Collectively, Maryland’s special teams performed up to, and may have even exceeded, expectations … for the most part. Yes, there were a couple muffed returns and shanked punts, but all in all the Terps were among the ACC’s best units in 2013.
The kicking game was a pleasant surprise and was in the conference’s upper tier, the return game finished top 35 nationally (10.74 yards per punt return, 22.84 yards per kick return), and the return defense was top 35 as well (5.68 yards allowed per punt return, 20.16 yards allowed per kick return). Only the team’s punting was in the bottom half of the NCAA at 35.84 net yards per boot (91st).
Junior kicker Brad Craddock steeled himself after an up-and-down freshman season, bouncing back to become one of the ACC’s most reliable legs. The Australian native finished 21-of-25 in field goals, which ranked fourth in the conference, and averaged an ACC-best 1.68 kicks-between-the-uprights per game. Craddock did have two misses inside 45 yards, but he availed himself with a 50-yarder and a three-for-three performance against West Virginia; a pair of 41-yard boots against Clemson; and a 43 yarder against Boston College.
On kickoffs, he averaged 61.4 yards per – one of the best averages in the league – and had 12 touchbacks. After the season Craddock was named to the 2014 Lou Groza Watch List and is preseason second-team all-Big Ten.
Redshirt freshman Adam Greene will serve as Craddock’s backup, though unless the latter regresses we don’t expect the big-legged walk-on to see the field much this year unless it's for extra-long kickoff attempts.
While Craddock made strides last year, punter Nate Renfro had a relatively so-so 2013. The junior averaged just under 36 net yards per punt, pinned opponents inside the red zone 18 times, had seven inside the 10-yard line, and saw 20 boots fair caught. Punters don’t typically get much recognition unless they mess up, and Renfro did have a couple shanks last year, including a 9-yarder against Boston College. But he also had a big 61 yarder against Clemson and a 60 yarder against BC as well.
Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said Renfro's spring work was not up to snuff, so the competition could be tight next month in camp. Renfro worked mostly on his drops and steps in the spring, trying to get more consistent in the technical parts of his game.
Senior Michael Tart is listed as the backup punter, and he is also the team’s holder. But the guy to watch out for is freshman Lee Shrader, a Newport News, Va., native and preferred walk-on from Warwick High. Shrader averaged 43 yards per boot his senior year and is considered one of the elite class of 2014 punters. He could very well push Renfro for time if the incumbent struggles this year.
In the return game, sophomore Will Likely, the team’s special teams player of the year and a 2014 preseason first-team all-Big Ten selection, should once again assume kick and punt return duties. Likely finished third in the ACC with a 12.8 punt return average and third with a 26.0 kick return average as well. Against Virginia Tech, he took a punt back 63 yards for a touchdown and earned ACC co-Rookie of the Week honors after accumulating 179 all-purpose yards. Likely had a kick-return long of 72 yards against Florida State, had a 50 yarder against Boston College and a 48 yarder against Connecticut.
The sophomore did muff a punt against FIU and admitted he had trouble tracking especially high kicks last year, but he improved as the year went on and should be good to go in 2014.
Junior Stefon Diggs (23.4 kick return average), junior Levern Jacobs (16.5 kick return average) and redshirt freshman Taivon Jacobs should also contribute to the return game in some capacity. Taivon Jacobs, in particular, is intriguing considering his pure speed and penchant for taking it to the house in high school. Diggs, of course, is an all-around threat who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Last but not least, sophomore Christian Carpenter is listed atop the depth chart at long snapper. Carpenter started the final three games last season and may hang on to the job in 2014. However, the Terps do have true freshman Nate Adams on scholarship, and the highly-touted snapper should push Carpenter for time -- and could even supplant him with a standout camp.
Fall Camp Positional Preview: Special Teams
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