Stefon Diggs, loaded receiving corps leads Maryland’s offense

(Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Each day leading up to preseason camp on Aug. 5, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Maryland football team. So far, we’ve reviewed the defensive backslinebackersdefensive linespecial teams and offensive line. Next up, the wide receivers and tight ends.

Returning starters: WR Stefon Diggs.

Projected starters: WR Deon Long, WR Nigel King, TE Dave Stinebaugh.

Starters lost: WR Marcus Leak, WR Kevin Dorsey, TE Matt Furstenburg.

Key backups: WR Levern Jacobs, WR Malcolm Culmer, WR Tyrek Cheeseboro, WR Regis Whittington, WR Amba Etta, WR Daniel Adams, WR James Bowman, TE P.J. Gallo, TE Brian McMahon.

Incoming: WR Tejiri Erhie (transfer), WR Taivon Jacobs, WR DeAndre Lane, TE Andrew Isaacs, TE Eric Roca.

Competition: The Maryland football team enjoys more unquestioned stability at wide receiver than at any other position. Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Nigel King will start the opener on Aug. 31 against Florida International, barring any preseason injuries. That much is guaranteed. With Marcus Leak’s departure for personal reasons, Levern Jacobs slides neatly into the fourth receiver spot, even though he missed spring practice recovering from a torn labrum. Venture deeper down the depth chart and the competition surfaces. Coach Randy Edsall has been very high on Amba Etta, a redshirt freshman and two-time scout team player of the week last season who will battle with converted tight end Daniel Adams and senior James Bowman to back up Long at the Z. Malcolm Culmer and Tyrek Cheeseboro, currently listed in succession behind Nigel King at the X, will also likely compete for playing time this summer. Cheeseboro has proven his worth as Maryland’s best gunner on special teams, but the third-year sophomore – he’s incorrectly listed as a redshirt freshman on the preseason depth chart – hasn’t caught a Football Bowl Subdivision pass yet, just like Culmer, Etta and everyone else in the receiving corps not named Diggs, Long, King and Levern Jacobs.

Questions:

1) How high can Diggs fly? Burdened by the team’s calamitous quarterbacking situation last season, Diggs still hauled in a team-high 54 receptions for 848 yards and six touchdowns. Obviously, this begs the question: What in the world can he accomplish with steadiness under center? A running, juking, diving, eye-popping human GIF last season, Diggs will be Target No. 1 on opponents’ game plans throughout the season. After what he accomplished last season, and with four quarterbacks throwing to him, everyone will want a crack at Diggs. He spent the spring learning the X and Z positions, according to wide receivers coach Lee Hull, and could confuse things for opposing defensive backs by leaving the slot and lining up outside. Having Long opposite him will help, too; theoretically, with their skills, someone’s getting open.

2) What will Long bring? A first-team junior college all-American at Iowa Western and a second-team all-Mountain West honoree with New Mexico, the Dunbar High School alumnus enters College Park with high expectations. A strong season could vault the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Long into NFL draft consideration and, as mentioned above, opponents will have to choose whether to stick their shutdown corner on him or Diggs. With one year at New Mexico and one spring at Maryland under Terps offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, Long should be acclimated and ready to contribute immediately. How the fourth-year junior meshes with quarterback C.J. Brown will be something to watch this preseason, but he and Diggs have put in the work this summer and could easily form the ACC’s most dangerous receiving tandem.

3) Can Stinebaugh hold down the fort? Finally, some tight end talk. With Matt Furstenburg battling for a job at Baltimore Ravens training camp, Devonte Campbell doing the same with the Atlanta Falcons and Ryan Schlothauer also gone, the keys have been handed to Dave Stinebaugh, an injury-plagued senior from Baltimore. Last season, he appeared in 11 of 12 games, mostly on special teams, but missed the 2011 season because of injury, the 2011 spring season recovering from shoulder surgery and the final seven games of his redshirt freshman year with shoulder and knee injuries. He seemed healthy as ever this spring and ready to assume the starting role. With inexperienced youngsters behind him – P.J. Gallo should contribute immediately on special teams but probably not on offense, Andrew Isaacs has received rave early reviews but is recovering from a high school knee injury and, remember, Brian McMahon backed up Shawn Petty at quarterback for four weeks – the spot is Stinebaugh’s, provided he can stay healthy. He’ll get his receptions and looked good this spring. The question is whether he fills the void left by Furstenburg’s departure. Even if he doesn’t, simply holding his blocks and releasing for the occasional route should suffice.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt | July 29, 2013