Maryland confronts a 3-sided QB puzzle

Vanderlinden weighs talents against needs

August 30, 1999|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The Maryland quarterback debate has intensified over the past few days.

Should coach Ron Vanderlinden play it safe and go with sophomore Randall Jones, an option specialist who is the only candidate with college experience?

Would it be best for him to gamble a little and start versatile redshirt freshman Calvin McCall?

Or should the coach boldly choose the strong-armed freshman, Latrez Harrison?

The decision is so tough that Vanderlinden even asked three reporters during a post-practice interview session early this week: "What would you do?"

The coach did little to ease the matter when he named Jones and McCall "co-starters" for Thursday night's season opener against Temple at Philadelphia's Franklin Field.

"The first thing I want to do is beat Temple," Vanderlinden said. "So I'm going to make a [quarterback] decision based on what gives us the best chance to win the first game of the season. After that, we'll take it game by game."

But the third-year Maryland coach realizes he can't achieve his goal of challenging the likes of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia for Atlantic Coast Conference supremacy without having a strong force at quarterback.

Clemson went 3-8 last year with quarterback co-starters (Brandon Streeter and Woody Dantzler), and coach Tommy West was fired.

So Vanderlinden eventually has to determine which one of his three young quarterbacks gives the Terps their best chance.

All three have a lot to learn, he said.

"Whoever we play, we're going to have to live through some early mistakes," he said. "There's not any particular area we're really good at. They're all young."

A closer look at Jones shows a gifted athlete who has worked hard to turn himself into a quarterback after coming to Maryland as a defensive back.

Jones, 6 feet 2, 212 pounds, made a big splash last season when he switched positions less than three weeks before the season opener and went on to start the sixth game of the season. He was the first freshman to start at quarterback for Maryland.

He thrilled fans at Byrd Stadium with his explosive option runs. Once he got the ball on the corner, no one knew what was coming next, and he often turned busted plays into long gainers with an uncanny knack for eluding tacklers.

"I'm best at scrambling with the ball and making people come after me and then turning away from them to make things happen," said the three-sport standout from Thomas Johnson High in Frederick. "That ability comes from playing sports [football, basketball and track] all my life."

But Jones was never much of a passing threat last season. Defenses soon caught on and ganged up on him at the line of scrimmage to shut down the option.

"I think I've done the things I need to do to be a passer," Jones said. "I'll never have an arm like Latrez, but everybody has different attributes. Kenny [Mastrole] had a strong arm, but that didn't bother me."

Jones referred to the quarterback who transferred to Rhode Island after losing the job to Jones last season.

A sore throwing arm in preseason workouts has hurt Jones' cause. But he and Vanderlinden say the arm will be 100 percent by the opener.

"Randall does everything well enough to win," Vanderlinden said. "I like his maturity, his strength, leadership capability and experience."

However, McCall and Harrison are better examples of prototype quarterbacks than Jones.

They are taller, have stronger arms and have the streak of cockiness usually displayed by outstanding quarterbacks.

They are so confident in their athletic ability that they are making plans to go out for the Maryland basketball team.

McCall, 6-3, 205 pounds, averaged 18 points in high school in Orlando, Fla., and wants to be a shooting guard, and Harrison, 6-3, 214, sees himself as a point guard after scoring 25 a game in Atlanta.

Though McCall has yet to play a college football game, he believes he is ready.

"I know I can lead this team to a lot of success," he said. "I won't panic out there in the first game, because I've always believed I can make things happen."

The muscular McCall has also become a driven quarterback by the events of the past year.

"I became the forgotten person last season after Randall won the job," he said. "And then when they recruited Latrez last spring, everybody thought he and Randall would be fighting for the job.

"That motivated me all summer to work hard and come back here and get in the mix for the starting spot. I went home and threw and lifted five times a week for a month. I weigh 205 now after coming in here at 189."

McCall is a dual threat, having a strong-enough arm to throw deep and the daring and speed to run, if necessary.

Vanderlinden said: "Calvin was helped immensely by having a whole season to learn the system. He has a quick release, a strong arm and the ability to be a complete player. But he is an unknown. You don't know how he is going to react under pressure. The first time any player, especially a quarterback, plays any position in college, there is a concern."

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