Terps' passing game remains in good hands

Veteran receivers, skilled newcomers provide options

College Football

August 15, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

College Park -- At this time last season, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was lamenting the loss of 86 percent of his passing offense to graduation and the NFL.

What was probably one of his biggest worries at the time has since become one of the Terps' most promising assets for 2007.

Maryland returns all three of its leading receivers to the lineup and has a talented group of younger players who also have the ability to contribute.

Redshirt sophomore Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose productivity last year ranked him among the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference, set the school record for receiving yards by a freshman with his team-high 694 yards.

Because of his success, even more will be required of teammates Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams, who combined for 775 yards and five touchdown catches last year.

Their experience could lead to more options on offense this year and allow Friedgen to do some things he was hesitant to do last season.

"I'm hoping we could make some more plays up the field, especially at our X position," Friedgen said. "I would anticipate Darrius will see a lot of double coverage this year, so we've got to move him around. But if they're doubling him, then they're probably singling the other two guys. The way to make Darrius more effective is to get those other guys more involved in the game. If we could do that, then we could have a lot of balance."

Part of their success, though, hinges on who is throwing to them. Friedgen has yet to name a starting quarterback for the Sept. 1 season opener against Villanova, even though Jordan Steffy has been taking all of his reps with the first team. Neither Steffy nor Josh Portis has started a game or thrown for a touchdown at Maryland.

"Everybody knows we're going to have a new quarterback this year," receivers coach Bryan Bossard said, "and it's our job to make him look good, whoever the quarterback is."

Heyward-Bey, Oquendo and Williams accounted for 62 percent of Maryland's receiving yards last season - a dramatic increase from their roles in 2005. Heading into 2006, Oquendo and Williams had combined for four catches, 24 yards and no touchdowns. Heyward-Bey was on the bench as a redshirt.

"When we went into last year, we probably had six career pass catches," Bossard said. "To get those guys in and play 12 football games and play the opponents we had, that just makes you that much better. What I'm trying to do for those three older guys is to take their game to the next level now, to be more consistent, make plays."

Historically at Maryland, the team's top receiver has played at the "X" position. He is usually a good blocker and plays on the open side of the field. Friedgen moved Heyward-Bey to that spot Monday because it would be easier for him to learn it than for LaQuan Williams, a redshirt freshman who moved from defensive back to receiver before spring.

Despite his limited time on offense, Williams impressed Friedgen on Saturday with a diving touchdown catch on a pass from Portis, managing to keep one foot in the end zone.

"He's a guy that we've got to get in the lineup," Friedgen said. "He's making plays for us."

Williams' success could come at the expense of junior Isaiah Williams. Friedgen publicly questioned his No. 3 receiver's toughness earlier this week.

"He's got a lot of potential, but he's really got to get a lot more physical if he's going to play for us," Friedgen said. "I'm to the point where if he can't block anybody, I'm going to play somebody else. I think he's talented - he can run decent routes - but he's got to be able to catch the ball over the middle. He's not great at that, either.

"Right now, I would say he's going to play on third down. I'm going to play somebody else on first and second down."

Friedgen is also considering redshirt freshman Emani Lee-Odai to play slot along with Oquendo.

"We're way more confident than we were last year," said Oquendo, who averaged 11.6 yards per catch last season. "Last year, we weren't really sure how much talent we had, or if we were able to compete on that level. I think we showed everybody last year we could, even though everyone was kind of scared because we were so young."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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