Hundreds of fans packed into the bleachers at Dunbar's football field Saturday afternoon, and dozens more looked on through the fence. They were there to see the Maryland football team play its first of two scrimmages at local high schools.
And on the first drive of the day, they weren't disappointed.
On the scrimmage's opening play, quarterback Ricardo Young found wide receiver Deon Long down the left sideline for a 70-yard gain. Seconds later, running back Brandon Ross rumbled into the end zone for a 5-yard score.
That's how much of the afternoon went for the Terps. Despite an uneven performance at quarterback and some inconsistencies from the wide receivers, the team's running backs put on a stellar performance.
Ross picked up huge chunks of yardage with runs up the middle — including a 60-yard run to score his second of two touchdowns — and running back Albert Reid caught a touchdown pass and added rushing scores of 28 and 55 yards. Even third-string rusher Joe Riddle made an impact out of the backfield.
"We had some explosive plays offensively, which was good," coach Randy Edsall said. "It was good to see we have some guys who have the ability to make plays."
It was especially promising, considering how the Terps struggled running the ball last season. Maryland's rushing offense ranked 112th in the nation, averaging 103 yards per game and less than 2.7 yards per carry. But on Saturday, the team's ballcarriers ripped off big run after big run
"We got some good competition there at running back. Brandon is the starter right now — Wes [Brown] isn't out there — but Albert is pushing him," Edsall said. "We're getting a lot more depth and competition as positions, and when you have that, it makes it good, because everybody has to work."
Brown, who rushed for 382 yards in his freshmen year, is out for the spring recovering from ankle and shoulder injuries.
Ross' performance Saturday may have helped him finally get his teammates off his back. The Newark, Del., native broke off a 71-yard run in the Terps' season finale at North Carolina last year, but he was dragged down by Tar Heel defenders at the 2-yard line, and he's been hearing about it ever since.
Ross — who rushed for a team-best 390 yards in his redshirt freshmam season — has done his best to make sure that won't happen again with his work in the weight room this offseason, and it showed Saturday. On his 60-yard touchdown run, Ross broke into the second level and fended off the trailing defenders all the way to the end zone.
"My main thing was I just wanted to keep conditioning myself and keep getting faster," Ross said. "I always want to run with my pads forward, pads low so I can keep my feet moving and get as many yards as I can."
Young appreciates that effort. It's been well more than a year since he's played a meaningful snap of football. He could be competing with C.J. Brown and the Terps' other injuried quarterbacks for the starting job this summer, and having a strong backfield is going to make that task much easier.
"Me and B. Ross and Albert and those guys, we talk every day about running zone reads and being on the same page with protections and things like that," said Young, a transfer from New Mexico. "We have a great relationship. Those guys are really are really explosive, really powerful guys. They take a lot of pressure off me."
That's exactly what Edsall has been looking for in his running backs since he arrived in College Park two years ago. And with a young core of backs that should all be healthy entering the season, the Terps' backfield looks to be in much better shape than it was last year.
"Brandon is a lot stronger out there this year. You don't see him going down as easy as he did a year ago," Edsall said. "I've just been pleased with Brandon's focus because he's better from a mental standpoint in the spring than what he was in the fall."
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