It’s not a good year to be a quarterback for the University of Maryland.
To recap: Former starter Danny O’Brien transferred to Wisconsin (and lost the starting job). Projected starter C.J. Brown tore his ACL in preseason workouts. Starter Perry Hills, a true freshman, led the Terps to a 4-2 record before suffering a torn ACL against N.C. State. Backup Devin Burns played well in relief of Hills, but suffered a Lisfranc (foot) injury and will have surgery and miss the rest of the season.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said.
Most people probably wouldn’t want to be the next name on a list like that. The only person who might be excited about it is Maryland freshman Caleb Rowe, the Terps’ new starting quarterback, who’ll burn his redshirt year out of necessity.
Rowe might have a better arm than Hills or Burns, but Hills won the job in preseason partly because the staff was more confident in his ability to stand up to pressure and take big hits – and he did, taking 24 sacks in the first half of the year.
Questions about Rowe’s durability are both relevant – Can he hold up? – and pretty pointless – it’s not like there’s anyone else to take his place – but he still needs a backup, and since the team didn’t have one, they had to find one or two workable options.
The new true freshman starter will be backed up by two fellow freshman: Shawn Petty and Brian McMahon.
(Defensive end A.J. Francis and offensive lineman Justin Gilbert joked that they were further down the depth chart as backups, Francis at “18th-string,” with Gilbert claiming he could be as high as sixth or seventh. If you thought the Terps were desperate now, they’d have to be really desperate for that to happen.)
Petty, a converted linebacker, was a former high school quarterback at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. He was first-team All-Metro as a senior and threw for 1,244 yards and 15 touchdowns. Petty started on both sides of the ball as a junior, but after he broke his collarbone, his coach took him off defense.
Still, Maryland recruited him as a linebacker. As The Baltimore Sun’s Matt Bracken reported last summer: “With commitments from quarterbacks Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe, the Terps had no need for another player at the position.”
They do now.
Behind Petty, McMahon, a preferred walk-on tight end, will be the third string quarterback. He threw for 1,289 yards and 14 touchdowns last season as a senior at Atholton High School. A dual-threat high school quarterback, he also had 100 carries for 772 yards and eight touchdowns.
Back in February, McMahon’s high school coach, former Maryland offensive lineman Kyle Schmitt, said his former player has “tremendous upside,” noting that McMahon probably could have had more Division I offers if he’d played tight end in high school, but the team needed him more at quarterback.
Now Maryland, the team McMahon dreamed of playing for since he was a kid, needs him more at quarterback, too.
Petty and McMahon don’t have a lot of time to get up to speed at quarterback, but time is on their side. It wasn’t so long ago that both players were in at quarterback for their high school teams.
“I expect both guys to be able to throw and run the ball,” Edsall said. “It’s like riding a bike. They didn’t forget by not playing quarterback for the past few months.”
The learning curve might be a bit steeper than Edsall wants to admit. Back in the summer, when Burns switched from wide receiver to quarterback to add depth, he was asked if re-adjusting to his old position came back just like riding a bicycle.
His answer? “More like a unicycle.”
Petty and McMahon both played quarterback more recently than Burns had when he switched, so they might have an easier transition. Even so, they’ll probably be, at the very least, a little unsteady if they get on the field.
Maryland just has its fingers crossed it doesn’t come to that.