Speed, size put Davis in Terps' tight end mix

He makes big impression, `looks a little more poised' on 1st day of spring drills

College Football

April 02, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland tight end Vernon Davis is still just a kid. He is, in fact, not even a year removed from high school. Every day, Terps tight ends coach Ray Rychleski tries to keep that in mind. It's easy to forget sometimes.

"We just can't get ahead of ourselves with the young man," Rychleski said. "He's so eager, so willing and so much fun to coach, I've just got to keep his head small right now. I know he's a gifted athlete. We all know that. But you've got to remember, he's still young."

The thing is, Davis doesn't look, or play, like a kid who just turned 19 in January. He has the biggest biceps on the team, and despite being 6 feet 3 and 240 pounds of muscle, he's still one of the fastest Terps on the field.

Yesterday, during Maryland's first day of spring football drills, Davis caught a roll-out pass in the flat from quarterback Joel Statham, and before any defender could react, he was flying down the sideline untouched. He also was so fired up during team drills, he tossed linebacker Shawne Merriman onto the ground, which kicked off some spirited trash-talking between the offense and defense.

Davis' emotion, and plays like his sideline catch, have Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen salivating at the prospect of getting Davis more involved in the Terps' offense this fall. Davis, who was rated as one of the country's top recruits his senior year at Dunbar (D.C.), didn't redshirt last year, and he ended up seeing spot duty on special teams and at tight end.

Now Davis not only will get a chance to replace tight end Jeff Dugan, but he'll also play some at H-back for Maryland, meaning he'll line up in the backfield on certain plays and at wide receiver on others.

"Last year, Vernon was just so excited to get in the game, he was like a bundle of energy," Friedgen said. "Now he looks a little more poised to me. I think he made less mistakes than he's been making. Hopefully playing him last year is starting to pay off."

Said Davis: "I'm a lot more confident and a lot more comfortable now. Last year I was just getting to know the guys, trying learn the plays, but now I'm a lot more comfortable. ... I'm really excited about my role. It's going to be a great thing."

The first day of Maryland's quarterback competition, meanwhile, probably could be scored a draw, though freshman Ryan Mitch earned the most praise from Friedgen. Mitch, a freshman from DeMatha High, looked sharp during team passing drills, making quick decisions and delivering the ball on target to his receivers.

"Ryan Mitch kind of jumped out," Friedgen said. "Mechanically, he's a little better throwing to his right than to his left, so we've got to get that corrected. He's a pretty poised kid. He doesn't fluster easily."

Statham, a sophomore who started the spring atop the depth chart, made some nice throws at the beginning of practice, but he was picked off twice during team drills by safety Chris Kelley. Mitch was intercepted once by linebacker Tim Cesa.

"He looked more confident than what he's been," Friedgen said of Statham. "I thought some of his throws during the team drills weren't as good, but overall, he had a good day."

NOTES: Receiver/return man Steve Suter, who is recovering from knee surgery, was dressed yesterday but didn't participate in drills. ... Friedgen said one of his biggest concerns this spring is finding a "Sam" (strong-side) linebacker to replace Leroy Ambush. He was contemplating moving Merriman to the position, but decided against it when Jamal Cochran opted not to return for his senior year. Cochran split time with Merriman last year at the "Leo" linebacker spot, a hybrid of linebacker and defensive end. David Holloway, Jeris Smith and Eric Lenz are vying for playing time at the "Sam" spot.

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