Overshadowed by this season’s quarterback shuffle and the influx of freshmen on defense has been the play of the special teams units. To put it nicely, Maryland’s special teams play has been sub-par. It put it honestly: ugh. From a blocked punt to a blocked field goal to a long kick return and another long kick return, special teams play has played a large role in deciding some of these games. Most memorable was what occurred in the fourth quarter against Clemson. Maryland had just retaken the lead when it was time to kick off. The ball was kicked to Sammy Watkins, who ran and ran and may be still running . . . and one 89-yard kickoff return later, Clemson was back in front for good.
Granted, Watkins, only a freshman, is dynamite. Of the impressive college football playmakers that I have covered in person in recent years, Watkins was about as impressive as Percy Harvin or, dare I say it, Reggie Bush. It was just one game, but Watkins was almost that good, on a different level than anyone else on the field. That said, if there is one image that sums up Maryland’s special teams play thus far, perhaps it is what the television captured: Edsall screaming at a special teams player on the sideline. The name of the player is not as relevant as the visible frustration and absence of solutions.
Maryland ranks 95th nationally in punt return defense, 105th in kickoff return average and 118th in kickoff return defense. Here is Edsall’s expansive answer when he was told where his special teams units ranked in those above mentioned categories:
“Well, it is a concern, there is no question about that. You want to be better. When you take a look at when you are not doing something well, you go back and analyze and you look at personnel, you look at what you are doing and then you are going to make the evaluation — is there anything that needs to change from a personnel or anything that needs to change from a scheme or is just something that we just need to get better at?
“We have done all those things. We have looked at the personnel. And quite frankly, there is no other personnel that we can really go to. And we have looked at the schemes. There are times when we do the things we are supposed to, we are fine. There are some things that happen. For instance, on kickoff coverage, we had a meeting the day of the game and showed things and made a specific point in that film that we were watching that sometimes somebody might not do the right thing, but we still have a guy who is behind who should compensate if somebody does make a mistake.
“What had happened, on the one for a touchdown, we had someone who did make a mistake and the young man who could have compensated for someone else’s mistake really did not get done what he needed to get done. What it basically comes down to is that we just need to get better at what we are doing. The scheme is fine, but we have to get everyone to do, collectively — sometimes when you get outstanding return people that we have seen, most especially Saturday, you cannot be wrong. Because if you are, they have that god-given athletic ability and speed to hurt you. And that is what happened.
“Again, it’s all 11, and it’s all of us as coaches, we just got to get better in that phase and just get it done better. Players are trying. The scheme is okay. But now we all have to do it a little bit better so we don’t give up those big plays.”
Question: Did you think special teams play would be this poor this season? And what can be done about it at this point?
NOTE: We are less than 10 hours away from the much-anticipated release of the ACC-mandated official Maryland injury report for Saturday’s Florida State game. Important updates on linebackers Kenny Tate, Demetrius Hartsfield and Darin Drakeford, as well as many others, will arrive in my e-mail inbox and to be posted on this blog early this evening.