Terps Football Q&A w/Tim Strachan
The Maryland Terrapins football team opens its season in just over 2 months against Florida International, and news about the team is getting more exciting every week. This past week, Baltimore Sports and Life (BSL) had the pleasure of interviewing Terps radio analyst Tim Strachan about this year’s team and the future of the program as a whole.
BSL would like to thank Mr. Strachan for taking the time to provide his thoughts and his enthusiasm about the team as a whole.
(Discuss this article on the BSL Message Board here.)
BSL: Randy Edsall is entering his 3rd year as the head coach of the Maryland Terrapins football team. What are your impressions of Edsall so far, and what does he have to do in this his 3rd year to keep this team moving in the right direction as they head into the Big Ten? Obviously his start in College Park was rocky, but he seems to have found a groove with the program, and seems to have the pieces in place to be successful.
Strachan: I love Randy. I think he does have this program headed in the right direction and, even though it may not be reflected in his record, one can sense the momentum that the program is gaining. The atmosphere around Gossett Team House is night-and-day from his first year. That just means he has players that have bought into what he is trying to do and the players know what is expected of them. He does run a tight ship, but in my opinion that is not a bad thing. We forget that these players are still kids and need some direction and structure. It takes time, especially in football, for a head coach to build the program he wants to have and there is no doubt Randy knows what he wants. Last year, even though they only won 4 games, the team was much more competitive, losing 4 games by less than a touchdown (2 of which by a field goal and another by 2 points, not to mention only losing by 10 at West Virginia). That is what happens when you are playing true freshmen at quarterback (one being a converted linebacker, remember) and a lot of youth in other positions. In his 3rd year I expect their fortunes to change by winning a couple of those types of games and getting at least to a .500 mark or better and putting themselves in position to go to a bowl game. Three years is usually the benchmark for gauging whether a coach has his program headed in the right direction. If he wants to prove himself not only to his critics and doubters, but all Maryland fans, Edsall needs to reach 6 or more wins and I am confident they will be able to achieve that in 2013. As for their move into the Big Ten, that will be the year the main pieces of this team (Diggs et. al, C.J. Brown, all the running backs, Madaras and company on the line, as well as key defensive players) will be in their 3rd year or at least have significant experience and they could be a surprise team. The real key will be whether the offensive line is able to be successful because there is no doubt they will have the weapons at skilled positions to rival those of other Big Ten teams.
BSL: The Terps used 6 quarterbacks last season (the last one being LB Shawn Petty). Coach Edsall has already announced that C.J. Brown will be the team’s starter in 2013. Brown also received an extra year of eligibility, making him eligible for the Terps’ first season in the Big Ten. What are your impressions of Brown, and what can we expect from the Terps’ quarterback position moving forward?
Strachan: C.J. Brown has gained respect from his fellow players and coaches, which is why he has been named the starter, and for good reason. He is one of the toughest kids I have ever seen come through Maryland – starting with his first game action against Morgan St. his redshirt freshman year where he scrambled on his first play only to break his collar bone on his throwing arm and stay in the game to throw the ball with velocity 2 more times; then the limited success he had the following year sharing snaps and starts, only to suffer the knee injury in camp last year. Couple that with the Danny O’Brien situation, this kid could have packed it in a long time ago, but he has never wavered and kept working to deserve this chance. We all know what he is capable of doing running the ball, but we’ll have to see if the knee injury slows him down from his 4.4 speed. C.J. has worked extremely hard, with O.C. Mike Locksley, on his passing game. Before, C.J. was a thrower not a passer, which means he had a live arm and could throw it a mile on a rope, but he needed to learn how to read defenses and put touch on the ball or place it in certain areas where his guys will make plays. I’m excited for him and expect he is going to be a much improved and more well-rounded QB heading into this year. He has all the intangibles you want in a QB that has natural athletic ability, and his leadership skills and respect from players will be a great asset for this team as long he stays healthy. As for the QB position as a whole, the Terps are in great shape. You have Perry Hills who did an admirable job as a true freshman last year and will always be a kid they can rely on if he is needed. Caleb Rowe also got some experience last year and, in my opinion (and I stress my opinion), may be the best QB on the roster. I love his gun-slinger mentality, his motion, his poise and he has very good athleticism, as well. I think this kid could be pretty special before he is done at UMD. There is also Ricardo Young, the junior college transfer who gained a lot of experience this past spring as the #1 guy. He needs to become a little more consistent, but there is no doubt he is an athletic and capable player that adds to the position. Then finally, I have to mention Shane Cockerille, the Elite 11 quarterback that is coming this year as a freshman and is another tough, athletic, strong-armed QB with a wrestler’s mentality (something Randy loves in his QBs because they bring toughness and maturity to the position). I suspect either Hills, Rowe, or both to redshirt this year along with Cockerille, allowing Young the chance to solidify that #2 spot. The QB position is in very good shape for the next few years.
