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Departures, Injuries Left Unsettled Feeling

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff



May 1, 2007

COLLEGE PARK – Ralph Friedgen surveyed the field after an April practice and wondered just how he came into possession of a team full of walking wounded.

Tailbacks Keon Lattimore (back) and Da'Rel Scott (knee) missed most of the Terrapins' five weeks of drills. So did defensive end Jeremy Navarre (sprained right MCL) and cornerback Richard Taylor (left knee). Cornerback Isaiah Gardner, wideout Isaiah Williams and linebacker Rick Costa all sat out after offseason shoulder surgery.

That didn't even include the typical sprained ankles (guard Andrew Crummey) and pulled hamstrings (safeties J.J. Justice and Christian Varner) that were to be expected. Put together, it placed a significant strain on the Terps throughout the spring.

"None of them have been in scrimmages," Friedgen lamented. "I don't know. I think I live a good life. We always seem to get a lot of injuries around here, more than any other place I've ever been at. I'm not practicing any different than I did anywhere else."

In an apropos finish, tailback Morgan Green broke his collarbone in the closing minutes of the spring game. The freshman, best known as the player Friedgen once awarded a scholarship to ahead of future West Virginia star Steve Slaton, had thrived in the spring and could be a 2007 contributor if healthy.

If there was anything Friedgen could have been thankful for, it was that only Taylor is likely in danger of missing any portion of the upcoming season. Even in his case, it was possible after receiving two opinions that he could have merely a sprained knee rather than an ACL tear.

Friedgen also saw improvement from his quarterback corps, although there was little progress displayed in the spring games, and Maryland's depth was reduced in the middle of drills by a likely transfer.

Rising junior Jordan Steffy consistently drew praise from Friedgen for his smart play. Steffy redshirted two seasons ago, then took only 14 snaps all of last year. But a solid spring established him as the top quarterback, after the graduation of two-year starter Sam Hollenbach.

"I just have to manage the offense," Steffy said. "I don't have to complete every ball or throw a lot of touchdowns. The most important thing is getting us in and out of the huddle and putting us in the right play and giving us a chance on every play."

However, the quarterback situation is far from settled. Josh Portis, a Florida transfer who sat out last season, and rising sophomore Chris Turner also progressed this spring.

"They've all shown improvement," Friedgen said. "Right now I would say Jordan Steffy has a slight lead, but Portis and Turner are very close. … I think I have three pretty good quarterbacks. Two are developing, and one's playing pretty good right now."

None of them played particularly well in the April 28 spring game. Steffy was 7-for-12 for 80 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions, while Portis was 5-for-12 for 104 yards and a touchdown (a 68-yard strike to Darrius Heyward-Bey). Turner went 11-for-15 for 115 yards and an interception.

In fact, none of the three engineered a touchdown drive until well into the third quarter of the Red-White game.

"I'm concerned how they played in a game-type atmosphere on their own," Friedgen said. "We had trouble getting plays in and out, and that's got to get better. We have to make plays when they're available, and we didn't do that. I thought we were very tentative at times. I wasn't pleased with the way they played today. They can play better than that."

One minor setback was the likely loss of Jeremy Ricker, who redshirted last season. Considered a recruiting coup just two years ago, Ricker quit attending practices in mid-April and apparently will seek a transfer. Friedgen said he would grant a release to any school the Terps do not play, but the coach had not yet been presented the paperwork.

Still, Friedgen is happy with the depth he has accrued, and he also is more comfortable in his role as the offensive coordinator than a year ago. A full season of juggling coordinator and head coaching responsibilities taught the coach how to handle some situations, as well as how to avoid other pitfalls that cost both time and energy.

There also was stability around Friedgen. Unlike last year, when the Terps spent much of the spring adjusting to two new coordinators, there was little staff turnover. The only departure was defensive backs coach Tim Banks, who took over as the defensive coordinator at Central Michigan, his alma mater.

In his place, Friedgen hired former Boston College secondary coach Kevin Lempa, whose unit grabbed 21 interceptions last year. Lempa took a positive, hands-on approach during the spring and often was seen running over and congratulating his players after interceptions or pass break-ups.

The Terps could use all of Lempa's optimism, especially after losing star cornerback Josh Wilson (a second-round pick by Seattle in the NFL draft). The injuries left Maryland thin in the defensive backfield, although Anthony Wiseman had an interception in the spring game and could be a factor in the fall.

Maryland might have found an answer for its gaping hole at middle linebacker, created when Wesley Jefferson gave up his final year of eligibility to pursue a career as a state trooper. Freshman Alex Wujciak earned praise as a scout-team player all of last season, and he consistently caught Friedgen's eye during the spring.

Another intriguing newcomer was Travis Baltz, who is expected to compete for both the kicker and punter positions. The Terps have used only two starters at both positions in Friedgen's first six seasons, and they haven't come open in the same year since he arrived.

Yet with punter Adam Podlesh and kicker Dan Ennis both graduating, there was an onus on special teams throughout the spring. Both Baltz and Obi Egekeze struggled in placekicking drills, although both came on in the final two weeks.

