With Chigoziem Okonkwo gone, Maryland football looks to find a star in the returning group of tight ends

Our Maryland football positional previews continue with another important offensive group: the tight ends. Catch up on our quarterback, running back, wide receiver and offensive line outlooks.

The Terps will have to replace the void left by last year’s starter and 2022 Tennessee Titans fourth-round pick Chigoziem Okonkwo. Okonkwo was as reliable of a tight end as one can have in college football, and he was one of star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa’s favorite targets as well. The Powder Springs, Georgia product racked up 52 receptions, 447 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2021. Okonkwo’s five scores were tied for the team lead while his 52 catches were second only behind wide receiver Rakim Jarrett.

Although Okonkwo is a big loss, the Terps have versatile talent at the position that they hope will provide more than adequate production.

Maryland’s 2022 tight end depth

Player Year 2021 stats
Player Year 2021 stats
Corey Dyches Redshirt sophomore 19 recs, 208 yds, 4 TDs
CJ Dippre Sophomore 3 recs, 25 yds, 0 TDs
Weston Wolff Redshirt freshman 1 rec, 10 yds, 0 TDs
Leron Husbands Redshirt freshman N/A
Preston Howard Freshman N/A
Maxwell Brown Redshirt freshman N/A
Joshua Jennings Freshman N/A

Corey Dyches can star as a receiving tight end

Although Okonkwo started every game for Maryland in 2021, Dyches joined him as a listed starter on Oct. 23 at Minnesota and on Nov. 27 at Rutgers.

Dyches became an under-the-radar favorite of Tagovailoa’s last season, catching at least two passes in seven of his 13 games played. He averaged 10.9 yards per reception last year and publicly displayed his big-play ability in the offseason with a 43-yard catch in April’s spring game.

The third-year Terp does not lack athleticism, either. During his time at Potomac High School in Oxon Hill, Maryland, Dyches earned First Team All-Met honors in both basketball and football. There was speculation that Dyches would walk on to the Terps’ basketball team as well, but that obviously did not come to fruition.

“He’s definitely a niche, he can do both,” said Mike Miller, Maryland’s tight ends coach and co-offensive coordinator, on March 29. “I mean, he has a mentality. He lacks no courage to block, but he’s also a mismatch running routes, catching the football, making contested catches. So yeah, he’s definitely a guy that — he’s gonna be all over the field, lined up at multiple positions, and that’s part of his role.”

Ostensibly, Miller does not speak lightly to Dyches’ versatility. Dyches made two starts in two-tight end sets last season, and he was recruited as a wide receiver as well. Partially due to injuries to Maryland’s wide receivers, Dyches spent the spring working as a wide receiver. The 15 practices allowed him to further develop his receiving skills as he returns to the tight end room this fall.

“I think the biggest thing with C. Dyches, he’s grown as a leader,” head coach Michael Locksley said following the spring game. “He’s now a vocal guy. I thought his development last season and how he came along as a complement to Chig… Corey’s development has been very important to us as a team [because] he’s one of those guys that is a matchup issue. We intentionally moved him to receiver this past spring to develop his receiving skills working with [wide receivers] coach [Gunter] Brewer.”

Dyches is smaller than Maryland’s other two contributing tight ends (Dippre and Wolff), but that could be something that only adds to his value to the room. Dyches will be the most dynamic pass-catcher in a group that could turn into a two-, perhaps three-headed monster this fall.

“[Corey’s] done a great job, but we see him being a movement tight end guy, kind of replacing Chig,” Locksley added. “He has, obviously, the ability to be a playmaker for us in the system and really like the way he’s coming along.”

Could CJ Dippre emerge as the No. 1 tight end? What could Weston Wolff provide?

While Dyches is more of a hybrid tight end in terms of being a receiver, it would not be surprising to see Dippre become the most valuable piece of this group.

Dippre was ready to contribute immediately as a true freshman in 2021, appearing in all 13 games and making a start alongside Okonkwo in the Pinstripe Bowl against Virginia Tech. A three-star recruit in the class of 2021, Dippre classifies as more of a blocking tight end. The sophomore has a huge six-foot-five, 260-pound frame that provides a boost to the Terps in the running game.

“I know we lost Chig, but it’s been great to see the way CJ Dippre has kind of stepped up into that role at the tight end position,” Locksley said following the team’s scrimmage on April 16.

There are similarities between Okonkwo and Dippre in the sense that both came to College Park as three-star tight ends and appeared in every game during their respective freshman campaigns. Although Okonkwo did not fully explode as a playmaker until 2021 after missing the 2020 season, he saw his receptions more than triple from his freshman to sophomore year and caught multiple passes in six games during the 2019 slate.

Dippre could be poised for the same type of offensive leap this fall. He prides himself on his blocking but showed flashes as a receiver late in the season. During the Pinstripe Bowl, Dippre had a timely 10-yard reception on third-and-7 to keep the drive — one that ultimately resulted in a touchdown — going. The camaraderie between the tight ends is strong, and Dippre noted how he and his roommate Wolff, likely Maryland’s third-string tight end, connect with each other.

“We bond with each other, we bang off of each other, and we fill each other’s shoes,” Dippre said of Wolff after the spring game. “Like, he tries to show me how to do better receiver stuff, I try to show him how to block a little better.”

Wolff only appeared in two games in 2021, ensuring that he would not burn any of his four years of eligibility. Wolff only had one reception, a 10-yard catch against Virginia Tech, but shined for the second-team offense in the spring game. He caught five passes for 45 yards and could be an impact offensive player off the bench this fall.

When made available to the media this past March, Miller also mentioned Leron Husbands as a fourth guy to watch for. Preston Howard, a dual-threat quarterback from McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Maryland, is someone that Miller also noted, although he is still transitioning to the tight end position.

“We’re excited about that room, and I think we’ll continue to have a lot of production out of it,” Miller said. “Just big athletes that are smart, tough, reliable, understand having good awareness, football intelligence.”

With the season just about four weeks away, Maryland’s new group of tight ends looks to provide value to an offense that looks the best it has in years — at least on paper.

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