Terps football '09 in review: Return men

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It is a sobering thought – and a thoroughly appropriate one – that the most exciting moments on average over the course of Maryland’s ill-fated 2009 season was whenever Torrey Smith was about to receive a kickoff.

It was appropriate because Smith remained a potent option. It was sobering because he had so many chances to demonstrate his skills.

Before 2008, the Maryland record for kickoff return attempts in a season was 34.

Smith had 42 as a freshman, another 51 this year. He has long since obliterated every quantity-based career kickoff return mark at Maryland – attempts (93), yards (2,308) and touchdowns (three).

His talent is undeniable, but his gaudy numbers are a product of the NCAA’s decision to move kickoffs back five yards a few years ago. What once were touchbacks are now fielded at the 2 – and tack an easy 15-20 yards onto a return man’s stats.

So the question for fairly evaluating Maryland kickoff returns – which was expected to be even more explosive with Smith back and first-year special teams coordinator Charles Bankins in place – is comparing Past Smith (‘08) and Present Smith (‘09).

Past Smith averaged 25.9 yards a return with one touchdown.

Present Smith averaged 25.7 yards a return with two touchdowns.

If Smith had matched his average production from his freshman year, he’d have managed 12 more yards. Which is to say that between teams wising up and trying to avoid him (other than N.C. State), he was about the same guy as he was before. Which was really good, though not C.J. Spiller good.

Of course, Maryland would have happily taken a near rerun of the previous year’s kickoff returns. It was on punts that the Terps were hopeful of getting more.

Other than Tony Logan’s 43-yard return against Clemson, it never really happened.

Logan was the leading candidate entering camp, but an injury led to stints for Anthony Wiseman and Kenny Tate before Logan took over again. All three took turns fumbling, with Wiseman and Tate’s miscues leading to September scores and Logan’s effectively clinching a loss at Duke.

Logan averaged 6.7 yards a return, but that number plummets to 4.1 with the Clemson explosion taken out. Wiseman (3.6) wasn’t any better and didn’t have the jaw-dropping outlier Logan produced, while Maryland found better uses for Tate (7.2) before he was lost in November to a high ankle sprain.

It’s now been 173 returns over 373 opponents’ punts since Maryland brought one back for a touchdown. That covers six seasons, going all the way back to the 2004 Gator Bowl.

Maryland hoped it would be better off in both return games. Instead, it remained about the same in each – above average on kickoffs (it ranked 41st nationally, though that was a product of the Avoid Smith philosophy), forgettable on punts (100th nationally and next to last in the ACC).

In a year the Terps needed all the help they could muster on special teams, the production was more of what everyone was used to. The punt return team wasn’t high on the list of reasons Maryland went 2-10, but it didn’t make a substantial difference for the good, either.

Patrick Stevens

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