As Terps fix eyes on basics, Friedgen learns to refocus

He cuts down distractions, gives team more attention

College Football

April 16, 2005|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - When University of Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen opened spring practice by stating his team needed to get back to basics and improve chemistry, he wasn't just talking about his players. Friedgen was also indicting himself.

After the Terps finished 5-6 and failed to secure a bowl bid in 2004 for the first time in Friedgen's four years at Maryland, Friedgen has taken apart his offense, defense and special teams. He found room for improvement.

Then he looked in the mirror. Improvement was needed there, too.

"I really let some things get away," said Friedgen, whose team has two weeks left in spring practice. "I really screwed up. I don't know what was wrong with me, if I was raising too much money or what."

Friedgen may have gotten caught up in the euphoria of the program's instant success. In his first three seasons, he guided Maryland to a 31-8 record and appearances in the Orange, Peach and Gator bowls. Friedgen became a popular man on campus.

He appeared at numerous alumni events and golf tournaments. He became a popular guest speaker. There was even a "Breakfast with Friedgen" morning once a week during the season. It seemed like the only people who didn't call were Jay Leno and David Letterman.

But the so-called distractions have been scaled back.

"I have cut down a lot [on outside activities]," Friedgen said. "I haven't played golf yet. Every speaking engagement - I think I have done one or two. I've gotten back with the players more, been in the weight room more with them. After I talked to each and every player at the end of last year, one of the things I realized is they were only seeing me from one aspect, and that was disciplinarian.

"I always handle the bad things," he said. "They were coming to my office. I felt I needed to see the other side, and get out, get in the weight room and eat dinner with them. So I'm back to being around them more."

So, Friedgen has been more animated in practice. On Thursday morning, he went on the field and demonstrated better blocking and tackling techniques with linebacker Trey Covington. Friedgen has been happy with spring training camp. These are all the players he recruited.

Friedgen said there were no side effects on the recruiting trail because of his first losing season with the Terps.

"I think we had a good recruiting year," Friedgen said. "I think we have to have another good one - three back-to-back - to have a chance to have a really good football team."

What the Terps need in 2005 is more offense. Defensively, they played well enough to win a lot of games last season, but they couldn't mount long drives, and the defense would wear down. Friedgen said he has put in most of his defensive blitz packages and made some adjustments to his offense.

Like most coaches, he wouldn't elaborate but did say he worked on receivers' splits and put more time into matching up his personnel with schemes.

The big problem, though, continues to be at quarterback. There was hope that sophomore Jordan Steffy would emerge from spring practice as the starter, but he has missed substantial time because of knee and elbow injuries.

Friedgen said junior Sam Hollenbach has a slight edge over junior Joel Statham as the starting quarterback. Statham started 10 games last season, completing 126 of 234 passes for 1,590 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had 15 interceptions. Hollenbach started one game. Steffy didn't start, but played in six games.

"We've got to get him right physically," Friedgen said of Steffy. "For him to miss spring is not a good situation. He's got to do some things. He's got to ice his arm every time he throws, he's got to ice his knee, he's got to do his physical therapy.

"We beat our defense more this spring than we ever have. ... I think we have really worked on some things to get a little tighter offense. The coordination is a little bit better and the quarterbacks are throwing the ball better."

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