Quietly, Joe putting together career year


Low-key linebacker ranks second on team in tackles

injured Eli may miss Duke

Maryland notebook

College Football

October 09, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Tired of ego? Fed up with players fist-pumping and waving their arms in celebration after routine plays? Can't stand to see another college football player pound his chest while running his mouth?

Then Maryland linebacker Leon Joe just might be the player for you.

"Leon is real quiet," said linebackers coach Tim Banks. "He doesn't even say two words half the time. He certainly doesn't say a whole lot around me. Basically, he just goes out every game and [plays like] Leon."

Lately, playing like Leon means running down ball carriers from behind, laying out quarterbacks and blanketing wide receivers. And afterward, it also means barely saying a peep about it.

Throughout his four-year career at Maryland, Joe always has felt more comfortable playing the strong, silent type. This year, he's quietly been playing the best football of his career, but you'd hardly know it by asking him.

"I've just been trying to get better each week," Joe said. "I think I'm just playing faster right now. That was my goal coming into this season is to play fast."

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen's goal this season was to get Joe to be consistent. A starter for the Terps at the weak-side linebacker position since his sophomore year, Joe often would play brilliantly for a series, a quarter, or even a game throughout his career, but would then follow it up by fading into the background.

"It's hard to [know] what's going on with Leon sometimes," Friedgen said. "I bring him into my office sometimes to talk. It's not like he doesn't want it, but sometimes I think it was in his nature to let up a little bit, in practice and in games. I haven't seen that from him this year."

Joe certainly has the tools for greatness. At 6 feet 1, 235 pounds, he's been timed as low as 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash and has a 41-inch vertical leap. Friedgen says Joe is "without question" the strongest player on Maryland's team.

Right now, Joe's putting all that together every day, every game, for the first time in his career. He's second on the team with 53 tackles, and last in wild celebrations.

"This year he's been very physical," Friedgen said. "I think [against Clemson] he was very physical. People always get on me about our [lack of] team speed, but Leon is one of those guys who can run people down from behind."

Joe put the final stamp on Maryland's 21-7 win over Clemson on Saturday when he intercepted quarterback Charlie Whitehurst in the final seconds and nearly returned the ball for a touchdown. While most of Maryland's coaching staff was urging Joe to fall down so Maryland could run out the clock, Friedgen was hoping he would go all the way. He wanted people to see just how fast Joe was.

Eli questionable

Defensive end Kevin Eli, who has played well in place of injured starter Scott Smith, is questionable for Saturday's game against Duke after bruising his ribs in practice Tuesday. Eli had X-rays, but the results didn't show a break.

"He bruised them pretty good," Friedgen said. "Anybody who's had that injury knows how painful it is."

If Eli can't go, Friedgen said it's likely nose tackle C.J. Feldheim would move over to defensive end and start.

"That's one of the things we're looking at in case Eli can't go," Friedgen said. "We feel like we've got some depth inside with Conrad Bolston, Tosin Abari and Rob Armstrong."

Et cetera

Smith, who hasn't played since Sept. 13 against The Citadel, will undergo season-ending back surgery for a ruptured disc. ... Josh Allen will start at running back Saturday ahead of Bruce Perry, based on his play in practice. Friedgen said he'll continue to choose a starter on a week-to-week basis. ... Wide receiver Latrez Harrison, who suffered a concussion against Clemson, went through a full practice yesterday.

Next for Terps

Matchup: Duke (2-3, 0-2) vs. Maryland (4-2, 1-1)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 27 1/2

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.