Going into the 2017 season, second-year Maryland football coach DJ Durkin vowed that his offense would use its tight ends as receivers more than in his first season.
Junior Derrick Hayward and sophomore Avery Edwards combined to catch five passes for 40 yards last year, with Hayward scoring the lone touchdown in the team’s second game against Florida International.
Four games into this season, neither Hayward nor Edwards has a single catch. Conversely, opposing tight ends have combined to catch 15 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, including one by Minnesota’s Brandon Lingen on Saturday.
With 10th-ranked Ohio State hoping to put a clamp on junior DJ Moore this Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, will the Terps look at Hayward and Edwards as potential targets to open things up for the Big Ten’s top receiver? Will the Terps be able to stop whoever the Buckeyes line up at tight end?
It seems likely that, at least for now, Maryland will not count on their tight ends to do anything more than help protect sophomore quarterback Max Bortenschlager or open holes for junior Ty Johnson and the rest of the running backs.
“No. 1, I think that’s what those guys do best,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell said Wednesday. “From a personal standpoint, Derrick is beat up and Derrick is not Kellen Winslow Sr. by any stretch of the imagination. That’s what he’s going to do. He’s a bigger, tough, incredibly unselfish guy.”
If Maryland is going to use any of its tight ends as an offensive weapon this season, it’s Edwards. As a freshman two years ago, Edwards caught 14 passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns, both coming in a win against South Florida.
A year ago, Edwards had trouble getting on the field because Durkin and Bell felt his blocking was not up to par. He wound up catching just one pass for 23 yards in a lopsided loss at Michigan. His blocking has markedly improved and his playing time has increased this year.
“Avery is a guy who we’ve got to continue to develop and turn into what I recruited him to North Carolina to be,” Bell said. “He’s doing a much better job in the box.”
Bell said that the Terps can take advantage of using their tight ends as other teams have against Maryland.
“It’s not, ‘Hey, let’s ignore these guys,’ ” Bell said. “But sometimes in pass progression, we just haven’t found ’em yet. We’ll get there. As those guys continue to develop in the system and we get more comfortable throwing the football, I think those guys will become a much bigger piece of what we’re trying to do.”
The Buckeyes will present a similar challenge using their tight ends to what the Terps faced last week in Minnesota, when the Golden Gophers were able to find some gaps in the middle of the field as Central Florida did the week before.
Senior Marcus Baugh has nine catches for 88 yards, while sophomore Rashod Berry has four receptions for 71 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown against UNLV where he broke four tackles. Freshman Luke Farrell has two catches for 19 yards.
It appears at times as if the Terps are just trying not to get beat long, and are willing surrender chunks of yards in front of them. As good as senior linebackers Jermaine Carter Jr. and Shane Cockerille (Gilman) have been at stopping the run, their pass coverage is sometimes a step slow.
Asked about a 24-yard pass to a wide-open Lingen on a third-and-12 from the Minnesota 36 that help keep a touchdown drive going, Maryland defensive coordinator Andy Buh said Wednesday that the hole was not supposed to be there.
“We have every part of the field leveraged,” Buh said. “In that particular formation and play, they play-faked one way, the linebacker’s eyes went to that play-fake, and they booted his coverage out past him so he had to go run and catch up with it. That’s just how the play was designed based on how they saw us reading the play. We’re not voiding that part of the field.”