Formations, plays, routes and cuts and heaven knows what else swirled through Darrius Heyward-Bey’s mind two years ago, a mixture that left him without a role in his first year at Maryland.
So it’s a bit funny Heyward-Bey now is viewed as one of the veterans of the Terrapins’ receiving corps. He’s a guy who helps instruct younger players, one who stayed late for Thursday practices last fall to watch the true freshmen scrimmage and is suddenly among the most poised wideouts in the ACC.
“He’s our young old-head,” redshirt freshman LaQuan Williams said. “He’s one of the young old guys.”
External expectations were so high for Heyward-Bey in 2005 — and so much of his remarkable talent and dogged effort were seen last fall — that it’s hard to believe he’s only a redshirt sophomore.
Heyward-Bey is in a new spot, though, a known quantity in an offense featuring a new starting quarterback, and well removed from his frazzled introduction to the program.
“Two years ago, [receivers coach Bryan Bossard] was the guy yelling at me, telling me I was the guy messing up the formation and stuff like that,” Heyward-Bey said. “Now I’m out there and I’m just playing football. I don’t have to think as much. That’s something coach [Ralph] Friedgen used to get on me about.”
His firm grasp of the offense actually is tied directly into his work with the Terps’ nascent receiving corps. That in itself carries great value, because he and fellow veterans Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams can impart what they know and in return help create more depth and a few extra plays off in practice each day for themselves.
LaQuan Williams, a former defensive back, said it was Heyward-Bey who helped recruit him to shift to offense in the spring. Once he was there, Heyward-Bey provided encouragement and support while helping Williams pick up the position.
But Heyward-Bey receives an ancillary benefit to aiding the Terps’ reserves. It provides extra mental repetitions, which can only help a player who, despite his impressive highlight reel, owns just 45 career receptions.
“It helps me a lot because it gives me a chance to go over stuff and think a lot,” Heyward-Bey said. “I take my six reps and then other guys take theirs but still I might be missing something if there’s new plays going on. It gives me a chance to be a leader and be a guy that someone can lean on sometimes.”
He won’t surprise opponents as he did at times in 2006, when he rolled up 694 yards (a school record for a freshman) and five touchdowns. Instead, Friedgen anticipates Heyward-Bey will see plenty of double teams, and it will be hard to avoid those matchups even if he is moved around the field.
The prospect of added attention is probably the best reason to pause when considering what the Terps’ best threat to stretch the field can produce as an encore.
“It’s not just as easy as throw it up to this guy and let him make plays as most of the announcers think it is,” Friedgen said. “They get paid on the other side of the ball, too, you know.”
Heyward-Bey will need some help, with much of it likely to come from the steady Oquendo and the physically gifted Isaiah Williams. Both those juniors — plus LaQuan Williams — figure to receive favorable matchups because of the extra coverage Heyward-Bey could receive.
“I think as coaches we have to be creative to get him on those one-on-one matchups,” Bossard said. “Teams will know where he’s at. I think it gives opportunities for other guys to have big years, too. We can’t bank on every time we need a play, let’s get the ball to No. 8.”
In some ways, it is a redux of last season. As outsiders fretted about the precocious receiving corps, Heyward-Bey admitted he was excited to play but shrugged off concerns about inexperience.
The calm, direct approach helped him generate an impressive debut season and subsequently impart his knowledge to younger teammates. Now, he’ll bank on it again to cope with double teams as one of the acknowledged linchpins of the Terps’ offense.
“I expected it all summer. That’s where my mind was,” Heyward-Bey said. “If it comes, sometimes we’re going to have to just throw the ball to me, and I’m going to have to make a play. … Bring it on. You can’t sit back and worry. If you worry, you’re going to panic on the stuff you already know.”
Note — Friedgen did not announce a starting quarterback after yesterday’s first intrasquad scrimmage. Jordan Steffy, who sits atop the depth chart, went 8-for-11 for 113 yards with one interception, while Josh Portis was 11-for-13 for 106 yards with a touchdown and Chris Turner was 8-for-13 for 82 yards.
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