With Maryland at the midpoint of its season, at least one reasonable conclusion can be drawn: The Terrapins are struggling on special teams.
The Terps (2-4, 1-2 ACC) surrendered an 89-yard kickoff return for a score in the fourth quarter to give Clemson the lead for good Saturday. It was a high-profile breakdown, but hardly the first Maryland endured this year.
Maryland ranks 80th nationally (out of 120 schools) in punt return average, 95th in punt return yardage defense, 105th in kickoff return average and 118th in kickoff return yardage defense.
By comparison, the Terps were third in punt return average, 86th in punt return yardage defense, 116th in kickoff return average and 13th in kickoff return yardage defense a year ago.
Edsall acknowledged the problems are a "concern" and said he and his staff have evaluated both what the Terps are doing and who they are using on the special teams units.
"We've looked at the personnel, and quite frankly, there is no other personnel that we can really go to," Edsall said. "We've looked at the schemes. There's times when we do the things we're supposed to [and] we're fine."
Injuries have left the makeup of the special teams in flux throughout the season, and opponents have inflicted plenty of damage. Maryland has surrendered a kickoff return of at least 78 yards in three of its past four games.
"Coaches have been telling us since spring that special teams is just as important as offense and defense," cornerback Dexter McDougle said. "You have to have 11 guys who just light their hair on fire and get down there and want to hit somebody. Guys are buying into it, but we've just had a couple mistakes that have led to big plays that we're going to get fixed up."
Edsall said an emphasis is made that whenever one player makes a mistake on special teams, another should usually be nearby and able to compensate to avoid substantially greater problems. That didn't happen when Clemson's Sammy Watkins scampered down the far sideline Saturday.
"What it basically goes down to is we just have to get better at what we're doing," Edsall said. "The scheme is fine, but we have to get everybody to go and do collectively — and sometimes when you get outstanding return people that we've seen and most especially Saturday, you can't be wrong."
Two out for season
Special teams contributors Tyrek Cheeseboro and Avery Graham are out for the season. Both limped off the field on kickoffs Saturday.
Cheeseboro had three tackles in three games as a true freshman and will require surgery. The wide receiver will be eligible for a medical hardship waiver because he played in less than 30 percent of the Terps' games this season and will not play in the second half of the season.
Graham, a sophomore who was a reserve linebacker, had seven tackles in six games. Edsall said all indications suggest Graham will not require surgery.
Leak tops depth chart
Maryland started five freshmen Saturday. That number could grow to six this week with wide receiver Marcus Leak listed as a starter.
Two notable players are missing from the depth chart at receiver: Kevin Dorsey and Ronnie Tyler. Dorsey missed the second half of Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury, and it appears Tyler's omission is based on how he's played. The senior, who was suspended two games, has dropped several passes this season.
"Everything on the depth chart is usually more of a performance situation," Edsall said. "The injury stuff comes out later in the week. As you saw, Kevin went down in the game. Everything here is pretty much based on production."
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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