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Fall Camp Preview: Running Backs

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Ty Johnson (No. 6) ran for 1,004 yards and six touchdowns in 2016.
USA TODAY Sports

Graduated: Wes Brown, Trey Edmunds, Kenneth Goins Jr., Andrew Stefanelli, Tehuti Miles

Returning: Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison, Jake Funk, Marcus Smith, Ikechukwu Ogwuegbu,

Incoming: Tayon Fleet-Davis, Javon Leake, Anthony McFarland

Even those who had full confidence in Walt Bell to bring new life to Maryland’s offense last year had to of been surprised by just how effective the Terps were on the ground in his first season as offensive coordinator in College Park.

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Not only did Maryland finish fourth in the Big Ten by rushing for nearly 200 yards per game (199.5), but the Terps also had seven different runners (two quarterbacks) gain at least 100 yards and score a touchdown on the ground in 2016.

Despite losing a trio of seniors to graduation, Maryland’s backfield likely won’t skip a beat in 2017 with the return of homerun hitter Ty Johnson and freshman standout Lorenzo Harrison. These two talented Terps runners combined for 1,695 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and Harrison missed four games because of a suspension.

PREVIOUSLY: Quarterbacks

They will be joined by a trio of talented freshmen in fall camp that could have an impact in College Park right away. Former Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic four-star running back Anthony McFarland will rejoin Harrison and several of his other old high school teammates at Maryland. Much like Harrison, McFarland is a dynamic playmaker that can do it all out of the backfield. The ex-DeMatha duo will get plenty of run in College Park this season, with Johnson, sophomore Jake Funk and incoming former three-stars Tayon Fleet-Davis and Javon Leake all factoring into the mix as well.

Top Storyline:

What will the backfield rotation look like in 2017?

We’ve already discussed the players that could and likely will factor into the equation when it comes to Maryland’s backfield in 2017. But exactly how the carries will be distributed is still a bit of a mystery entering fall camp.

It stands to reason that Johnson--the upperclassman of the group--and Harrison will be in line for the majority of the carries after their 2016 campaigns. But McFarland’s talent might just be too much to suppress to third in the pecking order and Funk, Fleet-Davis and Leake are all players than can help the offense if given the opportunity.

Depending on how many running backs the coaching staff decides to keep on the active roster, Fleet-Davis or Leake could be viable redshirt candidates, however, the Terps showed last year that they’re not afraid to deploy a multitude of running backs throughout the course of a season.

Luckily for Bell and the Terps offense, several of the running backs on the roster are impeccable pass catchers and can be used in a variety of ways to try and get the ball in their hands as much as possible. McFarland, Funk and Leake in particular could easily move into the slot when needed. Johnson and Fleet-Davis bring a little more size and power to the table and will likely be used more on early downs and around the goal line. And then Harrison can be considered the jack-of-all trades that can play on just about any down and in any situation.

Whether there will be enough touches to go around is a question that will start to be answered in fall camp, but having a plethora of playmakers in the backfield in College Park is certainly better than being devoid of talent.

Prediction:

Even with an expected increase in contributions from the passing game, Maryland will have three running backs finish the season with at least 500 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.

Having two runners post such stats as Maryland did last season is hard enough. But this year another dynamic DeMatha tailback will help bring the Terps backfield to greater heights.

Johnson, Harrison and McFarland might cut into each other’s individual accolades a little bit in 2017, but all three should enjoy plenty of success in an offense that ran the ball 61 percent of the time last season.

The talent at quarterback and wide receiver are a little deeper in College Park these days, so the Terps might look to air the ball out a bit more, but Bell’s offense has always revolved around a strong running game and he isn’t going to let his studs in the backfield go to waste.

When it’s all said and done, seeing Johnson, Harrison and McFarland combine for something like 2,500 yards and 15-to-20 touchdowns on the ground isn’t out of the question. Johnson and Harrison will likely be virtually a two-headed monster to start the season, but expect McFarland’s role to grow as he acclimates to the college game.

Oh, and did we mention that Maryland’s offensive line is looking like it could be one of the strongest groups up front the Terps have had in quite some time? This only adds to the potential of the backfield in College Park.

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