COLLEGE PARK -- Randy Edsall watched this preseason as former Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs, now with the Minnesota Vikings, lit the NFL preseason on fire with his electric punt returns, including a 62-yard near-touchdown in the rookie’s preseason debut against Pittsburgh.
And then he watched Diggs’ heir apparent in College Park break a 76-year-old Big Ten record with 233 punt return yards in Maryland’s Week 1 win over Richmond.
So much for dropoff.
For his efforts, Will Likely was named the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week on Tuesday.
“He’s the best I’ve ever been around,” Edsall said of Likely, “in terms of tracking the ball, having a feel for everything, and then being able to produce the way he produces.”
Likely was told of Edsall's comment later in the day on Tuesday. His response was simple.
"He's probably right," he said.
"I work hard every day trying to get better. ... Coming from him, it's probably a good thing."
In Edsall’s mind, Likely puts all the attributes of an impact returner together in a way he has not seen before. Among those attributes are courage, vision, and a skill set to understand and analyze each step of a return in the fleeting moments within which the play takes place.
And that’s before we begin to talk about the impact he makes as a cornerback.
But strictly as a returner, his efforts will change the way Maryland’s offense is able to operate, hopefully gifting them with a short field on a regular basis.
As Perry Hills settles into his starting role and front sevens get bigger going into conference play, Likely’s ability to set the offense up in an opponent’s territory may make the difference between points and no points on a given drive -- and a win or a loss.
There’s only one problem, which is a product of the monster game he had Saturday.
“I don’t know how many opportunities he might get, moving forward,” Edsall said. “I think there will probably be some things we have to work on a little bit where they punt away from him or they try to punt the ball 40 to 45 yards down field and punt it out of bounds.
“We’ll deal with that.”