Ronnie Tyler knew plenty of eyes were on him. The Maryland wideout was just back from a two-game suspension when he started against Towson.
Except he dropped a pass that week.
Then a couple the next.
And again the next.
With that, he was out of a starting job.
"Drops have never been an issue for me in my career," said Tyler, who has since returned to the depth chart. "I just had to step back and take a deep breath."
The trouble is, Tyler is hardly the only Terrapin struggling to keep passes from glancing off his fingertips. Maryland dropped eight passes in its Oct. 29 loss to Boston College. Lousy weather might have contributed to those problems, though that excuse hardly was a factor in the Terps' seven drops in last week's setback against Virginia.
For a unit squarely on the spot entering the season after the departures of Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, the problem is difficult to miss. The receivers' depth chart fluctuated throughout much of a lost season, and six wideouts have drawn at least two starts.
Still, the problems persist entering Maryland's date Saturday with Notre Dame (6-3) at FedEx Field.
"Unfortunately, that's a part of the game, like a running back with a fumble and a quarterback with an interception or a bad read," junior Kevin Dorsey said. "The unfortunate part is we've kind of made that a staple week in and week out that we've missed a crucial pass that can change the outcome of the game."
The drops aren't the only problem ailing the Terps (2-7), just one of the most noticeable for a team already assured of missing a bowl game. Missed tackles, interceptions and shoddy special teams play also have contributed to Maryland's regression under first-year coach Randy Edsall.
Nonetheless, passes that are nearly caught are an especially easy thing to point to as a culprit for missed opportunities. Some — such as Tyler's drop on a fourth-and-goal in the third quarter against Georgia Tech — clearly could have made a difference. Others simply prevented Maryland from extending drives.
"I'm sure there's been teams that I've been on as an assistant coach or head coach that we've had that," Edsall said. "But we've had our share."
It's not as if Maryland entered the season with questions about its receivers' hands. Tyler and Kerry Boykins were mostly reliable third-down targets in previous seasons. Dorsey, who made his first start since Oct. 15 last week after suffering an undisclosed injury, is another wideout with a history of sure-handedness.
"I think it's surprising because of the talent level of our receivers, even the young guys who haven't played a lot who made a lot of big plays in camp" quarterback Danny O'Brien said. "It's going to go away. It's not something we're worrying about. Things happen. Mistakes happen. I've thrown my share of picks this season, but it's not going to stop me from going all-out in practice."
Of course, perfect play from the wideouts (or any other unit, for that matter) doesn't change the Terps' situation with three games remaining. There is no postseason to play for, only the opportunity to avoid matching the 2-10 record Maryland produced in 2009.
Mistakes aren't likely to be overly magnified in the next three games. But the same chronic issues are certain to be noticed as the schedule winds down.
"When you're losing, the little things get emphasized," Dorsey said. "We miss that pass but the record is flipped and we're 7-2, it really wouldn't matter as much."
But the Terps are not 7-2. And should the drops continue again Saturday, the eyes of a national television audience surely will fall on a receiving corps that's become increasingly accustomed to unwanted attention.
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