Smooth start would be nice change for Terps

August 07, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Is this the year Mark Duffner finally enjoys a serene preseason camp at Maryland?

Duffner's two-year coaching record with the Terps is 5-17 -- 0-8 in September -- and some incidents in August didn't help the cause.

Just as camp opened two years ago, two players were arrested on charges of credit card fraud. Last year, the eligibility of five players was briefly in question after they were overpaid for summer jobs, and a junior college All-American who was going to fill the hole at place-kicker was never admitted to school after some questionable credits were found in his transcript.

"Every preseason, you'd just like to concentrate on putting together a team that has a collective goal and not have any distractions," Duffner said. "You work to control the things you can. Those other things were beyond our control."

The Terps begin their third preseason camp Tuesday, when at least 23 scholarship freshmen report. Veterans report Thursday, and the first full practice will be Saturday. A smooth, sure start would help steady a program that has endured six losing seasons in the past seven. The schedule is conducive, because the September slate begins at Duke and ends with Wake Forest, the only teams Maryland beat last year. In between are Florida State and West Virginia.

A 2-2 start is attainable if Maryland meets two priorities: establish depth at every defensive position and find a competent place-kicker. The fine-tuning of an offense that spent the off-season experimenting with tight ends and fullbacks is further down the list.

Beyond September, it might be asking too much for the Terps to reach .500, even if the schedule is a little kinder than 1993's, which was judged toughest in the nation by one computer rating.

With junior quarterback Scott Milanovich, a senior-dominated offensive line led by Playboy preseason All-American Steve Ingram and the top two receivers returning, the Terps know they can pile up yardage and points.

If they couldn't, even two wins wouldn't have been possible last year, when NCAA statistics ranked Maryland's defense and kicking game last in the nation.

No other team in Division I-A had as few field goals as Maryland's one. No other team in the history of I-A had allowed more than 540 yards a game until the Terps stepped aside and let the opposition average 553. That's nearly seven 80-yard drives a game.

The depth chart that claims 10 returning starters on defense is misleading, because a majority missed spring practice rehabilitating injuries or grade-point averages. Eight freshmen xTC played extensively last year, but that doesn't mean they will as sophomores, although linebacker Ratcliff Thomas and safety Lamont Gore certainly made an impression in 1993.

"There are more decisions to be made in this preseason camp than we're accustomed to," said Kevin Coyle, the defensive coordinator who is one of three new assistant coaches. "We had a number of guys miss spring practice, and we've got some jobs up for grabs. That can be positive."

The negative is that, a year after serious injuries to four seniors left the Terps with the youngest defense in the nation, they're still going to be green. A logjam of sophomore talent at wide receiver added three prospects to the secondary. A couple of freshmen from Anne Arundel County, tackle Richard Abrams and linebacker Troy Fowlkes, might play immediately.

On the kicking front, freshman recruit Brad Rhodes will be challenged by Joe O'Donnell, a sophomore transfer who kicked off and hit eight of 14 field goals for I-AA Tennessee-Martin last year.

The competition could also heat up at the superback spot, which Allen Williams won at the end of 1993. Developments in spring practice point to the Terps using fewer one-back, four-wide-receiver sets; the defense also could see some schematic changes.

If you want to know exactly how often Maryland will use a tight end or if they'll go with three or five down linemen on defense, check back on Sept. 3, the day of the opener at Duke. Duffner will keep quiet about his plans until then and hope his players limit their August noise-making to the practice field.

TERPS AT A GLANCE

Coach: Mark Duffner (5-17, two seasons).

Last year's record: 2-9.

Offensive starters returning: Scott Milanovich, Jr., QB; Russ Weaver, Sr., WR; Jermaine Lewis, Jr., WR; Steve Ingram, Sr., LT; Jade Dubis, Sr., LG; Jamie Bragg, Sr., C; John Teter, Jr., RT; Dave Hack, Sr., RG.

Defensive starters returning: Mike Gillespie, Jr., E; Sharrod Mack, Jr., T; Johnnie Hicks, So., T; Mike Settles; Jr., LB; Ratcliff Thomas, So., LB; Erick Wood, Sr., LB; A.J. Johnson, So., CB; Angel Guerra, Sr., SS; Lamont Gore, So., FS; Orlando Strozier, So., CB.

Newcomers to watch: Richard Abrams, Fr., DL (Arundel); Troy Fowlkes, Fr., LB (North County); Brad Rhodes, Fr., K/P; Kendrick Walton, Fr., WR.

Strengths: One of the nation's premier passing attacks, the reason the Terps finished second in total offense in the ACC to national champion Florida State.

Weaknesses: The defense has finished last in the nation in yards allowed the past two years, and the kicking game also needs much improvement. The Terps finished last in the ACC in rushing offense last year.

SCHEDULE

Date .. Opponent .. ... ..Time

Sept. 3 at Duke .. .. . ..noon

Sept. 10 Florida State .. noon

Sept. 17 at W. Virginia ..1

Sept. 24 Wake Forest .. ..noon

Oct. 1 at Clemson .. .. ..1

Oct. 8 open

Oct. 15 at N. Carolina . .1:30

Oct. 22 Georgia Tech .. ..7

Oct. 29 Tulane .. ... ... 1:30

Nov. 5 N.C. State .. .. ..7

Nov. 12 at Virginia .. ...1

Nov. 19 at Syracuse .. ...1

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