Instant Impact: Terps Duo Primed To Be Top Big Ten Receivers
By Matt Natali
Maryland does not officially become a member the Big Ten until July 1, but the Terps could arguably field the best receiving tandem in the conference when the move from the ACC is finally completed.
Considering that the Big Ten lost its top five receivers from 2013 to the NFL, the door is wide open for junior Stefon Diggs and senior Deon Long to make an instant impact amongst the conference’s top pass-catchers this season.
In fact, highly regarded college football guru Phil Steele began releasing his annual college football preview all-conference teams last week and Diggs and Long earned two of the three wide receiver spots on his Big Ten first team.
Ironically, both Diggs and Long suffered broken legs against Wake Forest last season ending their 2013 campaigns. But both players rehabbed in the offseason and participated in 7-on-7 drills during spring practice, though, neither played in the annual Red-White Spring Game.
“They’re really excited to be back,” head coach Randy Edsall said in a Maryland Athletics Department press release in April. “We’ve been getting a lot of good work in as a team, so it’s nice to be able to get these guys back out here to get some reps in.”
Diggs tallied 34 catches for 587 yards and three touchdowns before his injury and was an honorable mention All-ACC selection despite missing Maryland’s final five games of the season.
As a true freshman, Diggs had 54 catches for 848 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games to lead the team in each of those categories. He was also a special teams threat averaging 28.5 yards per kick return and 10.0 yards per punt return. Diggs ranked second in the ACC with 172.4 all-purpose yards per game and his 1,896 total all-purpose yards rank second-most in Maryland single season history.
The Big Ten was well-aware of Diggs long before the Gaithersburg, Maryland native decided to stay close to home and play for the hometown Terps. The U.S. Army All-American Bowl participant was a five-star prospect and garnered scholarship offers from Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, and Penn State.
Diggs, who has been rehabbing closely with Maryland wide receivers coach and former all-pro Keenan McCardell, also made Steele’s All-American third team.
“I take everything he says to heart,” Diggs said of McCardell. “He’s going to make both of us complete receivers and all-around better receivers. As a coach, he is going to lead us in the right direction, and I appreciate it.”
As for Long, he reeled in 32 catches for 489 yards and a touchdown before his season ended on the same day as Diggs last October.
“It was very helpful to have Stefon [Diggs] around,” Long said. “Just looking and seeing that there was a teammate doing the same thing that I was doing, really pushed us to get better.”
The Washington, D.C., native took an unconventional collegiate path before landing with the Terps last year. Long started his collegiate career at West Virginia but never played for the Mountaineers. He transferred to New Mexico where he led the Lobos with 809 receiving yards as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and tied for the team lead with 47 receptions earning second team All-Mountain West Conference honors.
After a coaching change at New Mexico, Long transferred to Iowa Western Community College where he was a 2012 first-team All-American leading the National Junior College Athletic Association with 100 receptions, 1,625 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns. Long’s receptions total set the record for most receptions in a season in NJCAA history as Iowa Western won the national championship. He then followed that up with a commitment to Maryland.
Of course, a receiving corps is only as good as the quarterback delivering the passes and Terps signal-caller C.J. Brown provides veteran experience and leadership. After suffering two season-ending injuries in his collegiate career, Brown was granted a medical hardship waiver in 2013 and is now in his sixth year at Maryland as a graduate student.
He is considered a dual threat quarterback with 1,162 career rush yards, 17 touchdowns, and holds several Maryland quarterback rushing records. But Brown was fourth-rated passer in the ACC last season completing 166-of-282 attempts for 2,242 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Recently, Bleacher Report ranked all the quarterbacks in the Big Ten before the 2014 spring football practices began and then again after spring practice ended. According to the Power Rankings, Brown climbed from the No. 10-rated quarterback in the conference before spring ball to the No. 5-rated signal-caller after spring practice ended.
Additionally, Athlon Sports also ranked the Big Ten’s quarterbacks in April and Brown claimed the No. 6 spot.
So according to these outlets, Brown is a better quarterback than more than half of his counterparts in the Big Ten.
But after a 16-of-24 passing performance for 157 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in the Red-White Spring Game, Edsall still sees some opportunities for improvement in Brown’s game.
“I didn’t think C.J. [Brown] played that well tonight,” he said after the game. “I thought he was very inconsistent. It’s my fault. I should have put these guys in white jerseys and made them live. They play with more of a sense of urgency. C.J. has to understand that he has to use his legs. When things open up he has to take off and run. He can’t sit there in the pocket.”
Brown had only 28 yards rushing and added a touchdown in the game.
But Maryland started its summer program on June 1, so there is plenty of time to iron out the offensive wrinkles before the Terps open Big Ten play for the first time against Indiana in late September.
And considering it will be the first time that Big Ten defenses see Diggs and Long reeling in passes from Brown on the field – and not on film – this trio has the potential to be one of the top passing attacks in the conference this season.