Without blue-chip QB, Terps aren't armed to reach the top

October 30, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

COLLEGE PARK - University of Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen is looking for an answer to his quarterback problem for the present and the future.

As of now, it appears senior Scott McBrien will return as starter for the Terps on Saturday against North Carolina despite the concussion he suffered last week against Georgia Tech. And if he isn't ready, then freshman Joel Statham will take the majority of snaps for the second straight week.

But Friedgen knows he has to look into the future. If the Terps want to take a step to the next level and become a consistent Top 20 team, they have to find a few blue-chip quarterbacks.

If Maryland wants to return to the glory days, then it has to find quality quarterbacks like Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich and Stan Gelbaugh who took them there.

The two starters in the three-year Friedgen era, McBrien and Shaun Hill, have had grit and other intangibles, but not the raw arm strength to elevate this program to the top.

In fact, McBrien has regressed from a year ago when he threw for 2,497 yards, 15 touchdowns and had a pass efficiency rating of 141.3, 12th best in college football. In eight games this season, McBrien has completed 94 of 176 passes for 1,310 yards with six touchdowns. Besides being inaccurate, he hasn't found a groove.

And with four games remaining and a concussion, he might not find it.

"At times, he has performed well, but he hasn't been as consistent as we would like, and I think he would say the same," Friedgen said of McBrien.

"It would help. It would definitely help," Friedgen said of signing a blue-chip quarterback. "We need some wide receivers who can get up the field, too, and be explosive and threaten people deep. We need more offensive linemen, a couple of fullbacks. We need a lot of things here yet to get where we want to go, but a quarterback would be a good place to start."

In three years, he has had to tutor two starting quarterbacks. He would like to be able to find one, label him The Man, and then have him run the offense for two or three years.

Friedgen was delicate dancing around the subject recently. Maybe there is a gem already in the program, like Statham, or another freshman, Ryan Mitch, out of DeMatha High.

And maybe there isn't.

Either way, the Terps are out trying to land one or two blue-chip quarterbacks.

"Mitch seems to be a very accurate passer," said Friedgen. "But it's hard to evaluate them when they're on the scout team. All they're doing is looking at cards. From a physical standpoint, the quarterbacks we have here can do the things we want to do, it's just the mental aspect of whether they can handle it.

"I think [Joel] has gained some very valuable experience in that last game filling in for Scott," Friedgen said. "He kind of has a little different demeanor than he usually has."

Friedgen can't write off the quarterbacks he has in the program now because he doesn't know how they might turn out. When Friedgen was the offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech in 1987 through 1991, he once tried to run off George Godsey, and he later became one of the ACC's finest quarterbacks even after three years of sitting on the bench behind Shawn Jones.

"I don't think we know if we don't have that guy on campus," Friedgen said. "Sometimes it takes a while to find out. It's not just an instant thing. But we're always trying to recruit a blue-chip quarterback."

Joe Hamilton, Jones and Godsey allowed Friedgen to build some of the most high-powered offenses in the ACC. But according to Friedgen, he has had to water down his offenses at Maryland. The Terps aren't doing one-tenth of what he did at Georgia Tech.

"We've had to simplify it and keep it to a nice little package," Friedgen said. "I would like to expand it, but you can only do what your personnel allows you to do. ... If you don't put your kids in a position where they can compete, then you're not a very good coach."

Friedgen doesn't mind gambling on a prospect either. Both Hamilton and Jones, great athletes, were recruited as defensive backs, but Friedgen guaranteed them a shot at quarterback if they came to Georgia Tech.

The Terps already have an oral commitment from Aberdeen High quarterback/linebacker Erin Henderson, younger brother of former Terps standout linebacker E.J. Henderson. Many don't project him as a college quarterback either.

"The first thing I look for is guys who can throw the football, he has to be able to pass," Friedgen said. "I look for a competitor. They have to be tough, mentally and physically. Every good quarterback I've ever had had that trait. If they can run, it's icing on the cake, but not a necessity. If he can run, our option is in play. He can also make a good play out of a bad play. The other thing is intelligence, does he understand the game, not just run plays?

"Sometimes it's hard to tell that in high school because you only get so many times to visit the kid," he said. "They'll know very soon if they can play quarterback or not. Shawn Jones, we won a national championship with, and Joe Hamilton, he was second in the Heisman voting."

It would seem like Maryland would draw some good recruits. The Terps are selling out every home game and have some of the most modern facilities in the country. The Terps run a pro-style offense and Friedgen gives his quarterbacks a lot of freedom to audible. It seems like a quarterback dream come true.

And if a blue-chipper came to Maryland, it would be Friedgen's dream come true as well.

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