COLLEGE PARK — Derrick Hayward did not look natural at tight end during the early part of preseason practice.
Hayward, a redshirt freshman who signed with Maryland as an outside linebacker, lacked fluidity as a route runner. He was also inconsistent catching the football, as he was during the spring as well.
But the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Hayward improved as preseason camp went on, to the point that he will begin the season as the top backup to starting tight end Andrew Isaacs.
“He’s continued to develop to where you’ll see he’s created a [role] for himself in our scheme,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said Wednesday. “Derrick was a guy that moved over to tight end. Obviously he’s a guy that’s still growing into his body. Playing out in space is different for him, and I thought as camp went along you saw probably a little more smoothness with him in his route running. I thought he caught the ball better.
“Now, all we need to do is continue to pack size on that frame, continue to develop him as a blocker and to make him what we call that three-prong tight end, where he can play in-line, detached and also as a receiver.”
L. Jacobs continues to impress
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs is Maryland's big-name player, a star who was selected to every preseason watch list possible.
But during preseason practice, fellow wide receiver Levern Jacobs may have been more impressive.
Diggs and Deon Long are the Terrapins' two starters on the outside. However, Jacobs will factor into the offense as well.
“He’s as talented as both of those guys that we talk about all the time — Deon and Stef,” Locksley said.
Jacobs may face discipline after being charged with second-degree assault last week, but nothing has been announced yet.
As it stands now, Jacobs is slated to serve as Maryland's third receiver and will likely be on the field plenty, considering how often the Terps will probably have three or more receivers on the field.
Jacobs had 47 catches for 640 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore last season, including eight catches for 158 yards and a touchdown against Clemson in the first game after Maryland lost Diggs and Long to season-ending leg injuries.
Jacobs also had seven catches for 100 yards and a touchdown during the Terps' loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl.
Jacobs has just average size at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, but he has good speed, consistently got open during preseason practice, has sure hands and has also flashed some run-after-catch skills the last two years.
Head coach Randy Edsall was critical of Diggs and Long during preseason camp. However, he was consistently complimentary of Jacobs.
"He’s a guy that practices his tail off,” Locksley said. “He gives the effort we’re looking for. With Vern, I think the big thing is just the attention to detail, and you’ll hear me keep saying that about the receiver group. But that’s the one thing that we’ve got to have out of those guys: To play consistently well with or without the football, and I thought Vern had a really good camp.”
Locksley weighs in on running backs
Like Edsall on Tuesday, Locksley said Wednesday that Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Wes Brown will have roles in the Terps' backfield.
“Obviously Brandon is the guy that’s listed as the starter,” Locksley said. “But what’s been the case here the last couple years is it’s hard to keep a guy like Albert Reid off the field because of his work ethic, because of his consistency, his toughness, and he finds ways to make plays.
“I think Wes Brown has started to come on the last half of camp to where he’s got his legs underneath him. His assignments are a little quicker and a little better. So Brandon will start, but there’s a place for both Albert and Wes, and you’ll probably see all three of those guys playing a role for us in our game plan.”
Terps entering season relatively injury-free
Locksley joked that the biggest surprise for him coming out of preseason practice is that Maryland stayed relatively healthy.
The Terps have dealt with numerous serious injuries to key players the last two years, but freshman offensive lineman Sean Christie was the only Terp to suffer a major injury during the summer.
"To me, that’s as important as anything if you look at what we’ve been on offense the last couple years, [which] has been kind of mixing and matching pieces to get guys in there,” Locksley said, “and I thought we were able to consistently keep our first unit together for the most part throughout camp. And to me, that’s the important thing.”
More praise for Ezeagwu
Freshman cornerback Daniel Ezeagwu has been praised throughout the summer by both teammates and coaches.
Safety Sean Davis said after one scrimmage that Ezeagwu is "going to be a crazy player” once he learns the Terps’ defense and refines his technique.
Cornerback Jeremiah Johnson said something along the same lines Wednesday.
"Daniel has a lot of raw talent,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be fun to watch him progress and things like that because he’s so raw right now and is playing really off of his natural ability, and I’m not even sure if he knows how good he is going to be. Just being an older guy, I can understand that he’s a lot further ahead than a lot of freshmen who usually come in, so that’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Ezeagwu is set to begin the season as Maryland's fifth corner.