“Shell Game” is season-long a chronicle of Maryland football’s recovery from its disastrous 2011 campaign. The University of Maryland athletic department chose to deny our request for access. It was probably a wise move.
Maryland’s 2012 campaign begins Sunday with the start of training camp. It will be a crucial four weeks for Randy Edsall to begin to decide who the Maryland Terrapins really are. As expectations go, Maryland’s are modest: don’t be as terrible as last season. The “nowhere to go but up” ethos that many Terp fans are tapping into this August is analogous with the allure of the Impact Freshman. While the public scrutiny on high school players is at a higher, unhealthier level than ever, each new face on the team represents the opportunity for an elite addition, regardless of a guy’s Rivals rating. To read freshman bios and watch YouTube clips is to be drunk on a substance more potent than jungle juice: potential.
Headlining the group of true frosh full of promise are offensive players who are filling the shoes of Edsall defectors. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who instantly became the most noteworthy Terrapin personality when the local five-star recruit chose to stay at home, is the embodiment of this focus on potential. Diggs may turn out to be Desmond Howard incarnate, or he may turn out to be a very average college football player. Regardless of prestige, evaluation and hype, predicting success in college football is a fool’s game. If Diggs is the real deal, he should have no problem getting reps this year, which is either exciting or terrifying. Freshmen certainly can be impact players, even at wide receiver. Sammy Watkins, the mercurial wideout/returner for Clemson, brutally reminded the Terps of this last season.
Beyond Diggs, his high school buddy Wes Brown will fill vacancy at tailback left by transfer D.J Adams. Brown will join a trio of other frosh ball carriers behind starter Justus Pickett, who has 74 carries in his one season of college ball. Under center, experience is even more scarce with starter C.J. Brown the only QB on the roster with any college experience whatsoever. Unless there’s some hidden passing talent elsewhere on the roster, true freshmen Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills will be called upon should the athletic Brown be pulled for some reason. The amount of unknowns at the skill positions, especially on the Maryland offense, is tantalizing and scary. You always want to see what unproven talents can do, but the fact that they’re out there usually means the game, and the season is on the verge of being a lost cause.
But what if Diggs is Sammy Watkins? What if Wes Brown is much more than just a package deal to keep him company? What if freshman Abner Logan is the next great Maryland linebacker? The fact that we cannot yet answer any of these questions makes them more exciting. Right now, a brief weekend away from these players donning Maryland helmets for the first time, they, and by extension the 2012 Maryland Terrapins, can be anything.