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Maryland punt returner Stefon Diggs trying to learn when to take risks

As a punt returner, Stefon Diggs rarely signals for fair catches.

It seems not to be in his nature for Diggs — Maryland's amped-up electron of a player — to play it safe.

The freshman receiver-returner, who often bounds around the field exhorting teammates during timeouts, seems barely able to stand still.

Through five games, Diggs' energy and boldness have been among Maryland's chief assets — but also occasionally a liability.

Saturday's 19-14 victory over Wake Forest provided a case in point.

Maryland (3-2, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) led 13-7 when Diggs went back to field a punt in the third quarter. With the ball in the air, the player made the calculation that he had a moment to peek at the approaching defenders before making the catch.

But briefly taking his eye off the ball — there was also some wind — contributed to his fumble that led to a Wake Forest touchdown.

Diggs, who later redeemed himself with a 63-yard reception to set up the go-ahead score, was asked afterward about the muffed punt — his second of the season.

"I had a pretty bad game," he said. "I get a little too charismatic on the field."

As it prepares for Saturday's game at Virginia (2-4, 0-2 ACC), Maryland's challenge appears to be teaching Diggs some healthy restraint without suppressing his prodigious talent or enthusiasm.

"I think one of the things Stefon has to understand now that he is here is that he cannot make a big play all of the time," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said.

"He has the ability to make the big plays, but sometimes he hurts himself more than he helps himself. He gets so excited to play, we have to calm him down and tell him what he needs to do. With his punt returns, the thing he needs to understand is that the most important thing is getting the ball back and securing the football so we can get a chance to go and possess it on offense and do something with it."

Maryland trailed 14-13 in the fourth quarter when Diggs took a second-down pass over the middle, turned and headed for the sideline. He picked up blocks from Kevin Dorsey, Marcus Leak and Justus Pickett as he veered back toward the middle of the field. He was tackled on the Wake Forest 3, and the Terps scored what turned into the winning touchdown on Justus Pickett's 1-yard, third-down run.

"Without those blocks I wouldn't have went nowhere," said Diggs, who is averaging 21.4 yards on 17 catches. "I had a little underneath route, caught the ball, and did my job."

Notes: Edsall said Sunday he wasn't talking about quarterback when he hinted at personnel changes after the game. "There is no quarterback controversy," the coach told reporters Sunday. Edsall, who has talked about trying to find playing time for backup quarterback Devin Burns, clarified that his comments were related to the tailback playing rotation. Maryland has been playing four tailbacks — Brandon Ross, Wes Brown, Albert Reid and Pickett. But Edsall said now that he believes Pickett and Brown have earned the most playing time. "I think it'll be Justus and Wes there doing the heavy load at the running back position," Edsall said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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