May 1, 2007
COLLEGE PARK No one wants to come right out and say it, but the truth is that Maryland is preparing as though standout offensive tackle Jared Gaither will not be available for the 2007 season.
Friedgen announced that Gaither would sit out spring practice in order to concentrate on academics, and the massive junior was conspicuously absent from the Terrapins' 2007 prospectus.
According to numerous sources, Gaither's grades were still so poor in late spring that there is little chance that he will be eligible to play this fall. The 6-9, 350-pounder needed to pass a full course load during the spring semester and also in summer school in order to recover.
Apparently, Gaither's academic troubles began in the fall semester, when he did not attend classes regularly enough. Sources said Gaither stopped going to some classes because he planned to apply for the NFL draft. That idea took a hit with a subpar sophomore season and a low ranking from the panel that evaluates potential early entry candidates.
Dane Randolph started at right tackle over Gaither in two of the last three games, including the Champs Sports Bowl. Nonetheless, Gaither decided to forego the NFL and remain in College Park while working toward remaining eligible.
Don't be surprised if Gaither sees the writing on the wall and declares for the supplemental draft within a few months. At this point, there is a high probability that the talented tackle will never again wear a Maryland uniform.
Gaither, who originally committed to play basketball at South Carolina as a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt in nearby Greenbelt, Md., was named a third-team freshman All-American by the Sporting News after starting the final eight games of the 2005 campaign. He did not allow a sack in 563 plays at left tackle and graded out second among all Maryland offensive linemen.
However, it seems that Gaither allowed that early success to go straight to his head. Sources within the Maryland program said the youngster also has been listening to unknowledgeable friends and relatives who think that NFL size essentially guarantees entry into the league.
Slowed by a preseason injury and other issues, Gaither did not make anywhere near the level of improvement the coaching staff expected in 2007. He even may have regressed in some areas.
Of course, Friedgen found out toward the end of the season that Gaither was not doing the job academically, and that apparently was the reason for the demotion prior to the bowl game.
On the bright side, Gaither's absence opened the door for senior Scott Burley, and Burley walked right through. The 6-5, 324-pound Baltimore native has been bothered by a back problem for the last couple of years and played in only one game in 2006.
However, Burley is finally healthy and suddenly has developed into something similar to the player he was projected to become. The Woodlawn High product was a SuperPrep All-American who chose Maryland over the likes of Penn State, Miami, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.
"Burley has really had a sensational spring," Friedgen said. "He's playing by far the best football of his career."
DEPTH CHART CHASES TOUTED QB
There was much rejoicing within the Gossett Team House when Jeremy Ricker announced his verbal commitment to Maryland during a packed press conference at Bishop McDevitt High in Pennsylvania.
Ricker immediately became the highest-rated quarterback signee of Friedgen's tenure. Ricker was rated the nation's ninth-best signal-caller by ESPN.com and the fifth-best dual-threat QB by Rivals.com. The Terrapins landed the 6-2, 216-pounder over North Carolina, Virginia, Pittsburgh and Penn State.
It didn't take long for the honeymoon to end. Ricker reportedly was disappointed that Friedgen subsequently accepted Florida transfer Josh Portis and thought twice before signing with the Terps.
Ricker sat out the 2006 season as a redshirt, and the reports emanating from practice were not encouraging about his performance in leading the scout team. He entered spring camp planning to battle for the starting job and was deeply disappointed at being slotted fourth on the depth chart midway through.
Ricker was particularly upset at falling behind sophomore Chris Turner, a far less touted recruit out of Chaminade High in Simi Valley, Calif.
The redshirt freshman was a no-show at Maryland's second Saturday intrasquad scrimmage and notified the coaching staff that he intended to transfer. Akron was mentioned as a possible destination, but Ricker had not sought his release from Friedgen as of late April.
DEFENSIVE BACKS LIKE LEMPA
Friedgen was quite pleased with the way the defensive backs responded to new coach Kevin Lempa, a respected 33-year veteran of the business.
Lempa, who spent four seasons as the secondary coach at Boston College and was previously the defensive coordinator at Hawaii, impressed Friedgen with his ability to impart techniques and work one-on-one with players on skill development.
After spending considerable time evaluating Maryland's available personnel, Lempa suggested switching Christian Varner from free safety to strong safety, in order to provide better run support. Friedgen complied.
Lempa was the lone addition to the coaching staff during the offseason. He replaced Tim Banks, who became the defensive coordinator at his alma mater, Central Michigan.
INJURIES, BATTLES FILLED SPRING
Maryland was hit by the injury bug during spring camp, and numerous players missed the annual Red-White intrasquad game as a result.
Among the notables who went out during camp were starting defensive end Jeremy Navarre, starting offensive guard Andrew Crummey, backup tailbacks Keon Lattimore and Da'Rel Scott, and backup cornerback Richard Taylor.
Friedgen said that Taylor's injury, which might be a torn anterior cruciate ligament, is the most serious.
"With all the injuries, a lot of backup players got a lot of reps and got better," Friedgen said. "We have a bit of a depth problem on the offensive line. We will need help from the incoming freshmen, but at least we have seven solid guys who can play multiple positions."
Burley, tailback Morgan Green, wide receiver Adrian Cannon, defensive end Mack Frost and cornerback Kevin Barnes were among the players who showed the most improvement this spring, Friedgen said.
Some of the most hard-fought position battles that were waged during spring camp were on the defensive side of the ball. Redshirt freshman Alex Wujciak is pushing junior Chase Bullock hard at middle linebacker, converted wide receiver Terrell Skinner is challenging J.J. Justice at free safety, and Taylor went back and forth with Anthony Wiseman at cornerback.