When we last left the intrepid Maryland tight ends unit, pretty much nothing was decided at all.
Here’s a little rewind back to April:
“It’s anybody’s game,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I don’t know who’s going to be the starter, and no one seems to want the job, to be honest with you. We’ve given Furstenburg a chance. We’ve given Watson a chance. We’ve give Galt a chance. To me, put them in a bag, shake them up, and whoever comes out plays.”
Let’s just say those weren’t particularly encouraging words.
You know what else prompts some pause? The overall tight end production from a year ago.
That’s a position the Terrapins have milked for as much as possible throughout the Friedgen years, and Maryland got 420 yards over 13 games from the unit.
Now, the Vernon Davis years are obviously outliers, yet even taking away 2004 and 2005, this was an interesting dip for the Terps compared to the last few seasons:
MARYLAND TIGHT END PRODUCTION, 2001-2008
Clearly, the Terps’ tight ends haven’t been relegated to blocking duty like they were during Friedgen’s first three seasons.
Yet while there was an understandable post-Davis slip, it appears there is also a post-Joey Haynos decrease in production as well.
Now, there’s lots of reasons for that. The Davis years weren’t especially known for quality and depth and in the receiving corps, and Maryland basically used three young options and nothing else at that position in 2006. Wideout performance, understandably, has an impact on how often the tight ends are targeted.
But now that Dan Gronkowski —- who played well early last season before developing a case of the drops in November —- is gone, the Terps are effectively starting over again at tight end for the first time in three years ago.
There are four obvious options, not that any of them are hugely decorated. Senior Tommy Galt is an effective blocker, but with one career reception it seems a little absurd to anticipate a Haynos-like rise to preferred-target status.
That might be reserved for Lansford Watson, who demonstrated some talent during solid performances against California and Boston College. Otherwise, he had two catches the rest of the season.
Then come the entirely unknown quantities.
Matt Furstenburg, who played on the kickoff return team for two games and later got hurt in practice, ultimately received a redshirt year for his cameo appearance.
There’s also Devonte Campbell, who redshirted last season.
All of which means there’s a lot of guesswork in trying to project how Maryland’s tight ends fare.
If anyone is going to catch a decent number of passes, it’ll probably be Watson. But given the inexperience of the offensive line, this might be a season Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin value blocking above receptions.
Think of it like this: If Maryland can augment its two relatively sure things on the o-line with a sound blocking tight end (and a superb fullback in Cory Jackson) and rely on a plethora of wideouts to function as Chris Turner‘s targets, then things might turn out all right.
That’s a big reason why the guess here is that in terms of quantifiable production, the Terps’ tight ends will check in somewhere near (though quite possibly below) last season’s stats. But if it means Turner has more time to remain upright or helps open some space in the running game, it’ll probably be worth it.
It could also lead to a reversion to 2006-07, when Haynos and Gronkowski alternated the starting duties depending on which personnel package was sent out for the first play. Logically, Galt and Watson would serve as that tandem.
But that’s no sure thing. In July, just as in April, tight end remains anyone’s game for the Terps. But banking on gaudy numbers from whoever emerges from the scrum during camp doesn’t seem like a very likely outcome.
—- Patrick Stevens