COLLEGE PARK -- From tapes of last year's games, and from practices in spring session and fall camp, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe know they can count on satisfactory play at quarterback from Shaun Hill.
So, for the first time in a while, the Terrapins have gone through most of a fall camp without wondering whom their starter will be.
"The kids have confidence in him and I've decided that we'll have a first and second team," Friedgen said. "[Hill] has got to get his timing down with these guys."
It's just the other quarterbacks who worry the coaches. Those quarterbacks don't always appear to be ready for action, lending a good news-bad news scenario in which free safety Randall Jones is the next option for the Terps if Hill or Latrez Harrison should go down.
"That's not a scenario I want to think about," Taaffe said. He joked while pointing toward the south end of Byrd Stadium, saying, "I might come flying out of that press box."
For now, there's reason to feel good about Hill, a senior who started the last two games of the 2000 season and came off the bench to rally the team in its biggest win of that season, a 35-28 victory over North Carolina State.
From the minute Friedgen took over for Ron Vanderlinden, the quarterback from Parsons, Kan., developed a voracious appetite for the new offensive system, and also established himself as a leader.
"It's not a surprise," said center Melvin Fowler, one of the few established offensive returnees. "He works extremely hard. He stayed late every day when we had drills and threw extra. He's definitely a competitor and he's doing the things it takes to get better."
There's nothing flashy about Hill, but he's a good athlete and a fairly accurate passer who commits few mistakes. At 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds, he has the build to take a pounding when Maryland runs the option, and he has 4.7 speed in the 40-yard dash to get past defenders.
"He understands his role and tries to play within himself," Taaffe said. "He doesn't have to score by himself. His job is to keep the chains moving and get us in the end zone. He understands that."
Hill sees his only problem so far as executing the run game.
"I haven't been as quick in picking up the run game," he said. "I feel comfortable with it now, but I would have liked to have picked it up quicker."
As enthralled as the coaches are with Hill, they are equally concerned about his understudies, who have steadily dwindled in number since last fall.
Calvin McCall quit the team to play basketball, and Chris Kelley's knee injury will keep him out until at least midseason. That leaves Harrison, a sophomore rich in skills but lacking in savvy.
Harrison readily acknowledges this contrast, eager to soak up as much knowledge from Hill as possible and wanting to avoid a repeat of his rash insertion into the Florida State game when he was a freshman in 1999.
"I've experienced being put into a situation when I'm not ready," Harrison said. "So it can't hurt me to sit back and learn from someone like Shaun."
The problem is that Friedgen hopes for Harrison to play some this season, with the purpose of playing him extensively in 2002.
During recent practices, Harrison often has alternated between making Friedgen's hopes seem real and making them seem unthinkable. An improvised long run on one play, then a blitz by the defense will make Harrison look bad on the next.
Still, Friedgen sees signs of improving consistency, which he regards as an imperative.
"I want to give him experience so that he has some advantage going into the next year," Friedgen said of Harrison. "I think he'll learn from Shaun, and that light goes on every day. But Latrez is a heartbeat away from having to play."
At the moment, an undisputed No. 1 is a pleasure for the Terps, who started six quarterbacks during Vanderlinden's four years here.
Competition doesn't matter to Hill one way or the other -- "I push myself," he said -- but leads to a less stressful camp.
"Without all the questions and all the media attention to one specific deal," Hill said, "it helps people relax a bit."