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Terps, Diggs ready to get started

It's hard not to notice Stefon Diggs' hands. They are so large they appear almost mismatched — as if they should be attached to a much larger body.

The Maryland wide receiver's hands can fit comfortably into "3X" gloves. Most receivers don't wear anything larger than size "2X."

On Monday, Diggs fidgeted and cracked his knuckles as he sat in the Gossett Football Team House auditorium answering media questions as the Terps opened preseason training camp.

For one afternoon, the 6-foot, 188-pound freshman looked like he didn't know what to do with his hands. That's not expected to be a problem for long.

One of the most intriguing storylines of training camp will be how quickly Maryland can incorporate the speedy Diggs — the program's most highly-touted recruit in years — into its offense and special teams.

Based on what they have gleaned about Diggs so far, Maryland coaches seem to believe he is too talented and valuable to keep the ball out of his hands for long.

"We've got to devise ways to get him the football," Maryland receivers coach Lee Hull said. "Hand him the ball — that's a way to get the ball in his hands. We'll do some stuff like that with him.

"YAC (yards after catch) with him is huge. Let him do some things in space — devise plays where he's one-on-one with somebody. We'll feel good about the results."

Diggs wasn't listed as a kick returner on the preseason depth chart released by the team. But Diggs, who will wear No. 1, said he's been told he'll have an opportunity to prove himself as a kick returner and receiver during camp.

He's listed fourth at one of the wide-receiver spots.

"All the freshmen are at the bottom of the depth chart," Terps coach Randy Edsall said. The coach said he didn't want any "undue pressure" placed on the first-year players.

At the same time, Edsall said Diggs and the other freshmen will have as good a chance as any player to compete for playing time.

It would be hard to imagine Maryland not using Diggs as a kick returner this season, which begins at home against William & Mary on Sept. 1.

"On athletic ability alone, it's a great spot for him," said Ryan Bowman, the receivers coach at Good Counsel, where Diggs starred at multiple positions. "It's a little easier to step on the field as a return man as opposed to learning the playbook immediately."

Diggs' career could follow the arc of former Maryland receiver Torrey Smith, now with the Ravens. Smith made an immediate impact in his first season, particularly as a kick returner. Another receiver from the region, West Virginia's Tavon Austin (Dunbar), played sparingly as a receiver in his freshman season, but was immediately a kickoff return threat (No. 4 in the Big East in his first season).

Diggs' high-school highlight videos include back-to-back kickoff return touchdowns against Gilman in 2009. On the second return, he hesitated after catching the ball and appeared to pick out a lane before taking off.

"I think you've got to have good sight on what happens before it happens," said Diggs, who answered questions softly and frequently said "Yes, sir" to reporters. "You've got to know spacing and position. You've got to see that before it happens and make your decision in like two seconds."

Maryland running back Wes Brown said Diggs is more patient than many young returners, taking time to scan the field before taking off.

"He has patience, kind of like (longtime NFL returner) Devin Hester has," said Brown, a freshman who played with Diggs at Good Counsel. "He can lay back and then knows when he wants to attack. After he went back-to-back in the Gilman game, they just stopped kicking to him."

Diggs was ranked by many services as the state's top high school recruit.

During a Maryland basketball game in February, Terps fans did alterrnating chants of "Stefon" and "Diggs" and "We want Diggs!" to court the receiver, who was in attendance at Comcast Center. Fans were particularly hungry for a marquee recruit because Maryland football went 2-10 last season.

"That was something different," Diggs said of the Comcast Center reception. "I never experienced something like that in my life. So that's something to remember when I get older."

Diggs chose Maryland partly because he wanted to remain near Trevon Diggs, his 13-year-old brother who also aspires to play college football. "That's my little rock. I look after him," Diggs said.

During his recruitment, Diggs was lauded — and occasionally criticized — on fan message boards of rival schools. Some messages questioned Diggs' maturity. He apologized over the winter for a racially insensitive tweet about NBA point guard Jeremy Lin, according to multiple media reports.

"Stuff like that (fan comments) I really didn't pay any mind because I had a lot of stuff on my plate," Diggs said. "I've matured a lot, I believe so. Not saying I was a bad kid, but I had a lot to learn. You've just got to not be impulsive."

Bowman, the Good Counsel assistant, said Diggs "is all about winning. Obviously they would double or triple-team him (in high school) and he would say, 'I've got two guys (on me). Why don't we work the other side of the field.' "

It didn't hurt Maryland's recruitment of Diggs that former Terps wide receiversDarrius Heyward-Bey and Smith have been drafted into the NFL in recent years in the first and second rounds, respectively.

"I think he realized that he didn't need to go away — go out of state — to reach all his goals," Hull said. "As far as receivers, we've got first and second-rounders, so why do you need to go somewhere else?"

Monday was the first opportunity for Diggs to meet with reporters. Diggs and other Maryland freshmen will now be off limits until they have played in a game.

Diggs, who wore a red Maryland polo shirt and black sweat pants, avoided questions about personal goals for the season. He seemed intent on talking about the team.

"I haven't done anything yet," Diggs said. "I am of the firm belief that you have to earn respect. You've got to be humble but you've got to be hungry, also."

Diggs has no visible tattoos. But on the inside of one arm, close to his chest, is the word "self." The word "made" is in the same spot on the other arm.

Asked if he wanted to elaborate on being "self-made," Diggs replied: "It's self-explanatory."

Note: Maryland said Monday that players' names will appear on the backs of at least some of its jerseys. That represents a change from last season. The school also displayed helmets with a multi-colored, horizonal "Maryland Pride" stripe.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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