BSL: The Terps are loaded at the skill positions (RB and WR) this season. Do you see any one starter emerging at running back, or do you see a 3-man rotation at the position (Brown, Ross, and Reid)? Stefon Diggs and Deon Long make up one of the better wide receiver combinations in the conference, so how do you see the rest of the receiving corps shaking out?
Strachan: The Terps have 3 very good running backs and given the way the game is played today you need to have that kind of depth. I expect all three will play a significant role. Both Ross and Reid had very productive spring camps and I think Ross will enter fall camp as the starter. However, I still feel Wes Brown is the more all-around RB with the most overall talent that will emerge as the “starter”, as long as he stays healthy. No matter who emerges as the “starter”, though, all three will play important roles in 2013 and beyond. The wide receiving crew is outstanding. Diggs is the real deal and I am very excited to see his improvement after an entire offseason of strength training that will make him an even more explosive player. Deon Long will be a huge compliment to Diggs because if he is able to play up to the potential he showed as the JuCo player of the year then teams will not be able to just focus on Diggs. That said there is so much more talent that it is hard to even remember how many guys they have at that position. So much talent, in fact, the loss of 3-year player in Marcus Leak for the year (due to personal reasons) won’t even matter. Nigel King has started to show why he was such a highly regarded WR coming in and at his size (6’3”, 205lbs) he could really have a breakout year. Two other guys had very good spring camps, Malcolm Culmer and Amba Etta, and with that experience the depth of the position is a big asset. Then you have the Jacobs brothers, Levern and Taivon. Levern really impressed me in the spring of 2012 and he has incredible athleticism that he started to show in a few games toward the end of last season. Unfortunately, he was unable to participate in spring camp due to injuries, but once this kid becomes more consistent and reliable in the offense he can be a play maker. As for his brother, Taivon, this is a huge get for the Maryland program. I wouldn’t be surprised that he sees some action in his first year despite the depth and talent at the position because he has the potential to be too good to not have on the field. His role will all depend on how fast he is able to pick up the offense and be trusted by coaches to put on the field, but it will be tough to keep that kind of talent off of it.
BSL: The offensive line has always been a tough spot for the Terps. After losing two seniors on the line (Bennett Fulper and Justin Gilbert) can this line do enough to win games for the Terps this season? Also, do you see 4-star recruit Derwin Gray forced into action in his freshman season (ala Mike Madaras) or will the team be able to keep him redshirted all season?
Strachan: The offensive line will be better than last year, but still young and inexperienced. Offensive line is the most difficult unit to develop on a football team due to the mere size, strength, technique, experience and cohesiveness it takes to establish a truly solid line across the front, not to mention the depth that is crucial to its success. The loss of both Fulper and Gilbert will be tough, but starting with Madaras, [Offensive Line] Coach Bratton has some young experienced talent to build with. Madaras did a great job stepping in and earning a starting spot as a true freshman. A full offseason to get bigger, stronger, and work on technique will serve him and the whole unit well, plus he will need to serve as a leader for the group even as a sophomore. Andrew Zeller (So.), Sal Conaboy (Jr.), Evan Mulrooney (So.), Nick Klemm (Sr.), De’Onte Arnett (Sr.), Jake Wheeler (Jr.), Gary Harraka (Jr.), Ryan Doyle (So.) and Stephen Grommer (So.) all have valuable game experience and had the chance to work with one another, so that will automatically make this unit better than it was a year ago. The addition of Silvano Altamirano (Jr., transfer) will add to the experience of the unit, but he needs to get up to speed on the playbook and indoctrinate himself into the cohesiveness of the others to help this unit out in the fall, which he was able to get a jump start on by joining the team in the spring. As for Derwin Gray, all I know is that Randy and Bratton will play the guys they think are the best to help this team win now and if Derwin is up to the task he will get that chance to play as a true freshman. It is a very hard jump to make as a lineman, but as we saw Madaras do it last year it is a possibility. [Note: This interview took place before it was announced that Derwin Gray will attend a prep school for his 1st year of college.] The OL will be improved, but they are the biggest question mark for the offense, and maybe even the whole team, so there are still going to be some growing pains throughout the season. Luckily the skill guys have the ability to compensate some for the woes that are inevitable along the O-Line.
