- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

Maryland’s special teams once seemed so automatic. With the ACC’s career leading kicker and returner and a steady snapper the past four years, coach Ralph Friedgen usually could think ahead to the next offensive or defensive series while his “teamers” were afield.

Friedgen’s gaze won’t leave the action this season, though. After four years of center Jon Condo snapping for ACC career-leading scorer Nick Novak, the Terrapins are seeking replacements for both. Throw in new punt and kick returners for departed ACC career-leader Steve Suter and the only stability on special teams is punter Adam Podlesh, who doubles as a holder.

“I’ve got two kickoff guys and two field goal guys, so that gives me depth,” special teams coach Ray Rychleski said. “Now let’s find one of each and let’s go.”

Kicker Obi Egekeze has the slight edge over Dan Ennis, but Friedgen won’t choose one for the opener against Navy on Sept.3 until a few days beforehand. Daily workouts and two coming team scrimmages will decide the victor.

“It’s very close,” Egekeze said. “I’m not where I need to be right now. I’m coming along. I have a lot of little things to work on.”

The Terps struggled on field goals during the opening week of camp, particularly on snaps and holds. Teammates have more than a vested gameday interest in kicker accuracy. Friedgen is threatening to penalize the entire unit 10 up-downs for every missed kick in practices. With 10 kicks a session, teammates often pressure kickers after a few bouts of the exhausting exercise. Then again, Friedgen uses that internal pressure to simulate game tensions.

Kickers can’t even get a break after their opening segment of practice. They join in defensive drills, too.

“There’s a mentality that kickers are different than regular football players,” Rychleski said. “But kickers and punters are football players. We don’t let them sit on the sideline and look like a pretty boy. We want them to be football players. We want them to go down and make tackles. I want them to be tough.”

Tim Cesa, who was expected to take over at deep snapper, is sidelined by mononucleosis, making freshman Dewey Schmitt the front-runner if he can block better, while Brendan McDermott may snap for punts. The Terps also are considering several others to replace Condo.

Receiver JoJo Walker is the punt and kick returner, though tight end Vernon Davis might be used for both.

At least Podlesh gives the Terps one of the nation’s top returning punters. The two-time Ray Guy semifinalist averaged 43.1 yards over the last two seasons, meriting All-ACC second-team both times. Watching Novak’s discipline taught Podlesh to be the unit’s elder.

“I have to take my leadership to help these guys get to where I am,” he said. “Nick showed me work ethic, a sense of discipline. Just watching him focus was inspiring to me.”

Notes — Running back Mario Merrills might miss a week with a sprained ankle but should return against Navy. … Fullback Ricardo Dickerson (sprained knee), safety Josh Wilson (lacerated calf), offensive tackle Scott Burley (strained back), receiver Isaiah Williams (sprained shoulder), offensive tackle Russell Bonham (bruised shoulder) and Cesa are day-to-day. Guard Donnie Woods (strained rotator cuff) soon will rest several days.

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