Book smart

For Friedgen's Terps, massive playbook is required reading

August 27, 2007|By Heather A. Dinette | Heather A. Dinette,Sun reporter

College Park — College Park-- --The players know this drill as the "three snaps." It's a different kind of exercise, one that requires brains and confidence instead of helmets and pads.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who doubles as the Terps' offensive coordinator, will call on one of his players, ask him to stand up in front of his teammates, and answer a question about his 689-page playbook.

"Whaddaya got on Quickcharlierightx?"

Friedgen will click his fingers. By the third snap, the answer must be delivered.

The exercise is intended to force the Terps to know their plays under pressure and when they're tired.

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That's one.

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That's another.

"It's just crazy," said freshman receiver Torrey Smith, who, like other newcomers, had about 60 formations mailed to him as soon as he signed his letter of intent. "It's everything you think you've seen before thrown together in a million different ways. That's how I'd describe it. As a student, it's like a whole year of schoolwork thrown at you in four days."

The word "complicated" has been overused when describing Friedgen's offense, but he and his assistants say it's nothing more than what is expected of players in the NFL. Its foundation stems from the broad philosophy of former San Diego Chargers coach Don Coryell - a pro offense that Joe Gibbs learned and brought to the Washington Redskins, and a system that Friedgen constantly expands upon.

A major difference is Friedgen's incorporation of the option - and this year he has a few athletes who have the potential to expand his use of the playbook.

First, though, they have to understand it.

"I used to [learn] it how I would do my vocab words in high school - put it on flashcards - but I stopped after a week," wide receiver Danny Oquendo said. "There's too many plays."

The playbook in Friedgen's office - the mammoth compilation he has created from more than 30 years in coaching - has RALPH FRIEDGEN across the front, in white block letters. Inside the red, 4-inch-thick, three-ring binder are chapters of position manuals, terminology and everything he expects his players and staff to know by Saturday's season opener against Villanova.

The table of contents alone is six pages, and there are 17 tabs dividing sections like "Fronts," "Coverage" and "Run Game."

"It's kind of like a dictionary," assistant coach Ray Rychleski said. "You don't ever throw anything out; you just keep adding."

Quarterbacks have perhaps the most difficult position because they must know what everybody else on the field is doing. Plus, a play can be run from different formations, and within those formations are different motions, and within those are various shifts. Friedgen has about 115 pass patterns with roughly 15 variations on each.

"Nobody is going to come in and play and run the offense successfully as a young guy," said starting quarterback Jordan Steffy, who is entering his fourth season in the system. "It's impossible to do."

Task masters

Friedgen said outsiders have no idea what is required of Maryland quarterbacks.

"I just smile," Friedgen said. "People, especially the fans, they really don't know what it takes to be a quarterback, what these kids have to learn. Not only what they have to learn for us, but what they have to learn for the defense, and the permutations that grow from there.

"I try to have answers for everything," he said. "Some people don't have answers. They just say the quarterback has to get rid of the ball or throw it away. I don't like that. I always think a play needs to have an opportunity. Whatever they try to get you, I try to figure out a way not to get caught."

Steffy said there were nine quarterbacks at Maryland when he arrived his freshman year, and he is the only one remaining at the position. He said most of the departures were a direct result of how tough it is to learn the offense.

`You've gotta be tough'

"It's a marathon," he said. "You've gotta be tough. ... It's something that you really have to have an inner belief in yourself to stick through it. Every day the practices, the blitz drills, the defense is going to rattle you because there are so many things you have to do offensively. But I'm getting to the point where I'm comfortable. It's all because I'm really starting to get a hang of the offense."

In order to do that, the quarterbacks must first learn the defense.

Friedgen said what separates his system from a lot of others is the responsibility he gives the quarterback to make decisions and call plays.

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