It was just two years ago that Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen entered the season with a wideout corps that owned the princely sum of 23 career receptions. And then the guy with 19 of them kept getting hurt and barely played as a senior.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams pretty much functioned as every-down players. The next young wideout on the depth chart, Nolan Carroll, played sparingly and was moved to cornerback after the season. It was a fantastic smoke-and-mirrors act by Friedgen, who somehow squeezed nine wins out of a team that was routinely outgained.
Well, things have changed. The Terrapins have no shortage of receivers, and it’s really only a matter of which ones actually make an impact sooner rather than later.
The star of the bunch is clearly Heyward-Bey, a fourth-year junior who will no doubt be endlessly analyzed when NFL scouts bother to show up at Pardon Our Progress Field at Under Reconstruction Stadium. He didn’t have monster games last year, just a lot of steady ones, and he’ll be a featured part of the offense.
Oquendo, as alluded to last week, is arguably one of the Terps’ most underutilized players. He was thrown to 22 times in an injury-shortened 2007, and caught 19 of those passes. Granted, he is used as a slot/possession receiver and isn’t exactly a weapon to stretch the field. But he’s incredibly sure-handed, and a third-down toss to Oquendo is likely to net the yardage necessary to secure four more plays.
Williams is half of Maryland’s Amazing Pass-Catching Williamses. Now a senior, Williams has spent three years being something of an enigma for the Terps’ coaching staff. Besides “it is what it is,” there might not be a more trusty Friedgenism than “I’d really like [insert backup receiver’s name here] to push Isaiah Williams.”
So far, Williams has been pushed into 54 catches for 778 yards and four touchdowns, almost entirely over the last two years. That looks very similar to Heyward-Bey’s line of 51-786-3 from 2007 alone.
The other Williams in the mix is LaQuan Williams, he of the snazzy 27-yard reception in the fourth quarter of the upset at Rutgers. But since he was listed on Maryland’s roster last year, he was fated like nearly all his teammates to suffer an injury that cost him time. Then he got hurt again in the spring. It’ll be tough for him to push Isaiah Williams if he’s not on the field.
The real interesting possibilities are guys who have never played. Friedgen usually got a plug in each week for Torrey Smith last year, and he might be the best candidate for the “Pushing Isaiah Williams” role next month.
A guy who surprised people throughout the spring was Ronnie Tyler. A redshirt freshman who spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy, Tyler could be in line for some time in the slot.
Amazingly, that isn’t half of the receivers on scholarship this year. Adrian Cannon and Emani Lee-Odai got their first chances to play last year, Stephen Smalls is in his third year in the program, and both Tony Logan and Quinton McCree are redshirt freshmen. Then there’s Kerry Boykins, Kevin Dorsey and Kenny Tate, true freshman who seem like good bets to redshirt given the gaggle of players already on board.
But then, most Maryland fans knew all that. What they might not know is just how the returning receivers fared with the two quarterbacks who have the best shot at starting on Aug. 30.
So here’s the breakdown by quarterback, with times targeted, receptions, yards and touchdowns included for each player who was thrown to even once last season.
To be completely forthcoming, the total number of targets won’t add to the number of pass attempts Maryland had last year. Harmless tosses out of bounds are targeted just as much at a receiver as a team manager, so they don’t count.
There are also a handful of passes (Chris Turner’s second interception against Villanova, Jordan Steffy’s third and final pass at Florida State) where the game book and my notes from game day can’t determine who the pass was intended for. But those are minor omissions, and don’t have any impact on the receptions, yards or touchdowns.
On to the chart:
Here’s what seems to be the most telling numbers from that jumble of date. With Turner at quarterback, Heyward-Bey averaged 16.7 yards a catch. With Steffy, it was 12.6.
Isaiah Williams’ split was 17.9 yards a reception with Turner, 7.4 yards with Steffy.
Now, those sample sizes aren’t very big, so all you statisticians out there just calm down a bit. And if Maryland indeed opts for a classic West Coast offense filled with eight-yard slants, it won’t matter, anyway.
But the nitty-gritty data gleaned from last year’s results backs up the visual evidence from those 13 games —- that Maryland’s receivers will probably wind up with better raw numbers if Turner is the quarterback for much or all of the season.
—- Patrick Stevens