When the Terps kicked off the season last year, the plan was for Stefon Diggs and Deon Long to be the 'go-to' receivers in terms of big plays and game-changers. Freaky season-ending injuries to both at Wake Forest left the Terps desperate to find another field-stretcher.
While Nigel King was still standing, he was more of a possession threat. With other freshmen and sophomores like Amba Etta Tawo and Malcolm Culmer not quite ready for primetime, that left jitterbug sophomore Levern Jacobs next in line.
And he delivered.
After 13 games, it was Jacobs who led the Terps in receptions with 47 for 649 yards for a 13.6 yard average. Jacobs scored three times and averaged 53.3 yards per game receiving. No, not the numbers that the potential all-ACC Diggs and Long could have posted, but nonetheless it was Jacobs time and he stepped up admirably with his track speed and elusive moves.
With Diggs and Long still on the shelf this spring mending, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Jacobs again appeared the hardest worker and most consistent pass catcher in the first three weeks of spring camp. And it's a key time with a new position coach, the demanding Keenan McCardell, now leading the group. Jacobs, King and Marcus Leak, back from a year absence at home in North Carolina, have paced the group this month as the big three.
"I think spring is going pretty well even though we are going in the morning for the first time since I've been here and everybody is trying to get adjusted," said Jacobs.
"We've had some adjustments with the snow and the rain and even this morning we got out here around 6:30 instead of 8:30 so we had to get warned up in the cold," Jacobs said this past week after a rare 'off' day catching the ball after the Terps returned from spring break.
Terps head coach Randy Edsall spent the early spring practices lauding Jacobs for his production and the fact he didn't let little injuries slow him down. While the March 28 scrimmage at North Point was a poor night for the receiving unit as a whole, including a few drops by Jacobs and several by his kid brother, freshman Taivon, overall the month has been solid for the corps working under its new coach, all the while knowing stars like Diggs and Long will be back in the fall. Both were dressed out for the scrimmage, and Long has been working in individual drills of late as he progresses back.
Both players broke their leg at Wake last fall.
Everyone has had to adjust this month, in and around the weather cancellations and what not, and consistency is what Jacobs is talking about these days. Some adjustments are the focal point of him taking his game up a notch as he heads into his junior year.
"For one, I think going into my junior year I need to be more of a leader. With my little brother [Taivon] on the team now, and we have 'D-Lane' [freshman DeAndre Lane] and 'DA' [junior Daniel Adams]. So I'm just trying to show them the right way and to be a leader within myself. I can't let the blind lead the blind. I have to go out and make plays to prove that I'm a leader," Jacobs said.
So far, Jacobs seems to be a leader by example because of his play. He has been dangerous inside and out and, along with his brother, on reverses as well. But he has also taken receivers aside like Etta Tawo and Lane in the midst of practices when they've made mistakes and helped them forget about it. Last week, Jacobs yelled more than once, "Next play, man. Next play. Forget that pass."
Focusing on the little things, under McCardell's guidance, has been a key for Jacobs this spring. Things like his release, footwork and running sharper routes are a few areas of focus.
McCardell has been aggressive coaching the receivers up, and getting more out of them. It seems a group that has much potential, and has produced, but not nearly to the ceiling they can aspire.
"Coach McCardell has been working with me on my breaks and getting my feet right. Going into the Big Ten this year I'll have to be a lot better at those things. I'll be playing against bigger DB's and guys who will play through you so I have to be more sharp," Jacobs said.
McCardell brings 17 years of professional football experience to the staff, and he's already made a big impression on the receiving corps.
"There's definitely been a lot of change with him. I mean, learning from a pro is a lot different than from a regular coach," Jacobs said. "He's been in the league and that's where we all want to be. So everything he says we all listen and pay attention. It's the little things that he did to be great is what we're trying to understand."
He's also young enough that they can recall his pro playing days.
"And yeah, we all laugh about that...I think he still can come out here and catch passes like he always did," Jacobs said. "That's what makes him good because he can show us instead of just telling us or just watching film."
Having your brother on the team is a plus, and Jacobs is always in his ear. Taivon Jacobs is fast and shifty like his brother, but is learning the position at the college level more and more every day. In the March 28 scrimmage he had three or four drops, but recovered later with a 50-yard gain off a tipped ball by a defender. Taivon Jacobs will also see time in the return game this season. He was more highly decorated in the recruiting process than his older brother, first committing to Ohio State before coming back around to Maryland on Signing Day a year ago.
"He's one of those guys that has a lot of speed, but his biggest thing is just catching the ball and letting go. He's adjusting but he can't forget about his speed. Both of us have been studying the playbook a lot and working with the 'Jugs' machine after hours," Levern Jacobs said.
The receivers as a whole took their lumps last year with inconsistency. Now, they have a year under their belt and a new coach with a clear message who is very motivating.
"I think we're going to take a major step up this year," Jacobs said. "I think we're trusting each other a lot more. With Deon and Stefon down these guys have to realize this is their chance. They have to take advantage of the reps if they want them in the fall. I think we're a band of brothers now. I don't think we had that kind of feeling last year."
And Long and Diggs have been major factors in the meeting room for the younger guys, and were some of the more animated Terps on the sidelines at the recent scrimmage. Edsall said last week that both will be ready to play by the fall, with Diggs not as far along as Long at this time.
The Terps also welcome four-star signee Juwann Winfree this summer, so the competition will remain tight.
Also, Adams, the New Mexico junior transfer, had perhaps his best day as a Terp in the March 29 scrimmage. He had four catches for 70 yards, and was the one guy who seemingly held on every time the ball was thrown his way.
Jacobs Delivers in the Clutch
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