Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs is a star, but Terps coaches want more of a student
By MATT ZENITZ
Baltimore Sun Media Group|
Aug 23, 2014 | 5:07 PM
|COLLEGE PARK —
About three-quarters of the way through the Maryland football team's scrimmage Wednesday, Terps coach Randy Edsall called Stefon Diggs over to where Edsall was standing on the sideline.
Diggs had just made another big play, after already having scored two highlight-reel-quality touchdowns earlier. Edsall put his arm around his star junior wide receiver and gave him a little hug. "This is what I've been talking to you about," he told Diggs. "If you do the things that we ask you to do, you're going to be able to play at a higher level than you even thought."
Former Terps and current Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith has called Diggs the most naturally gifted receiver ever to play at Maryland, a school that has produced multiple NFL receivers, including top-10 2009 draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey (McDonogh).
Diggs ranked eighth nationally in all-purpose yards as a freshman in 2012. In seven games last season, he had 34 catches for 587 yards and three touchdowns.
But Maryland coaches want more from Diggs. They want a more complete receiver.
They want Diggs to be a better blocker. They want him to refine his route running. They want him to become even more focused on film study and preparation.
The natural ability is there. But if Diggs is to become an even more dangerous player and a top NFL draft pick, Edsall said, Diggs has to improve in several areas.
"I still think he can be as good as he wants to be," Edsall said. "Everybody's putting all of this on him, but he hasn't even come close to scratching the surface of how good he can be if he wants to go out there each and every day and work hard and spend the time in the film room and prepare. If he does that, he can be outstanding."
Diggs was inconsistent during preseason practice, however, enough so that Edsall relegated him to working with the second-team offense at times.
Edsall partly wanted to get redshirt freshman Taivon Jacobs more work with quarterback C.J. Brown and the first-team offense, but he also was trying to send a message to Diggs that he expected more from him.
"He's a great kid," Edsall said. "I love the kid to death. But sometimes, he's a young man that will frustrate you a little bit because you see how much he has and you know [what he can do] when he's focused and he does everything that you're supposed to do. But that's the challenge."
That's not to say there weren't good moments for Diggs during camp. He had the two touchdowns during the scrimmage Wednesday, one on what Edsall described as a great catch in the back of the end zone for which Diggs had to control the ball and get both feet in bounds. On the other, Diggs caught a short pass. Then, in a quintessentially Diggs-esque play, he made several defenders miss on his way to the end zone for about a 75-yard touchdown.
Edsall said Diggs was at his best during the last week of preseason practice, but there were other times when Edsall was frustrated with Diggs' lack of effort blocking, lack of focus and the imperfections still in his game.
There weren't many signature plays during the first two weeks or so of camp. There were also uncharacteristic drops. And Diggs struggled at times to get open against Maryland's secondary.
"He's a very dynamic guy with the ball in his hands," said wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, who played 17 years as a wide receiver in the NFL. "He understands how to make people miss. But I would like for him to realize that to play at the next level, and to play a long time at the next level, you've got to be smart. You've got to be a student of the game. I'm not saying he's not. But you've got to be a real student of the game."
Diggs, who was sidelined for the majority of spring practice by the broken right leg he suffered in October, has said his leg is "110 percent" healthy.
"That's the last thing I really think about," Diggs said. "Probably in the spring, I would think more about it, because that's when I was just getting adjusted, but I've been putting in a lot of work, and I trust my leg and trust what it's going to do for me, and I know it's not going to let me down."
Diggs also said he feels like he has gained a little speed — and height — since the injury.
"They say when you break your leg, you get a little taller and a little faster, and I got both, I think," Diggs said, smiling.
The 6-foot Diggs said he feels like he is in the best shape of his life at a lean 192 pounds.
"Hopefully, he's been taking at least one day off," Brown said before the start of preseason practice. "But for the most part, he hasn't. … He's just doing everything in his power to make sure that that leg's right and that his body is better and bigger than ever."
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer last month said Diggs was "one of the best players in the country." No one is more aware of Diggs' talent than Edsall, McCardell and the Maryland coaching coach staff. But player and coaches alike all say the same thing: He needs to become more complete.
"As long as he stays focused on what he's being coached to do," Edsall said, "and as long as he continues to work each and every day, each and every play, to be a complete receiver, the sky is the limit for him."