When Will Likely played at Maryland, kickoff and punt returns were among the most exciting moments in a football game. Likely finished his career with six return touchdowns—four on punts and two on kicks.
In 2017, the Terps won’t have Likely back deep. They won’t have Teldrick Morgan, who filled in when Likely tore his ACL halfway through last season. Instead, expect Maryland to use a committee in the return game, at least early in the year. Four players were returning punts at fall practice this week, which suggests they’re the early favorites to be factors in this realm.
The junior wide receiver was Maryland’s primary kick returner in 2016, running back 15 kickoffs for an average of 22.3 yards. It’s unclear whether the staff wants him to return both kicks and punts in addition to his wide receiver duties—he’s never returned a punt in college—but Moore seems like as close to a sure thing as Maryland has in this area.
Jacobs missed last season with an injury, but was an occasional return man on kickoffs in 2015, running back five for 95 yards. If he can put another healthy season together, his elusiveness will help Maryland both at wide receiver and on special teams.
This wasn’t a significant part of Turner’s game as a freshman, although he did play some special teams. The former DeMatha standout was still recovering from a high school injury for a chunk of last season, but now he seems 100 percent. The spring game provided a glimpse of what he can become at wideout.
During his breakout freshman campaign, Harrison returned one punt for 15 yards. His slippery running style should translate better to punt returns than kickoffs, but he’s been working on both.
We’ll probably see other players back deep throughout the season. Ty Johnson has returned punts before, and players like Anthony McFarland, Tino Ellis and JC Jackson have skill sets that make them a potential fit. But it’s been a four-man show at the Terps’ open practices.
None of the players mentioned above will scare opposing teams the way Likely did, but if the unit can improve on last year’s overall performance—44th nationally in kick return success rate, 105th in punt return success rate—Maryland will take it. And if someone breaks off a big return that swings a game in the Terps’ favor, that’ll be a welcome bonus.