many outs for a tying or close-the-gap run, especially on the road. But these are relatively small qualms and could be far worse. As far as I know, we haven’t seen the Buck that was pushed out of so many other cities, and I think that’s to his credit in recognizing that he needed to change.

Long: Buck has truly impressed as he’s gotten the team focusing on the right things and performing on the field. Obviously it’s relatively difficult to separate Buck’s performance from the front office’s efforts, but I think he and Dan Duquette do a great job of extracting value from roster spots 20-30, which is vital for a team with postseason aspirations. My only qualm with Buck, beyond his reliance on bunting and IBBs, is his management of the bullpen. Other that that he’s proved to be a solid tactician and excellent motivator. Any concerns about Buck’s strict ways of managing the clubhouse have been thrown out the window as the O’s keep things light and fun while maintaining a winning atmosphere.

Stoner: When Showalter was hired I thought he could help. I respected him as a ‘Baseball Mind.’ What I worried about was the perception I had, that he was a Drill Sgt. who would quickly wear out his welcome. What we’ve seen is a guy that has learned from his previous spots, and is in full-command of his profession. There is lots of debate in the Saber community of how much impact a Manager has. That is based on questions of influence on the tactical decisions a Manager makes. There are other aspects of being a Manager that I think have to be considered. The ability to communicate to the team, and the Press. Maintaining a calming-influence, setting a standard of expectations.  Establishing a strong working relationship with the Front-Office, making sure goals are aligned. I like things that can be quantified. I don’t know that Showalter’s impact can be measured as such. Ultimately I think he is a large part of why the O’s are poised for their 3rd consecutive winning-season, and could possibly factor in October.

5) Organization wide – what story should be receiving more attention than it currently is?

Dougherty: At least recently, I’d probably say Miguel Gonzalez. It wasn’t that long ago that I said he should be moved to the bullpen because Norris was doing so well, but that’s changed. He’s pitched to a 1.82 ERA in his last four outings (in July, basically) and gone at least 6 innings in each, going to 8 innings twice. It probably won’t last since, uh, he’s not Clayton Kershaw, but the guy that started the year as the lowest man on the totem pole and the first pick for bullpen relegation should be celebrated while he mows down some decent offenses: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle (three of which are below 20 in the season rankings of runs scored but have been playing pretty well lately). These were all also 1- and 2-run games, so it’s not like he was pitching in low-leverage situations. In 2012, I trusted Gonzalez on the mound against the Yankees based mostly on emotion and results in a small sample against New York and he totally delivered. I want to trust him that way again.

Long: To me it’s Caleb Joseph’s defense. The guys has been the most valuable catcher on the roster since Wieters went down with injury despite hitting .197/.273/.311 (62 wRC+) on the season. He’s been worth about half a win so far this season through 44 games, but that figure is more like 1 WAR if you add in pitch framing, something that Joseph is among the best in MLB at. Pitch framing is quickly becoming one of the most valuable skills a catcher can possess, and Joseph has proven to be excellent at it. If framing isn’t your thing then don’t forget that Joseph makes awesome defensive plays like this one.

Stoner:  As the 2014 season was beginning, there were lots of rankings (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN’s Keith Law, FanGraphs, MLB.com, etc.) of the Orioles system as a whole. It was acknowledged across all-sources that the O’s system was top-heavy; but the strength at the top was good enough for overall rankings in the upper-third. When the rankings come out next year, Bundy and Harvey (if still part of the system) will continue to carry the system at the top. Beyond them, the organization is pretty thin to me. You look at the Top 15-20 guys, and I don’t see a lot to be excited about. Obviously the latest Amateur Draft will only help so much. There has to be a larger commitment to obtaining International talent. Especially International talent not impacted by the International Spending Pools. Cuban OF Rusney Castillo would be a start.

6) The AL East has been tight all season. Which AL East team poses the biggest threat to the O’s through the stretch run?

Dougherty: I’m going back on my quarter/midseason projections and groaning about the threat of the Tampa Bay Rays. If anyone was going to be the first team to ever make the playoffs after being 18 games under .500 (I think that’s the stat I saw), it was going to be the Tampa Bay Rays. Forget about the Price trade rumors; this team is on a mission to compete in October and the scariest part is that they really don’t need to add to the roster to do it, thanks to many good pitchers returning from the DL. They did worse than just tread water with some of their starters injured and it won’t even matter – this team is last year’s Dodgers, albeit less exciting, and will go on some crazy tear to compete for the division and probably win a wild card.

