Terps QB Steffy needs practice as team's No. 1

Backup habits not so easy to shake off

Florida transfer Portis competes for job

College Football

March 28, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

College Park -- Jordan Steffy has waited three years to take over as Maryland's starting quarterback, so when the moment finally arrived on the first day of spring practice yesterday, he continued to wait - just out of habit.

Steffy, who was listed atop the first depth chart released, hesitated to take the first snap of team drills because, as a backup, he became accustomed to practicing with the second team.

"I'm so used to waiting to go in," he said. "I looked around and I'm like, `Oh, it's me.'"

The question now is if he can keep the top spot, as Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen officially deemed it "open." Steffy's stiffest competition will come from Josh Portis, an athletic 6-foot-4 quarterback who sat out last season after transferring from Florida.

"That's going to be a very heated contest," Friedgen said. "We'll start off with Jordan because he's been the backup quarterback and has taken the most reps in our offense, so I would assume he would be ahead at this point in time. By no means is that a lock on the situation. To me, the quarterback position is open and the best guy is going to be the one who plays."

The uncertainty and inexperience at quarterback tops the list of concerns for a team still soaring from last season's 9-4 finish, which concluded with a win over Purdue in the Champs Sports Bowl. Friedgen, who also has to plug holes on the offensive line and at middle linebacker, said he hasn't set a timetable for naming the starter for the Sept. 1 season opener against Villanova.

As a freshman for the Gators, Portis played in six of Florida's 11 games and was 6-for-11 passing for 81 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Steffy has played in seven games at Maryland, completing 12 of 37 passes for no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Though neither has started a game at Maryland, Steffy is more familiar with Friedgen's playbook. Portis, a soft-spoken player to begin with, is used to the Gators' silent count and is working on developing a deeper voice for calling the plays.

"I'm very confident in my talents, but I have a ways to go with the playbook," Portis said. "I'm getting there."

Given the inexperience of the top two candidates, it's a scenario that likely could play out into the fall.

"The earliest I can do it probably the better," Friedgen said. "We're just going to have to see how that plays out. I'm anxious to see who's going to be able to put the ball in the end zone."

Maryland also is looking for a middle linebacker to replace Wesley Jefferson, who left the program to pursue a career as a state trooper. Chase Bullock has earned the spot, but will be pushed by redshirt freshman Alex Wujciak.

NOTES -- Six players will miss spring practice because of injuries or for academic reasons. Linebacker Barrod Heggs and offensive lineman Jared Gaither were excused to concentrate on academics, Friedgen said. These players are out with injuries: WR Isaiah Williams (shoulder surgery), CB Isaiah Gardner (shoulder surgery), LB Rick Costa (shoulder surgery) and DL Jermaine Lemons (knee operation). It's possible Lemons could return before spring practice ends. ... Friedgen made some position changes to add speed to the defense. Christian Varner, last year's starting free safety, has moved to strong safety. Moises Fokou has moved from weak-side linebacker to the strong side and Dave Philistin has moved from strong side to weak side. Reserve linebacker Chris Clinton has moved from middle linebacker to the hybrid position Maryland uses like a rush end. Steve Pfister has moved from strong-side linebacker to fullback. Nolan Carroll has moved from wide receiver to cornerback.

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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