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Easy-going Turner Shines On Game Days

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



October 9, 2007

COLLEGE PARK – Anyone who has watched Maryland practice on a daily basis this year would not hesitate to say that Jordan Steffy is a better quarterback than Chris Turner. Steffy displays a stronger command of the offense, better focus and more consistency.

However, based on their performances in regular-season games, one would have to conclude that Turner is the more effective quarterback.

It's way too early to declare Turner the second coming of Boomer Esiason, but the laid-back Californian just seems to have some of the innate qualities that coaches look for in a starting quarterback.

Teammates joke that Turner is often in "la-la land" during practice, and the curly headed blond has annoyed coach Ralph Friedgen with his seemingly casual approach. However, Turner proved over the past two games that his concentration level can rise dramatically under game conditions.

Friedgen sensed this earlier, because he's said on numerous occasions that Turner performed better in live scrimmages than he did in practice. Friedgen already has described Turner as a "gamer," but the coach just couldn't look past the player's subpar practice habits.

Maryland's coaches, players and fans might never have discovered Turner's true ability had Steffy not suffered a concussion against Rutgers. Turner came off the bench in the second half and stunned everyone with the confidence and poise he displayed.

Turner stood calmly in the pocket and was decisive in completing 14 of 19 passes for 149 yards, and leading the Terrapins to a 34-24 upset. The redshirt sophomore was particularly strong in the toughest situations, converting 7 of 8 third-down passes.

Friedgen didn't know what to make of Turner's coming-out party. Was it a true indicator of what the kid could do, or just a mirage? Would Turner show the same cocksure demeanor and sharpness with a week to think about being the starter? Would opposing defenses do things to rattle the youngster, now that there was film off of which to scout him?

Turner proved he wasn't simply a one-game wonder with a strong outing against Georgia Tech. The 6-3, 214-pounder displayed the same confidence and decisiveness he had shown in the Rutgers game by completing 10 of 17 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown.

In a nutshell, Turner gives the Maryland offense the one element it was sorely lacking with Steffy under center – a downfield passing threat. Turner, unlike Steffy, is willing to stand in the pocket and wait for things to develop and receivers to come open. He is not afraid to take chances and throw the ball downfield.

Steffy was skittish in the pocket, showing happy feet and a penchant for scrambling too quickly. He seems more comfortable rolling out and throwing on the run. Turner is more of a classic dropback passer, and that makes all the difference in the world.

In the first half against Georgia Tech, Turner completed passes of 44 and 47 yards to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. He hooked up with tight end Jason Goode for a 78-yard touchdown play. Steffy's longest pass play of the season is 39 yards.

Maryland possesses one of the most dangerous weapons in the ACC in Heyward-Bey, but his world-class speed and ability to get behind the defense had been under-utilized with Steffy pulling the trigger.

In four and a half games of working with Steffy, Heyward-Bey had 15 catches for 212 yards. With Turner slinging the ball over the last six quarters, Heyward-Bey had six receptions for 155 yards.

Just as important as his ability to throw the deep ball is Turner's willingness to take shots and give the Terps' receivers a chance to make plays. Against Georgia Tech, Turner recognized that Heyward-Bey was in single coverage, so he tossed a bomb that was basically a jump ball – trusting that his man would go get it. Heyward-Bey out-jumped and out-muscled Jahi Word-Daniels, Tech's best cover corner, for a 44-yard reception.

After the Yellow Jackets closed to within 21-17 in the third quarter, Turner directed a clutch, 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on which he converted a pair of third-and-long passes. He threaded the needle to tight end Joey Haynos for a 20-yard completion on third-and-11. It was the type of throw that took guts and pinpoint accuracy, as Haynos was surrounded by defenders in the middle of the field.

Turner is a wild card, and there is no telling how things will progress if he remains the starter. This is a laid-back and loose kid from Simi Valley who enjoys scuba diving and riding his ATV around the California sand dunes. Teammates call him "Sunshine Cali," and some will tell you that the hippie-like Turner partied a little too much upon his arrival in College Park.