BSL: The defense lost 5 of their starting front 7 in the offseason, but have some young players with starting experience to take their place. Safety Matt Robinson is also moving to linebacker (ala Kenny Tate). Is the defensive backfield the strength of this defense, or is there another position that you see as even more talented.
Strachan: The defense is entering the 2013 season for the first time in recent memory that does not have 1-3 headline-grabbing type players, but that is also not an indictment of the defense, either. The defensive backfield is returning the most recognizable players from last year and should be a solid unit. Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson enter the fall as the starters on the corners. Both have significant experience and have proven to be playmakers in their own right. They both could be a little more consistent, but how many of us cannot say that about ourselves? Isaac Goins will push for a starting nod and will be a big addition to the backfield in any role he plays. However, the kid garnering the most attention and making the most eye-popping displays of talent in the spring was true freshman Will Likely. This young man is going to see the field this fall (maybe even as a returner) because he has natural talent that will be hard to keep on the sideline. Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon, A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel will all vie for significant time at the safety spots. All are very athletic and have earned praise from coaches during the spring. However, if I were to point to one player on the defense I am most excited about, it would be Darius Kilgo anchoring the middle of the 3-4 defense. He showed in the spring that he already has increased his size and strength and will set the tone for the front 7. Another defensive lineman I expect to have a breakout year is Quinton Jefferson at the end spot. He is a raw talent that has natural athletic ability and once Coach Gattuso is able to coach him up on technique this kid could wreak havoc in opposing team’s backfields. The loss of Vellano and Francis from last year will be filled by these two players. Other notable players along the line that will play important roles are Andre Monroe (who missed all last year due to injury), Keith Bowers and Azibuike Ukandu. However, in the 3-4 scheme, the guys that have their hand in the dirt are really making it easier for the linebacker corps to be the playmakers. As you mentioned, Matt Robinson will be making the move from safety to LB, but this “experiment” will not be “ala Kenny Tate”. (Side note – Kenneth Tate had unfortunately succumbed to a terrible knee ailment that prevented him from being the player he once was and could have been, but I hope he finds a way to resurrect his career at the next level and/or is successful at whatever he finds to be the next stage in his life because he is a fine young man and deserves the success). Matt will make this transition smoothly as he is a very smart player with the size to make this transition seamless. Cole Farrand, Alex Twine and L.A. Goree all have significant playing time and I have no doubt they will continue to play at a high level, if not higher than before. There are a few other players that will be pushing them all for playing time, if not starting spots, in Marcus Whitfield, Avery Thompson, Brock Dean, Abner Logan and two guys that could play very significant roles in Shawn Petty and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil. Shawn Petty has received a lot of attention for the incredible job he did stepping at QB last year, but this young man is built to punish QBs rather than pass like one. Cudjoe-Virgil is a young man coaches praised all spring as a guy that brings so much enthusiasm and hard work that he could emerge as a special player for the defense once he is able to put everything together with his high motor and intensity.
BSL: As everyone knows by now, the Terps are making the move to the prestigious Big Ten Conference in 2014. Will the football team be annihilated in their first few seasons as many people are predicting, or are there certain teams they’ll be able to hang around with? Personally, I see the future of the Maryland program as being brighter than Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, and maybe Iowa in football. Do you share this view, and what are your general impressions of how the move will affect the football team?
Strachan: As I mentioned above, I think Maryland is going to surprise some teams in the Big Ten their first year. With C.J. Brown, [Stefon] Diggs, [Deon] Long and all the running backs and other wide receivers they have will be playing at the prime of their careers and with experience and cohesion together for one year prior to joining the league they have the potential to be pretty darn good. Now, I will stipulate that I have not studied the Big Ten enough to know what the likes of Ohio St., Michigan, Michigan St., Nebraska teams will look like a year from now or where they are expected to be ranked, but I do not expect Maryland to be getting “annihilated” by anyone. The only team I see as being potentially above all the rest is OSU (but they have a lot of time to get themselves in trouble between now and 2014 so you never know). Some of those programs in the Big Ten have some of the top programs in the country on a yearly basis, so Maryland will have their work cut out for them. Then again, consistent with my first answer, I believe Randy Edsall and this coaching staff has this program on the climb. If they keep getting talent that we have seen over the past 2 recruiting cycles, or even better, I have optimism for what lies ahead for Maryland football. Before we start debating whether they will be contenders or pretenders in the Big Ten, let’s just get through the last year in the ACC and watch this team continue to make progress and, yes I am going to say it, see this team at a Bowl game come Christmas time!