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Justus Pickett was a late addition to the Terps’ 2011 draft class. Entering the spring, he wasn’t even listed on the depth chart; by the summer, he climbed to the sixth running back.
But for someone once touted as “Mr. Irrelevant,” Pickett sure is becoming an important contributor…so much so that it’s he’s making it impossible to take him off the field.
“He’s impressed us, and what he’s done is put himself in a position to earn more playing time,” Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said of true freshman back. “That’s how we’re going to do things around here. Guys go out and perform – guess what? You’ve earned your right to be on the field a little bit more.”
On the Terps’ first possession of the second half Saturday against Towson, Pickett rushed for a five-yard touchdown, becoming the first true freshman to do so since Davin Meggett did it in 2008. Pickett, who nearly split carries even with Meggett, finished with 82 yards.
Thus far, Pickett has totaled 112 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per rush. His running style complements that of a workhorse like Meggett or a bruiser like D.J. Adams – the ideal change-of-pace back in this up-tempo offense.
“He’s a little more elusive,” offensive guard Andrew Gonnella said. “D.J. and Meggett both have great speed, but he has a little different element – a little bit more ‘shake and bake’ then ‘run you over’.”
Aside from his skill-set carrying the rock, he’s impressing his coaches and teammates with his versatility. Pickett has a knack for making key blocks in the backfield, adding a second layer of protection to an offensive line that has allowed their quarterback to be sacked just three times.
“When you go and see him go through, he makes one block and then he goes and makes another block, those are the things you don’t teach. Those are the things somebody has inside them,” Edsall said.
A quick study, Pickett soaked in the playbook, so much that players say there’s no drop off between him and the veterans. That’s because since training camp Pickett has been sponging off the coaching staff – learning the plays then executing the assignments.
And as a first-year head coach, isn’t that all you could ask of a first-year player? Edsall said Pickett epitomized consistency, a theme he has demanded of his teamall season long.
“As a coach, you want those guys that are going to be consistent every day, and give you the effort each and every day. He’s a guy that stood out because as a young freshman [he] was doing those things. Now he’s got the skill set to go with it…That was a very good surprise. It was a very good element for our team.”
Pickett is now the clear-cut No. 2 on the Terps’ depth chart. Edsall said he’s warranted a greater bulk of the carries, with Jeremiah Johnson as a third-down back and less of Adams.
Meggett, though, is in his final season with the team, leaving the feature back role to Pickett to inherit. When quarterback Danny O’Brien was asked if he could envision Pickett handling that responsibility, he replied:
“Definitely,” claiming he was the one who recruited Pickett to College Park. “He’s going to be. He’s the real deal and people knew that the middle of camp. He hasn’t played any different in games. He plays a high level. He plays with a lot of energy. It’s just a matter of time before he’s the main guy.”