Spring Football Previews:Receivers/Tight Ends

A preview of Maryland's receivers and tight ends heading into spring practice March 7.

The good news is Maryland returns nearly 90 percent of its receptions/corps in offensive coordinator Walt Bell's first year of his up-tempo, spread attack at College Park, Md.

The question remains, can the Terps quarterbacks get this talented and experienced group the ball consistently enough?

Between receiver and tight end, the Terps have plenty returning to move the chains. They range from graduate student Levern Jacobs and his kid brother Taivon Jacobs, to emerging star D.J. Moore, the freshman who snatched 25 balls for 357 yards and 3 touchdowns to rank second on the team only to the elder Jacobs a year ago. The group also includes Maryland's best young tight end to come around in a decade.

Wide-out Levern Jacobs (5-11, 188) paced the Terps modest offense with 35 receptions for 425 yards and 3 scores in 2015, but how many times did quarterbacks sail balls high or in the dirt to him in a season of "what-ifs" for the entire receiving corps?

He remains the top all-around threat for Maryland, with his speed, hands, route-running, and open-field ability. Meanwhile his younger brother, the junior Taivon Jacobs at 5-9,165, after rating third on the team with 21 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns, is looking to finally emerge as the Terps top home run threat and find the end zone more.

In addition to Moore (5-11, 205), the physical rookie who wasn't afraid to go across the middle, other revelations last season were; the re-emergence of little-used senior Malcolm Culmer (5-11, 185), who was fifth on the team with 15 catches for 221 yards and two scores and finally held onto the ball consistently; and the even bigger re-emergence of barely-ever-seen senior DeAndre Lane (5-7, 175), who came in from the career shadows to snatch nine balls for 152 yards and a big score versus Penn State in Baltimore.

The other promising first-year player was the shifty Jahrvis Davenport (5-9, 193) out of Florida, who burned his shirt and pulled in 11 catches for 154 yards and a score, and proved an elusive threat in the open field.

The only loss from the wide receiving corps was senior Amba Etta-Tawo, who had 20 catches but no scores and was known more for his drops during his career than his keeps. He is transferring down a level, likely closer to his Georgia home, this spring after graduating this winter.

Among the tight ends, the good news is junior Andrew Isaacs (6-2, 240) returns after his devastating knee injury two seasons ago at Syracuse, and he was rewarded a medical redshirt year. He was actually cleared at the end of last season, but the Terps did not rush him back to duty.

Isaacs is the Terps biggest, most physical talent at the position, and he has very solid hands and ability after-the-catch. We'll see how the knee, and any after-affects, look starting next week in spring camp. He is a former 4-star signee out of Connecticut.

The leading tight end last season was rookie Avery Edwards (6-4, 234), who burst on the scene with his ability to catch and run. Edwards. a former North Carolina signee who prepped at IMG in Florida, is a big and nimble target not afraid of contact. He had 14 catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns during a season he should have probably doubled those numbers he was running free so much. A big-time athlete, Edwards is a savvy route runner who gets excellent separation and high-peaks the ball. He will likely be a big target in the new offense starting this spring.

The Terps also return junior Derrick Hayward (6-5, 240), who had two catches for 10 yards last season. Hayward remains an intriguing athletic talent, but still needs work on the hands, blocking, and route running to fulfill some of his potential.

Maryland also returns junior Eric Roca (6-3, 230) and sophomore Andrew Gray (6-2, 230), while saying goodbye to career stalwart P.J. Gallo, who graduated and has begun work on Wall Street.   

Terps receivers/tight ends only found the end zone 14 times in 2015, a figure that is bound to go up in the new, faster-paced system. But they still need that consistent thrower to spread the ball around to this talented group, which will add in the fall the likes of three-star Under Armour All American Tino Ellis of DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.); three-star standout D.J. Turner also of DeMatha; and Alabama three-star tight end pickup Noah Barnes. 

Overall, the group still needs to get more physical/aggressive as blockers, but young players like Moore give them hope. Meanwhile, there are plenty of after-the-catch threats, led by the Jacobs brothers, who should thrive in the new system.

The other twist could be the use of senior All-American corner/return man Will Likely (5-7, 175) at slot again this season, where last season he snatched five balls when the Terps utilized him late in the season to try and spark the offense. The Terps also brought in preferred walk-on Michael Cornwell (6-2, 215) out of McDonogh (Owings Mills, Md.) last season, a bigger prospect on a mostly smallish unit beyond Moore. But it should be one to put up some good numbers no doubt in Bell's high-octane system.  

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