While many of the targets Maryland sophomore quarterback Danny O’Brien will throw to next fall may be familiar faces, they will not include the top two receivers from last season’s 9-4 squad.
A quartet of wideouts will step into larger roles next season in place of Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, and Saturday offered fans a first extensive glimpse at how the passing game is coming along under first-year Coach Randy Edsall and new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton.
“It’s the same guys, even though it’s a different offense,” O’Brien said after leading the red team to a 35-7 victory over the white team Saturday in the team’s annual spring game at Byrd Stadium. “The routes are all the same; it’s just when you run them and how you run them and what you call them.”
The initial impression during a contest in which the first-team offense squared off against the first-team defense was striking. On the first offensive play of the afternoon, O’Brien completed a 65-yard play-action pass to senior Ronnie Tyler.
Indeed, for much of the first quarter the first-team offense operated efficiently. At the end of the opening 12 minutes, the red team led, 21-0, and O’Brien had completed 6 of 9 passes for 130 yards. He finished the afternoon with 199 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions on 16 for 23 passing.
Senior wideout Quintin McCree said to expect the Terrapins to pass more than they have in recent seasons and, consequently, to expect O’Brien to rely on a wide range of options. Last season, Smith and Cannon combined to haul in 47 percent of the team’s total receptions. Such an uneven distribution is unlikely to occur in the fall, according to McCree.
“This year we’re going to have all the receivers involved, as opposed to last year when we had no more than three or four receivers involved,” McCree said. “We’re going to go probably as far as three-deep with the offense we’re running.
“We’re passing the ball a lot more. And when you pass the ball a lot, receivers are running and they’re going to get tired. You’ve got to keep everybody fresh. You’ve got to keep the play going. You don’t want to have guys out there that’s dead.”
Tyler and McCree, along with junior Kevin Dorsey and sophomore Kerry Boykins, stand to undertake larger responsibilities in 2011. None of them caught more than 16 passes or tallied more than 188 receiving yards last year.
But with Smith and Cannon graduated, that will have to change if the Terrapins are to build on the success they experienced in 2010. Smith, who was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round of the NFL draft Friday night, showed up at Byrd Stadium to see the future of the program first-hand.
One of the newcomers Smith saw was freshman wide receiver Nigel King, who caught three passes for 19 yards while playing with the second-team offense on the white team. King missed the first four weeks of spring practice while dealing with NCAA clearinghouse issues. He was cleared to practice this past week, though Edsall said King’s eligibility issues remain unresolved.
Another new option for O’Brien and the offense is wide receiver Cliff Tucker, who recently completed a four-year career with the Maryland men’s basketball team. Tucker, who last played football in high school, spent the past three weeks learning the offense and said after the game Saturday that he definitely will be on the football team’s roster next fall.
Tucker twisted his right ankle while making a five-yard reception in the second quarter, his only catch of the afternoon.
“I was a little bit upset about that,” Tucker said. “I was anxious to get out there. [Playing football again] has been great until today. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Edsall said he enjoyed how his team finished up its 15th workout of the spring and expressed optimism over the offense’s capabilities in the coming season, particularly in the passing game.
“The biggest thing we’ve got to do is work on the consistency,” Edsall said. The wideouts “just have to work together a lot this summer just so Danny anticipates things and they know what he’s going to do if he’s back there scrambling, but I’m excited about the people we have to work with at wide receiver.”