Each day leading up to preseason camp on Aug. 5, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Maryland football team. So far, we’ve reviewed the defensive backs, linebackers and defensive line. Next up, the special teams.
Returning starters: PK Brad Craddock, P Nathan Renfro, LS Greg Parcher, PR/KR Stefon Diggs.
Key backups: PK Brendan Magistro, P Michael Tart, LS Christian Carpenter.
Incoming freshmen: PK Adam Greene, LS Will Rosenblum (transfer), LS Joe Marchese.
Competition: Craddock and Renfro enter preseason firmly entrenched as the starters. Many fans expect freshman Adam Greene (Broadneck High School) to challenge Craddock for time; after all, Greene holds the state record for career field goals, and Craddock got benched on extra points last season. But Greene will first have to surpass Brendan Magistro, the sophomore called in to replace Craddock on close-range opportunities. Greene is officially a walk-on but boasts the pedigree of a scholarship kicker, including an 83.7 percent kickoff-to-end zone rate during his senior year.
Michael Tart probably won’t challenge Renfro for the starting punter spot despite some glaring inconsistencies there last season, and Christian Carpenter, Will Rosenblum and Joe Marchese will all compete for the mostly symbolic backup long-snapper job. Senior Greg Parcher isn’t going anywhere.
1) What will year two bring for Craddock? Remember, when Craddock clanked a 33-yard game-winning field goal attempt against North Carolina State off the left upright last season, it wasn’t just his seventh college game ever — it was the seventh college football game he’d ever experienced in person. With an entire offseason under his belt — Craddock spent the spring training with former Ravens place kicker Matt Stover on the side — Craddock should finally have overcome that adjustment period that seemed to cause that low conversion rate last season (62.5 percent on field goals, 60 percent inside 40 yards). He was yanked on extra points and short field goals late in the season, but showed that he has the leg strength to succeed from deep. After all, before Craddock’s infamous miss against N.C. State, he gave Maryland the lead with a 48-yarder earlier in the fourth quarter. Perhaps Greene will supplant him on kickoffs, but Craddock seems confident and changed enough to hang onto that starting job. Whether that manifests in results is the big question.
2) Will the Terps spell Stefon Diggs on punt returns? As last season dragged into the doldrums of November, Maryland began sitting Diggs on punt returns, primarily to protect its most prized asset. Diggs didn’t even travel to the Clemson game on Nov. 10 because of an ankle injury, so a cavalcade of less-proven teammates took over in his stead. Ideally, Diggs would return everything, because why wouldn’t you want him to receive as many touches as possible? But Coach Randy Edsall has left open the possibility of spelling Diggs from time to time on punts, but still letting him run wild on kickoffs. If Diggs does need a breather, Will Likely and Deon Long are the most viable candidates, especially with Marcus Leak taking a leave of absence from the team. Neither have fielded punts at the Division I level before, but look what Diggs did last season without any experience.
3) How much improvement has Renfro made? After the first game of last season, Renfro led the nation in punting average. Everyone jumped on the story, but things went downhill from there. Renfro finished the season averaging 39.7 yards per punt, receiving plenty of chances thanks to the ever-changing situation under center. His longest punts easily topped 50 yards, but he averaged less than 40 yards in six games and needs work on dropping pooch punts inside the opposing 20-yard line. This is Renfro’s job to lose, but Maryland’s defense will need better field position than what he delivered at times last season. Like Craddock, the leg is there; it’s just a matter of discovering that consistency.