When Maryland football coach Mike Locksley was the co-offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2017, he coached a wide receiver room featuring Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Calvin Ridley, all of whom became first-round NFL draft picks.
Even after working with that star-studded group, Locksley believes the 2021 Maryland wide receiver room is the best he’s been around. Through two games, the Terps’ wideouts have lived up to Locksley’s high standards and plan on getting even better as Maryland (2-0) enters Big Ten play Friday night against Illinois (1-2).
“We all knew it was going to be like that,” senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo said. “It’s probably exciting for the world to see, but for us, it was no secret.”
Sophomore Rakim Jarrett, a former five-star recruit who surprisingly flipped from LSU to Maryland in 2019, said defenses have to pick their poison when facing Maryland’s receiving corps.
“Dontay Demus [Jr.] stretching the field vertically with the size,” said Jarrett, the fifth-highest rated player ever to sign with Terps. “I can get underneath with the mismatches. Jeshaun Jones is a smooth guy in route running. I don’t think you can stop all of us at one time.”
The duo of Jarrett and the senior Demus has done wonders for the Terps offense. They’ve combined for 450 receiving yards, the most of any pass-catching duo in the Power Five conferences this season. Demus ranks eighth in the country with 261 receiving yards and has caught a touchdown pass in six straight games dating to last season, tied for the longest streak in the nation.
After a quiet season opener, Jones, who had 11 receptions for 181 yards and a touchdown as a redshirt sophomore in 2020 after missing all of 2019 with a torn ACL, was more involved in the offense in a 62-0 win against Howard, making three catches for 46 yards.
“The wide receiver group is the best on the team,” said Demus, who had six receptions for 128 yards against Howard to become the first Maryland player with consecutive 100-yard receiving games since Stefon Diggs in 2013. “We bring spark plug to the offense. If we get going, the whole team gets going. No matter where you put us or who you put in the game, there’s no drop-off.”
When Locksley arrived at College Park, he noticed Demus had the natural ability to be a talented receiver. At 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds, Demus has the size and the speed to be a downfield threat. The biggest thing for Demus was working on the little things like route running and creating separation. Locksley believes Demus has improved drastically in those areas, even after earning All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2020 with 24 receptions for 365 yards and four touchdowns.
“[Demus] definitely in line with some of the other great receivers I’ve had a chance to be associated with,” Locksley said. “The thing that I’ve seen the biggest growth in is the way he prepared for this season.”
Mike Hunter, Demus’ former high school coach at Friendship Collegiate in Washington, isn’t surprised about his former player’s success. When Demus played in the state championship game his junior year, he caught a pass on a slant route before busting a couple of moves that impressed Hunter for a receiver of Demus’ size.
“From then on, he just became this super playmaker, which led over to his senior year and college career,” Hunter said. “He [can] play in an up-tempo [offense], a pass-first offense, or if you want to be more pro-style and run deeper routes, he can do that as well.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Jarrett is the fourth-highest graded wide receiver in the country this season. Jarrett, who has 189 yards and two touchdowns, has taken advantage of opponents in the slot, where he’s played 76 snaps.
“Jarrett is a guy that they game plan certain things for,” Illinois coach Bret Bielema said. “[He’s] definitely used in certain situations as well as certain route concepts.”
Jarrett said slowing the game down has allowed him to take major strides this season after earning All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2020 with 17 receptions for 252 yards and two touchdowns.
“Last year I was trying to rush everything,” Jarrett said. “Trying to make every play because I didn’t know when I was going to get the ball again.”
Jarrett will do whatever it takes to make a play, even if that means sacrificing his body. During the big win over Howard, Jarrett often tried to leap over a defender to make a difficult catch.
“[Jarrett] is crazy,” said junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who has 606 passing yards and six touchdowns and is Pro Football Focus’ ninth-highest graded passer this season thanks in large part to the play of his receivers. “You never know what he’s going to do with the ball in his hands. He can go over you, through you, or around you.”
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