The Washington Times - August 11, 2009, 09:13PM

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen fielded a question about the quantity available on the defensive line tonight, the sort of overarching offering that could be answered in a million different ways.

Inevitably, he got to the one man he just can’t be entirely sure of – nose tackle Dion Armstrong, who is still in limbo in terms of his academic eligibility.

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The sophomore has one class he’s taking now he must pass, but Friedgen shifted from unsure to pessimistic in a span of 24 hours.

“Dion, I don’t know where he’s at,” Friedgen said. “He’s not in very good shape. He’s got a lot of potential, but I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s going to make it, first of all. I don’t know if he’s where we want him to be from a physical standpoint. We’ll have to see. I’m trying to be patient there. He needs to start working a little bit harder if he’s going to make our football team.”

One guy we haven’t heard from about Armstrong is, well, Armstrong. That’s understandable, both from Maryland’s point of view (do you want a player talking about eligibility issues?) and particularly from Armstrong’s (would you want to talk publicly about your own eligibility issues?).

But it is interesting to hear what a teammate would say about the situation.

And in what has to bode well for Armstrong’s standing on the team, A.J. Francis – the guy who is starting in Armstrong’s stead – voiced strong support for the Georgian when I asked if he’d talked much with his fellow nose tackle in the last few weeks.

Francis said he spoke to Armstrong throughout the spring as he dealt with some particularly tough points in his academic ordeal, and continued to do so over the summer.

“There’s two sides to every story,” Francis said. “People can say whatever they want about Dion, but Dion is one of the most genuine people I know. If he tells you he’s doing something, he’s doing it. He worked hard in the summer to get to where he needed to be. He’s back on the team now.”

Indeed, Armstrong is practicing after sitting out the spring. But it could be a couple weeks – or longer, potentially – before his situation is resolved.

So there’s time for this to go one way or another. But if someone externally is judging this from reputation – remember, Armstrong is the guy whose temperment Friedgen compared to a mule’s around this time last year – Francis has an emphatic rejoinder.

“I don’t know what the whole situation is as of today, but he’s doing the work he needs to do,” Francis said. “He gets a bum rap. People say he’s lazy and he’s not doing the work he needs to do, but he is. It’s just sometimes he doesn’t prioritize the way he should, but he’s fixed that completely. The fact of the matter is he’s a different person.”

Patrick Stevens