September 2, 2002 COLLEGE PARK - It should not have been alarming that Maryland quarterbacks were ineffective in the season-opening shutout loss to Notre Dame.
Neither Scott McBrien nor Chris Kelley has the necessary ingredients to make an instant impact. Sure, McBrien may prove to be a serviceable quarterback, and Kelley may reach his considerable potential if he can manage to stay healthy.
What the loss did point out was how thin the Terps are at the critical position, and that's not likely to change for at least another season. McBrien is an undersized castoff from another mid-level program, while Kelley has undergone three major knee surgeries in less than two years. Juco transfer Orlando Evans has been terribly disappointing. All of that leaves the Terps trying to win despite their quarterback situation.
It may be several years before the position is a major strength again. The Terps were fortunate last season, when senior Shaun Hill rose from a competent QB to reaching his maximum potential. His leadership and heady play were major reasons Maryland won 10 games and the ACC title. His guile was especially evident against Georgia Tech and N.C. State, when he orchestrated last-minute drives for dramatic wins.
McBrien started against Notre Dame, but his nine-for-23 showing for 84 yards with two interceptions in the 22-0 loss exemplified the situation. He is not a running threat. That, combined with the loss of ACC offensive player of the year Bruce Perry, has the offense in damage-control mode. The Terps had only 16 yards rushing on 21 carries and 133 yards of total offense against the Irish, as Maryland was shut out for the first time in four seasons.
Our quarterbacks struggled in decision-making, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. We threw the ball into double coverage, and they took away the running game.
The QB situation is in dire straits because it has fallen to two transfers, and the only legitimate big-time prospect is injury-prone. Beyond that questionable trio, there are no second-year players who will be seasoned for next year.
The problem is magnified because no quarterbacks were stockpiled after Kelley was signed and deemed the Terps' future. Most coaches bring in at least one a season, but none signed with Maryland during the transition from Ron Vanderlinden to Friedgen. Things would be even more desperate if McBrien didn't have a falling out at West Virginia.
Too Many Misses At Key Spot
The Terps had good spacing between quarterbacks two years ago and figured to have a good competition this season between would-be senior Calvin McCall, junior Latrez Harrison and redshirt sophomore Kelley. However, after starting during his sophomore year, McCall quit after he and Friedgen clashed over his desire to play basketball. Harrison, Hill's backup last season, moved to receiver after failing to pick up Friedgen's offense. When Kelley went down with a torn ACL in April, coaches had so little faith in Harrison that they didn't seriously consider moving him back to QB. Maryland is grooming two freshmen in Joel Statham and Sam Hollenbach. The 6-1, 185-pound Statham looked like a real prospect in the preseason, but he is unlikely to be a legit candidate until 2004.
For the present and immediate future, it will be patchwork and hope at quarterback. McBrien, who started against the Irish, left West Virginia last summer after he was demoted to third team. The left-handed junior, generously listed at 6-0, considered giving up football before walking on for the Terps. He is an accurate passer, but he's too small and hasn't shown the instincts needed for the option game, a staple in the Terps' balanced attack.
McBrien is essentially a caretaker for Kelley, who has all of the physical tools to be a big-time quarterback, with a sturdy 6-2, 215-pound frame. He is a physical runner with a strong arm, but his career has been stagnated by injuries. He suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in a high school all-star game before his freshman season. Prior to his second year, he blew out the same knee again in a beach accident and played only briefly in late-season mop-up roles in two blowout wins.
Kelley's bad luck continued in Maryland's spring game, when he made an awkward cut and tore the ACL in his right knee. He made an impressive comeback and played a few series in the opener in the second half, when the game already was decided. He probably will be the starter before long, barring another injury, but coaches are worried about exposing him with the option.
The third alternative is turning into a bust. Evans was supposed to compete for the starting job after leading City College of San Francisco to a junior college national championship last season. The 6-0 junior began his career at Oregon before taking the juco route. He has not grasped the offense and regularly makes bad decisions.
Meanwhile, McBrien is in line to graduate in the spring, and he already has told coaches that he may leave after this year because of family reasons. That may be fine with the coaches, who would prefer to have the scholarship back rather than a fifth-year QB at third string. It doesn't help Evans that he can't redshirt this fall, after burning his extra year at Oregon.
One of the Terps' first commitments for next year was Ryan Mitch, a star quarterback at in-state DeMatha High School, and another signal caller could be on the way. The distant future may be bright, as several viable candidates eventually will compete for the job. The problem is getting through the next two seasons.
Friedgen has worked his magic before, transforming solid but limited athletes such as Hill and Georgia Tech's George Godsey into productive players. He has shown he can convert a top-notch athlete like Joe Hamilton into a Heisman candidate. But those all were cases where youngsters got some seasoning in their first few years and then came of age.
In an ideal situation, Kelley would be given another season to learn the system and be a backup to an upperclassman. Instead, he will be forced into on-the-job training, and many wonder if he can survive the pounding.
That's the best scenario. If Kelley finally gets some good fortune, he should turn into Friedgen's next quality QB. But that's a big if, and Plan B is pretty scary.