Project 2014: The Special Teams
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun
After a rough 2012 season, the Maryland Terrapins’ specialists had a much better 2013. Brad Craddock (pictured above) led the way with an extremely good sophomore campaign, highlighted by his monster performance against West Virginia in Baltimore. Nathan Renfro improved in 2013 as well, but will still need some work to get himself where the coaches need their starting punter to be. But the highlight of the Terps’ special teams has long been in the return game. Names like Steve Suter, Torrey Smith, and Tony Logan are just a few of the recent dynamic returners who have graced the field in College Park. Randy Edsall’s teams have had Stefon Diggs, who has already made his mark as one of the better returners in all of college football.
2013 Kickoff Return Rank: 39th (22.84 yards/return)
2013 Punt Return Rank: 34th (10.74 yards/return)
2013 Kickoff Return Defense Rank: 39th (20.16 yards/return)
2013 Punt Return Defense Rank: 34th (5.68 yards/return)
2013 Net Punting Rank: 91st (35.84 net yards/punt)
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Brad Craddock - Junior
2013 Statistics: 21/25 field goals made, 37/38 extra points made
One of the players who made the biggest improvement from 2012 to 2013 was Brad Craddock. His freshman season was full of mistakes, the biggest being the game-losing field goal miss against North Carolina State. But he worked with former Ravens kicker Matt Stover in the off-season and the difference was felt immediately. He worked on keeping his body more upright as he kicked, and you’ll now see him puff his chest out before every kick to accentuate that improved form. He also improved his leg strength, hitting 1/3 field goals from 50+ yards, and an excellent 4/5 from between 40 and 49 yards. His only missed extra point came in the season opening win over Florida International. Craddock has struggled in the Spring of 2014, and Randy Edsall has not been shy with his criticisms. He needs to improve his consistency over the summer if he wants to keep his hold on the starting kicker job. However, I do expect him to have that starting job when the season opens in August.
Nathan Renfro - Redshirt Junior
2013 Statistics: 75 punts, 3,063 yards (40.84 yards/punt)
Another player who Randy Edsall has not been impressed with during Spring practice has been Nathan Renfro. He has yet to find any sort of consistency in that starting punter job, and needs to find it before he loses his spot. In the Red-White Spring Game, his first two punts went sailing into the endzone for touchbacks, but his final two landed within the 10-yard line. In his two seasons as the Terps’ starting punter, he has shown glimpses of very good things, but hasn’t been able to grasp any consistency with his leg. He’ll need to find it soon, as Michael Tart is pushing him for the starting job. I still expect Renfro to be the Terps’ starting punter this season.
Adam Greene - Redshirt Freshman
2013 Statistics: N/A
Brad Craddock’s backup this season will be Adam Greene, who was given preferred walk-on status last season. He is a very talented kicker, and will certainly push for the starting job due to Craddock’s inconsistency this Spring. He’s a very smart young man, and cited Maryland’s “academic opportunities” as a big reason as to why he came to College Park. But he also has a big leg, holding the Maryland high school state record for career field goals (27). I’d expect Greene to push Craddock for the starting kicker job, and Randy Edsall may be a little quicker with the hook if Craddock struggles with such a talented kicker behind him on the depth chart.
Michael Tart - Redshirt Senior
2013 Statistics: N/A
The Terps’ backup punter and starting holder, Michael Tart comes into his senior year with a chance to push for a starting job at punter. Nathan Renfro has struggled throughout Spring practice, opening a door for Tart to walk through. He was the #1 punter in North Carolina when he was recruited in 2010, and has been the team’s starting holder since his redshirt freshman season in 2011. He is a solid and consistent player who may just get his chance to punt for the Terps if Renfro continues to struggle.
Stefon Diggs - Junior
2013 Statistics: 12 kickoff returns, 281 yards (23.42 yards/return), 0 TDs; 2 punt returns, -1 yards (-0.50 yards/return), 0 TDs
Stefon Diggs, the Terps’ starting slot receiver and dynamic return man returns for his junior season in College Park. He didn’t make much of an impact in the return game last season, as he was taken out of that role after being banged up early in the season. But his 2012 numbers speak for themselves, and he will be looking to get back to that form in 2014. When he is healthy, he is undoubtedly one of the best returners in all of college football. Luckily, he has players like William Likely and DeAndre Lane beside him, who are nearly just as dynamic in the return game as he is. Look for Diggs to be the team’s primary returner again in 2014, while Likely gets a few looks when Diggs needs a breather.
William Likely - Sophomore
2013 Statistics: 28 kickoff returns, 729 yards (26.04 yards/return), 0 TDs; 16 punt returns, 205 yards (12.81 yards/return), 1 TD
Not only a breakout star on defense but as a returner as well, William Likely did it all in his true freshman season for the Terps. Serving as the team’s primary kickoff and punt returner when Stefon Diggs was injured early in the season, he proved to be almost just as dynamic as the sophomore wideout. His biggest highlight as a returner came in Blacksburg, when he ran a punt back for a touchdown against Virginia Tech. He’ll certainly get a chance to return kickoffs and punts in 2014, and may split the job with Diggs. Regardless of where you put him on the field, Likely is a very dynamic player whose speed and agility can’t be questioned. I’ll be interested to see if Randy Edsall sticks both Likely and Diggs deep on kickoffs, as I think that would obviously be a deadly combination, and would eliminate teams trying to kick away from one or the other of them.