When Maryland wants a distinct offensive advantage this season, it will summon the "diamond" personnel package and move into a "tower right" formation. Three tight ends will bunch near one another next to the right tackle in one of the most innovative packages Maryland has designed to feature a trio of talented tight ends.
From there, numerous possibilities exist. Send a tight end in motion. Have two run pass routes. Or create a mismatch for the lone receiver spread out wide. If nothing else, Maryland tight ends coach Ray Rychleski said, it should "keep those defensive coordinators busy."
Coach Ralph Friedgen, during his NFL days with the San Diego Chargers, used to scour the nation for players with soft hands who were both big enough to outmuscle a strong safety and fast enough to beat a linebacker. He now has two of them in Vernon Davis and Rob Abiamiri. Add prototypical tight end Derek Miller, and Maryland coaches see an array of possibilities.
"It seems like tight ends are involved in everything we do," starting quarterback Joel Statham said.
Maryland will use at least two tight ends on the field about 75 percent of the time, Rychleski said, barring unusual situations. Davis and Abiamiri are H-backs, a hybrid tight end position popularized by Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs. On a given play, Davis and Abiamiri can line up at tight end, wide receiver or fullback.
The recent move of starting fullback Ricardo Dickerson to defense revealed the confidence the coaching staff has in Davis and Abiamiri to play the position, which involves not only intermediate pass routes but also precise blocking schemes. For example, Abiamiri said some blocking patterns differentiate between making contact on the inside or outside portion of the opponent's jersey number.
"The tough part is it's a lot of mental stuff," Rychleski said. "That's when the factor comes in, when is too much too much? . . . We're trying to condense it but we know they are good athletes and we're always on their case. It's not a skill thing with them, it's a mental thing with all they have to do."
Their athletic ability is unquestioned. The 6-foot-3, 239-pound Davis is a sculpted sophomore who bench presses 410 pounds, squats 565 pounds and runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. Davis believes that no ACC defender can stay with him on pass routes.
While departed tight end Jeff Dugan caught 14 passes last season, Friedgen is expecting more from Davis. Asked during the summer if 20 to 30 catches would be realistic for Davis, Friedgen shook his head. He would like more. Friedgen has compared Davis's long-term potential to that of Kellen Winslow Jr.
The 6-2, 241-pound Abiamiri is a senior with a 37-inch vertical leap, second only to Davis (38) among Maryland tight ends all-time.
The goal, coaches said, is to create mismatches. Ideally, the Maryland staff would like Davis and Abiamiri to draw linebackers when running a pass route. The duo has too much speed.
"The quarterback already knows," Friedgen said, "if they see one on a linebacker, go to it."
What's more, if a linebacker shadows either one, or both, on pass patterns, it could open up the middle of the field for running back Josh Allen on a handoff.
Miller, a 6-8 junior, does not have the speed of Davis or Abiamiri but is a more traditional blocker.
Another player who could figure into the rotation is 17-year-old Jason Goode, a 6-4 freshman who has impressed the staff with soft hands, speed and strength.
A tight end will be set in motion almost 80 percent of the time, Rychleski said. If an H-back goes out wide or runs into the flat and draws a safety, the wide receiver, likely Steve Suter or Derrick Fenner, could have a man-to-man mismatch. If the defense chooses to double-team the receiver, the H-back would have the advantage in the flat.
"We feel we know how to protect the quarterback," Rychleski said. "That's the first thing. Once you are able to beat man coverage, you're hoping they play man coverage. And when they start playing back, then you can do whatever you want."
Most of Maryland's formations will look the same this season. The difference, coaches said, is the body types -- more speed, more size -- of the H-backs. The "diamond" package with the "tower right" formation, during which all three tight ends are in the game, is expected to be used on short yardage or first-down plays.
"When you make teams say 'Ouch,' you win," Rychleski said. "Those guys can make you say, 'Ouch.' "
Terrapins Notes: Starting strong safety Chris Kelley practiced last night and is cleared to play tomorrow. . . . Defensive end Kevin Eli (hamstring) likely will see action, but Friedgen questions whether he has the stamina to finish the game. Friedgen said the same for defensive tackles Justin Duffie and Robert Armstrong. . . . Maryland has sold out the first five home games.