As he met with fans during the offseason, Maryland football coach Randy Edsall seemed eager to reassure them — repeatedly — about his largely unheralded group of receivers.
"I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with our wide receivers," Edsall said, without being prompted, during an August appearance in Baltimore. He delivered a similar message to media members throughout training camp.
One game into the season, there are promising signs — 23 so far — that the new Terps coach may have been onto something.
Wide receivers Kevin Dorsey, Quintin McCree, Ronnie Tyler and Kerry Boykins combined to catch 23 passes during Monday night's 32-24 victory over Miami. That was more than one-third of the group's 2010 total of 54 receptions. Tight end Matt Furstenburg and tailback Davin Meggett each caught four passes.
"The biggest thing is we've got a young group and we're hungry," said Dorsey, a 6-foot-2 redshirt junior whose eight catches against the Hurricanes were a career high. "It's kind of nice to be the underdog. You're not complacent."
The receivers' next test comes against No. 19 West Virginia on Saturday.
Maryland's promising beginning came three weeks after receivers coach Lee Hull made a bold assessment of Dorsey, McCree and Tyler. "Those three guys, I think, can be just as good as the three guys that started last year," Hull said during an interview.
Hull's statement could have surprised fans who knew Maryland's receiving corps entered spring practices conspicuous for what it lacked.
Gone was Torrey Smith (now with the Ravens) and his explosive speed and 12 receiving touchdowns, a single-season school record. Gone were Adrian Cannon (36 catches) and LaQuan Williams (Ravens), who was also a leader of Maryland's special teams unit known as the "Dog Soldiers."
Coaches had seen indications that their replacements this season could be special.
There was McCree and his speed. The redshirt senior can run a 40-yard dash in 4.3 to 4.4 seconds.
There was Tyler and his flair for the acrobatic. Only 5 feet 9, he is prone to making one-handed, leaping catches in practice.
Coaches needed to see whether the new group could translate its skills in making plays when it counted most.
"I think my teammates rely on me a lot more this season," said Tyler, who has been in 37 career games but often saw Smith and others playing the leading roles.
Tyler's mind was understandably not always on football during the spring.
His father, also named Ronnie Tyler, contracted severe pneumonia that left him laboring to breathe and in an oxygen tent in a South Carolina hospital.
The younger Tyler was pulled off the field by Edsall during a spring practice and told of his father's condition. The player noticeably slumped when he heard the news. The scene was captured by "Terrapins Rising," the team's reality show.
Tyler spent more than a week in South Carolina as his father, a Baptist pastor in Wagener, recovered.
Edsall "called me multiple times a day, and he never mentioned or asked when would I come back [to football]," Tyler said. " I didn't really know him on a personal level. I didn't know what type of coach he was. But he embraced me in a tough situation, and that meant a lot to me."
It was Tyler who scored the first touchdown of Edsall's Maryland tenure — on a 10-yard pass from quarterback Danny O'Brien on Maryland's first possession against the Hurricanes. Miami was missing eight players, including top defensive players Ray-Ray Armstrong, Marcus Fortson and Sean Spence.
The receivers said they enjoyed Maryland's new no-huddle offense and believe the fast tempo wore down Miami's defense.
Dorsey said the receivers can challenge defenses because they play interchangeable roles.
"The beauty of this offense — each and every person can be that individual," Dorsey said. "It all depends on the play and who we're playing that week and what the schemes are. There are plays where I'm running short routes and Quintin is running deep. Or vice versa."