Not to mention better.
He’s evolved from more than just a track guy, a man who once harbored dreams of competing in the Olympics as a sprinter who happened to wear shoulder pads and a helmet. The priority now is becoming a complete receiver, and Heyward-Bey won’t tolerate lesser ambitions.
“He’s running a lot better routes, he’s catching the ball better and he’s making more plays - if you can say he’s making more plays,” wide receivers coach Lee Hull said. “Everybody knows he can run down deep and go catch the ball. He’s catching it in traffic. He’s catching short ones. He’s running more precise routes. He’s blocking better.”
Perhaps the greatest lingering concern is the one flaw Friedgen often returns to when describing Heyward-Bey. At times, he’s too fast for his own good.
When he runs a route and cuts, it takes time to halt his long stride before hurtling in a different direction. Agile wideouts use their quickness and avoid a brief slow-down. It’s a technical aspect based as much on muscle memory as skill, and it remains an emphasis for Heyward-Bey.
“It’s tough to run that fast and stopping and coming back out that fast,” Heyward-Bey said. “You can tell your brain to do it, but your body is like, ‘What are we doing. We’re not used to this.’ It takes a lot of time and practice. Some days are better than others.”
Most are good, and the extra time in film study doesn’t hurt. One of the greatest tips Heyward-Bey received from friend and Kansas City wideout Devard Darling was the value of scouring tape to identify strengths and weaknesses.
During the spring, Heyward-Bey picked up on something sophomore Adrian Cannon did in practice and incorporated it into his game. Heyward-Bey often invites younger wideouts like Cannon into a meeting room to break down a day’s work.
“That’s just motivation,” Cannon said. “We see the predicament he’s in, and he has a chance to go to the NFL this year. We all want to be there. He’s done it here, and he knows what it takes to get there. We have to follow in his footsteps, and nine times out of 10 when he’s watching film, he’ll say, ‘Cannon, let’s go watch film.’”
No matter how much he tries, those references to the pros are never too far away.
A movie aficionado, Heyward-Bey prefers to spend free time with films rather than football-related treks across the Internet. But others are more preoccupied with draft forecasts and the future and occasionally will approach Heyward-Bey with word of what they read.
“It’s hard to avoid, but also I think people see the look on my face - like I’m listening, but I’m really not,” Heyward-Bey said. “I’m like, ‘OK, great, thank you.’ I don’t want to be rude because I’m not a rude person, but I don’t really let it faze me that much.”
After all, there is plenty to work on. New offensive coordinator James Franklin remembers recruiting Heyward-Bey while the receiver attended the McDonogh School and seeing a raw athlete.
Franklin left Maryland before coaching Heyward-Bey but has a different manner of measuring the junior’s progress.