Ralph and the redshirt

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It’s funny how an innocuous throwaway line can generate some interest.

Earlier today as part of a breakdown of Maryland’s defensive line, there was a mention of how Carlos Feliciano played four games in 2004, and that he probably would have been more useful for a dozen (plus one or two more) games in 2008.

It led to at least one person wondering about Ralph Friedgen’s redshirting policy – something he’s actually gotten much better about conserving over the last couple season.

But since it is the middle of summer, and since it’s a great conversation starter, how about a look at every true freshman who played at Maryland since, say, 2004?

2004 (8)

T Scott Burley: The Baltimore product played in four games, starting with blowouts of Temple (45-22) and Duke (55-21, in what was the last time Maryland played Duke). He sat the bench the next two games, then played against Clemson (10-7 loss) and Florida State (the 20-17 high tide of the Joel Statham Era). The participation chart notes some injuries that season for Russell Bonham and Brandon Nixon, but for Burley’s case it doesn’t much matter. He was injured for much of 2006 and got his year back anyway.

NT Carlos Feliciano: Feliciano also played in early blowouts against Temple and Duke, then again in the final two games against Virginia Tech and Duke. The Terps were without defensive end Kevin Eli for the Duke game and Justin Duffie after the first two games. So maybe Duffie’s problems thrust Feliciano into the lineup, but the fact Maryland made do in tighter games (like an OT loss at West Virginia between the Temple and Duke routs) without Feliciano makes you wonder if it was really necessary to use him. And had the Terps held him back then, it would have been a colossal folly to play him at the end of that lost season.

TE Jason Goode: This might be one of the worst examples of how to deploy a true freshman. Goode didn’t play until the seventh game of the season, then got hurt in practice the next week and didn’t play the rest of the way.

DT Jack Griffin: Griffin played in the same five games that Feliciano did, plus an extra game against N.C. State. He started much of the 2005 season, redshirted 2006 while shifting to the offensive line, and was a valuable plug-in last year. He still had his maturation year, and the Terps are probably better off for it.

S J.J. Justice: Played in every game as a special teams guy as a freshman, and eventually matured into a starter by the time he was a senior. There’s certainly nothing wrong with using a freshman or two as special teams players if they’re going to be used consistently. Justice certainly was.

RB Keon Lattimore: Lattimore missed the first four games with injury, then came back to play in five of the last seven. This was a Maryland team with Josh Allen, Sammy Maldonado and Mario Merrills, but Lattimore already had a prep school year under his belt by then. That’s another factor to think about, especially with a guy whose bloodlines alone had people thinking about pro possibilities.

QB Jordan Steffy: Another guy who got a year back, in this case by redshirting in 2005. Clearly, Maryland was a bad offensive team whether the inexperienced Steffy or the ineffective Statham was under center. For Steffy’s sake, he could have done without the concussion suffered in the season’s penultimate game at Virginia Tech.

S Christian Varner: Let’s see. He played every game as a freshman. He became a three-year starter. It’s tough to argue with that, and his pragmatic-yet-optimistic outlook made him a reporter’s best friend the last couple seasons. It’d be great if he was still in College Park, but there’s no reason to question Ralph on this one.

2005 (7)

S Jeff Allen: The second coming of J.J. Justice, from the special teams work as a freshman to probably earning the chance to start as a senior.

T Jared Gaither: A prep school kid who never strayed too far from Friedgen’s list of borderline academic cases, in hindsight it looks like a brilliant move to squeeze as much as possible as quickly as possible from Gaither before he wound up ineligible. At the time, Maryland was looking at playing a converted tight end at left tackle, a completely untenable situation. Totally the right call.

WR Darrius Heyward-Bey: Yep, Hey-Bey got in on exactly one play, and Maryland managed to secure a redshirt for him. He probably wasn’t ready to play then, but if he produces a huge fall in ‘08, Maryland might not be able to enjoy his services in a fifth year, anyway. After all, tall, lanky receivers with sprinter-like speed are in demand to play on Sundays. To make the phrase more family friendly, Ralph faced a “doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t” scenario. Not that it really matters.

DE Jeremy Navarre: He’s going to be a four-year starter, and a defense that surrendered 165 yards a game needed all the help it could get. He also arrived for spring practice in 2005, which gave him a head start.

WR Danny Oquendo: Oquendo played in every game as a true freshman, mostly on special teams but also as a slot receiver. This was a season Maryland had three senior wideouts plus junior Drew Weatherly, the latter who will best be remembered as the wrong sort of Cornerstone player. But Ralph tossed out some freshman receivers anyway, which probably helped a bit the next year when he had only three guys to choose from at the position for much of the year.

LB Dave Philistin: The New Hampshire native (and he’s quite proud of it, too) played in the final 10 games as a reserve linebacker. The Terps were a bit short-handed at the position in ‘05, so Philistin was needed to provide some sort of respite for a veteran group that included D’Qwell Jackson, William Kershaw and Dave Holloway. If Erin Henderson hadn’t ripped up his knee in camp, Philistin might not have been needed that season. Wesley Jefferson, by the way, was the Terps’ other reserve linebacker that season.

WR Isaiah Williams: The ever-quotable Williams played four games and caught one pass in ‘05. It probably isn’t that much of a mistake in the long term; Maryland has more depth at wide receiver now than it probably knows what to do with, and replacing Williams after this season probably won’t be that difficult a task with the likes of Torrey Smith and LaQuan Williams in the program.

2006 (1)

FB Cory Jackson: It’s always easier to justify decisions when you win, as the Terps did in ‘06 en route to a 9-4 record and a win in what Ralph amusingly sometimes refers to as the “Sports Champs Bowl.” But this isn’t a choice anyone should second-guess. Jackson looked like a useful player for his first day on campus, and he took over the fullback job when Tim Cesa’s career was ended by a concussion late in the season. Jackson may well have won the job eventually anyway, and he played in all but one game as a sophomore.

2007 (4)

S Dominique Herald: Another special teams contributor, Herald is exactly the sort of guy you want running full speed at, say, a punt returner. Maryland looked at him at linebacker in the spring, and he figures to be very useful this fall (more in tomorrow’s linebackers analysis).

P Travis Baltz: If you have one scholarship punter, he should probably be your punter whether he’s a senior or freshman or anything in between.

FB Haroon Brown: The last-second add to Maryland’s recruiting class turned out to be one of the first freshmen on the field when Cory Jackson broke a hand last season. This was a move made purely out of necessity, and Brown wound up playing in the final five regular season games.

T Bruce Campbell: The giant tackle, who spent a year at prep school before coming to Maryland, made a cameo appearance in the season opener before injuries forced him into action in late October. Given all the ailments associated with the offensive line, it’s a wonder the Terps didn’t have to use any of their other true freshmen.

So that’s it. There doesn’t appear to be a freshman over the last three seasons whose use will come to be viewed as an outright debacle, but that doesn’t mean arguments to the contrary aren’t welcome.

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