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Maryland loses WR Jeshaun Jones and LB Durell Nchami to season-ending injuries

Jeshaun Jones, Maryland's third-leading receiver, is out for the season. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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Maryland wide receiver Jeshaun Jones and linebacker Durell Nchami are out for the season with injuries that required surgery, Coach Michael Locksley said Tuesday. Jones suffered what Locksley described as a lower-leg injury Oct. 9 on the Terps’ second offensive play against Ohio State and had to leave the field on a cart. Nchami earned his first start of the season against the Buckeyes but will miss the second half of the 2021 campaign with an upper-body injury.

Jones, a junior, started the Ohio State game in place of Dontay Demus Jr., the team’s best receiver, who recently suffered a season-ending knee injury that required surgery. Now with Jones’s absence, Maryland is without two of its best three receivers, a major hindrance for an offense that started the season well thanks to strong performances from quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and his deep pool of wideouts.

At the season’s halfway point, Jones is third on the team in receiving yards (224). Demus still leads the group with the 507 he accumulated in five games before his injury on a kickoff return during the Iowa game. Rakim Jarrett, formerly a five-star recruit whose commitment Locksley flipped to the Terps, is Tagovailoa’s best receiving option remaining. The sophomore out of St. John’s has 319 receiving yards and a team-high five touchdown catches.

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“He’s no longer the little brother in the room,” Locksley said. “He now has to become kind of the big brother. … We’re going to have to get a little bit more out of him.”

Running back Tayon Fleet-Davis and tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo have 145 receiving yards apiece. Their roles in the passing game could increase with Maryland’s receiving corps becoming thin. Brian Cobbs, a wide receiver who has garnered praise from Locksley, also could become more involved without Jones. Locksley has called Cobbs “as much of a star player on this team as we have.” The senior has 86 receiving yards, and he is now listed as a starter on the depth chart.

Senior wide receivers Darryl Jones (134 yards) and Carlos Carriere (61 yards), along with sophomore DeaJaun McDougle and freshman Marcus Fleming, also could help fill the void in production.

“No one’s nervous,” Okonkwo said. “No one’s worried. They’re all ready to go.”

For Jeshaun Jones, this injury is a second serious setback in his college career. Before the 2019 season, Jones tore his ACL and was sidelined for the year. After his recovery, he returned for the 2020 season, which was limited to five games because of the coronavirus pandemic. Jones had 11 catches for 181 yards last season and entered this year hoping for an extended return to form.

Jones started his Maryland career in astonishing fashion when he scored rushing, receiving and passing touchdowns in the season-opening win against Texas his freshman year. After Demus’s injury, Jones’s role this season seemed poised to expand, but now he’ll have to wait for his next opportunity.

Nchami had played in each game this year, recording nine tackles and three sacks, which is tied for the second most on the team. On the depth chart, Nchami, a junior, had been considered a co-starter with Lawtez Rogers at one of the outside linebacker positions. Now Rogers is listed as the lone starter, with freshman Demeioun Robinson as the backup.

The Terps (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) lost back-to-back games heading into last weekend’s bye. They will now travel to face Minnesota (4-2, 2-1), and Locksley said after the 66-17 loss at Ohio State he hoped this lull in the schedule would help his team become healthier.

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Beyond the loss of Nchami, the Terps have dealt with a handful of injuries on defense. Starting linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay suffered an upper-body injury during the season opener against West Virginia. He needed surgery and has not returned. Branden Jennings, the freshman linebacker who started in place of Gotay, didn’t play in the past two games because of an injury. (He returned to practice before Maryland faced Ohio State, but he did not play.) Locksley said he expects Jennings to return this week.

Starting cornerback Deonte Banks needed shoulder surgery last month and hasn’t played since. Kenny Bennett took Banks’s place as a starter, but Bennett and fellow starting cornerback Jakorian Bennett missed the Ohio State game with hamstring injuries. Without these players, Maryland’s defense struggled significantly against the Buckeyes’ talented receivers, but Locksley said he is hopeful that Kenny Bennett and Jakorian Bennett can play this week.

“I think,” Tagovailoa said, “a week off is something we all needed.”

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