As much as we were able to tell of Stefon Diggs’ story during my piece on him for Sunday’s Star Tribune, there were so many interesting anecdotes — both from my two interviews with Diggs and my conversations with three of his coaches (Bob Milloy, Keenan McCardell and Darrell Hazell) — that didn’t make it into the piece, particularly as they relate to how Diggs refined his skills as a wide receiver and how he brought them to bear on the 61-yard “Minneapolis Miracle” against the Saints last January.

So I thought I’d offer a few of them here, as an addendum to my main story on Diggs. Hope you enjoy them:

On the “Minneapolis Miracle:”

Diggs: “I heard people say [things] like, ‘It was lucky,’ or, ‘The guy missed a tackle.’ There’s so many things that play into the play. I had to catch the ball; I can count some people right now who wouldn’t have caught that pass. Just because I get paid to do what I do, you expect me to catch it; OK, I caught it. Then I can count all the people who probably would’ve have went out of bounds, who would’ve played the game smart, just doing what they were coached to do. Then I can count who wouldn’t have been able to keep their feet to stay in bounds. There’s a list of things I can count. So many factors had to go right for that play to happen, and it did. God’s grace, of course, for something like that to happen. It’s a huge blessing.

“We called that play like three times in a row. I’m like, ‘He [offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur] is calling it again. He must be like, ‘Oh, well — we’ll put our hands together and pray for it.” It’s just go — make it work. No matter what cards you’re dealt, you’ve just got to make them work.

“Once he missed the tackle, I was taking it to the hut, bro. I’m not thinking about something else. I’m going to the crib. He missed a tackle, because there’s no way he didn’t tackle me as soon as I caught the ball. He had to miss. In .2 seconds, there wasn’t even much in my mind. It was like, ‘He missed — I’m standing up. I’m running. We’ll figure it out later.’ Once I started running, I took two head shakes, because I thought the guy who was covering [wide receiver Jarius Wright] had a chance, but the guy who missed the tackle ended up knocking him off. That’s why I did two head shakes — I was about to start weaving, just to score, but there’s nobody there. I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m about to score. This is lit.

“{If somebody would have tackled me,] I would have been the worst guy ever. I would have been the dumbest player in football history, huh? See how different things can pop up? I would’ve been in Vikings history for the worst [reasons].”

Hazell: “I was standing on the paint, up the field toward the line of scrimmage, and I was mimicking what he should do — because that’s what you do, you know? You try to mimic the moves, to try to will them to do it. I kind of flinched up and jumped up, and he caught it, and I’m trying to process what’s going on. My mind is saying, ‘Get out of bounds. We’re going to kick a field goal, and we’re going to win it that way.’ But you see him recover his balance, and it’s like, ‘What just happened?’ You just keep saying that: ‘What just happened.’ In 33 years, I’ve never seen anything like that, and I probably won’t again. The timing — the acrobatic play on it, the defender’s play on the ball, all those things had to happen for it to be a miracle. Oh my goodness — that was insane.

“The spectators don’t always see all his spectacular plays — like, he’s got some phenomenal balance plays on the practice field. You saw it on the play last year; I’ve seen that from him at least five or six times, where you think a normal guy would go down, but he’s got a tremendous center of gravity. It’s almost cat-like.”

Milloy: “I was sitting in my living room by myself; I was the only one home. I have a friendly bet with my ex-roommate, who lives in Colorado, and I’m saying, ‘I just lost this 20 bucks,’ and then, ‘Oh my God — did I just see what I just saw?’ The game was over — the game was literally over. And not only did I win the money, but it was my guy [Diggs] that won me the money. He just went into, I guess, NFL history.”

