A year ago it was Maryland's deepest, most talented unit, one rated among the nation's Top 10 wide receiver positional units and one with future pros.
But after a calamitous season of injuries, suspensions and a lot of underachieving, Maryland's receiver unit hopes to bounce back under second-year Coach Keenan McCardell with a more modest but dependable crew.
Gone is Stefon Diggs and Deon Long to the NFL, while troubling was the off-season loss of heralded freshman and former four-star receiver Juwann Winfree, who after being suspended late last season due to University rules violations, was permanently removed from the team this spring after another slip-up off the field. Winfree played as a true freshman last season, and was a future building-block with his 6-2 size and long stride. The Terps lost senior-to-be Marcus Leak as well after the spring game, and three-touchdown game at that, for personal reasons, and he was their most physical talent and another presumptive starter in 2015.
Now the unit is thinner, and composed of several upperclassmen needing to prove their worth once and for all, all on a unit that has no injury margin of error. And on paper, the two most presumptive leaders/would-be stars, well both missed last season.
The patchwork group is led by senior Levern Jacobs, the Terps most complete receiver, be it speed, hands and command of the offense. But he missed last season due to suspension. The season before, when Diggs and Long both broke their legs, Jacobs quietly stepped up to be the Terps' leading receiver. The former track standout, Jacobs asserted himself in the spring as the go-to guy, and he must lead the unit this fall both on and off the field as there are not many leader-types. Jacobs has make-you-miss ability and is a true weapon after the catch to stretch defenses this year.
Jacob's kid brother, sophomore Taivon Jacobs, is the fastest Terp, but he, too, missed last season while rehabbing after knee surgery, which he has twice had in two years. Out of the gates this fall, the younger Jacobs may be a tad slow ramping back up, and into the starting lineup, as his rehab continues. But his straight-line speed will be most welcome for the Terps when he is 100 percent. He received an extra medical year from the NCAA after injuring the knee early last season.
When it comes to stepping up, junior wide-out Amba Etta-Tawo must lead that parade. A tall target at 6-1, and a glider also with track speed, Etta-Tawo is still looking to put it all together and match his physical measureables with his pass catching and blocking. After the loss of Winfree, he is the Terps one big target, and one that must step in the breach as a more steady hands-man. He has shown flashes, but never consistently.
Little-used junior Malcolm Culmer also fits that category a bit, another good athlete looking to get more consistent with the hands and route running. He used the spring to his advantage as well to make some progress on the depth chart with more consistency.
Some of the more intriguing story-lines from the spring, though, was first the insertion of former four-star QB/athlete Will Ulmer at slot, and he showed (at least physically) all the promise in the world as a quick-on-quick weapon who could be lethal after-the-catch. The only snag, he has to hold onto more balls to be said threat, all of which is still a work in progress for the slasher athlete, who is among Maryland's most dynamic athletes either side of the ball.
Also taking advantage of low numbers in the spring was another mostly forgotten man, junior DeAndre Lane, who emerged at slot as the most consistent catcher last spring. He was also explosive after-the-catch, showing his former high school track pedigree, and will have his chance this fall both on offense and in the return game.
Then there are the freshmen, D.J. Moore and Jahrvis Davenport, two promising looking talents already in summer 7-on-7's, who will have to contribute this fall, especially Moore.
Moore is a physical talent with sure hands who isn't afraid of the contact, while Davenport is an exceptional athlete, elusive, and perhaps a recruit steal out of Florida.
It's not the "name" unit as it was a year ago, but that unit never lived up to all its hype. If it wasn't the other problems, it was poor route running and sub-par blocking that dogged the unit a year ago. So the Terps are hoping this more blue-collar, smaller unit, led by the modest Levern Jacobs who is burning to get back after a lost year, takes care of all the little things first, and also provides some fireworks along the way as a more dependable group. This year the receivers will have quarterbacks that can get them the ball quicker, and throw more catchable balls than the star-crossed C.J. Brown last year, not to mention have a promising tight end crew also in support. The offensive line should be a year better to provide more protection in the throwing game as well. But for several upperclassmen, led by Etta-Tawo, the time has come.
TT's Football Summer Thoughts: Wide Receiver
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