It is, to be sure, an unlikely piece of advice for an offensive skill player.
Stop fighting for those extra yards, Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen has told tight end Vernon Davis, most recently on Monday. Allow yourself to be tackled.
That message gained immediacy after Saturday's 28-24 loss to Clemson, when Davis helped carry not only the Terps' offense, but also nearly the entire Clemson defense.
He had six catches for a career-high 140 yards and a touchdown, and nearly every catch led to an absurd Swiftian routine, orange-clad Lilliputians clambering on top of a red and white giant. Three, four or five defenders would grab Davis or push Davis or be dragged by Davis along the Byrd Stadium grass. Once, a defender tried clutching his dreadlocks. A 15-yard fourth-quarter reception attracted at least seven Tigers before the junior tight end finally relented.
And while the extra yards are, of course, appreciated, Friedgen worries that Davis -- a 6-foot-3, 253 pound specimen who runs like a wide receiver and lifts weights like a linebacker -- is exposing himself to injury during such displays. In preseason practices, Friedgen would blow on his whistle once the third would-be tackler latched onto Davis.
"Saturday, I was reaching for the whistle and I didn't have it on," Friedgen said. "He doesn't think another human can bring him down. I was trying to get our other guys to go over there and start protecting him after he had about eight guys on him."
The concern is nothing new. When Davis played for Dunbar High in the District, he offered complimentary piggyback rides to defenders when he wasn't running them over. On one kickoff return for a touchdown, which Dunbar Coach Craig Jeffries called the signature play of Davis's high school career, he came in proximity to all 11 opponents, charging through four or five and dragging one in his wake for 10 yards.
Jeffries would keep Davis out of intrasquad goal line drills so as not to discourage or even injure his other players. And he would give Davis the same message now delivered by Friedgen: It's all right to be tackled.
"There's a time when you actually need to go down; you need to live for another day, go down or get out of bounds," Jeffries said. "You can't tell a kid to hold back, but there's times when you've gotten all you can get."
Davis has protested when given this dictate in the past, arguing that he's fighting not merely for his own statistics but for his team. He said yesterday that Friedgen has helped him understand the risk of injury, and yet he still sounded reluctant to alter his style.
"I just want to get into the end zone when I've got the ball, I just don't really [want to] be thinking about going down," he said. "I just want to keep going, just stay up. That's going to be something hard for me to change."
Such concerns aside, Saturday's game might signal the eruption fans and coaches have long expected from the tight end, who could depart for the NFL after this season. On the first play of the second half, Davis took a reverse on the kickoff and ran 31 yards. Earlier, he out-leaped two defenders to catch a lazy 44-yard pass that seemed certain to be intercepted. Adding the contributions of backups Dan Gronkowski and Joey Haynos, tight ends accounted for 168 of the Terps' 288 receiving yards and both of their receiving touchdowns.
Davis mania has cropped up before in College Park, especially after last year's trip to Duke, when he caught four passes for 101 yards and three touchdowns. But he continued to stumble on occasion with assignments and routes, and over the next seven games, he didn't catch another touchdown and surpassed 30 yards receiving just twice.
Davis's route running was crisp and precise Saturday, and those routes rather than the game plan were most responsible for his impact, Friedgen said. The mental breakdowns occur most often when he's winded, and coaches are thus trying to spell him more frequently, a task made more difficult by Davis's inclusion in virtually every offensive personnel group and his eagerness to return kicks.
In any case, quarterback Sam Hollenbach said he plans to keep looking for his favorite target, who has more than twice as many receiving yards (166) as any of his teammates.
"He thinks he's getting a touchdown every time he touches the ball," Hollenbach said. "And for a quarterback, you want to get it to a guy like that."
Terrapins Notes: Wide receiver Derrick Fenner, who missed Saturday's game because of a concussion, returned to limited practice this week. Friedgen said Fenner would play in Saturday's game against West Virginia, although he hasn't yet participated in contact drills. Fullback Tim Cesa, who missed the entire preseason because of mononucleosis, returned to practice Monday after the swelling in his spleen finally subsided. He also should play on Saturday. . . . Defensive tackle Jack Griffin (sprained ankle) practiced yesterday after sitting out Monday's session. . . . Place kicker Obi Egekeze will remain out this week, still bothered by a quadriceps injury he suffered in the final preseason scrimmage. . . . Freshman left tackle Jared Gaither worked with the first-team offense Monday night after making his debut last week and is getting closer to earning the starting job, Friedgen said. . . . Maryland added 500 temporary seats for the West Virginia game. The Terps' Sept. 24 game at Wake Forest will start at 3:30 and be broadcast on ESPNU.