COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Every Terps offensive position has had its issues this year, low-lighted by quarterback and receiver last week versus Michigan State, and while the shallow tight end spot has had its challenges this season, and it's not for lack of effort or smarts.
Scanning the list of the top 5 Terps in the classroom, well, tight ends P.J. Gallo and Brian McMahon are the top two students on the team.
Get Randy Edsall started on Gallo, the junior who scored his first Terrapin touchdown in his Pennsylvania homecoming game three weeks ago at Penn State, and the coach doles the sugar. Last week Gallo was named to the Big Ten's all-district academic team, sporting a 3.95 GPA, which is tops in the program.
"Great kid," Edsall said Nov. 20 in his weekly Fireside Chat at the Gossett Football Team House as the Terps prepared for Michigan. "P.J's a great kid, does a great job in the classroom, works as hard on the field, and is very dependable, reliable. And a guy you love having because he is very conscientious."
While Gallo, more a stay-at-home blocking tight end at 6-2, 250-pounds with modest speed, and redshirt freshman converted end Derrick Hayward, more an athlete but very green still learning on the job, are doing the best they can for injured starter and former four-star signee Andrew Isaacs (knee), the two have only combined for three catches and 40 yards on the season, not ideal for a receiving-starved team now. Nonetheless, Edsall likes the future of the position, which includes true freshman Andrew Gray, who is redshirting this season.
The two are mostly splitting reps, quarterback C.J. Brown could certainly use more of a safety valve underneath at the position when he's under duress, but the Terps haven't been able to deploy many two tight end sets this year, and there's certainly no shades of Vernon Davis, Jeff Dugan, or Joey Haynos rambling over the middle these days at College Park. It's a rare year the Terps haven't been top-heavy at a position Davis, the San Francisco 49'ers star, made stylish again at UMD.
"But I think they are making a lot of progress," Edsall said specifically of Hayward, a long but slender athlete who needs reps as a blocker and route runner as he continues to develop. "A guy like Derrick, getting on the field this year is huge for him. All his football is still ahead of him. This winter, spring, next year, I mean for him, the strength, that is going to be the big thing for him. But he's just a redshirt freshman, and he'd never played tight end before he got here."
Edsall said with added weight and strength, both for Hayward and Gallo, their confidence will go up.
He said next year, when the sophomore Isaacs returns, the competition will be "great," and the unit more flexible and able to go multiple sets.
"So we're still pretty young at that position," Edsall said.
From Ohio, the Terps brought in the three-star Gray last year, and he has versatile tools as a blocker and catcher.
"He's just getting bigger, stronger, learning to play," Edsall said. "So again, you will have four guys there, and you hopefully will be able to incorporate things to your advantage."
Meanwhile, Edsall said harried quarterback C.J. Brown had a good practice week "and I expect him to come out and play well. I really do. And it's one of those things where he just has to utilize every aspect of his game. He has to use his feet. When things aren't there, or when they open up quick, he's got to go and take off and run. That's what he's got to understand. He's got to remember he's a dual-threat quarterback, that's what he is, and he's got to play like a dual-threat quarterback."
On special teams, Edsall lauded Will Likely for his kick returns last week versus MSU. Likely racked up a mighty 228 yards on seven returns against the Spartans. Edsall said Likely has a true knack for it, finding the seam, not dancing, and hitting it hard.
"And he's got great vision," Edsall said. "And he understands what we're trying to do, and how things are being blocked and how people are trying to cover. And also he has the fearlessness to just go and hit it, and that's the thing. They just take it and go."
Meanwhile, Edsall named as Scout Team Players of the Week Levern Jacobs (offense), Milan Barry-Pollock (defense) and Tyler Burke (special teams).
Game captains for Michigan are Sal Conaboy (offense), J.J. Johnson (defense) and Avery Thompson (special teams).
Also, the flag bearers are Andrew Zeller (US/his fourth this year) and Wes Brown (Maryland).
The Terps will be in their "white ops" uniforms.
Edsall added that like quarterback, Maryland's receivers are trying their best, they just need to focus and prepare better and take it to the field every play. Last week the Terps had seven drops and needed a lift from deep reserve Daniel Adams late just to scratch. In the meantime, standout freshman receiver Juwann Winfree has been suspended for the last two regular season games for a University student-athlete policy violation.
Speaking of receivers, injured junior star and leading stat man Stefon Diggs has been cleared to begin contact practice on Dec. 1. Diggs had been hoping to make it back this week for Michigan, but his mid-section injury has not healed. Diggs missed last week's game due to a one-game suspension by the Big Ten. Edsall said Diggs was not ruled out until Nov. 19 night at 9 p.m. by the team's medical staff.
"He had never been ruled out until now," Edsall said. "There was a chance he could have played this week up until about 9 p.m. [Nov. 19]."
Randy Edsall's Fireside Chat
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