The Hartsfield quandary

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Football coaches, by their nature, have a remarkable aversion to playing for the future.

Much of it has to do with the need to winrightnow. Or something like that.

Which is why questions about using guys in modest roles now usually gets met with answers about trying to succeed in the present.

But there’s a curious case in College Park where the future is not next year, but next month. And Ralph Friedgen is trying to figure out just how to maximize Demetrius Hartsfield in 2009.

Hartsfield has a broken hand. He was going to undergo surgery either this week or next, Friedgen said Sunday.

Nearly 48 hours later, though, the when is still up in the air.

“We’re still trying to evaluate that,” Friedgen said. “He didn’t practice last night. What the doctors tell me is he’ll probably play this game and then has to get operated on. We would get him back in three weeks. What I’m trying to determine is how effective he’ll be this week. Last night, he didn’t practice, so it’s tough to tell.”

In short, the Terps will be without Hartsfield for two games. That combo will either be Virginia and Duke or Duke and N.C. State. There’s a bye wedged between the Duke and N.C. State trips, providing something of a buffer and something of a strategic headache.

Perhaps the worst-case scenario is surgery late this week. That knocks out the next two games, and imperils Hartsfield’s chances of playing in his personal homecoming game in Raleigh.

Friedgen, understandably, would like to make a decision soon.

“There’s a certain time period you have to operate on, and it’s probably from what they tell me a week to 10 days,” Friedgen said. “Then it affects the healing process. He can’t do any more damage if he plays with a cast. What I’m trying to ascertain is how well can he play.”

From a purely rational standpoint, this comes down to a question of playing shorthanded (and with Ben Pooler as a starter) against Virginia or N.C. State. Pooler played well in the second half at Wake Forest, and that factors into Friedgen’s thinking as well. The longer the decision drags out, the greater the chance the Terps lose Hartsfield for a game more than needed.

There’s no way of knowing if taking a hit in the present (Virginia) or the future (N.C. State) is the better decision. But clearly, making a decision on Hartsfield will be of utmost importance in the next 24 hours.

Patrick Stevens

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