The Long Strange Odyssey of Caleb Rowe

Maryland redshirt senior quarterback Caleb Rowe probably expected to be a starter by now. A lot of Terrapin fans certainly thought he would be.

The calls to bring in Rowe got earth shatteringly loud in 2014, when CJ Brown was quarterbacking the Terrapins. Though 2015 may have made most of us wish CJ Brown, Maryland’s eternal quarterback could somehow squeeze in a 7th year, back in 2014, opinions were mixed.

CJ Brown could run, but he couldn’t throw to save his life. Though it was pretty obvious all along, by the time that teams like South Florida were stacking 8 and 9 people in the box on 3&5s (A heavy run-stop formation on a passing down from a team that really shouldn’t have been able to get away with that against a Big Ten quarterback with good receiving options), you knew that they knew that the guy seemingly couldn’t make a completion to save his life. Not only did they know it, opposing teams obviously knew it.

Even then-Terrapins WR, and current NFL star Stefon Diggs’ younger brother, and current Alabama commit, Trevon Diggs knew it, posting a tweet in the middle of a game begging then-Maryland head coach Randy Edsall to bring in Caleb Rowe.

Rowe has a good throwing arm, there’s no denying that. It’s not an NFL caliber throwing arm by any means, but he can get the ball reasonably far downfield at reasonable velocity, a skill that has eluded a lot of recent Terrapins quarterbacks.

Edsall’s decision to go with Brown was seen as an overly cautious coach making an overly cautious decision. Brown could run, and could in theory manage the game enough to beat the bad teams, even if he didn’t provide the type of juice the team would need to beat the nation’s and the conference’s top teams, or provide a come from behind victory. Believe it or not, and many people who watched the games probably wouldn’t, Brown actually set some team records at Maryland.

When Brown graduated, though, it seemed Terrapin nation was more than ready to hand the reigns to Caleb Rowe for the next year or two. They knew the 3-star pro-style passer out of South Carolina was probably not what people would consider elite, but they looked forward to seeing passes of more than 5 yards that didn’t land in the dirt (With all due respect to CJ Brown, who’s passes weren’t always short and didn’t always land in the dirt- that was just the way it seemed sometimes when we were struggling).

The problem with Rowe was not getting the ball downfield, but rather getting the ball downfield to the guys in the red jerseys, or whatever color UnderArmour had cooked up for the chameleon uniform wearing team from the state where UnderArmour is headquartered.

We all knew accuracy was going to kind of be an issue, but no one dreamed it was going to be quite the issue it was. Edsall tried to start the season with game manager Perry Hills, who also brought some leadership and guts to the huddle, but when your “game manager” quarterback is throwing picks and losing to Bowling Green, you might just have to look to your bench.

As it turns out, Edsall may have had reasons other than “He lacks seniority”, conservatism, or pure stubbornness for not starting Caleb Rowe initially. He’d watched the man in practice, and may have had inkling of what was to come.

In 2015, Rowe, who did finally get to play after Hills sputtered, threw 6 touchdowns to 15 interceptions.  Not a pretty picture.  Even uglier if you were watching it.  At least one of his interceptions came on his first passing attempt of a game.  Not what you’re looking for our of your redshirt junior quarterback.

However, in 2016, Maryland finds itself in a tough sitaution quarterback wise.  They do have two senior scholarship quarterbacks- Rowe and Hills.  However, as alluded to earlier in this post, neither inspire a ton of confidence as a solution at quarterback.  Both were big parts of Maryland’s epically poor play at quarterback next year, when they were statistically among the worst teams in the entire FBS at the position.

Gage Shaffer, a sophmore (or perhaps a redshirt freshman, not sure if the team tagged him with the redshirt last year, though he didn’t play) out of West Virginia, wasn’t rated very highly by scouts coming out of high school, and was considered a project.  Some people liked his performance at last year’s spring game, but that he didn’t get into a game last season when first Edsall and then interim head coach Mike Locksley were fighting to keep their jobs probably says something about his state of readiness.  He’ll get a chance to compete and keep on improving, as will the two senior quarterbacks, in spring practice and beyond, but it’s more of a wish and a prayer situation than someone we could confidently project right now as the starter from day one in 2016.

There are a few other QBs hanging around from last year- Shane Cockerville, most notably, but if they didn’t play last year…. Well, one wonders.

That brings us to the freshmen.  Maryland thought they were going to get 4-star Bullis quarterback Dwayne Haskins.  He committed verbally very strongly and started recruiting guys and…. Well, I’m not getting into that in this post.  Suffice is to say, screw Ohio State.  I hope Haskins enjoys holding a clipboard for the next four to six years.  He’ll be booed when he comes “home” and deservedly so.

But Maryland was able to pick up the pieces a bit from that recruiting fiasco.  Tyrell Pigrome, while short, is a dual-threat QB that may Maryland fans view as having potential, and who new offensive coordination Walt Bell and new head coach DJ Durkin have both talked up big, possibly in part to try to cushion fan panic about Haskins decommitting.  With the quarterback situation as it is, I can’t absolutely rule out him starting day one under the circumstances, I don’t know if the 3-star prospect is going to play at all, or ever start.  And if he does start as a true freshman, well, true freshmen are often pretty raw.

There is another kid coming in, Max Bortenschlager, who some services rate as a 2-star and others as a 3-star, who is a pro style QB without a great arm, but who is excellent at finding and hitting receivers in stride, and placing balls where corners can’t find them.  I see him as potentially an excellent game manager in the making.  I think he’s better than his rating.  But he is a game manager, his throwing arm will never make him elite.  And it’s hard to think he’ll be effective as a game manager as a true freshman.  Usually you need a couple years under your belt before you’re ready to manage games- because game managers are primarily about mistake avoidance, and you need a lot of practice in your offensive system and reading college level defenses before you can fill that role, generally speaking.  And, obviously, he’s not going to be a gunslinger.

So, that brings us around back to Rowe, and the question is, can he start for Maryland and be effective in 2016?  It doesn’t seem likely, but he’s going to have a chance to win the job, and there is a new coaching staff to teach him, and a new system that he might be better suited for.  In a sense, it’s a change of scenery without a change of scenery.

I’m not real confident that we’ll get much out of Rowe in his final year at College Park, but you never know.  It’s looking like we might have a half dozen or so quarterbacks in the mix, all of whom have potential in one respect or another, and Rowe might have the best arm of the bunch.  He’s going to need to look to cut down on turnovers and increase his accuracy significantly if he wants to win the job and play, though, and, well, we’ll see…

A quick uptempo Walt Bell offensive could cut either way for him.  Some quarterbacks throw picks because they don’t have time to think, which an uptempo offense would worsen the effect of, especially if you add to that the possibility that he’ll have to make a lot of option-reads after the snap.  On the other hand, sometimes guys have good instincts, and overthink things and get nervous and throw picks because they have *too much* time to think- something the Bell offense could conceivably cut down on.

My gut tells me that a senior transfer quarterback might be out best bet, and that’s still a possibility.  But Rowe will be in the mix if he plays well in practice.

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