Lee Hull is Maryland’s wide receivers coach, a profession that includes supervising a freshman all-American, a junior college record-holder, two injured contributors and a supporting cast of budding, wide-eyed youngsters hoping to make an impression. He might have the best job on Coach Randy Edsall’s staff. Or the toughest. Maybe both.
“That’s what they tell me,” Hull said Wednesday, smiling at his looming challenge as if to say, “Bring it on.”
Despite all the talent and hype bleeding from Maryland’s receiving corps, only Stefon Diggs entered spring with substantial college experience. Granted, his experience entailed rewriting nearly every program freshman record that existed, but here’s the amazing thing: Only four of the 13 Terps who caught a pass last season entered spring healthy — Diggs, Nigel King, Albert Reid and Brandon Ross. (Reid and Ross are running backs.)
Of those, only Diggs hauled in more than 10 passes. His 848 receiving yards account for 85.8 percent of the total receiving yards Maryland returns this spring among that healthy quartet.
Marcus Leak’s surgically repaired toe needs time to heal. Kevin Dorsey, Matt Furstenburg, Devonte Campbell and Kerry Boykins (41 receptions, 590 yards combined) all graduated. Justus Pickett (19 receptions, third-most) left the program. Levern Jacobs (seven receptions, 50 yards) is only just began individual work after hurting his labrum. Even Nigel King, who has asserted himself this spring with impressive one-handed catches and sharp routes, caught just nine passes last season.
Granted, Maryland’s quarterbacking situation didn’t exactly lend itself to an all-out air assault, but live experience certainly helps. Accordingly, Hull has simplified things for his entire corps, running the same plays over and over to increase comfort and speed.
“If you’re not comfortable, don’t know it like the back of your hand, if it’s not second nature to you, you’re going to make mistakes,” Hull said. “We pared down some stuff and it benefited my guys. They’re all freshmen, redshirt freshmen-type guys. But I’m encouraged.”
But Hull’s pared-down system has allowed Diggs to move around, diversifying his portfolio outside the slot, where Diggs normally resides.
“We expect to move him around,” Hull said. “We can’t just put him in at one spot where the defense knows where he is, so they can key on him. It’ll be good. Also, it’s not just for him. It’s for Deon, for Nigel. Those guys all do things differently. If we have a pass play, and someone runs one route better than another guy, we might as well put him in that position. I think it benefits everybody. Now we can mix and match and find out what they can do best, and put those guys in that position.”
While Long, an all-American at Iowa Western Community College after posting a 100-catch season, has “met expectations,” Hull said he must refine his route-running, regaining a crispness perhaps lost after taking the junior college route.
“I think he got comfortable at junior college because he could just run by people,” Hull said. “He was a better athlete than most people. He’d just use his athleticism to make plays. Now you’re going into the ACC and Big Ten the following year, there’s guys just as good as you.
“I don’t think it was an adjustment. He’s a very good player, very good athlete. I just think he thought he could do what he did in junior college. Now he’s understanding, “Hey, I have to be on my game, I have to do everything right, I have to be fundamentally sound, technique sound.” Once he starts doing that, he’ll be fine.”
Given that Leak and Jacobs will return before preseason camp opens, Hull will find himself handling a smorgasbord of options, each with seemingly limitless possibilities. Leak caught 23 passes for 393 yards before getting hurt, and Jacobs showed flashes of inside speed. And that’s without mentioning Taivon Jacobs, Levern’s brother, an incoming freshman who flipped to the Terps after once committing to Ohio State.
But their absence has allowed Hull to give extra repetitions to Malcolm Culmer, Amba Etta and others. Tyrek Cheeseboro could factor as well, but he’s by far Maryland’s most valuable gunner on special teams.
“That’s going to help us build our depth,” Hull said. “I expect that when they come back, coupled with the others who got a chance to play this spring, that’s going to help our depth and help our team.”