"Chris is an interesting young man," said Ben McEnroe, who coached Turner at Chaminade High. "He'll stand there at practice and appreciate a sunset. He's singing and playing the drums on his offensive linemen's helmets. But when it's time to go, he's ready to go."

ONE POSITIVE, ONE NEGATIVE

Maryland found a new defensive playmaker against Georgia Tech, but lost its best offensive lineman for the season.

Middle linebacker Dave Philistin emerged as a real force by recording 21 tackles, most by a Maryland defender in nearly a decade. Philistin was all over the field and came up with some big stops in crucial situations, making up for the absence of weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson, who sat out with a knee injury.

Philistin stuffed Tech tailback Tashard Choice on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game. He also stopped Choice for no gain on the final series of the game, when the Terps made a huge defensive stand to force a 52-yard field goal attempt, which went wide right.

Philistin's tackle total was the highest since inside linebacker Eric Barton (Oakland Raiders) notched 22 against North Carolina in 1988. The 6-2, 231-pound junior now leads the team with 56 tackles, one more than Henderson.

Like Turner, Philistin might not have seen a whole lot of playing time this season if not for an injury to someone else. Classmate Chase Bullock was running No. 1 at middle linebacker before suffering a shoulder injury.

While Philistin's performance was a huge lift for the defense, the offense was dealt a severe blow when senior right guard Andrew Crummey suffered a broken fibula and was lost for the season.

Crummey was without question the team's best offensive lineman, a second-team All-ACC selection in 2006 and a likely first-team pick had he stayed healthy this season. The Terps ran behind the 6-5, 301-pounder in crucial short-yardage situations, and he also was a very effective pass blocker.

Redshirt sophomore Phil Costa filled in for Crummey and performed admirably. However, the reality is that Costa (6-3, 297) or senior Jack Griffin (6-7, 308) are major downgrades from Crummey.

There aren't a whole lot of other possible answers, as the Maryland coaches have said that none of the true freshmen is ready for prime time.

"We are really, really thin up front," Friedgen said. "I don't know what the solution is. Some guys have to get real good, real soon. Phil Costa came in and, on the last play of game, we ran to his side, and he made a key block. He's a good football player, and so is Jack Griffin. We need some of these other guys to come along."

MISCELLANEOUS NEWS, NOTES

  • Maryland has been pleasantly surprised by the punting of true freshman Travis Baltz, who has shown a strong leg along with great hang time and consistency.

Baltz, out of Anthony Wayne High in Whitehouse, Ohio, enrolled at Maryland in January and participated in spring practice.

That proved crucial, because the youngster struggled somewhat during the spring, but he worked out the kinks and got better. He has proven to be a solid replacement for All-ACC punter Adam Podlesh (Jacksonville Jaguars), averaging 40.9 yards per punt, with 16 of his 31 boots downed inside the 20 or resulting in fair catches.

  • Haynos was an honorable mention All-ACC pick in 2006, but he has been somewhat of a disappointment so far this season.

He entered the Georgia Tech game with only seven catches for 64 yards, and had lost his starting spot to Dan Gronkowski.

Haynos is the better receiver of the two, but if he wasn't producing in the passing game, the coaches figured it was better to go with Gronkowski, who is the stronger blocker.

Perhaps Haynos will see the ball more now that Turner is the quarterback. He had the big 20-yard catch against the Yellow Jackets and was the intended target on a few other passes.

  • Isaiah Gardner started all 13 games at cornerback last season, so it would stand to reason that opponents would go after first-year starter Kevin Barnes instead.

That has not proven to be the case, as Barnes has shown that he is more effective in one-on-one coverage. A redshirt junior, he leads the Terps with three interceptions and five pass breakups. He runs the 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds and is a good leaper. Opponents have tested Barnes repeatedly, and he has responded, running stride-for-stride with receivers and making good plays on the ball.

Gardner, on the other hand, has been susceptible to getting beat. It seems as if he gets beat by his man for at least one deep pass per game. Georgia Tech receiver Demaryius Thomas got behind Gardner for a 39-yard touchdown catch.