COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It was a dreary, drizzly afternoon in College Park March 2, and it's safe to say both the Maryland players and coaches just wanted to fight through the two-hour practice before retiring to the warm, dry locker room. But even as head coach Randy Edsall brought the workout to a close, redshirt freshman Taivon Jacobs showed no signs of being finished.
While most of the other Terps stripped off their helmets and began unlacing their pads, the 5-foot-10, 150-pound dynamo, who did not see any field time in 2013, lined up near the 40-yard line and began running through the route tree. Standing in what would be the slot, Jacobs took swing pass after swing pass, screen after screen, slant after slant, until he was satisfied.
"I'm trying to work on the little things, like my get-off and footwork on my pass routes," said Jacobs, the younger brother of Maryland junior receiver Levern Jacobs. "I worked on [routes] all offseason, and my routes have gotten more efficient. And I'm learning the plays better so I can play at a faster level; I don't have to be slow where I'm thinking too much."
It's that latter quality that will ultimately be Jacobs' ticket to seeing the field during an actual game at Byrd Stadium this fall. The District Heights, Md., native, who prepped at nearby Suitland High like his brother, said if there's one thing he's learned from watching Levern, it's that knowledge is power.
Blessed with uncanny speed (4.3 second 40-yard dash) and whirling dervish moves, Taivon Jacobs knows his skills mean little if he doesn't understand exactly what's going on -- from blocking schemes, to quarterback-receiver rapport, to how the defense is lining up.
"When I first got here [last summer] I didn't really know anything. But now everything is coming to me," Taivon Jacobs said. "It's like schoolwork. You have to study. It's all about studying – that's mainly what I'm focusing on.
"Like, talking to Vern [Levern Jacobs], he just tells me I have to stay focused and know the playbook -- that's the key to getting on the field. He said this is a much faster level than high school, and even if you are [physically] fast, you have to be even faster with knowing the plays and things."
Taivon Jacobs has paid closer attention to his brother than maybe even Levern Jacobs knows. While at Suitland, when Taivon was a freshman, he learned the values of work ethic and perfecting technique while watching the then-senior Levern prepare for practice, college one-day camps and the like. Three years later, he looked to his older brother not only for gridiron advice, but how to carry himself around campus as well.
"I noticed how he grew out of high school; I could see him changing and growing up," Taivon Jacobs said. "And I know I have to grow up too -- on and off the field. I'm studying more. In high school, everything was easy, but now I have to study more, take notes and really concentrate on class in order to do well on quizzes and tests."
The differences from last year to this one are palpable, from how Taivon Jacobs carries himself to his early-spring performances. During Day One of practice, March 1, Jacobs drew praise from older teammates for his improved route running and hands.
On one particularly telling sequence, while Jacobs was lined up with the starters, he beat his man off the ball and hauled in a C.J. Brown pass in the back corner of the end zone.
"Taivon Jacobs," Brown said immediately when asked who had a standout practice March 1. "His quickness and hands were there, and he knew what to do, that's the biggest thing. For his first spring practice, to get in with the 1's and 2's, he understood what he needed to do and made plays."
Jacobs didn't replicate his performance March 2, however, dropping a couple catchable balls. He still flashed his unmatchable wheels and pulled down a few nifty throws, but he wasn't quite as consistent as he was on Day One.
"[March 1] I had a good practice, caught a touchdowns, but [March 2] I had a couple drops and it wasn't my best," said Taivon Jacobs, who noted that most of his work so far has come with the backups as he took passes from Caleb Rowe and Shane Cockerille. "I'll have to improve on Monday, keep getting better and better. I've still got a lot to work on."
Edsall pretty much agreed with his young wideout/returner. While the head coach was quick to praise Jacobs last season for his scout-team work, he also noted how there were areas that needed improvement. Naturally, the same holds true thus far in 2014.
"[Jacobs is] exactly what we thought he was. He's very fast, very quick, very competitive," Edsall said. "He's one of the best competitors we have on our football team. He's a leader for a freshman. We‘ve been pleased with what we've seen so far, but again he just has to keep getting better."
As Edsall alluded to, Jacobs' speed and raw talent have already helped the Terps, especially last season when he imitated the likes of Clemson primetime receiver Sammy Watkins and Florida State's elite wideouts in practice.
"I figured since I couldn't play [in 2013] the next best thing was to help the defense out. So I did everything in my power to make them better so they could perform on the field," Jacobs said. "But this year I'm going to … play my butt off to get on the field. The Z, the X -- wherever they need me at. I'll work my butt off on special teams also so I can get back there and return some kicks and punts."
While Jacobs would seem like a lock to see special teams time, there's no guarantee he'll have immediate success. Even though his punt return prowess was well noted at Suitland, it's a different animal at the FCS level. After all, Maryland sophomore Will Likely was en elite returner coming out of Glades Central (Belle Glade, Fla.), but he muffed a couple punts in his first college campaign.
"With punt returns [in college], the balls are much higher and go much further, so you have to get your timing down," Taivon Jacobs said. "And kick return is basically the same; it's not new for real. It's just on a bigger level than high school.
"And, really, it's not a big adjustment because I practiced all last year and I work every day with the kickers just catching punts. So I don't think I'll have a problem [in games]."
Don't take that as overconfidence. Rest assured, Jacobs will continue to work, study, observe, and even take extra reps in the rain. After all, he has a reputation to live up to, an older brother to impress, and a city to help carry.
"[College has] been great so far. I wanted to stay home and represent my city," Jacobs said. "Now we're going to the Big Ten, and we'll be going against even bigger opponents -- and to me that's very exciting."
Jacobs More Than Just a Pair of Wheels
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