- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

Maryland’s deep passing game has been revived by a new drill.

The Terrapins are giving receivers a slight head start over cornerbacks on individual matchups during practice to provide an offensive edge when they vie for deep passes. That one-step advantage provides receivers a better look at the ball while they force defenders to compensate with quicker reads. After spending five minutes a day on the scheme since its August introduction, quarterback Scott McBrien is finally hitting downfield receivers consistently in practice.

“He’s thrown the deep ball better than any time since he’s been here,” coach Ralph Friedgen said yesterday of the past week. “If he would play like that we’ll have a heckuva shot at the [ACC title].”

Maryland (5-2, 2-1 ACC) might need plenty of big plays at Georgia Tech (4-3, 2-2) on Thursday before a national TV audience. The Terps’ running game has struggled against eight-man fronts the last two games, prompting McBrien to deliver his best efforts this season. McBrien found receivers Derrick Fenner and Latrez Harrison for several long gains that were largely absent earlier.

The deep pass is part of the Terps’ offensive tweaking over the 12-day break. The first off weekend since camp started Aug.4 let the Terps refocus on fundamentals sometimes lost during the weekly grind. The Terps are giving McBrien more options by moving him around the backfield. The 6-foot McBrien is now seeing lanes once blocked by larger linemen when he simply dropped back.

Friedgen wants McBrien to trust his receivers will be in the proper place before he releases the ball. The quick slants permit the Terps to break eight-man fronts that are crowding the line against the run.

“Scott doesn’t have that confidence and just takes it and runs it,” Friedgen said. “When he can’t see something clearly he doesn’t throw the ball up there. There’s a lot of plusses in that, [but] you have to have faith that the receiver is going to be there and throw it on time. Scott waits for the guy because he has such a strong arm he can wait that split second to see where the receiver is going to be.”

Four of Maryland’s five remaining opponents are possible bowl teams, including potent offenses in Virginia and N.C. State. The Terps might need to win shootouts through big plays.

“We can’t have long foul balls that look like a home run and it’s second and long,” he said. “I like those home runs to light the scoreboard up.”

In good health

The offensive line benefitted most from the break. While guard C.J. Brooks is still hobbled by turf toe, his sprained shoulder has improved. Guard Lamar Bryant’s sprained shoulder and sore ankle are better. Offensive tackles Stephon Heyer (concussion) and Eric Dumas (knee) also are improved.

“There’s always times when you’re banged up,” Brooks said, “but the adrenalin helps push you through to make that block.”

Offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said the line’s performance dropped in recent weeks because injuries hampered technique.

“The difference is playing lower,” he said. “When you’re hurting, it’s harder and you play a little too high. We’ve emphasized getting lower coming off the football.”

Bryant conceded the offensive line still hasn’t gelled, partly because of injuries. Bryant missed three games with a broken ankle while others have been limited in practice. The Terps largely have shifted to noncontact workouts to avoid injuries.

“Most of it’s mental,” Bryant said. “We haven’t had a solified offensive line for most of the year. It got to a point where we assumed the other person knew the [blocking] call instead of making it. We knew what each other was doing [last year] and that’s not the case this year.”

The offense should improve given running back Bruce Perry (high ankle sprain), tight end Rob Abiamiri (turf toe) and receivers Steve Suter (knee) and Harrison (hand) are also largely healthy.

“If we execute, there aren’t many teams that can stop us,” McBrien said. “Most of the time we’re stopping ourselves and letting defenses make plays they shouldn’t make.”

Extra points

Running back Bruce Perry will start against Georgia Tech over Josh Allen. … The team will practice with crowd noise today to simulate Bobby Dodd Stadium conditions. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” by Alice Cooper was among yesterday’s music during the workout. … Maryland plays North Carolina for homecoming Nov. 1 at noon.

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