McCardell: “We were in Pittsburgh [for the AFC divisional playoffs,] so I didn’t see it. I saw the replay. When I saw the replay, I just started laughing, because that’s Stef. He does that. That’s what he did at Maryland. That’s what he’s done his whole life: a flair for the dramatic. That’s him. That’s the type of mindset he has. When you have a natural ball-carrier that knows what to do with the ball, that puts the ball in the end zone, he only thinks about putting that ball in the end zone. A natural ball-carrier understands how to run with the ball. He sees everything; he has a great vision. He’s like, ‘I am that guy with the ball in my hands. I am the best with the ball in my hands.’ That’s how he feels.”

How Diggs improved as a route-runner:

The wide receiver credits McCardell with teaching him the finer points of gaining separation, which has been among Diggs’ best attributes in the NFL. He came to Maryland as the No. 1 recruit in the country, but had to learn what it truly meant to be a receiver from McCardell. Here’s what both of them had to say, as well as Hazell’s assessment of Diggs at the moment:

Diggs: “Aside from Coach Hazell and Coach Stew [former Vikings WR coach George Stewart] and people like that I’ve had in the NFL, Coach McCardell was the best coach I’ve ever had, because he taught me how to play receiver. He taught me the smallest details on running routes. He taught me suddenness, he taught me breaks. He didn’t teach me how to catch; he said, ‘We’re going to work on getting you open and creating separation,’ because everybody wants separation. I don’t care you are, I don’t care what quarterback you are, I don’t care what level you’re at, everybody wants to see separation. He taught me how to get open, essentially, and that’s why I hold him to such a high standard. He saw me as a raw talent: I can run, I’ve got good speed, I’m quick, but let’s tailor that into something that will take you farther.

“I owe breaking to him. There’s no point in having a Lamborghini if you don’t have brakes. I’m not saying I’m that fast, but he’s saying, ‘If you can’t stop, it don’t matter.’  It just takes you to the next step if you can use your speed as deception, or you can use your acceleration — which he was huge on — and make a guy think you’re running fast, but you’re really just running fast to make yourself stop. Me, when I hit the accelerator, I’m trying to break down. I’m not only trying to run by you, but 9 times out of 10, I’m trying to give you a false illusion. I want to run by you, but I’m really just trying to stop. [Before McCardell], I was just running around, not really running with a purpose — stopping just how I knew how to stop. Now I just have a way of doing things a lot more technically.”

McCardell: “He had a great work ethic, but he had to understand that every time you’re out there, you’ve got to have that mindset of, ‘I’m being evaluated — was it my best?’ and come ask the question, ‘What can I do to get it better?’ I used to tell him, ‘Here, in college, you’ve got a revolving door that keeps you coming in when you have a bad practice.’ In the pros, you have a bad practice, there’s no revolving door. That door locks. You’re outside of the organization; they call your flight, and you’re going to get a pink slip. Your first dose of reality is when you get a pink slip, and you’ve got to take your playbook. He called me one day and he said, ‘Man, I was kind of shocked when one of the guys’ — one of the rookies he was with, he wasn’t there. I said, ‘Man, I told you.’ Once you get that first dose of reality, that this is a job, that this is not college anymore, you understand that this is a business, and you’ve got to go out every day and do what you’re supposed to do, not just on game day.”

How he can still improve:

Diggs: “You never stop adding. I’ve got a lot of stuff I’m working on, as far as catching the ball, when to catch the ball, how to catch the ball a certain way, away from DBs and stuff like that. And then the YAC [yards after catch]. I’m in love with the YAC. I’m not a drinker, but I do love me some YAC.

Hazell: “We’re still working on his details of the game: his route depth, his splits, attention to detail in his splits, always working on driving at the ball when the ball’s in the air, making sure you cut down the flight time on the ball. Just a lot of little details we can still clean up with him, and we texted about it for 20 minutes the other day. He texted me and said, ‘What do I need to do?’ I said, ‘Here are three or four things that can take you to the next step.’ … He has not mastered them yet. The big thing for him is patience on the route. When people start to slow-pedal you, just taking those extra two or three steps into the defender.”

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