Looking to snap back, Friedgen begins drills with QB job open

Terps' '04 trio returns

running back also unclear

College Football

April 02, 2005|By David Selig | David Selig,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen admits bouncing back from his first losing season in four years with the program will probably be his toughest task.

As the team begins a month of spring practices today, Friedgen will begin repairing his offense by observing position battles across the field, most notably at quarterback and running back.

With the position unsettled most of last season, Friedgen said yesterday that the competition for the starting quarterback role among Jordan Steffy, Sam Hollenbach and Joel Statham "is wide open" again.

"The one thing they do have at quarterback that we didn't have last year is that they all have experience," said Friedgen, whose Terps finished 5-6 last season. "I expect them all to be better than they were last year."

Last year, Statham started every game but one, throwing eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Steffy, a high-profile recruit who might have the most physical talent of the three, played in six games last season as a freshman. Friedgen said he needs to become more comfortable in the pocket before he can start.

Hollenbach, who considered leaving the program in the middle of the year, started the season finale against Wake Forest and led the Terps to victory by throwing for 164 yards and with no turnovers.

"[My role is] just being a dependable guy who's going to recognize different kinds of defenses, that's going to be smart with the ball and that's not going to try to play outside of the system," said Hollenbach, the only quarterback made available to the media yesterday.

While the Terps try to improve on a passing offense that amassed less than 2,000 yards last season, they must also retool the rushing attack during the 15 spring practices. The Terps will be without Sammy Maldonado (expired eligibility) and Josh Allen (redshirting with a knee injury), who combined for more than 60 percent of the team's carries last season.

Mario Merrills, a Wilde Lake graduate, is penciled into the starting tailback role, but doesn't automatically envision the position as his.

"I'm slated to start, but I've got to go out there and prove myself every day," he said. "You've got to bring your lunch every day."

Friedgen said Merrills is the fastest and strongest back in a group that will include Lance Ball, J.P. Humber and Keon Lattimore, brother of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

Ricardo Dickerson, Tim Cesa and freshman Jeremy Navarre will compete to be the starting fullback, a position Friedgen wants to bring back into the offense after nobody filled the role consistently last year.

Friedgen said the goal of spring practice is to reinstitute the "hard-nosed" football that made his first three teams successful. That, he believes, will solve most of the offensive problems.

"We need to come out of spring being good at something," Friedgen said. "At the end of last year, we weren't good running the football and we weren't good throwing the football. When you're unable to throw the ball, they gang up and take away what you do the best. That's kind of what we saw."

The Terps also will need to find a long-snapper to replace Jon Condo and decide between Dan Ennis and Obi Egekeze at kicker. Another competitive position is right tackle, where Brandon Nixon and Scott Burley will face off.

Among the front seven defensively, many of the same players will compete for a larger role on the team, and the Terps will be forced to work in three new starters in the secondary.

A defensive unit that was solid last season will also push the offense to improve.

"I think we really can set the tone," linebacker William Kershaw said. "The offense, they're working hard, too, so it's just going to be a battle all spring. I know people want to be on the field, so I think it's going to be really good spring ball because everybody is going to be competing for a position."

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