May 24, 2005
COLLEGE PARK - There is growing concern within the Maryland football program about the status of promising young quarterback Jordan Steffy.
Steffy's immediate future is in doubt because of a pair of complicated medical conditions, a development that further depletes an already-shaky QB situation for the Terrapins.
Many observers labeled Steffy the "quarterback of the future" the day he chose Maryland over Clemson, Penn State, Michigan State and Virginia Tech. The SuperPrep All-American out of Leola, Pa., was the highest-rated signal-caller signed by the Terps in more than a decade.
Steffy showed from the beginning that he was not all hype, picking up Maryland's intricate offense quickly enough to serve as the backup as a true freshman. The 6-1, 220-pounder played in six games last season and showed flashes of the athleticism, arm strength and elusiveness that so excited the coaching staff.
Coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe privately hoped Steffy would step up and seize the starting job during spring practice this year. Instead, he missed almost the entire camp with a pair of injuries that could force him to sit out the 2005 season.
Steffy has a nerve problem in his right shoulder and arthritis in his right knee, and both conditions may require surgery. At press time, the player still was consulting with specialists (including renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews) to determine whether operations were necessary and helpful.
"The problem with the shoulder is that the nerve is entangled with the muscle," Friedgen said. "It's a rare thing, and the doctors said they could operate and it still might not be better."
It's a similar scenario with the knee. Doctors could choose to rebuild the cartilage in hopes of eliminating the arthritic condition, or they could use lubrication to ease the pain.
"It's disappointing that Jordan has been unable to participate and develop," Friedgen said prior to Maryland's spring game. "He needs to decide about the arm before the knee. From a team standpoint, we need to find out whether or not he will be available next fall."
If Steffy stays on the shelf, that would leave Maryland with just three scholarship quarterbacks: juniors Joel Statham and Sam Hollenbach, and true freshman Chris Turner. Reserve Ryan Mitch quit the team after the 2004 season.
Steffy's uncertain status convinced the coaching staff to pursue Tennessee transfer Brent Schaeffer, who recently listed Maryland among the eight schools he's considering. Sources said the Terps requested and received Schaeffer's release from the Volunteers and were waiting to hear whether the player would visit the College Park campus.
Schaeffer has some behavior/character issues, but so did Ohio State transfer Sammy Maldonado. Friedgen is a tough, no-nonsense type who used tough love and a strong hand with Maldonado, a rugged tailback who wound up being a productive player for the Terps.
Considering Maryland's lack of success recruiting a quality quarterback under Friedgen, it's not a surprise that the Terps are taking a long look at a proven talent such as Schaeffer, even considering the player's question-filled track record at Tennessee.
Fridge Tinkers With Freak's Role
Vernon "The Freak" Davis is a unique player, as big and strong as a tight end, as fast and elusive as a wide receiver. Friedgen and Taaffe have debated how best to use the 6-3, 250-pound junior, but they agree that he must become a focal point of the offense.
Davis played primarily an H-back role last season, often lining up offset in the backfield and either blocking or running a pass route. He led the team in receiving with 27 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns, yet he still seemed underutilized.
That won't happen again this season. Davis likely will become a primary target in the passing game, while lining up as a tight end, slot receiver or wideout.
"We have to figure out ways to get Vernon the ball because he is a playmaker," said Friedgen, adding that he even may use Davis to return kickoffs.
Davis missed his blocking assignments at times when lining up in the backfield. He often got confused as to whether he was supposed to take the linebacker, end or safety. Friedgen intends to use Davis in more of a true tight end role this season, to take better advantage of his strength (410 bench, 352 clean).
"Vernon has developed into a devastating run-blocker at the line of scrimmage," Friedgen said. "He's more effective at tight end than H-back because he knows exactly who to block."
Maryland used Davis in the backfield last season out of necessity, since it did not have a prototypical fullback. Friedgen plans to use the fullback more often than the H-back this fall.
"That hurt our blocking at the point of attack," Friedgen said. "We are going to get back to being a power running team. You've got to be strong on the ground in order to be good offensively."
To correct the problem, Maryland switched two defensive players - rush end Ricardo Dickerson (6-1, 251) and middle linebacker Tim Cesa (6-1, 239) - to fullback. Both performed well during spring drills and gave the Terps the big, strong lead blocker they were missing in 2004.
Transfer Earns First-Team Status
Maryland has enjoyed a remarkable amount of success with defensive backs who transferred from Division I-AA programs. Chad Scott and Madieu Williams both came to College Park from Towson, then developed into All-ACC selections and NFL draft picks.
The Terps may have hit paydirt for a third time with safety Milton Harris, a Delaware State transfer who vaulted from third to first on the depth chart with a strong spring camp. The 5-11, 197-pounder impressed defensive coordinator Gary Blackney enough that Notre Dame transfer Isaiah Gardner was moved to cornerback.
Touted Signees May Not Qualify
At press time, Maryland still had six members of its 2005 recruiting class who had not yet qualified for freshman eligibility. Those needing to raise their GPA/SAT combination were defensive end Melvin Alaeze, offensive tackle Jared Gaither, linebacker Chris Clinton, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, linebacker Dave Philistin and tailback Morgan Green.
It was not comforting to the coaching staff that all but Philistin were among the program's highest-rated signees and all are considered immediate-impact players.
Sources said Clinton, who was pegged as the heir apparent to D'Qwell Jackson at middle linebacker, is the furthest from qualifying. Philistin also reportedly has considerable ground to make up.
By far the most interesting situation involves Green, a record-setting back from Lackey High in the Charles County area of Maryland. Educational Testing Services flagged, then later nullified Green's latest SAT score, which would have qualified him under NCAA guidelines. Reportedly, Green improved his score by a whopping 250 points, a development that always draws the attention of ETS.
Lackey coach Scott Chadwick said there was nothing untoward about Green's latest SAT, and he said that signatures prove the tailback took the test himself. While the player's mother has obtained a lawyer, Green recently took the ACT in an attempt to use that test to qualify. He also may sit for the SAT again on June 4.