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26 Til Kickoff: Maryland's Search for a Dynamic Punt Returner

Yeah, 26 storylines are a lot: one for every day between now and when Maryland plays Navy. But we do it because we love you.

Last year, when Maryland beat Clemson, one play always stuck out in my mind: Tony Logan's 48-yard punt return that put the ball on the one, setting up what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

That also happened to be the high point in Maryland's season as far as punt returns are concerned. Last year, which consisted of 168 punt return yards, an average of 6 yards per return, and no touchdowns (though Logan came close), just continued what's happened to be a very boring past six years for Maryland in the punt return game.

In fact, had Logan ended up going 49 yards instead of 48, Maryland would've had their first punt return touchdown since 2003, in the glory days of Steve Suter. Actually, Suter's been the only punt returner that Ralph Friedgen's ever's had with any sort of dynamic burst on returns. Just look at the stats:

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
# 28 27 26 28 27 35 50 28 23
Yards 168 189 184 238 147 209 537 297 166
Avg. 6 7 7.1 8.5 5.4 6 10.7 10.6 7.2
TD 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 4 0
Ret. T. Logan Oquendo Oquendo D. Oquendo J. Walker Suter Suter S. Suter G. Gary

And yes, there's crazy stuff from the past there with Jo-Jo Walker showing up for a year. By the way, Maryland's opponents over the same timeframe?

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 Season Avg.
# 21 20 39 18 25 27 26 28 26 25.5
Yards 254 83 314 250 255 273 230 297 222 242
Avg. 12.1 4.2 8.1 13.9 12.1 10.1 8.8 10.6 8.5 9.5

Obviously, Maryland's outperformed their opponent - either their average or straight-up - only two years since the inception of Friedgen, and both of them came at the hands and feet of Suter, who was a spectacular return man and one of the best in the ACC in the past decade.

The biggest goal with punt returns is obviously to hold onto the ball, so some dynamism has to be sacrificed for safety. But with an offense that might be as bad as it stands right now, Maryland desperately needs any kind of boost it can get. And an extra few yards each possession mixed in with an occasional big return and maybe a touchdown or two would have to be considered a pretty big boost.

It's not as if Maryland's just plain old bad at returns: Torrey Smith should be making history later this year. They just, for whatever reason, have failed in the punt return game. Maybe its a product of Friedgen's conservatism; maybe it's a lack of returning talent. But with Smith already succeeding, all Maryland needs is a solid punt returner to give their offense a leg up.

Obviously, Caleb Porzel would've been a no-brainer of a punt returner had he not transferred out. He's elusive, scary quick, and basically perfect to be a punt returner - just check out the YouTube video. But he's now gone, and Maryland's still searching.

Tony Logan was supposed to be the guy last year, but he was injured the first several games of the season and was unspectacular (minus the Clemson return) once he got back. Fill-ins for him included Anthony Wiseman, who was exceptionally boring, and Kenny Tate, who was exciting but also muffed a punt, which marked the end of his playing time.

Logan figures to be the starter coming into fall practice, but his job isn't entirely safe, especially if someone else can step up.

Dexter McDougle and Tate should both be getting chances at punt returner in the fall, but Maryland lacks a lot of explosiveness past that (Torrey Smith and Da'Rel Scott shouldn't be returning punts). Hopefully Marcus Leak can fix that when he gets on campus, but past Logan, who had one great return and was average past that, McDougle, who is unproven, and Tate, who is dynamic but perhaps mistake-prone, Maryland might be SOL this year.

The hope is that Logan will either improve, McDougle will step up, or Tate will impress and hold onto the ball. If any of those things happen, maybe Maryland can reverse a downward trend. If not, the bulk of production will fall on the shoulders of the offense again.