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Avery Edwards, Maryland football's tight ends likely to play bigger role in 2015

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Tight ends had little to do with Maryland's receiving game last season. By necessity, that will probably change.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

For the last three years, the Maryland football program has been a graveyard for pass-catching tight ends. Despite having a stable of pedigreed tight ends on the roster in the last few seasons, head coach Randy Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley have almost entirely neglected to use them as receivers, either keeping them on the line as blockers or watching from the sidelines in wideout-heavy sets. But recent events suggest that tide might be turning.

The program announced last week it would add freshman tight end Avery Edwards, a 2014 high school graduate from North Carolina and the No. 21-ranked player at his position in that class, per 247 Sports. Edwards caught 45 balls for more than 600 yards and seven touchdowns in his senior season, and his 6'5, 228-pound frame gives him an enticing pass-catching foundation.

Edwards was scheduled to play as a true freshman at North Carolina last year, but a larceny charge that was later dropped led to his spending the season training at the IMG Academy in Florida. (Interestingly, Maryland hired new director of player personnel Cory Robinson, formerly IMG's defensive backs coordinator, last week.)

Now that Edwards has arrived, he'll slide somewhere into a tight end depth chart headlined by juniors Andrew Isaacs (a former top recruit himself) and P.J. Gallo, who started along with sophomore Derrick Hayward after Isaacs sustained a grisly injury early last season. The tight ends already on the roster have different skillsets; Gallo and Hayward are blockers, while Isaacs is touted as both a blocker and a receiver. All of them, though, have something in common: They haven't caught many passes in Maryland uniforms.

Last year, Terrapins tight ends combined for six catches, 41 yards and one touchdown. C.J. Brown targeted them a few more times than that, but still highly infrequently. Gallo caught a wide-open touchdown after a Brown bootleg at Penn State on Nov. 1, and that was the full extent of interesting, non-handshake related plays made by Maryland tight ends in 2014.

In fact, it's been that way for years. Maryland tight ends were a touch more involved in 2013 and 2012 than they were last season, but they were still highly uninvolved. Dave Stinebaugh was the sixth-leading receiver two seasons ago, with 15 catches for 204 yards, when no other tight end had a reception. Matt Furstenburg was the fourth-leading pass-catcher in 2012, but his 16 catches for 206 yards only serve to damn Maryland's abysmal offense that year with faint praise.

The entire position has devolved into a pass-catching persona non grata.

Due to nothing more than circumstance, that's probably going to change in 2015.

This season's Terps will have no Stefon Diggs or Deon Long, both gone to the NFL. They will have no Marcus Leak, gone from the program for the second and final time. They will have no Jacquille Veii, gone due to a transfer. They will have no Juwann Winfree, gone due to university discipline for a second time and also not coming back. All told, they will have none of their best five receivers from last season, when Maryland's passing attack ranked 73rd nationally in yards per game.

What will Maryland have? A new quarterback, for one, either in the form of redshirt junior Caleb Rowe or transfer senior Daxx Garman. For two, the team will have a bit of an infusion of talent at tight end. The Terps' exodus at receiver leaves Edsall and Locksley little choice but to tap into it.

They'll get Isaacs back from an injury, giving them the No. 23 tight end from the 2013 class. They'll get Edwards, who rated almost identically a year later - giving Maryland two clearly talented receivers it didn't have last season. Hayward will be another year removed from his transition from linebacker to tight end, and probably more polished as a result. Andrew Gray, a former three-star recruit, will shed his redshirt and make his collegiate debut.

It isn't that Maryland will be totally devoid of more traditional wide-receiving talent. Brothers Levern and Taivon Jacobs are back from suspension and injury, and Amba Etta-Tawo's still around after contributing on and off for the last two seasons. Between converted cornerback DeAndre Lane, converted quarterback Will Ulmer, longtime deep reserve Malcolm Culmer and a handful of freshmen (including the highly touted D.J. Moore), odds are someone will emerge as at least a decent option. But it remains that Maryland won't have the receiver arsenal to which Edsall has become accustomed.

How Edwards fits into this picture, exactly, will be interesting. He's already missed a year since high school, so a redshirt doesn't seem likely. To the extent Maryland's tight ends can expect to be more involved in the throwing game, everything has to be highly fluid.

After all, there isn't a single senior among Maryland's six rostered tight ends and 10 wide receivers. Most haven't played an offensive down in college. Whether Rowe or Garman is throwing the ball, someone's going to have to catch it. Nothing on that end of the the situation is remotely entrenched, which means Edwards has as good a shot as ever to make a dent.