No Speed Limit On Receivers

Maryland Opens Preseason With Talented Yet Unproven Options At Wide-out

August 11, 2009|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland opened preseason practices Monday with coaches saying that nine players are contending for starting receiver positions - a glut of speed, raw talent and youthful arrogance, but also inexperience.

The competition for Maryland receiving jobs is intriguing because there is loads of potential - junior Emani Lee-Odai and sophomore Quintin McCree each possess sprinter's speed - but no clear favorites to fill two of the three starting posts.

"It's kind of unusual to have nine guys who could possibly start," said receivers coach Lee Hull, who must find replacements for Darrius Heyward-Bey and Danny Oquendo. Heyward-Bey left after his junior season and was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders. Oquendo graduated. "Usually, you kind of know who the guys are going to be. There is no heir apparent," Hull said.

The media did receive a few clues Monday about who might start, and where. Coaches said Torrey Smith, the group's only returning starter, was being moved to flanker - likely opening the split end spot for junior Adrian Cannon. Also, Lee-Odai, who coaches say runs a blistering 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash, injured an ankle and might miss a week of practice. "It's just a tweak," said a dejected Lee-Odai, who played through leg, ankle and wrist problems during spring practices.

Hull and Lee-Odai were interviewed as Maryland held its annual media day events. Wearing red jerseys and white football pants, the players gathered for the team picture on the bleachers of steamy Byrd Stadium. They then conducted interviews and prepared for their first August practice, which was pushed back nearly three hours to the early evening because of the extreme heat and humidity. Media members in hard hats toured the upgraded Tyser Tower, which will house 64 luxury suites when it is completed in several weeks. Forty of the suites have been sold so far, and the university is now offering suite rentals on a per-game basis.

Coach Ralph Friedgen said this season's team, with only 14 seniors, seemed offended at being picked last or next-to-last in its Atlantic Coast Conference division by most pundits.

Friedgen said the team feels "like it didn't get a whole lot of respect because they're young. I think they're very anxious to prove people wrong about who the media perceives them to be. I'm going to use that as a motivating force. "

Friedgen must find replacements for three departed starters on the offensive line. He also faces uncertainty on the defensive line, where he said Monday that nose tackle Dion Armstrong's academic eligibility remains unclear. Armstrong started three of the last four games in 2008.

But at receiver, Friedgen said, "I think we're going to be pretty good."

The receiving corps promises to be entertaining. It's a close group - many of the receivers room together - and a competitive one.

"You've got to be able to take a little verbal abuse," Cannon said. "There's a lot of back and forth."

The receivers - there are no seniors and just three juniors - frequently compete over who is fastest and toughest.

"I'm the fastest," Lee-Odai said. "I think Quintin is No. 2."

Hull concurred, saying McCree runs the 40 in 4.31 seconds.

Said Hull: "I think we'll be able to spread the field because of the speed. Defenses won't roll coverage to one side like they did with Darrius. They're going to have to play honest."

Hull continued: "We just need more consistency. During spring practice, one guy would have a good day and the next day it would be another guy."

It's not all about speed. Maryland must find a replacement for Oquendo, a savvy possession receiver who excelled on third downs.

Hull said sophomore Ronnie Tyler is a leading candidate to fill Oquendo's role. Redshirt freshman Kerry Boykins and junior LaQuan Williams are also in the mix.

"I think we've got nine receivers that I wouldn't be afraid to put in a game," Friedgen said.

But not all of them will be able to play - which is likely to make for an interesting August as the depth chart is sorted out.

"Three pretty good receivers are probably going to be on the scout team," Friedgen said.

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