Specialists Week is coming to a close. This is the final week of our summer position preview series, which has already covered the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, offensive linemen, defensive ends, defensive tackles, linebackers and defensive backs. So far, we’ve touched on Maryland football’s kicking situation, its 30-year-old punter and a pair of long snappers. We’ll conclude with the Terps’ return specialists.
Ty Johnson, RB, No. 24
Weight: 212 lbs.
Hometown: Cumberland, Maryland
High school: Fort Hill HS
Taivon Jacobs, WR, No. 12
Weight: 170 lbs.
Hometown: Camp Springs, Maryland
High school: Suitland HS
Javon Leake, RB, No. 20
Weight: 210 lbs.
Hometown: Greensboro, North Carolina
High school: Page HS
Maryland’s return unit was inconsistent last year, occasionally breaking a long return, but more often settling for something shorter and much less spectacular. Johnson was the go-to member of this group last fall and is back for his senior year. He had the group’s only touchdown last season, a 100-yarder at Ohio State.
Leake and Jacobs split time next to Johnson. Leake had a momentum-changing return from deep in his own end zone to Indiana’s 18-yard line in a shootout win in October. Jacobs was a much less frequent member of the kickoff return unit, but was capable when called upon.
With all components of the unit returning, this has the potential to be a strength for Maryland in 2018.
Taivon Jacobs (again) (see above)
Jeshaun Jones, WR, No. 22
Weight: 190 lbs.
Hometown: Fort Myers, Florida
High school: South Fort Myers HS
Lorenzo Harrison III, RB, No. 2
Weight: 198 lbs.
Hometown: Hillcrest Heights, Maryland
High school: DeMatha Catholic
With DJ Moore, last year’s primary punt returner, off to the NFL, a trio of Terps will look to replace his production. The aforementioned Jacobs, Jones and Harrison are three guys who are reportedly seeing the bulk of reps in camp thus far. Each brings something different to the table.
Jacobs is a track star. Any big hole that opens early in his return will be hit at full speed and he could be off to the races in the blink of an eye. He may not create as much on his own as some other guys, but that’s just not his style, which is fine.
Harrison, meanwhile, is shifty and quick in small spaces. He doesn’t have the same top-end speed as the others in the group, but can be insanely hard to tackle thanks to his low center of gravity. There doesn’t need to be a clear hole for him to hit for him to provide a big return.
Jones is the unknown quantity of the group. He’s long and fast; that much is clear from his high school tape and his performance in the spring. He may possess the best qualities of Jacobs and Harrison, which could make him an incredibly dangerous punt returner. Until we see this group on the field, though, all we can do is speculate.
One guy who’d be exciting to watch in the return game
Anthony McFarland, RB, No. 5
Weight: 208 lbs.
Year: Redshirt freshman
Hometown: Hyattsville, Maryland
High School: DeMatha
McFarland’s high school tape is just a reel of him running around, through and past people. He looks like a create-a-player with all the cheat codes unlocked playing against middle schoolers. A leg injury robbed him of his senior season, but he’s reportedly healthy and looking like his old self early in camp season. He’s got the wiggle to make somebody miss in a phone booth, the speed to run away from a whole coverage unit and the vision to turn each of those qualities from words on the internet into reality on the football field.
Putting him on special teams may put him at higher risk, injury-wise, but DJ Durkin has made no bones about playing starters on special teams. Put McFarland returning punts on the wish list.