Long: This is tough because nearly every team in the AL East has had an up and down season. The Blue Jays appear to be stabilizing a bit, while the Yankees age might be catching up with them. The team I am terrified of is Tampa Bay though. I may have been the only BSL Analyst that didn’t pick the Rays to win the division, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize all the talent they have on their roster. Their rotation is excellent, and they have enough power in their lineup to win close games through the stretch run. The Rays might have the longest climb of any AL East team with at least some chance of making the playoffs, but they’re the most likely team to make a run at the division title in my opinion.

Stoner:  As long as the Rays hold on to Price (and everything points to them doing just that), it’s Tampa Bay for me. It’s amazing that a team can lose a Matt Moore, and still have 5 starters of the quality of Price, Archer, Cobb, Odorizzi, and Hellickson. That offense is still mediocre / poor though. Maybe they get a lift if Wil Myers can get back, and performs over the last 6 weeks of the season.  (Though he was not hitting much prior to his injury.)

I don’t believe in the Yankees, but think they did a great job with their recent acquisitions of Headley and McCarthy. 

While the lineup has a lot of age, it’s the rotation which figures to be too much to overcome. Nova out for the year, Sabathia out for the year, Pineda still trying to get back (after missing the last 2 years), and Tanaka still feeling discomfort.

I was initially pretty definitive about the Rays, but maybe the Jays should be getting more love from me here. They are 6 over .500, they do have a strong and balanced offense. Marcus Stroman has helped the rotation. If Toronto could add one more significant SP, they might be in the hunt until the end.

7) If the season ended right now, the Orioles would be getting a few days of rest before suiting up to play the Detroit Tigers. How do you think this team would do against the Motor City Kitties (and then the Oakland A’s?) in a short series? Who are your picks for the World Series?

Dougherty: It’s exciting and refreshing to talk playoffs without even mentioning the play-in Wild Card game. Detroit is very good, but they’re not the powerhouse they were just a few years ago. Verlander looks human, Sanchez and Porcello have been all peaks and valleys, and Miguel Cabrera looks like a very talented human instead of a supremely talented robot. The playoffs are always going to be a crap-shoot, but the O’s would definitely take Detroit to 5 games (notably better than the Yankees teams of recent years). I think they could take Oakland to 5 games too, but that’s less impressive in a 7-game series. My realistic/pessimistic World Series prediction is Oakland vs. LA Dodgers for what would be a pretty cool in-state rivalry game. My ideal World Series prediction is Baltimore vs. Washington.

Long: The Orioles would likely be the underdog in any postseason series, even one against a wild card play-in winner (which won’t happen) simply because they lack front end pitching and haven’t had the track record of success that the competition has, despite three consecutive winning seasons. To me there are two interesting facts about the postseason. #1 is that pitching wins the World Series. #2 is that scoring is always way down in October/November, so the playing field will be more even than one might expect.

So that said, I think I’d pick either the Tigers or A’s to win a series against the O’s simply because I’d trust Max Scherzer on the mound in game 5 versus Chris Tillman. Keep in mind though that in a short series anything can happen, and any advantage I give the Tigers or A’s would be more of a 52-48 kind of advantage as opposed to a 65-35 or something significant like that.

As for the World Series, I think it’ll end up being Oakland vs. the Dodgers. Both teams have the pitching, but I think Oakland’s unique roster construction will give them a leg up over other American League teams. The Dodgers will likely ride the backs of Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu to the fall classic.

Stoner: In a Series vs. Oakland, Detroit, or the LA Angels; I think the O’s would go in as the underdog. I do think they would have a punchers (sluggers) chance vs. anyone though. As mentioned, we are talking about short-series. The best team does not always win. You would not be asking the O’s to be better than those teams over 162 games, just a short-series. My current pick for the World Series is a rematch of ’88, with the A’s facing the LA Dodgers. That ’88 World Series being a prime example of a superior team falling in a short-series.

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