Friedgen putting stamp on offense

Terps coach may take over coordinator duties

College football


COLLEGE PARK -- Ralph Friedgen has tightened the playbook, removed certain gray areas and thrown open the quarterback job in an effort to escape a two-year non-bowl cycle at Maryland.

Plus, the Terps coach is ready to go the extra mile himself. It appears increasingly likely he'll assume duties of offensive coordinator and play-caller next season.

When spring football practice begins today, the Terps still will have a vacancy on their coaching staff where Charlie Taaffe used to serve as offensive coordinator. Taaffe surprisingly resigned in February to pursue other coaching opportunities, and Friedgen hasn't been able to replace him.

"I haven't hired anybody that I feel fits all the things I'm looking for," Friedgen said yesterday in a news conference to kick off spring workouts. "I'm still interviewing people, and I'll bring in someone next week."

Fall workouts are five months away, but the absence of a coordinator and quarterbacks coach has put a squeeze on Friedgen.

"If I'm coaching quarterbacks, it's hard to see other positions," he said. "[But] I don't want to hire a guy just to hire a guy. I have specific needs I want, and I'm still looking for that individual."

The needs are in the areas of recruiting and familiarity with Friedgen's multiple offense.

In the meantime, incumbent quarterback Sam Hollenbach and his chief competition, Jordan Steffy, are taking their orders from the head man. After spending four years under Taaffe, Hollenbach, a fifth-year senior, said the change has been beneficial.

"[Friedgen] definitely runs meetings real strict," Hollenbach said. "We'll get a five-page test in our meetings and we have to get a certain percentage right. He runs it strict, but as far as patience, he's pretty good."

If Hollenbach is feeling the heat of his open competition with Steffy, walk-on transfer Bobby Sheahin and second-year quarterback Chris Turner, he wasn't showing it. The collarbone at the top of his left shoulder still bulges from a serious injury he suffered last season against Virginia Tech, but Hollenbach has been cleared for spring practices.

There will be some limitations - he can't have contact and if he has a heavy throwing day, he'll likely get the next day off - but Hollenbach said the shoulder is "10 times better" than it was the final month of the 2005 season. "It was a struggle to throw at the end of last year and now it's a lot more natural," he said.

The bigger challenge, then, is upgrading his game if he's going to hold off Steffy's challenge.

"One of the things he's got to do better [is], the ball's got to come out of there [quicker]," Friedgen said. "He's got to make quicker decisions and more accurate decisions. And his pocket presence needs to be better. I'd like to be able to run him more on options; I think that's important for us to do. But we need to get through this period of time [without re-injuring the shoulder]."

The good news is that tackle Stephon Heyer returns to the offensive line after a knee injury canceled his 2005 season. The bad news is the Terps have lost their top four receivers, including tight end Vernon Davis.

Among Friedgen's offseason projects has been a retooling of the offensive playbook. Accepting responsibility, he said last year "things weren't as exact as we need them to be. ... They're pretty exact right now."

Friedgen became impassioned yesterday when he talked about consecutive 5-6 seasons.

"The pressure is, I'm tired of losing," he said. "Whether it's self-imposed or not doesn't matter. It's time we start winning again. I told our team we probably have more talent now than we ever had since I've been here. To me, we should be peaking right now."

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