Baltz, who enrolled a semester early to make his transition to college football smoother, made both of his field goal attempts in the spring game and has a chance to become the first Maryland player to start at both punter and kicker since David DeArmas in 1992.

"Just by coming here in the spring is going to help him tremendously," special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski said. "It's not a full year, but at least he's down the road. … Am I worried? Sure. When you lose two seniors like we had last year, you have a right to be concerned. But there's got to be somebody coming in. He has a chance to have a great career here."

Injuries and special teams curiosities aside, Maryland's biggest hole this spring was quarterback. And, after 15 practices, it very much remains the question that lingers over everything else in the program heading into next season.

"It's a good competition, and we'll look at it in the fall," Portis said. "At quarterback, you just have to make plays. Everybody made plays (in the spring game) somewhat, and everybody had flashes and their ups and downs. … This spring game wasn't our best team performance, but I think we'll do better."

Spring 2007 Overview

The PooP

Seventh-year coach Ralph Friedgen has visited greatness and mediocrity in College Park. In his first three years at his alma mater, he built an outstanding staff, won an ACC title (2001), posted the first consecutive 10-win seasons in school history (then added a third), went to quality (Orange, Peach, Gator) bowl games, and compiled a 19-1 home record. Back-to-back 5-6 marks, combined with significant staff turnover, led to some major questions in recent years, but the Terps' 9-4 performance last fall (with a so-so team) was a huge step forward.

Possible 2007 Starters

Offense

Pos. Name Ht./Wt. Class
QB Jordan Steffy 6-1/209 *Jr.
RB Lance Ball^ 5-9/223 *Sr.
FB Cory Jackson 6-1/253 So.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey^ 6-2/206 *So.
WR Isaiah Williams^+ 6-3/197 Jr.
TE Dan Gronkowski^ 6-6/263 *Jr.
LT Scott Burley 6-5/324 *Sr.
LG Jaimie Thomas 6-4/339 *Jr.
OC Edwin Williams^ 6-2/326 *Jr.
RG Andrew Crummey^+ 6-5/301 *Sr.
RT Dane Randolph 6-5/312 *Jr.
PK Obi Egekeze 6-2/224 *Jr.

Defense

DE Jeremy Navarre^+ 6-3/262 Jr.
NT Carlos Feliciano^ 6-5/307 Sr.
DT Dre Moore^ 6-4/311 *Sr.
DE Trey Covington^ 6-3/240 *Jr.
LB Erin Henderson^ 6-3/236 *Jr.
LB Chase Bullock 6-2/234 *Jr.
LB Adrian Moten 6-2/221 *Fr.
SS Christian Varner^ 5-11/205 Sr.
FS J.J. Justice 6-2/222 Sr.
CB Kevin Barnes 6-1/188 *Jr.
CB Isaiah Gardner^+ 5-11/194 *Sr.
P Travis Baltz 6-2/200 Fr.

  • – redshirted ^ – six/more 2006 starts
  • – injured/missed spring drills

Coming On Strong

Ball, Heyward-Bey and Henderson have All-ACC ability and were outstanding in April. Also: Jackson, Gaither (academics), Crummey (injured), Randolph, Moore, WR Danny Oquendo, TE Joey Haynos, LB Alex Wujciak.

Cause For Concern?

The Terps have won a lot of games with their special teams in recent years, but kicker and punter are major question marks this time. Also: quarterback, linebacker, cornerback, depth at multiple (FB, WR, OL, LB, S, CB) positions.

2007 Schedule

Date Opponent 2006 Record
Sept. 1 Villanova 6-5 (5-3)
Sept. 8 at Florida International 0-12 (0-7)
Sept. 13 West Virginia 11-2 (5-2)
Sept. 22 at Wake Forest 11-3 (6-2)
Sept. 29 at Rutgers 11-2 (5-2)
Oct. 6 Georgia Tech 9-5 (7-1)
Oct. 13 OPEN
Oct. 20 Virginia 5-7 (4-4)
Oct. 27 Clemson 8-5 (5-3)
Nov. 3 at North Carolina 3-9 (2-6)
Nov. 10 Boston College 10-3 (5-3)
Nov. 17 at Florida State 7-6 (3-5)
Nov. 24 at N.C. State 3-9 (2-6)

Spring Cleaning

The following scholarship athletes left the program in the last 12-24 months with eligibility remaining but were not listed as departures in our previous (annual) reviews: DT Rob Armstrong (transfer/Morgan State), FB Tim Cesa (medical/concussions), OG Garrick Clig (chose to graduate), FB Matt Deese (dismissed), FB Chris Gronkowski (transfer/Arizona), DE Barrod Heggs (academics/may return), LB Wesley Jefferson (chose to graduate), DT Dennis Marsh (transfer/Norfolk State), OT Zach Marshall (transfer/Miami-Ohio), OT Brandon Nixon (academics/dismissed), LB Marvin Peoples (transfer/South Florida), DB Hunter Reddick (academics/dismissed), QB Jeremy Ricker (transfer), OG Donnie Woods (chose to graduate).

Chart By: David Glenn