- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 23, 2002

This finally may be the week Bruce Perry makes his long-awaited season debut. Yesterday, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen made his most optimistic remarks about the possibility of last season's ACC offensive player of the year playing since he suffered a torn groin muscle in the preseason.

"He practiced the best he has since the injury," said Friedgen, of Monday night's workout. "He's still rusty on some things, but he went more last night than what he has been doing."

The coach stopped short of saying he expects the tailback to be back for Saturday's game at Duke, citing several setbacks in the last few weeks when it appeared the star runner was ready to return. Perry took part in a second consecutive practice yesterday, though he was held out of certain drills.

The Blue Devils (2-6, 0-4 ACC) could be the perfect foe to ease Perry back into a less-pressurized situation. The Terps are a 13-point favorite against Duke, which has lost 21 consecutive league games, dating to 1999. Although the Blue Devils did scare No.12 N.C. State in a 24-22 loss last week, they hardly seem capable of testing the surging Terrapins (5-2, 1-1), who have won four straight after pounding West Virginia and Georgia Tech the last two weeks.

Perry's return would bolster an evolving offense, which has developed a strong running game with tailbacks Chris Downs and Josh Allen. Downs rushed for 212 yards and three touchdowns last week in a 34-10 win over Georgia Tech. But Perry would bring a new dimension to the backfield. The 5-foot-9 junior ran for 1,242 yards last season, and was Maryland's second leading receiver with 40 receptions for 359 yards.

"If Bruce is healthy, he brings some things to the table that maybe some other guys don't do, especially in the passing game and experience-wise," Friedgen said. "Even if he is the starter, which I don't know if he will be, I don't know how long he can go."

Friedgen said Perry will have to compete for the starting job if he is ready. "Chris deserves that," Friedgen said.

Perhaps as important as Perry making plays will be the charismatic demeanor that he supplies.

Schmitt back in line

Kyle Schmitt spent plenty of time earlier this season speaking on the phone with cousin Matt Schmitt, a starting offensive tackle at Penn State. The Terps' center was trying to get some advice on how to shake off a slump that cost him his starting job.

"There was a little bit of adversity," said Schmitt, whose older cousin faced similar problems with the Nittany Lions. "That was the biggest thing. I just had to collect myself and do my job."

The Maryland sophomore feels he "relaxed" after earning the job in the spring and that led to a poor fall camp. The 6-foot-5, 298-pounder lost his job when Maryland shifted the line to get Eric Dumas in. Todd Wike became the team's starting center, and Dumas started at left tackle.

Schmitt's second chance came last week when right tackle Matt Crawford didn't start due to dehydration, which may have been linked to a previous concussion. Schmitt started at center, while Wike moved to left guard, left guard C.J. Brooks moved to left tackle and Dumas moved from left to right tackle.

But when Crawford came in late in the first half and played most of the second, it was Dumas who went to the bench. Because of Schmitt's strong performance, he is again competing to start.

Extra points

Rush linebacker Jamahl Cochran (hamstring) is doubtful for Duke. If he can't go, 6-foot-2, 240-pound Shawn Merriman will be the first true freshman to start for the Terps this season. The Maryland at North Carolina game on Nov.2 will be at 1:30p.m., and there will be no television.

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