Stefon Diggs was getting a little too excited on punt returns, taking his eye off the ball. The result? An assortment of breathtaking runs, in which he spun out of blanketed coverage for big downfield gains, with the occasional drop thrown in there. It was dangerously heart-thumping.
“It didn’t really matter to me,” Diggs said. “I was just going to catch it and try to run.”
So, in an attempt to eliminate the miscues, Maryland’s true freshman became more of a special teams student. He worked harder in practice, focusing on lining up to field punts 40 yards from the line of scrimmage.
“I figured out it was a little more detailed than that,” Diggs said. “I had to become more of a technician. Now, if I get a shot I get a shot. You’ll see me doing a little more of fair catching.”
If the opposing punter out-kicks the coverage, Diggs has a shot at a return. If it’s short? Fair catch or let it bounce. No questions asked.
“You need to be real, real aware of what’s going on in the game,” Diggs said. “Can’t have slip-ups like that.”
The result has been a steadily declining punt return average, but an increase in ball security. Diggs had six fair catches Saturday against North Carolina State and just one punt return for minus-one yard, which came after he zig-zagged sideline to sideline for roughly 30 yards beforehand, trying to make something happen like he did on a regular basis earlier in the season.
His kickoff return game is a different story. Diggs currently ranks first in the ACC and 10th nationally in kickoff returns. Less-stifling coverage breeds more potential for home run bursts, as evidenced by his 100-yard return on the opening kickoff at Virginia on Oct. 13.
Here’s quick breakdown of Diggs’s punt return output. The Good Counsel graduate ranks 29th nationally and fifth in the ACC in punt return yardage, and the Terps seem to accept the increase in fair catches, rather than risk one drop that could cost crucial field position.
William & Mary: 3 punt returns, 50 yards, 2 downed, 1 touchback.
Temple: 3 punt returns, 34 yards, 2 out of bounds, 1 fumble (lost).
Connecticut: 5 punt returns, 68 yards, 2 downed.
West Virginia: 4 returns, 25 yards, 1 downed, 2 out of bounds, 1 fumble (recovered).
Wake Forest: 3 returns, 20 yards, 4 downed, 1 fair catch, 1 fumble (lost).
Virginia: 0 returns. Got nicked up later in the game, so Marcus Leak fielded punts.
N.C. State: 1 return, minus-one yard, 6 fair catches.