Many thanks to Washington Times beat writer Patrick Stevens. Here are his answers to some of the questions you submitted. Notice the Terps are traveling here tomorrow to have a full day to get acclimated to the time change:
1. In what areas will Maryland be better than last year? In what areas will they be worse?– It’s probably safe to say the Terps, with a revamped defense, will be more capable of creating turnovers than at any point in the last few seasons. A lot of that starts with an improved secondary, one that probably won’t be all that recognizable from the bunch that Cal torched in the fourth quarter last year.
There’s a couple areas some folks have some concern with that probably aren’t going to prove significant — namely the wide receivers and linebackers. The Terps did lose Darrius Heyward-Bey and slot receiver Danny Oquendo, but they’ve done a better job of recruiting that position in recent years and should be fine with Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon the top options heading into the season. Maryland also has a history of churning out linebackers, so the loss of five seniors in that unit probably won’t hurt as much as anticipated.
The most likely areas of regression are the offensive line and tight ends. The Terps’ offensive line was a disappointment last year, but it also had some moments where it dominated. Gone are five fifth-year seniors (including three starters) from that unit. Maryland will start two former walk-ons, quite possibly both on the right side of the line. That’s the big question, and no amount of camp optimism can glaze over the fact no one really knows how good (or bad) Maryland will be up front. The tight ends, meanwhile, don’t feature an obvious starter, and Maryland hopes a committee approach at the position will help things hold up.
2. How would you rate Maryland’s team speed, especially on defense?
–Well the Terps don’t have a Jahvid Best. At least not one who is going to play this week, anyway.
This is an area Ralph Friedgen has made it a point to upgrade throughout his tenure, and he has. But it’s been gradual, and it still isn’t quite to the point that he’d probably like it to be.
There are some guys, particularly on defense, that can move pretty well — safety Kenny Tate and linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield come to mind immediately (on offense, tailback Da’Rel Scott is an obvious speed guy). But a reasonable thing to say is that Maryland’s defense will rely on aggressive scheme and smarts to achieve much more than speed to accomplish what it wants.
3. Does Chris Turner have the consistency to lead the Terps to a big year (9-10 wins)?
–Friedgen, whose had a habit of nitpicking everything about his quarterbacks in the past, has actually remained extremely upbeat about Turner throughout camp. Some of that has to do with a more positive approach to everything — losing 100 pounds and having two coordinators he trusts will do that. But it’s also clear he is certain Turner can get the job done.
The greater question is whether Turner will remain upright enough to lead Maryland to nine wins. So much of what he does will be influenced by the offensive line, which will have a couple strong cornerstones in left tackle Bruce Campbell and center Phil Costa. That leaves three other positions to figure out as the season begins to unfold.
In short: Turner has a chance to take Maryland to a nine-win season and ACC title contention. It’s just a matter of whether his protection will permit it.
4. Will playing at 10 p.m. EST affect Maryland?
–The Terps are doing things smart, having a light 75-minute practice at 2 p.m. on Thursday, then taking a bus to catch their flight out to Oakland. They’ll have a full day to acclimate to the time change, which is about as good as you can do during the school year.
The more important thing to consider is it’s probably easier to stay up late and play than to get up early and do the same (just ask Cal from last season). Maryland could have some problems playing against a complete team like the Golden Bears, but it’ll be the Golden Bears’ impressive talent rather than the time of day that is most likely to do them in.
5. How do the players feel about being heavy underdogs to a team they beat last year?
–This seems to be something of a point of pride for Maryland, which always seems to get up for games when they are a decided underdog.
Assuming the line stays in the 20s, it will be the biggest spread Maryland’s faced since Friedgen took over. The two times Maryland went in as an 18.5-point underdog or more, they won (2006 at Clemson, 2007 at Rutgers).
One other note: Maryland is 6-2 the last two years when facing ranked opponents, and 8-10 when facing unranked opponents. This is a program accustomed to being overlooked, not to mention one with a recent history of inexplicable inconsistency.Then you toss in the Terps’ relative youth — just 12 scholarship seniors this season. In a lot of ways, it’s understood that an underdog role is going to be given to them until they earn a change of perception.