Had a feeling a question like this might be coming.
And, despite my inclination entering last weekend that Maryland was utilizing Darrius Heyward-Bey about the right amount, it’s hard to blame a fan for wondering if that really is the case after he touched the ball once on Saturday.
So let’s get to this week’s D1scourse Challenge winner VR6Terp on a valid question heading out of Saturday’s 20-17 defeat of Clemson.
We all saw Heyward-Bey’s great 76-yard run Saturday. I’m thankful that play happened, but I couldn’t help but notice that DHB had zero catches Saturday (zero!). I’m obviously not complaining, since the Terps won. But, with so many other programs you see their best players get the chance to touch the ball in direct snaps, returns, rushes and obviously in the passing game. Any chance we get to see DHB do a little more than the occasional reverse in coming games?
First off, I would point out Heyward-Bey was targeted four times in the first half out of 16 passes, which is about right. Maryland didn’t throw to him at all in the second half, which is a bit perplexing.
I’m willing to write off his lack of use against Clemson only because the Tigers were exceptionally determined to prevent Heyward-Bey from beating them. The same was true last year, when Heyward-Bey didn’t touch the ball once against Clemson.
Ralph Friedgen and James Franklin keep insisting the list of plays designed to get Heyward-Bey involved grows by the week. The on-field results don’t really reflect that, especially after a week DHB was looked toward five times out of 59 plays.
Let’s look at the four categories set forth in the question.
* Direct snaps: When I think of Heyward-Bey’s two biggest plays of the season – his 80-yard weave through the Middle Tennessee defense and the 76-yard reverse at Clemson – I think about the space that he had to work with. Opponents were already spread out, and he was able to make them look silly.
With a dominant offensive line (and Maryland’s isn’t as good as anticipated through five games), a direct snap can create those situations. Without one, you’re looking at a few yards and adding the risk of injury. I’m not sure that would be an especially great idea, especially when it’s been shown already that a direct snap to freakish athlete isn’t necessary going to work great against anyone other than Eastern Michigan.
If Maryland didn’t have Josh Portis or Da’Rel Scott around, using Heyward-Bey to take a snap might make more sense. As it stands, the Terps have alternative options to Heyward-Bey who are better suited to take the almost inevitable pounding a run off a direct snap will produce.
* Returns: This is an interesting thought, especially with kickoff returns. Friedgen seems reasonably happy with the work Torrey Smith is producing on kickoffs, though a change of pace would be intriguing.
Punt returns are dicier. Issue one is get a guy who can catch the ball and fall forward a few years. Danny Oquendo does that well. I’m not sure Friedgen would trade that for a bigger risk (and reward), and given Oquendo’s reliability it’s tough to argue.
* Rushes: Saturday illustrated again that Maryland’s sprinkling of reverses and end arounds is effective. And it probably makes sense to do that a couple times a game.
What other sorts of runs could there be? Perhaps an option play, though that would take some time to fine-rune.
Heyward-Bey does have 186 yards on six carries. (Virginia, by contrast, has 264 yards on 106 carries). Franklin probably notices this sustained level of quality. Or so you’d hope.
* Passes: Ultimately, this remains where Heyward-Bey is going to do his most damage. At some point, Maryland is going to have to have a game where it chucks a dozen or so passes and see what happens after that.
To me, the benefit of doing that is not necessarily Heyward-Bey getting the ball. It’s convincing opponents to pay even more attention to him, thus opening things for other receivers.
Having Dan Gronkowski and Lansford Watson as effective underneath options is nice, but the way to make the entire offense (and in turn, Heyward-Bey) even more dangerous is for a Torrey Smith or Isaiah Williams or Adrian Cannon to blow up on consecutive weeks and give opponents something else to think about stopping.
Ultimately, I think Heyward-Bey will be utilized more in both the rushing and passing games than he was on Saturday. But how much more (especially on the ground) is still sort of iffy.