Young Terps try to catch on quickly

Inexperienced receivers work OT learning playbook

College Football


COLLEGE PARK -- Each receiver on Maryland's football team knows senior Drew Weatherly's cell phone number in case they have any questions about the offense, or are looking for advice.

Yes, he said, they do call.

Weatherly, who played in nine games last season and started two, is the lone senior in the unit with any experience. Greg Powell, a former walk-on who has yet to make a collegiate catch, is the other senior. The rest are freshmen and sophomores.

Last year's receiving leaders -- Jo Jo Walker, Derrick Fenner, Danny Melendez and tight end Vernon Davis -- accounted for 86 percent of the Terps' 2,740 receiving yards. Now they're gone, and much of Maryland's ability to turn around back-to-back 5-6 seasons will depend on how quickly these teenagers can learn coach Ralph Friedgen's nearly 200 pass patterns and the variations on each.

"I think the key to our team from a personnel standpoint would be our wide receivers," Friedgen said. "I like our talent, I like our athleticism and I like our speed. They're just very, very inexperienced."

In order to grow up quickly, the players said they have been doing additional work on their own.

To test themselves they write a play on a sheet of paper, cover it with one hand and try to repeat it. They have extra one-on-one meetings and group meetings to go over motions, assignments and shifts. They meet with the quarterbacks and attend film study sessions. On Tuesdays and Thursdays this summer, they ran extra routes on their own.

"Last night we quizzed each other on the formations and the plays," said Darrius Heyward-Bey, a redshirt freshman whom Friedgen described as having "world-class speed."

"That's what you gotta do," said Heyward-Bey. "You have to study and quiz each other because when you come out here to practice, you gotta know your stuff. If the timing is off by one second -- by one step -- the offense is dead."

The receivers have also been using Friedgen's latest gadget, the Pro Simulator. It's a $240,000 computer system that holds the Terps' entire playbook and is used like a video game.

"A lot of people think we're the weak link of the offense," Weatherly said, "so we're getting together to put ourselves in situations to try and get better."

The players aren't the only ones putting in extra hours to learn Friedgen's offense. Receivers coach Bryan Bossard is in his second season and described it as "an offense you have to perspire over."

"It's a pro offense," he said. "It's what those guys on Sundays are doing."

Of the six freshman receivers, two are straight out of high school: Emani Lee-Odai (Anacostia High School in Washington) and Stephen Smalls (Conestoga Valley High School in Lancaster, Pa.). The average age of this unit is 19.

"We're young, but we're talented," Heyward-Bey said. "We're just as fast, just as tall, just as strong as anybody else in the ACC. We're going to use our talent to open up the run game and help out the rest of the team."

Sophomore Isaiah Williams is listed atop the preseason depth chart with Terrell Skinner, along with Danny Oquendo, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, and Weatherly.

Notes -- Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was at football practice yesterday with his son, Drew, 7, and an entourage of four guards. Friedgen drove his red golf cart to meet them on the sideline, where he shook the governor's hand and gave him a hug. "I wasn't stopping practice for the governor or the president," Friedgen said. "I went over and said hello. We gotta get things done." ... Defensive tackle Robert Armstrong's appeal to the NCAA for a waiver was denied, and he was declared academically ineligible. Friedgen said he can play Division III or stay at Maryland on scholarship and graduate. ... Tailback Keon Lattimore turned an ankle, and is questionable for tomorrow's scrimmage. Linebacker Erin Henderson slipped in the training room and hyperextended his left knee. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in that knee during fall camp and missed last season.

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