COLLEGE PARK -- The depth of Maryland's vaunted defense is being tested more and more each week.
With nine starters returning, the defense was to be the Terps' strength. And through three games it has been.
But now people are going down -- linebacker Jack Bradford with a sprained knee, linebacker Scott Whittier with a bruised thigh and knee, nose guard Rick Fleece with a sprained ankle and safety Ron Reagan with a sprained ankle.
"We hug 'em, patch 'em up and throw 'em back on the field," said coach Joe Krivak as he prepared his team for Saturday's game against North Carolina State at Byrd Stadium.
It's not that simple, of course. Some already have missed playing time and others will. The injuries so far are relatively minor, however, and no one has been lost for, say, four or five weeks.
Said defensive coordinator Greg Williams, "We haven't had a knee injury where we lose a guy to arthroscopic surgery or anything like that. What we have are bad bruises from three tough games."
"These guys will be back in a week or two," said cornerback Mike Hollis. "It's no big deal."
One of the reasons it's not a big deal is that the reserves are capable and have played well. Karl Edwards, Dave Marrone and Mike Jarmolowich have filled in for Bradford and Whittier, Ralph Orta moved from tackle to Fleece's nose guard spot and Johnny Vessels is in for Reagan.
"We should be able to take up the slack," Edwards said. "That's why players are rotated, so that a lot of people go on the field and get a firsthand look at what's happening."
Krivak isn't ready to declare any of the four defenders out for N.C. State. Call them questionable.
"We have depth that we didn't have in the past," Williams said. "And we have flexibility, like Orta moving from tackle to nose guard.
"We have a lot of guys with plays under their belts. That's important. For guys who have played only in practice, it's like sparring in boxing. Games are like being in the ring. It's different. You can get punched in the nose before you know it."
Little by little, Krivak is pushing Andre Vaughn into the fray. The sophomore running back from Oakland Mills High sampled his )) first college action in last week's Clemson game when he ran back a kickoff 29 yards.
Vaughn missed all of last season following major surgery on his left knee, then stretched a ligament in the same knee Aug. 20. If his knee holds up, he'll get more playing time.
"We'll get him in the game more," Krivak said.
At running back or just returning kicks?
"We'll see," Krivak said.
Simply because the Maryland-Clemson game at Memorial Stadium drew only 39,255 doesn't mean Baltimore has hosted the Terps for the last time.
"It's very important for Maryland to have a presence in Baltimore," said Andy Geiger, the Terps' new athletic director. "We're going to pay a lot of attention to Baltimore's desires. If that means playing a game there annually, it makes sense to do it."
The previous five Maryland games in Baltimore attracted 60,575 (Clemson in 1984), 62,315 (Miami in 1985), 58,758 (Clemson in 1986), 62,500 (Penn State in 1987) and 61,215 (Penn State last year).
Those games were played after the Orioles' season when temporary stands could be installed. The capacity Saturday was 55,000. Clemson returned 1,700 tickets; 7,000 Maryland students didn't pick up their tickets and the university was left with an additional 6,000 unsold tickets, some for seats with obstructed views.
"We'll study the factors," Geiger said. "Generally speaking, I like athletic events on campus. But I understand Baltimore is sensitive in that it feels it is removed from the university, and we don't want that. We want that presence in Baltimore."