After a stellar freshman season where he became the Terps’ full starter four games into the season, Danny O’Brien will be looking to elevate his performance this season and develop into one of the NCAA’s top quarterback.
The sophomore passer will have to do so without his top two receivers from last season; All-ACC performer Torrey Smith was drafted by the Ravens in April and the team’s second-leading receiver Adrian Cannon graduated. With that said, Maryland has brought in some new receiving weapons through recruiting, and return Matt Furstenburg, last year’s starting tight end.
As a freshman, Danny O’Brien proved that he had not only the talent to excel in the ACC, but the mental toughness as well. O’Brien captured the attention of the rest of the ACC in 2010 by throwing 16 touchdowns with only six interceptions in conference play, eventually being named the ACC Rookie of the Year. His season was highlighted by an unforgettable performance against NC State, where he threw for 417 passing yards and 4 touchdowns, driving the Terps to an epic 38-31 win to close out the regular season. What might be more important than the stats, however, is the way O’Brien rebounded from poor performances.
In his first two ACC games (vs. Duke and at Clemson), the North Carolina native completed only 33 out of 71 passes (46.5%), throwing a single touchdown against Duke, and three interceptions against Clemson. One week after the Terps were drubbed 31-7 by that fairly mediocre Clemson Tigers team, O’Brien led the team north, where they deafeated Boston College 24-21 behind O’Brien’s arm. He was 26-39 (66.7%) with three touchdowns, 179 yards, and most importantly, he threw no interceptions in a close game. Two games later, the freshman had another poor performance at Miami, but responded with a strong game at Virginia the following week.
This season, O’Brien must do more of the same without Smith and Cannon, although under new head coach Randy Edsall, the team has added a good amount of receiving depth. In recruiting, the Terps did well over the Winter, signing three very skilled wide receiver prospects. Aditionally, O’Brien and the offense received a gift when former Florida commit Adrian Coxson decided to honor his transfer to Maryland even after Ralph Friedgen’s departure.
Marcus Leak, arguably the top prospect in the entire Terps’ 2011 recruiting class, has been compared to Darrius Heyward-Bey because of his breakaway speed and physical tools. Leak is from North Carolina and made his commitment to Maryland early, shortly after his junior season. He did not practice with the team in the Spring, but should make an immediate impact as a true freshman with his 6-foot frame and strong hands. He’ll team up with another incoming 6-foot freshman, Tyrek Cheeseboro. Cheeseboro is from the Baltimore area, playing his high school football at Milford Mill, an established Baltimore County program. To polish his game and increase his academic standing, “Cheese” spent last season at Fork Union Military in Virginia, facing much tougher competition than he did in high school.
Another local kid coming to Maryland to help O’Brien this season is Adrian Coxson, a product of City College in Baltimore. He left City with plenty of awards and much fanfare, but decided to transfer from Florida to Maryland last August before playing a game for the Gators. A welcome contrast to Leak and Cheeseboro, Coxson’s game revolves more around his great hands and strength, being able to match up physically with nearly any corner he will face. Look for him to be a consistent option for O’Brien on third downs.
High Expectations in 2011
With a year of experience under his belt, and the fact that he’ll be a starter for the whole season, O’Brien is receiving a lot of hype for the upcoming campaign. This year, he’ll look to Furstenburg more often, and considering the Terps have so many receivers without college experience, upperclassmen Kevin Dorsey (Junior), Quinton McCree (Senior) and Ronnie Tyler (Senior) should take a bigger role in the offense than last season. If there is anything that can be positive about losing two starting senior receivers, it’s that more guys get an opportunity to step up and perform. O’Brien can truly show that he is a great quarterback by spreading the ball around more than he did last season, which will, in turn, keep defenses on their heels.
Already, O’Brien is anticipated to build off his 2010 performance. He was ranked the ACC’s top quarterback by ESPN blogger Heather Dinich, and is considered a shoo-in for the preseason All-ACC nod at the position. Many media members have stated that Maryland’s hopes in 2011 depend on O’Brien’s performance, and whether he can elevate his level of play in what figures to be a tougher ACC this season. While nobody is getting too carried away and stating that a Heisman trophy is within O’Brien’s reach in 2011, everything is in place for him to have another great season, and establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks in college football.
Edgar Walker will be covering the Orioles farm system, Terps football, and Baltimore-area high school sports for BSR. Follow him on Twitter @Edgar_Walker.