The public’s first glimpse of Stefon Diggs in a Maryland uniform did nothing to diminish expectations for the hyped freshman receiver.
Diggs returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown, then brought back a touchdown 98 yards a few minutes later during a scrimmage Saturday at Byrd Stadium. Later, he added an 11-yard touchdown reception over the middle.
And this was all done by the midpoint of the scrimmage.
“It was definitely explosive and it’s what we expect out of him,” wideout Kevin Dorsey said. “It’s something he can do on every single play, whether it’s out there on kick return or punt return, we’re definitely going to block because we know he’s a guy who can take it to the house every time.”
This is much is certain: The guy is fast, and will be handling return responsibilities immediately. It’s also worth pointing out the Terrapins were ranked No. 119 (next-to-last) in kickoff return coverage last year.
As for what Diggs thinks of it all, that will have to wait until Sept. 1. Coach Randy Edsall’s policy for true freshmen stipulates they can do no interviews between media day and the first time they play in a game (except for when they can, which was the case for quarterbacks Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe on Saturday).
So Diggs’ next march in front of the media horde will probably come Sept. 1 after Maryland’s opener against William & Mary or later that week.
For his part, Edsall tried to measure his words carefully as he usually does, but ultimately offered relatively strong praise for the freshman.
“Stefon performed well,” he said. “You have to take into consideration that was a scout team that was out there. He’s a dynamic player and has got good instincts, he has good football knowledge, he’s got talent. He’s very coachable and very competitive. We’ll just keep working with him and I know he’ll keep working and I think he’ll end up being a real good one.”
HENDY SWITCHES TO SAFETY, THEN INJURED
Turns out Maryland’s best way to solve the conundrum at safety created when Matt Robinson suffered a shoulder injury was to move safety-turned-cornerback A.J. Hendy back to safety.
It worked reasonably well … until Hendy was helped off with a left ankle injury. Edsall hypothesized it could be a high ankle sprain but was uncertain since x-rays had yet to be taken.
“When we looked at our options and what we had available to us, that was a good move to make,” Edsall said. “From an injury standpoint, it’s an ankle, but I don’t know the severity of it yet. We’ll find out a little bit more tomorrow.”
Robinson was injured Tuesday for what Edsall described as a three-week injury.
If Hendy is out for a while, Maryland could wind up starting a true freshman at safety in its opener; Sean Davis initially filled in for Robinson this week. Another possibility is moving Jeremiah Johnson to safety and sliding Isaac Goins into Johnson’s spot at corner.
HILLS SOLID IN FIRST SCRIMMAGE AS STARTER
The separation between Hills and Rowe was evident throughout the scrimmage.
Hills, working with the starters, deftly handled some of the zone reads in offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s system and also delivered some solid passes – including the touchdown strike to Diggs.
Of equal importance was the absence of delay of game calls, the needless burning of timeouts and other issues often associated with freshman quarterbacks.
“I haven’t seen him get rattled,” Edsall said. “He’s grasped everything in terms of what we want. It’s not perfected yet, but he’s grasped it.”
Hills is listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, the same frame as injured junior C.J. Brown. He looked a bit like Brown, a fellow western Pennsylvania native, at times throughout the afternoon.
“This offense definitely is a good offense for me, both throwing and running,” Hills said.
Hills is on track to become the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Maryland since 1999 (Latrez Harrison) and just the third true freshman in school history to earn a starting nod.
TATE, FERRARA SIT
Two noticeable names remained stuck on the sideline throughout the scrimmage.
One was Nick Ferrara, who is coming off hip surgery and is competing for both the kicking and punting jobs. In short, his absence constituted a maintenance day.
The same could be said for linebacker Kenny Tate. Alex Twine worked with the starters, while freshman Avery Thompson saw time with the second-string.
“Kenny’s fine,” Edsall said. “I just wanted to give him the day off. That was my decision.”
Edsall also limited the carries of tailback Brandon Ross, who has moved into a starting role during the first half of the preseason.
ON THE DEFENSE
The most notable defensive play was Darin Drakeford’s 18-yard return for a score. But there was also some shoddy tackling, notably on Levern Jacobs‘ 69-yard touchdown reception from Caleb Rowe when nearly the entire gain coming after the catch.
So what to read into the overall performance? There was some middling play in containing Hills (as well as Devin Burns on his 53-yard scoring jaunt off a zone read), though it was hard to fully evaluate everything about the defense.
“We didn’t try to game plan too much,” Edsall said.
ISAIAH ROSS TWEAKS HAMSTRING
Junior Isaiah Ross suffered a hamstring injury, but Edsall said he didn’t expect it to be serious. Ross is contending for time at defensive end after missing most of last season with a foot injury.