Around the Big Ten: Maryland searching for WR playmakers

Rick Brown

Maryland joined the Big Ten with an overachieving 2014 season. The Terrapins were 7-6 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten and earned a spot in the Foster Farms Bowl.

Two of those victories were on the road at Michigan, with a lame duck coach, and Penn State, with James Franklin trying get a once-proud program moving forward again. Maryland was an impressive 5-1 on the road last season.

Exceeding expectations also got coach Randy Edsall a new contract. But there are challenges ahead. Edsall must replace 11 starters, a quarterback and a depleted group of receivers.

There will also be a new defensive coordinator in Keith Dudzinski, who inherits just four returning starters from a unit that finished 12th in the Big Ten in both rushing defense (201.9 yards a game) and total defense (436.2) and 13th in passing defense (234.3) last season.

Spring buzz

Junior Stefon Diggs (62 catches, 792 yards, five TDs) entered the NFL Draft a year early, and No. 2 receiver Deon Long (51 catches, 575 yards, two TDs) is also gone. Maryland looked to have plenty of capable replacements. But Marcus Leak, the star of the spring game with three touchdown catches, left the program for personal reasons in June. He had 20 catches for 297 yards and three touchdowns last season.

Jacquille Veii, a running back/slot receiver, left the program in April. And sophomore Juwann Winfree (11 catches last season) was suspended indefinitely in June. Running back Wes Brown is the team's leading returning pass catcher (21 receptions, 198 yards), though Levern Jacobs (47 catches in 2013) is back from a one-season suspension.

Brown was also the team's third-leading rusher last season (356 yards, three TDs). Also back is Brandon Ross, (419 yards, four TDs).

Edsall needs a punter to replace Nathan Renfro, but first-team all-Big Ten placekicker Brad Craddock is back after making 18 of 19 field goals last season.

Still to be settled

C.J. Brown was a dual-threat quarterback and was the Terrapins' leading rusher (539 yards, eight TDs). He also passed for 2,288 yards. The leading candidate to replace him is Caleb Rowe, who completed 34 of 54 passes for 489 yards and five touchdowns.

Rowe's starting spot might be threatened by one of two guys — Perry Hills or Daxx Garman, who transferred in from Oklahoma State in May and is eligible to compete this season.

There are a lot of holes to fill on defense, too, but first-team all-Big Ten defensive back William Likely is a star. He had six interceptions last season, returning two of them for scores. He's also a threat as a kick returner.

Another returning starter is Yannick Ngakoue, who had 13.5 tackles for a loss last season. He's moving from linebacker to a hybrid end position.

The secondary should be rock solid, with Likely and returning starters Sean Davis and Anthony Nixon back there. But other than Ngakoue, there will be a lot of new faces in the other seven positions.

Our take

Despite the losses at wide receiver, and the fact that Rowe isn't as good at the read option as C.J. Brown was, the offense should be solid. Ryan Doyle, Michael Dunn and Andrew Zeller all return as starters in the offensive line, and look for Ross and Wes Brown to be effective on the ground.

This defense will be tough to throw against if the front seven develops at all, considering how experienced the secondary is. It it doesn't come around, a third straight season of at least seven victories seems unlikely.