It took Jeshaun Jones one game — actually less than a half of last season’s opener — to go from being a little-known freshman receiver at Maryland to a fledgling college football star.
That will happen when you have hand in touchdowns the first three times you touch the ball, and doing it different ways on each, as Jones did early in a 34-29 win over then-No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field. Jones and the Terps are still waiting for the encore.
After becoming the fourth true freshman since 1996 to score catching, running and throwing a touchdown in the same game, Jones had a solid but not spectacular freshman year.
The flashes of eye-popping athleticism were often followed by stretches of head-scratching lack of production.
In all, Jones finished with 22 catches for 288 yards and five touchdowns, and ran for another 173 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. After his impressive debut, it took seven games for Jones to again become a factor in Maryland’s offense.
Asked Thursday after practice what the difference was between the way his career started and the way he played for much of his freshman year, Jones said, “Honestly? Just consistency. That’s on me.”
“I can honestly say I just got my practice habits better at the end of the year and started focusing on the smaller details and things within my route, within the play,” he said. “Even if it was for me to get somebody else open, understanding that.”
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Jones is still working on finding that consistency as he and his teammates learn the offense new coach Michael Locksley brought with him from Alabama.
“I like the scheme. I think it fits all the receivers, honestly,” Jones said. “Fast-paced, we’ll make plays, get up and make another one.”
According to both Jones and Locksley, it hasn’t been as smooth as they would have liked.
“I think we’re right on track with the install, that’s us as coaches putting it in,” Locksley said after Tuesday's practice. “The lack of execution of the install, of the system, is the thing that for me is worrisome. These guys got to figure it out. These guys got to put the extra time in. Am I overly concerned? No, because this time of year the defense should be ahead of the offense.”
Said Jones, “It’s not even really big things. [Locksley] can probably tell you that. It’s not really huge mistakes. It’s like mental errors, later in practice, locking in and focusing on the little details. That’s what the focus has been these last couple of practices. Kind of like, holding your water and having the same energy in the first period as you have in the last.”
Locksley is hoping Saturday’s scrimmage — the first the Terps will hold this spring — will help him identify who his team’s playmakers could be heading into preseason practice this summer.
Having watched Maryland’s win over Texas on television while awaiting Alabama’s season opener, Locksley is aware of the promise Jones showed as a freshman, especially in his college debut.
“I think Jeshaun has a lot of talent, but like anything, until we put them in a scrimmage situation and see how he responds, he’s a guy that you would expect and hope [to do well] because he’s displayed the ability, to be a playmaker for us on that side of the ball,” Locksley said.
Even more memorable for Jones than the three touchdowns against the Longhorns — a 28-yard jet sweep run, a 65-yard catch-and-run and a 20-yard option pass to Taivon Jacobs — is the failed 2-point conversion pass in a 52-51 overtime loss to then-No. 10 Ohio State in Maryland’s next-to-last game.
Flanked to the right of quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome and sandwiched between Jacobs in the slot and fellow freshman Brian Cobbs on the outside, Jones found himself wide open in the end zone after two Buckeyes went with Jacobs, and Cobbs pushed a third toward the back of the end zone.
Pigrome’s pass was a misfired rocket that flew past Jones.
“I remember everything about the play, honestly,” Jones said Thursday. “I try not to watch it that much, unless I need a little push to give me an edge on a workout, on a practice day. I try to watch it to give me a little boost.”
With Jacobs — the team’s leading receiver — graduated, Jones appear to be in the conversation to be a starter. But the wide receiver room might have more players who, like Jones, have shown their potential but are not quite established.
The group includes three other rising sophomores — Dontay Demus (13 catches for 278 yards, including four for 98 at Indiana on Nov. 10), Darryl Jones (nine catches for 147 yards, including a 60-yard reception against Ohio State) and Cobbs.
There are also a few other receivers who have yet to make an impact, including Carlos Carriere, a 6-4, 184-pound redshirt sophomore who has shown some promise this spring, as well as redshirt sophomore Tahj Capehart, who missed last season with a torn ACL.
“Honestly, I think all of us can play,” Jones said. “It’s great to have a group of guys like that. It doesn’t let you get comfortable. That’s for everybody in the room. We push each other each and every day to be better. If one day you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do, the next guy could be up. It keeps everybody on their toes.”
Asked what else the group competes in, Jones chuckled.
“We compete in everything,” he said. “If it’s trying to get to the lunch line first, we’re competing to do it.”