Maryland's offense takes on healthier look

Fullback Cesa returns, may play against WVU

tackle Gaither improves


September 14, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Every Sunday for the past month, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has said a little prayer for his backup fullback.

Numerous injuries and maladies hampered the Terps during preseason camp, changing the face of Friedgen's offense. With the return of fullback Tim Cesa this week and marked improvement from a freshman on the offensive line, Maryland might finally have the look Friedgen intended on Saturday in the Terps' noon game against West Virginia.

Cesa, who has been out since mid-August with mononucleosis, rejoined the team Monday and might play Saturday. His presence will give Maryland much-needed depth at fullback, where Ricardo Dickerson has been dealing with two shoulder injuries.

"I don't think it's time to jump up and down," offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. "If [Cesa] can get any playing time this weekend, it would be a bonus. He really had an excellent spring and felt like he gave us the type of fullback we needed in our offense."

Cesa said he was winded and his lungs were burning Monday, but that passed and he focused on regaining his technique at yesterday's practice, which lasted nearly three hours.

"I came back, and they threw me right in the fire," said Cesa, who was switching with Dickerson every two repetitions at practice. " ... What they're going to do with the rotation Saturday, obviously I want to play. I want to get to back to where I was in the spring, and that's me and Ricardo, a two-fullback system. That's what the team needs right now to get that running game back."

Maryland was held to 56 rushing yards in Saturday's 28-24 loss to Clemson. It would help the Terps to solidify their offensive line, which is relying on a former tight end at left tackle.

Freshman offensive tackle Jared Gaither, who only played football for two years before joining the Terps and has been slowly learning the offense, practiced with the first team this week and could work his way into the starting lineup. He was in on about eight snaps against Clemson and will play again Saturday, although Taafee said he is not ready to start.

Regardless of how much Gaither plays there, he will provide relief for tight end Derek Miller, who moved after Maryland's top lineman, Stephon Heyer, tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the first week of preseason camp.

Gaither impressed Friedgen in Monday's two-minute drill, in which he faced complicated stunts and blitzes from the first-team defense for the first time.

"He did a very, very good job," Friedgen said. "I think we're making progress there. If we can make that conversion and get Miller back at tight end, it would really strengthen our football team. The addition of Tim taking some of the burden from Ricardo would definitely strengthen our offense quite a bit."

Friedgen said it's too early to tell if those changes will be implemented this weekend against West Virginia, but Miller will get repetitions at tight end "just in case."

For the past two games, Miller said he has felt the same way he did in high school, when he used to play both sides of the ball - beat up. Instead of participating in 40 plays a game, as he did when he was sharing time at tight end with Vernon Davis, Miller is now participating in 75-80 plays a game.

"The guys I'm going against are a lot bigger and stronger," said Miller, who is listed at 6 feet 7, 275 pounds. "At tight end I was going against a lot of [strong-side] linebackers, and the most a [strong-side] linebacker is going to weigh is 240 - and that's a big one. Now I'm going against defensive tackles every play that are like 270.

"That takes a toll on my body," he said. "I'm getting beat up a lot doing that."

Friedgen said left tackle is one of the most difficult positions to learn because that player is matched up against the opponent's best rusher, and it's more difficult to step left.

"I've played tight end my whole life," Miller said. "That's where I feel like I'm at home."

And that's where Friedgen originally intended him to be.

NOTE: The ticket office oversold Saturday's game against West Virginia by about 500 seats, prompting the university to add temporary seating for the game, athletic director Debbie Yow said yesterday. ... Friedgen said senior wide receiver Derrick Fenner, who suffered a concussion in the season opener against Navy, has been cleared to practice but isn't allowed contact until tomorrow at the earliest. Friedgen said Fenner will play Saturday.

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