Levern Jacobs understood that his role was going to change when DJ Durkin took over as Maryland’s new football coach last December. Jacobs, the team’s leading receiver as a junior, also knew the offense was going to change under Walt Bell.
Still, Jacobs probably couldn’t have grasped how much his senior year would be different than last season, when he led the Terps with 47 receptions for 640 yards and scored three touchdowns. By the time summer practice began, Jacobs got the message.
Jacobs was practicing with the second unit, playing behind fellow senior Malcolm Culmer.
Though Jacobs said Tuesday that there isn't “much difference between the 1s and the 2s” because of the way Bell rotates his receivers, his demotion in the preseason and for the first three games of the season was a clear message from Durkin.
In what has become a run-oriented offense, Maryland receivers have to block on the perimeter more often than they might catch passes.
After catching just three passes for 20 yards and getting one carry on an end-around for 10 more yards in the first five games, Jacobs on Saturday caught a career-high 10 passes (for 82 yards, well below his high of 158) against the Gophers at Maryland Stadium. It was his third straight start.
While Durkin called it Jacobs’ “most productive” game since coming in, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound receiver thought there was room for improvement.
“I’m not really pleased with the way I played against Minnesota,” Jacobs said. “I might have had a lot of catches. There’s little things I have to work on like my blocking. I missed a bunch of key blocks in the game that could have opened up a bunch of run plays. It’s definitely something I can build on.”
The fact that Jacobs is even talking about blocking is a measure of the progress he and other receivers have made under Durkin.
“He’s really done a great job of blocking on the perimeter and giving extra effort for us down the field pretty much all year long,” Durkin said Tuesday. “That is something I have challenged [him] personally and our whole staff has challenged ‘Vern to do.
“In his past, you could look at his tape and all that, he’s a very talented guy, he didn’t always play with that type of effort, that type of determination. That was something from early on that we have addressed and really stayed on him about and we’ll continue to do so.”
Jacobs recalled something his mother told him when he found himself being yelled at a lot by Durkin in the spring.
“My mom always told me, ‘When someone stops talking to you, that’s when you need to be worried,’” Jacobs said. “Him getting on me is just making me a better player. At the end of the day, everybody on the team wants to go to the NFL. The only way you’re going to get there is if the head coach stays on you.”
Jacobs believes that being known for his blocking might be just as important as the reputation he earned at receiver. He said he has come to enjoy blocking as much, if not more, than receiving.
“It’s kind of fun when you see the play progress, when you’re blocking downfield and you see the big runs our running backs have, like Ty [Johnson] and Wes [Brown],” he said. “It’s kind of fun when you’re making the big block. It may be a little more fun blocking than catching the ball.”
One block he made this season stands out. Jacobs sealed the sideline for Johnson on a 66-yard catch and run against Penn State.
“You could probably see it on film, I’m running down the field screaming while he’s scoring. I think that’s pretty cool,” Jacobs said.
If there’s something missing for Jacobs now, it’s the presence of his younger brother, Taivon, on the field for the Terps. The younger Jacobs, also a wide receiver, has been out all season because of a knee injury he sustained last year. Taivon Jacobs dressed for the first time against Minnesota, but did not play.
Durkin has seen a change in Levern Jacobs since the season has started.
“You could see the confidence in him when he walks around,” Durkin said. “You know when you’re giving good effort and helping your teammates and you’re doing the right thing, you carry yourself a certain way. And you also know it when you’re not. He’s doing that for us right now."