Ah, the return game. A place Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen could hint a mobile quarterback could be used even when it is anticipated said quarterback might be suspended for the season. It’s also a place where Friedgen is capable of being happy to find someone to just catch the ball.
The Terrapins found a kickoff returner last season in Da’Rel Scott, who averaged 21.8 yards a return. That certainly is neither overwhelmingly great (the last time Maryland’s return leader averaged less was in 1995) nor anywhere near as ineffective as Terrell Skinner.
(In Skinner’s defense, his 17.6-yard average was deflated some by some more strategic schemes when the kickoff was moved back five yards. But it was still a 17.6-yard average, and that just isn’t very good).
Now, Scott‘s speed is unquestioned. He does, however, have a reputation for being rather brittle. And since he figures to be heavily involved in the rushing game, perhaps he won’t be lining up on the goal line as often as anticipated.
If Scott were to lead Maryland in both rushing and kick return yardage, he would be the first Terp to do so since Bren Lowery in 1989. Lowery ran for 482 yards that year, and most teams with conventional offenses that have a leading rusher roll up less than 500 yards are probably not going to be very good. Not surprisingly, the ‘89 Terps went 3-7-1 (though that record does include the illustrious tie with Penn State).
Anyway, back to the present day. Anthony Wiseman is listed as Scott’s backup, and the four players other than Scott who returned kickoffs in the spring game were Haroon Brown, Trenton Hughes, Richard Taylor and Pha’Terrell Washington. Well, Washington is gone and Brown (at 5-foot-10, 257 pounds) isn’t exactly the speed merchant anyone wants back there. That leaves Hughes, a redshirt freshman, and Taylor, who has spent time on Maryland’s track team but missed last year while rehabbing from ACL surgery. Chances are, Wiseman will get his share of work to keep Scott fresh.
There’s a bit more certainty on punt returns, where senior Danny Oquendo is back. His knee injury in early November left the Terps scrambling to find someone sure-handed enough just to secure possession.
Oquendo will never be known for game-breaking speed, but he did average more than eight yards a return in both 2006 and 2007. He might also be one of the Terps’ most underutilized players (more on that when the wideouts are profiled next week), and should again be a useful returner.
Will Oquendo be a threat to score every time he touches the ball? Hardly. But if Friedgen has the same expectations as last year —- which at times seemingly could be boiled down to “In the name of all that is decent in this world, don’t fumble. And if possible, falling forward after the catch would be a nice bonus.” —- he’ll be more than enough to keep the return game decent if not memorable.
Coming tomorrow: The defensive line.