Beginning of mystery

August 31, 2008|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

College Park - It should have been only a quarterback "competition," and a settled one, for that matter. Maryland picks Jordan Steffy, he plays three quarters against Delaware in the season opener, he sits in the fourth quarter in favor of Chris Turner and the Terps hold on, 14-7.

But no, it couldn't have been that easy in College Park. Not the game against a team from the former Division I-AA. And not the quarterback competition. No, it had to become a "controversy."

There could be a million reasons Ralph Friedgen took Steffy out with 12:08 left yesterday and put Turner in. The one given, though, smelled fishy.

Friedgen said Steffy's right thumb had been hurt. He didn't know when. He said Steffy did not tell him when. Player after player made available to the media said he was unaware Steffy was hurt. Steffy was not made available by Maryland officials.

"He was hurt, and he didn't look like he was able to function with it," Friedgen said.

Ohhhh-kay.

If Steffy is hurt, then all there is to wonder is whether he's healthy enough to play next week at Middle Tennessee State, because he didn't do anything to lose the job yesterday. That's right. Even though he threw two interceptions and fumbled once in the third quarter. The fans might disagree, after booing him every chance they could, not just after the miscues.

But make the three field goals they missed and get a few other breaks and the Terps would have been sailing into the fourth quarter with a safe lead. Helped mightily by the running game, Maryland was controlling the game, not dominating, but not in imminent danger. And Steffy looked more than fine in the first half, scoreboard notwithstanding.

Who knows now, however, whether Steffy controlled things well enough for Friedgen, with this odd thumb issue clouding things?

"If the guy's hurt, he's not going to tell anybody. He's going to try to stay in the game as long as possible," wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. He thought Steffy "made all the right reads and all the right checks" but said he had not heard anything about an injury.

The same for Edwin Williams, and for Da'Rel Scott - the guy snapping Steffy the ball and the one taking his handoffs, respectively. "I thought they just made a change to see what Chris could do," Scott said innocently.

It stinks to have to try to read between the lines with this. The combination of seemingly conflicting stories and strategic silence raises legitimate questions - for example, about whether the Terps have Steffy, the embattled fifth-year senior, on a short rope. Whether his third quarter negated his first two. Whether Turner, in fact, is still auditioning for the job. Whether Friedgen is aiming toward rotating quarterbacks; Josh Portis also got in for four snaps.

Friedgen's evaluation of Steffy? "I thought he played pretty good in the first half," he said, adding later, "I know he can play better than what he did in the second half."

The fans constantly griping about the quarterback choice are making the situation noisy enough. This only cranks the decibel level, possibly unnecessarily.

If Steffy actually got hurt in the game and popping Turner in was just the cautious play against a weaker opponent on opening day, then everyone can move along and there's nothing to see here.

Instead, the seed of doubt planted yesterday already is blossoming and casting a shadow.

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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