The third edition of our Maryland football position previews highlights the team’s special teams unit. Special teams was one of Maryland’s strengths last year, headlined by kicker Chad Ryland and punter Colton Spangler.
However, Ryland was selected in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft, leaving the unit with a gaping hole at arguably its most important position.
“It’s hard to replace Chad Ryland,” special teams coordinator James Thomas Jr. said. “But we have a couple guys in-house we are confident in.”
While Maryland’s special teams unit has made great strides since Thomas Jr. took over in 2022, there is still work to do.
“We thought we left some meat on the bone,” Thomas Jr. said. “We’re trying to be one of the best teams in the Big Ten. We need to play [more] consistent.”
|Jack Howes*||Sophomore (RS)||N/A|
|Colton Spangler*||Senior||Averaged 45.13 yards per punt|
|Brenden Segovia||Sophomore (RS)||N/A|
Note: Asterisk denotes expected starter.
Maryland’s kicking unit struggled in 2021, with three points never a guarantee no matter the distance. But after transferring into the program from Eastern Michigan, Chad Ryland decimated those concerns in 2022, nailing every one of his field goal attempts within 45 yards.
Ryland finished the season 39-for-40 on extra points and 19-for-23 on field goals, transforming Maryland’s offensive capabilities along the way.
Now, Maryland is tasked with selecting his replacement.
Unlike last year when Ryland transferred to Maryland, there did not seem to be a clear choice for the job heading into fall camp, but head coach Mike Locksley has a favorite.
“Jack Howes is the guy coming out of the clubhouse. We feel it’s his job to lose,” Locksley said. “We brought in some veteran guys to kind of push and compete at the position, but I’ve been really pleased with Jack.”
Howes, a redshirt sophomore, only appeared in one game over the last two years and drilled his lone extra point attempt.
The only other kicker listed on the roster is senior Evan Johnson, a Michigan State transfer. Johnson went 1-for-2 on extra points in his lone appearance with the Spartans.
Despite inexperience, Locksley remains confident in the group.
“I think the best thing about having Jack around a year ago was seeing the type of kicker Chad Ryland was and his approach,” Locksley said. “[I’m] excited about just seeing Jack go out and the confidence that comes along with being a kicker.”
Consistency remains with punting and return units
Spangler was one of the nation’s best punters in 2022 and will be returning to Maryland for his fifth season. After battling for the starting spot in 2021, Spangler won the job with ease last year.
In his fourth season in College Park, Spangler tallied 56 of the Terps’ 62 punts for a total of 2,527 yards and 45.1 yards on average — the country’s 16th-best mark.
Spangler was also named to the Ray Guy Award preseason watch list for the second consecutive season. The honor is given to the nation’s best collegiate punter.
While sending out the punting unit is often a coach’s last resort, Spangler’s value is undoubtable, especially this year. Without the dependability of Ryland’s leg, Maryland may need to turn to Spangler more frequently.
On the other side of the ball, the Terps retain most of their returners from last year.
Cornerback Tarheeb Still established himself as Maryland’s go-to punt returner for the second consecutive year in 2022. Still returned 16 punts for an average of 6.4 yards per return — a notch below his 2021 numbers, which included 21 returns for an average of 8.2 yards.
Wide receiver Jeshaun Jones was another one of Maryland’s punt returning options last year, returning seven punts for an average of 7.6 yards per return.
However, with both players inheriting more responsibility at their respective positions and potential injuries always looming, the coaching staff may turn to some less experienced options.
Maryland lost a few pieces from its kick returning crew, but should be just fine with wide receivers Octavian Smith Jr. and Tai Felton leading the charge.
Smith Jr. was Maryland’s most frequent returner in 2022, totaling 17 returns for an average of 22.7 yards. Felton, on the other hand, was more efficient in his six returns. He averaged 25 yards per return, but a muffed kickoff against Michigan limited his opportunities.
The duo should remain atop the depth chart in 2023, with contributions from running back Roman Hemby also possible.
“I love the guys that we got returning punts and kicks,” Locksley said. “I’d like to see that really become a big weapon for us, and it’s an area where, because of the type of skill we have, should be successful for us.”