COLLEGE PARK, Md. – More than any other position, Maryland’s football program is arguably most well-known in recent history for its tight ends. The names are familiar, from those who starred in the NFL like Frank Wycheck and Vernon Davis, to those who made a name at UMD before earning time at the next level such as Jeff Dugan, Matt Murphy, Joey Hayons Dan Gronkowski and Matt Furstenburg.
Current Terps sophomore Andrew Isaacs would like nothing more than to have his name listed among them. A 6-foot-2, 245-pound former four-star recruit, Isaacs envisioned himself as another “Duke” coming out of Manchester High in Manchester, Conn. In fact, one of the primary reasons he flipped his commitment from Boston College to Maryland two years ago was because of the Terps’ tight end legacy, headlined by the current San Francisco 49ers’ star.
“Vernon Davis is my favorite player so if I ever got a chance to meet him I’d love to pick his brain,” said Isaacs, who recently earned his way to the top of Maryland’s depth chart. “I just haven’t had an opportunity yet, but I know a couple guys who know him so hopefully one day I’ll be able to talk to him. I’d love to learn from [Davis] or anyone else who’s worked at the position and knows the position.”
Isaacs should get that chance sometime during his Terps tenure, as Davis, a Washington, D.C., native, usually returns to the area a few times each year. In the meantime, though, Isaacs is hoping he’s learned enough to hold onto that starting tight end job, keeping former No. 1 P.J. Gallo and raw-but-talented redshirt freshman Derrick Hayward at bay.
“I always prepare myself as the starter regardless of what anyone says, but I feel like I’ve been remaining consistent, doing the things the coaches have asked me to do. I think that’s probably how I separated myself from them,” said Isaacs, who made sure to mention the strides Gallo, Hayward and the entire unit have made. “And going forward I just want to continue to get better. By no means am I a finished product. I still have a lot of work to do to help the team win.”
Consistency is one of Randy Edsall’s major sticking points, the head coach typically throwing out the term at least a few times during each media session. While Isaacs hasn’t exactly been a world beater during fall camp, he has improved considerably compared to last year. His route running is crisper, he’s dropping less passes, and he’s been executing blocks more often.
“This isn’t rocket science guys. Guys separate themselves because of what they do on the field. And what you do on the field is you run, block, catch. It’s very simple,” Edsall said. “[Isaacs has] come out here and done his job. He’s done the things his position would ask him to do, and he’s been very productive doing those things. And again, he’s a young guy that’s going to continue to get better. But he’s got all the intangibles, all the qualities, you want in a tight end.”
One intangible quality Edsall may have been referring to is Isaacs’ improved grasp on offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s offense. The sophomore tight end concentrated plenty on the physical aspects of his game this offseason, but it was the mental uptick that allowed him to expand his arsenal.
“I was just talking to my coaches the other day and I was saying how the light was starting to click; I finally get it,” Isaacs said. “I finally understand what I’m doing. So the game is slowing down for me.
“And just learning the playbook more and what the other [players] are doing. If you understand what the line is doing, the receivers are doing, the running backs are doing… the easier it is to pick up the offense and be able to make plays on top of that.”
Isaacs’ increased development actually began well before this spring and summer, however. Although Edsall admitted he’d have liked to have redshirted Isaacs last season, the 11 games the Manchester product played (mainly on special teams) did aid him. Though he didn’t see much Saturday afternoon action, Isaacs would intently watch senior tight end Dave Stinebaugh, who took all the young tight ends under his wing.
“[Dave was] like an old guy and knew all the things you had to do, so I’d pick up on little things,” Isaacs said. “You start noticing different locations [of defenders], different techniques to [get off the line], lots of little things. There’s a lot to learn, and I think that’s one of the things that benefitted me not redshirting was how much I learned from him. And having that experience [in practice] going with the 1s sometimes, that helped me going into this season, because I already knew some things.”
Tight ends coach John Dunn pretty much concurred with Isaacs and Edsall. While Dunn acknowledged Isaacs is a big target, a physical blocker and someone who can stretch the field, he lauded his understanding of the position.
“He’s come a long way. He’s starting to develop and get comfortable in the offense, and when these kids get confidence, they start to play faster,” Dunn said. “That’s the thing between spring and now, [the tight ends are] playing a lot faster because they know what they’re doing and they have confidence.”
Dunn went on to call Isaacs a “combination” of both Hayward and Gallo, the former for his field-stretching and upside potential, and the latter for his blocking and blue-collar work ethic.
“I feel like I can do everything good, but not one thing great right now. So that’s what I’m focusing on, trying to be great with everything,” said Isaacs, who briefly returned home to see his aunt and uncle (both his parents died when he was younger) this summer before returning to College Park. “In the offseason I did really focus on my route running. I feel like I’ve lost a lot of weight, so I feel like I’m leaner and faster and getting in and out of my breaks better. So the route running is coming along, and just my overall athleticism and flexibility so I can make sure I can get down the field and stay healthy.”
If Isaacs remains healthy enough to catch a single pass this fall, well, he’ll have one more reception than any other tight end on the current roster. Of course, Isaacs has his sights set much higher than that, though he’s not about to advertise it.
“I don’t really have any statistics in mind. Numbers are numbers, and I don’t want to sell myself short or overdue it,” Isaacs said. “So I’ll just say I want to make as many plays as I can. I just want to be a playmaker for the offense.”
Maryland hasn’t had a true playmaker at tight end since his favorite player lit up Byrd Stadium eight years ago. We’ll know soon enough whether Isaacs can follow in his footsteps.
Can Isaacs Be UMD's Next Playmaker At TE?
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