Three third-year players who need to shine for Maryland football in 2024

Maryland football is 55 days away from kicking off the 2024 season as head coach Mike Locksley looks to guide the program to their third all-time win over UConn when the Huskies arrive to SECU Stadium for a noon kickoff. Maryland has several questions left to answer, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but we take a look at three upperclassmen who will need to shine in 2024 in potential elevated roles.

WR Shaleak Knotts

Maryland already knows what it has in veteran wideouts Kaden Prather and Tai Felton, perfect complementary wideouts who provide a perfect blend of size and speed at the position. But who emerges as the third option? Co-offensive coordinator Josh Gattis takes over a room that welcomes several underclassmen looking to find their roles in the room, while second-year wideout Braeden Wisloski looks to translate his big-play ability as a returner into a dynamic option out of the slot. But the two big names to watch in the wide receiver room this year are a pair of third-year receivers in Octavian Smith Jr. and Shaleak Knotts.

Knotts saw his role increase through the second half of the 2022 season as former quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa worked to get him more involved, but the former four-star out of North Carolina began establishing more consistency at the position through spring ball after head coach Mike Locksley highlighted his rising playmaker. “The one guy that I’ve, I just I am hoping to see the breakout year for that I think has just a tremendous upside is ‘Punch’ Knotts, Shaleak Knotts. And Punch is one of those guys that has length, size, speed. Maybe he’s been behind some talented players, as you said, with some of the receivers we’ve had, but I’m looking for him to have the kind of Tai Felton breakout year that Tai had a year ago,” he said during spring ball. Similar to Prather, Knotts has showcased himself as a potential downfield threat whereas Smith’s short-area quickness and burst gives the offense another dynamic option out of the slot as he develops more consistency. But while the offensive line and quarterback play remain under the microscope heading into week one, the development of Knotts could be the difference in how efficient the wide receiver room can be this fall.

TE Preston Howard

Depth in the tight end room took a hit this offseason, but the return of Howard alongside second-year TE Dylan Wade add plenty of optimism for what could be in the Terps’ passing attack this fall. Maryland’s commitment to improving its run game efficiency is evident by the hires of Damian Wroblewski and offensive analyst Brian Ferentz, who Locksley noted, “has been a part of some of the best offensive lines and some of the best run games, giving ideas how they did it to add some of the stuff we already do. It’s a win for me and it came cheap.”

Howard battled minor injuries through spring ball, giving Wade a viable second option to get comfortable through increased reps, as the duo will push each other for TE1 duties heading into week one. Regardless who ultimately comes out of fall camp as the ‘starter,’ both will play viable roles in the rotation to give Maryland dependable targets in the passing room. Howard finished with the seventh-most catches on the team in 2023 where his natural athleticism helped him develop into a fluid athlete in the open field, at times even attempting to hurdle his defenders.

Maryland’s vertical passing attack will be tested this season behind a brand-new starting five along with a new quarterback under center, potentially magnifying the importance for Howard and Wade to establish a comfortable rapport with the QBs to become the security blanket the offense may need.

CB Perry Fisher

Gone are Tarheeb Still and Ja’Quan Sheppard, but the arrival of Jalen Huskey gives Maryland the cornerback to matchup against the opposing team’s top receiver. But the question all offseason would be whether Maryland could find a second option with the transfer portal on the table in order to find that answer. Spring ball gave new position coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim a chance to get comfortable with his new position room with a host of underclassmen, like Braydon Lee, Mykel Morman and “Uzi” Akins all looking to make names for themselves as boundary corners or in the nickel. But if there was one player who continued to showcase himself as capable to stepping into a bigger role, it was Fisher where he was able to rotate in with the ones during scrimmages opposite of Huskey and with Dante Trader Jr. and Glen Miller behind him. It’s the type of spring performance that Maryland wanted to see after Fisher put together a breakout bowl performance vs. Auburn, giving the unit another viable candidate.

If there’s one concern about the defense heading into the season, it’s inexperience in the secondary with wideouts like Evan Stewart (Oregon), Tez Johnson (Oregon) and Zachariah Branch (USC) on this year’s schedule. The continued emergence of Fisher would alleviate those concerns to help assemble what could be the best defense under head coach Mike Locksley, a testament to Brian Williams heading into his sixth year with the program and third as defensive coordinator.

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