PINEHURST, N.C. -- About two weeks ago, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen received phone calls from Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti, inquiring about Jared Gaither, the Terps' 6-foot-9, 324-pound offensive tackle.
"I told them what I felt," Friedgen said. "If he would just get away from some of the people he hangs around with, get his mind right, dedicate himself ... they got a steal."
In his first public comments since Gaither rose from a struggling student to a supplemental draft pick for the Ravens, Friedgen tempered his high praise for the lineman by questioning Gaither's work ethic - a shortcoming that eventually cost him his starting job.
"Sometimes he wouldn't work," Friedgen said. "I think I have to have some credibility there with my players. ... There were some days he didn't feel like practicing and Dane Randolph was practicing very hard."
In retrospect, it was a move that might work to Friedgen's advantage this year, just as the absence of Gaither in the spring to concentrate on his grades worked in favor of senior Scott Burley.
"I think it helped us from the fact Scott Burley got a lot better," said Friedgen, who dismissed the media's preseason rankings, which predicted Maryland will finish fifth in the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference. "I thought he played very well this spring. I'm really counting on him to play very well for us this year."
Burley played just seven snaps in last year's season opener against William and Mary before suffering an ankle injury that kept him out almost a month. Friedgen has petitioned the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility for Burley, who was limited in 2005 because of a back injury. He said he hopes to hear the results before the start of the season.
Although Gaither never reached his potential at Maryland, his departure - and those of Donnie Woods and backup Garrick Clig - has forced Friedgen to rebuild the depth he said he worked years to build.
"Now we're back to where we were most of the time I've been here," he said, "with seven offensive linemen."
Woods said he left the team to join the military, but Friedgen said Woods did not pass his ROTC program and is no longer in school at Maryland.
"He didn't pass anything this spring," Friedgen said. "He's out of school. I thought he was going to get his degree and go into the service as an officer, but he didn't do very well this spring. I went out and spoke to the ROTC class he was in. He got his grades, and he didn't do very well."
Gaither struggled, too, and was declared academically ineligible for the 2007 season. He hired an agent, though, and was selected by the Ravens in the fifth round of this month's supplemental draft. Asked at yesterday's ACC Football Kickoff whether Gaither has what it takes to survive with the Ravens, Friedgen said, "I hope he does."
"Sometimes money is a great motivator," Friedgen said. "I think he's the most athletic big guy - college or pro - that I've ever been around. ... But he's only played essentially four years of football. His learning curve is tremendous. Now what he's got to do is have the work ethic to do that. I'm pulling for him to do that."