COLLEGE PARK - With Maryland about to end its spring football practice, Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen yesterday made a vow about next season.
"We're not going to play offense like we did last year," Friedgen said. "I can promise you that."
As promises go, it should be an easy one to keep.
The Terps scored just five touchdowns in their final seven games last fall as they suffered their first losing (5-6) and non-bowl season since Friedgen took over in 2001.
The Terrapins play their annual Red/White Spring Game at 4 p.m., Saturday at Byrd Stadium and it could decide a few key issues for Friedgen, such as who will be his starting quarterback.
"Last week, I would have said [Sam] Hollenbach and he still has an edge," Friedgen said, "but Joel [Statham] has closed some of the gap." Both are juniors.
Statham was the starter for most of last year but threw nearly twice as many interceptions (15) as touchdowns (eight). Hollenbach started the season finale against Wake Forest, a 13-7 Maryland victory. In a scrimmage last Saturday, Hollenbach was 13 of 20 for 132 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Statham was even more crisp, 12-for-15 for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Friedgen's offseason offensive moves indicate he's determined to add punch to a running attack that averaged less than 120 yards a game and 2.9 yards per carry in 2004. He has moved two former defensive players, Ricardo Dickerson and Tim Cesa, to fullback to put blocking muscle at the point of attack. And he'll use his tight ends as purely that rather than as H-backs and wings, such as Vernon Davis was last year.
Right now, Friedgen is faced with a "running back by committee" with Keon Lattimore, Mario Merrills and Lance Ball possibly sharing carries. With five scholarship wide receivers on the roster, Maryland hopes to be able to eventually throw effectively but, Friedgen said, "You've got to be able to run the ball and go from there."
Friedgen said he shoulders the blame for allowing the team to spiral last year.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would have made some moves that would have been received not well in public - and that probably hurt our team," the coach said.
Friedgen declined to specify the changes he failed to make but he has taken a more hands-on approach to running the club this year. And it seems to have had an effect.
"I don't see a lot of `I' guys on this team. I see a lot of `we' guys," Friedgen said. Players who seemed to lack some enthusiasm last year have done an about-face, he said.
Maryland's All-America candidate, 6-foot, 225-pound middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, has missed the contact portion of spring camp after wrist surgery but is expected to be ready for the regular-season opener against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 3.
Jackson should be in the middle of a defense that - despite the departure of NFL draftees defensive end Shawne Merriman and cornerback Domonique Foxworth - is expected to be solid. Among players earning praise yesterday was 6-1, 217-pound free safety J.J. Justice who Friedgen said, "can come up and blow you up."
NOTES: Sophomore quarterback Jordan Steffy, suffering from both a sore knee and arm, might require surgery and his season could be jeopardized ... Friedgen expects to play two 15-minute quarters in the first half and two 12-minute periods in the second half of Saturday's game. ... Expecting the Middies to be in the stands and with the game on taped TV, Friedgen said the Terps will show plain vanilla formations on offense and defense. ... Gates will open at 12:30 p.m., with an autograph session from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Giveaway items include T-shirts.