May 2, 2006
COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen concluded spring football camp with many of the same offensive problems he had at the start: subpar quarterback play, sloppy receiving performances, offensive line injuries and poor placekicking.
Friedgen said that starting quarterback Sam Hollenbach made significant progress this spring, showing more poise and better decision-making skills. However, that was not evident in the spring-ending Red-White intrasquad scrimmage, when Hollenbach completed just 7 of 18 passes while tossing three interceptions and no touchdowns.
One of the picks was the result of a bobbled ball by wideout Terrell Skinner, and another may have been thanks to a receiver cutting off a route. Regardless, Friedgen was not happy. He said Hollenbach must eliminate the mental and physical mistakes.
"I'm getting tired of it, to be honest with you," Friedgen said. "That stuff is going to stop, or else I'm going to make a change. We have to find somebody who doesn't throw interceptions."
Unfortunately, Hollenbach is still far better than backup Jordan Steffy, whose reading and decision-making are way below Friedgen's standards. Privately, offensive staff members said Florida transfer Josh Portis is easily the team's most talented quarterback, but he must sit out 2006 per NCAA rules.
Hollenbach, who threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13) last season, remains No. 1 on the depth chart and claims his confidence has never been higher.
"I'm confident about my own ability to get the job done," Hollenbach said. "I feel I've made improvements in the areas I need to get better."
Maryland's young, inexperienced receiving corps did not help Hollenbach or Steffy, running poor routes and dropping too many passes. Redshirt freshmen Darrius Heyward-Bey and Skinner, along with sophomores Isaiah Williams and Danny Oquendo, are all fast and athletic. But they need to put it together.
"You can see we have some talented receivers. We've got guys with excellent size and speed," Friedgen said. "They just need to figure out how to make plays. That comes along with confidence. They need to do all the little things better and learn how to finish."
Friedgen emerged from the spring extremely worried about the kicking game, as the competition between Dan Ennis and Obi Egekeze was a total disappointment. Neither kicker distinguished himself, with missed field goals a routine occurrence in practices and scrimmages.
"They are just both very inconsistent," Friedgen said. "Ennis is a little more accurate from about 30 yards and in, while Egekeze has a stronger leg. Maybe if we combined them we would have a solid kicker, but we can't do that."
BASKETBALL PROGRAM TAKING HITS
It seems as if every week brings more disturbing news for the Maryland basketball program. In the span of about two weeks in April, it was one bombshell after another.
First came word that all four seniors from last season's team -- Nik Caner-Medley, Travis Garrison, Chris McCray and Sterling Ledbetter -- had withdrawn from school in order to train for professional careers.
Caner-Medley is the only one with a legitimate shot of getting drafted, while McCray has an outside chance of hooking on with an NBA team as a free agent. Garrison and Ledbetter had better bone up on foreign languages, because they likely will be playing in lower-level leagues in Europe. Perhaps they could join former classmate John Gilchrist in Israel.
What was most disappointing about the news was that it showed once again what little concern this group of seniors had for the image of the program. Caner-Medley, Garrison and McCray all had run-ins with the law, while McCray failed out of school and missed the second half of his senior season.
Now the senior class is endangering the future of the program, because of new NCAA rules regarding academic progress and graduation rates. McCray's dismissal and subsequent withdrawal from school, combined with the dropouts of Caner-Medley, Garrison and Ledbetter, mean that Maryland will lose valuable points in the NCAA's new Academic Progress Rate calculations.
Gilchrist has no existing plan for graduating from Maryland, and coach Gary Williams must wait on pins and needles to see if any of the others return to get their degrees. It certainly was not encouraging news that neither Garrison nor McCray could have earned enough credits to graduate even if they had completed the spring semester.
In an interview with the student newspaper, Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow was highly critical of the players' decisions to withdraw from school. She said they were doing the university and the basketball program a "disservice." She added that she would have a different stance on players considered potential first-round draft picks, but she said there is no logical reason for a lower-caliber player to leave school.
"What's the difference between going to train starting Monday and the middle of May?" Yow asked. "Let's just wait a little bit longer, finish up, and get your degree."
Garrison is the only one of the seniors who has publicly stated plans to return to Maryland and graduate. If the others don't do so, Maryland basketball will be in danger of falling below the minimum APR (925) and having to forfeit up to two scholarships.
"If we have enough people leave without their degrees," Yow told The Diamondback, "we'll lose scholarships at some point."
Fans were still reeling from the news about the seniors when word leaked out that juniors D.J. Strawberry and Ekene Ibekwe had declared themselves eligible for the NBA draft. Neither player signed with an agent, and both seemed intent on returning to school, saying they were merely "testing the waters."
That was disturbing on several levels. First, it's truly sad if Strawberry and Ibekwe consider themselves NBA prospects at this point. Both players should be working hard at Maryland to improve their very incomplete games instead of attending draft camps or otherwise auditioning for pro scouts.
It also showed that Strawberry and Ibekwe are more concerned with their own futures than what's good for the Maryland program. They should be focused on leading offseason workouts for the Terps instead of worrying about NBA riches.
Diehard fans still reeling from the player news then were hit with a real punch to the stomach, when it was revealed that assistant Rob Moxley would be leaving Maryland after only one season to return to Charlotte as the 49ers' associate head coach.
Moxley single-handedly had improved Maryland's recruiting efforts with his hustle and connections. He was a constant presence in Baltimore-Washington area gymnasiums during the high school season and never missed a major AAU tournament within range. He got the Terps involved with Philadelphia area guard Jeff Jones, then gained a commitment from the up-and-coming prospect before he blew up on the national circuit.
Moxley's departure is a major blow to Williams, who now has lost six assistants since 2001. Billy Hahn, Jimmy Patsos, Dave Dickerson and Mike Lonergan all left for head coaching positions, while Matt Kovarik went back to graduate school.
Moxley's move was curious, since it seemed to be a step down. He served in the top assistant post at Charlotte for several years and went to Maryland in part because it's a much higher-profile program in a much better league.