- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Terrell Skinner was buried on the depth chart, far from home and downright frustrated. Nolan Carroll couldn’t help but longingly gaze across the field and watch defensive backs ply their trade.

The juniors came to Maryland as wide receivers. And after sputtering in the program for more than a year and coming close to leaving, both eventually switched sides of the ball.

And at long last, their belated move to the secondary will land them on the field.

Skinner appears close to securing the free safety gig, and Carroll is in line to start at cornerback for the Terrapins, who lost three starters from their defensive backfield from last year.

“It usually goes the other way,” secondary coach Kevin Lempa said of the switch. “I really believe it’s harder to play defensive back than receiver. It’s just the nature of the position. You’re going backwards, and you don’t know where the guy is going. You really have to be a better athlete.”

Skinner was the first to swap sides. The St. Petersburg, Fla., native was the Pinellas County player of the year in high school, but it didn’t take long for him to question his decision to come to Maryland.

With the Terps’ receiving situation completely unsettled heading into 2006, Skinner figured he could win a job. Instead, he played some on special teams and never appeared on offense and seriously considered returning home before approaching then-secondary coach Tim Banks about a position change.

“It was my last resort, and if I couldn’t switch, then I was like, ‘I need to get out,’ ” Skinner said. “It’s kind of like ‘What’s going on? Have I lost it? Somebody help me out.’ ”

So midseason, Skinner made the move. He wound up with a new position, a new number (from No. 85 to No. 10 and now No. 1) and a renewed outlook on his chances to enjoy a productive career.

It wasn’t long before his fellow Floridian joined him.

Carroll occasionally appeared in games as a receiver for the Terps in 2006. But disinterest, rather than playing time, spurred Carroll into surprising coach Ralph Friedgen with a request to go far down the depth chart at cornerback rather than fight for a receiver job the next spring.

“Every time we were watching film and I was in the offense room, I couldn’t concentrate on the receivers,” Carroll said. “I was looking at the DBs. It was like, ‘I could be playing this.’ I just couldn’t fight the urge anymore.”

Ultimately, Skinner helped Carroll with the change from offense to defense. But really, the toughest times were behind both of them.

They found their way onto the field on special teams, and Skinner spent part of last year as a kickoff returner. Both expanded reserve roles in the secondary as the season progressed, in part because of almost perfect dimensions for their new jobs.

Skinner is 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds and was difficult for the Terps to deal with in the spring. At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, Carroll is one of the bulkiest cornerbacks at Maryland recently.

“I think without them right now we’d be in trouble,” Friedgen said. “You don’t see too many wide receivers convert to DBs. I think Skinner’s playing right now the best he’s played, and so is Carroll.”

It’s a fortuitous development for Friedgen, especially since both guys were prepared to head hundreds of miles away to escape tough situations less than two years ago.

Instead, they simply moved five feet, and it already has made a massive difference.

“There was just days where I was just like, ‘I don’t know if I can do it,’ and to tell you the truth, I don’t know how I did it those two years,” Carroll said. “I can remember being in my room and thinking how practice is two hours away, and ‘Are you going to go, or are you going to stay in your room?’ I think that’s what made me a different person. I made the transition and was able to fight through it.”

Notes — Nose tackle Travis Ivey broke his foot Monday and will miss three to six weeks. … Defensive end Carl Russell suffered a torn meniscus; he will undergo surgery this morning and be out three to four weeks. … Wide receiver Emani Lee-Odai missed practice after he was admitted and later released from the hospital because of dehydration.

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