Hollenbach's drive for QB job picks up speed

In Terps' first scrimmage, he is praised by Friedgen, gains ground on Statham

College Football

April 11, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - A week into Maryland's spring quest to find a starting quarterback for next fall, things didn't look promising for Sam Hollenbach.

Hollenbach, a sophomore-to-be from Sellersville, Pa., hadn't shown the arm strength of sophomore Joel Statham or the poise of freshman Ryan Mitch during the Terps' first week of practice. In the three-way competition, he was losing ground, not gaining it.

Yesterday, however, during Maryland's first scrimmage of the spring, Hollenbach not only earned a large helping of praise from Terps coach Ralph Friedgen, but he also gained ground on Statham, currently No. 1 on the depth chart, for the first time in a long time.

"I was very impressed with Sam today," Friedgen said. "I think it was one of the better days he's had since he came here."

Hollenbach was 9-for-14 for 144 yards and two touchdowns, but what pleased offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe more than statistics was Hollenbach's calm demeanor in the pocket.

"Sam used to get back there and it always seemed like he was hyper or nervous," Taaffe said. "I think he's more comfortable with the system now, and he's making better decisions. It's a pretty significant improvement. I think he closed the gap a little bit today."

Said Hollenbach: "I felt a lot more relaxed just getting out there in a game situation. It was kind of like the pressure was off, and I could just go through my progressions and play."

Even with Hollenbach's improvement, Statham still has a solid grip on the top spot. He made several nice throws late in the scrimmage, including two perfect spirals that resulted in touchdown passes.

On the first, Statham hit Derrick Fenner on a corner pattern, just as he was coming out of his break for a 36-yard score. On the second, Statham threaded the ball between three defenders to Steve Suter, who made a diving, 36-yard catch in the back of the end zone.

Statham finished 13-for-22 for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

"Joel's more confident than he's been in the past," Friedgen said. "I think our offense is maybe further along than I expected it to be at this point."

Friedgen said he was pleased with the play of running back Mario Merrills, who had 15 carries for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Linebacker Wesley Jefferson, Maryland's top recruit from a year ago, led the defense with 12 tackles, including seven solo.

"I think Wesley and Tim Cesa continue to improve," Friedgen said. "Defensively, we played the run a little better today, so I'm pleased with that."

NOTES: Left guard C.J. Brooks has been selected to the preseason Playboy All-America team, Maryland's sports information department said. "I haven't told my family yet," Brooks joked. "My girlfriend thought it was pretty funny, though." ... Suter led Maryland's receivers with three catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

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