The Washington Times - July 14, 2009, 04:44PM

Maryland’s special teams will enter 2009 with some measure of stability —- in large part because of returning strengths and kick returner and punter.

Kicker? Not so much.


While there’s nothing saying whoever earns the the job —- both for field goals and kickoffs —- won’t thrive, the fact is it is probably the biggest question mark in terms of who will actually get to play this fall for the Terrapins.

(By contrast, offensive line is in flux, but at least there’s a decent chance of going 4-for-5 in guessing the opening day starters at this stage).

This is the first time since 2004 that Maryland has brought in a scholarship kicker in its recruiting class, and Nick Ferrara probably has as good a shot as anyone of kicking off from his first day on campus. For now, he also has to be the most likely newcomer to see the field, simply because of the instability at the position.

Obi Egekeze, after all, is gone after starting the last two years. Kicks were occasionally an adventure with Egekeze, but after an awful start he made 15 of his last 19 field goal attempts a season ago.

So Ferrara could fill that void. So too could Division II transfer Nick Wallace. Or walk-on Mike Barbour.

Wallace and Barbour were intermittently shaky in the spring, but neither missed inside 40 yards during the spring game. If Maryland could be assured three points every time it lines up for a field goal after entering the red zone, Ralph Friedgen would probably be a lot more comfortable entering the season.

Whoever gets the gig will be just the fifth first-time regular kicker since 1995. The others:

1997: Brian Kopka (6/10 FG, 12/13 XP)
2001: Nick Novak (16/25 FG, 41/42 XP)
2005: Dan Ennis (17/25, 23/27 XP)
2007: Egekeze (17/23, 36/36 XP)

If whoever wins the gig can replicate the numbers of any of the last three first-timers, Maryland will be well off.

Of less concern is the Terps’ punting situation, where Travis Baltz has a chance to be among the best in the nation this fall.

Granted, when a team’s punter stands a chance to be among its most notable names, there’s reason to pause. But if Baltz can take a slightly better career arc than predecessors Brooks Barnard and Adam Podlesh, no one in College Park will probably complain (net averages in parentheses when available):

Freshman 42.1 42.3 (37.9)
40.9 (34.8)
Sophomore 44.7 43.7 (39.4)
41.1 (37.4)
Junior 44.5 (40.4)
43.6 (35.6)
Senior 43.1 (37.7)
42.9 (35.9)

Yardage average is nice, but boasting an excellent net average is better. And when those numbers are close, it’s an indication that outkicking the coverage is a rare thing indeed.

The Terps didn’t yield a return of more than 15 yards last year, and of course continued a nearly decade-long streak of not having a punt blocked. Baltz made a substantial leap from his first to second season, and it creates some hope at Maryland he could make another jump in terms of technique and placement —- even if his overall average remained about the same.

There is one variable that could be a wrench in both groups of specialists, and that’s the need to break in a new snapper. As concerning as the shuffle at kicker is, Friedgen will probably grumble and reach for some antacid every time new long snapper Tim Downs bungles an attempt during camp.

Maryland’s had success finding long snappers from western Pennsylvania, going back to Jon Condo and later on to Dewey Schmitt and now Downs (who went to Schmitt’s high school) and current backup Dimitri Sidorick (who attended Condo’s high school).

The pipeline’s worked fine so far, and Maryland will need it continue to go well if Baltz is to improve and whoever emerges from the scrum of kickers to thrive.

There are a lot of variables in play, and the kicking situation bears monitoring. But so do other positions, and it’s fair to say Friedgen probably wants that battle resolved quickly.

If not, he’ll be much more worried about a source of instabilty rather than the handful of special teams spot that look good to go heading into camp.

—- Patrick Stevens