Maryland positional preview: Quarterbacks

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And so we come to a man with one of the wilder Maryland football careers in recent memory, one Chris Turner.

In addition to a propensity to stare down ranked foes with remarkable assurance, Turner also is the first quarterback who enters a season without the pretense of a camp competition with the job in his hands since Sam Hollenbach in 2006.

Indeed, Turner earned it with his 20 starts over the last couple seasons, and occasionally inconsistent performances that typically don’t completely dash the Terrapins’ chances of winning.

Assuming Turner merely duplicates his numbers from a season ago, his fingerprints will be all over Maryland’s record books – the domain of passers like Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich, Neil O’Donnell and others.

Among those (and again, these are projections based on a carbon copy of 2008):

Attempts: 989 (1st, ahead of Scott Milanovich’s 982)
Completions: 581 (2nd, behind Milanovich’s 650)
Yards: 6,990 (2nd, behind Milanovich’s 7,301)
Touchdowns: 33 (4th, behind Milanovich [49], Esiason [42] and Scott McBrien [34])

He’ll also be the first primary three-year starter since Milanovich and just the second since Esiason.

Unsurprisingly, Maryland has much of its hopes pinned on Turner, who coach Ralph Friedgen said this week could be a “stabilizer” for a young offense. The level-headed Turner seems like a good fit for such a role, and his ability to stand in the pocket and absorb hits that might hobble others would seem to bode well for 2009.

Yet it ignores a central trend in the program – namely, that a quarterback is going to get hurt at some point each season. For five of the last six seasons, one of the Terps’ top two quarterbacks has missed at least the bulk of one game, often at a severe cost.

Let’s hop in the time machine and take a peek, shall we?

2003: McBrien was concussed in the second quarter at Georgia Tech after struggling early on. Backup Joel Statham didn’t fare much better, completing 10 of 22 for 110 yards and an interception in a 7-3 loss to the Yellow Jackets.

2004: A wicked hit on freshman Jordan Steffy was the defining highlight of a Thursday night massacre in Blacksburg. Steffy wouldn’t play in the finale and Friedgen, fed up with Statham’s inconsistency, called upon Sam Hollenbach to close out a 5-6 season the next week.

2005: An injured left shoulder shelved Hollenbach for all but a series at Florida State. Statham initially played well, but his interception set up the go-ahead touchdown in the Seminoles’ 35-27 victory. Maryland finished 5-6, the loss in Tallahassee a notable lost opportunity.

2006: Hollenbach held the job from beginning to end, taking every snap against a Division I-A (that’s what they were officially called then) opponent.

2007: Steffy won the starting gig in camp and lasted 4 1/2 games before Rutgers safety Joe Lefeged’s helmet-to-helmet blow delivered another concussion. Turner took over from there, helping the injury-riddled Terps survive the season and still reach a bowl.

2008: Steffy The Starter, v2.0, didn’t make it to September. He fractured his right thumb against Delaware in the opener, leading the way for Turner to start the final 12 games.

So while the durable Turner is a more-than-capable option who could wind up with an impressive career, it would be foolhardy to believe there is no question he’ll hold up the entire season – based both on Maryland’s past performance and the presence of a youthful line.

So what exactly is behind him? Not a whole lot. Well, at least not a whole lot with any track record.

Sophomore Jamarr Robinson appeared briefly on the punt block team last year. His snaps at quarterback are firmly confined to a pair of JV games last season and running the scout team.

Then there’s true freshmen C.J. Brown and Danny O’Brien. The over/under is three days into camp before Friedgen says their heads are spinning; I’ll take the under.

Turner’s backups have combined for precisely zero passing attempts in their careers. Here’s how that stacks up to how experienced reserves were in past seasons under Friedgen, with their combined attempts that ensuing season:

YearStarterBackupReserve Att.Att. That Year
2001HillHarrison2414
2002McBrienKelley039
2003McBrienEvans146
2004StathamSteffy069
2005HollenbachStatham25936
2006HollenbachSteffy325
2007SteffyTurner0241
2008SteffyTurner252377
2009TurnerRobinson0

It doesn’t say much that wasn’t already known, other than things have been questionable behind the starter before.

It didn’t matter in 2002 or 2003, since McBrien only missed meaningful time just once in that stretch. It did matter in 2004, when the starter wasn’t effective, and it did in 2007, when Turner salvaged what he could of a trying situation.

It’s uncertain whether Robinson could do the same; that’s not to say he couldn’t, but anyone who knows for sure is either lying or should take their omnipotence to Vegas. It’s even greater guesswork with the freshmen.

Turner already has an eight-win season to his credit, and if the Terps don’t go 9-3, he probably won’t be the primary culprit. But Maryland needs him to beat the program’s recent odds and make it through the season, lest the Terps discover the possibility of a chasm rather than merely a gap existing between their starter under center and his untested crew of reserves.

Patrick Stevens

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