The Washington Times - September 3, 2008, 12:38AM

For the stats-oriented, here’s a statement of the obvious.

Four plays is not a large sample size.

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Tis true, tis true. But at the same time, Maryland quarterback Josh Portis – he of the freakish athleticism – ran all four times he came into the game for one-play duty.

So while it’s not my place to try to don a headset, it seemed fair to question coach Ralph Friedgen on whether there would be an impetus to have Portis chuck it somewhere – anywhere – Saturday at Middle Tennessee.

“Yeah. I think we’ll break that tendency,” Friedgen said. “Have a little bit more confidence in me than that.”

(On an especially snide day, I’d point out Ralph probably doesn’t need my confidence. To which he’d no doubt reply he doesn’t care what I think or that he doesn’t read the papers. But this was not an especially snide day, so the comment slid).

Anyway, offensive coordinator James Franklin had a more expansive reply.

“Obviously, we understand that every time he came in the game he ran the ball,” Franklin said. “On the same hand, those plays are designed that we had a hat on a hat. All of them should have been more successful. We had a couple issues where the play wasn’t called correctly, formation, things like that. We’ll get that cleaned up. He was a little nervous. It was his first action in his two years and that’s completely understandable.”

So the good development for Portis was that he was eased back into game action, got hit a little bit, and he made a positive play three times out of four.

The less encouraging development is no one’s seen his arm yet. And until someone does, Portis might as well wear a target on his jersey.

The thing is, anyone who saw Maryland scrimmage last month knows Portis can chuck it. Whether his throw is accurate and whether he makes a mental error at some point during a play, that’s another matter. But he’s not just a shifty guy who can run fast; he has a heck of an arm.

Sooner or later, he’ll have a chance to show it off.

“It’s going to come a time in a game that I’m going to have drop back and throw a ball,” Portis said. “It’s different because when I’m in there, the defense thinks I’m running the ball. It’s a different game when I’m dropping back and everything opens up. Then the defense has to account for two things.”

And that defense might be Middle Tennessee’s. Or it might be California’s. But chances are, it will happen soon enough.

“We’ll run him again and throw him and let that package grow,” Franklin said.

Patrick Stevens