- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 15, 2004

Joel Statham has “widened the gap” for the Maryland’s starting quarterback job, but coach Ralph Friedgen said yesterday two backups are still pressing him.

Freshman Jordan Steffy and redshirt freshman Ryan Mitch impressed Friedgen in the first four days of practice, and Sam Hollenbach has regressed. Steffy is one of the top recruits in Friedgen’s four-year tenure, while Mitch has improved greatly since erratic spring workouts.

“Statham’s doing well — I’m very pleased with where he’s at,” said Friedgen, whose team lost Scott McBrien to graduation. “The guy that’s making a move right now is Ryan Mitch. He’s had three good practices in a row better than any in the spring. … Steffy is the guy who has a lot of tools but has a ways to go with his footwork. He makes plays and sees things and for a freshman doesn’t make bad decisions. Right now, you have to wait and see how it goes when it’s live, but you have to keep him in the hunt.”

Statham played sparingly last season, but increased confidence has bolstered his decision-making and accuracy in practices. Statham rebounded from a poor start in the spring game to throw for two late touchdowns, but the uneven performance was enough to prompt Friedgen to re-open the competition.

How the passers fare in three upcoming scrimmages, including today’s goal-line work, will help decide the job. Friedgen is reluctant to play the inexperienced Steffy, but standout play in the scrimmages could improve his chances. Steffy already has surprised coaches with his playbook knowledge and strong arm.

“Everything here has to be on time,” he said. “In high school, you can miss a read and go back to it because the defensive backs didn’t react as fast. Here, they’re on top of everything.”

Mitch is more of a playmaker who can counter a bad play with a good one. However, Friedgen isn’t tolerant of mental errors like throwing into double coverage.

“I focused on [safeties] through the summer, and it helped a lot,” Mitch said. “Things are a lot more clear. I know I can be consistent. It’s all based on looking at the safeties.”

That leaves Statham as the starter unless he plays poorly in the intrasquad scrimmages through Aug.26.

“We haven’t gotten to the hard stuff yet,” Statham said. “You have to do a lot of studying. One of the big aspects is make the reads all the time.”

Statham’s increased maturity shows at the line during drills — he’s no longer predictable when calling cadence.

“In the spring, he’d go on the same count all the time, and the defense would get such unbelievable jumps in blitz drills,” Friedgen said. “Now he’s mixing the cadence up.”

Meanwhile, the backup running back position behind Josh Allen also has tightened. Sammy Maldonado has recovered fully from knee surgery and lost 10 pounds. J.P. Humber and freshman Keon Lattimore, brother of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, also have impressed Friedgen.

“Backs get dinged up, so I like to keep a fresh one in there,” Friedgen said. “If you have a couple guys, you’re ready.”

Also, defensive end Kevin Eli’s extended absence with a strained hamstring has the Terps reviewing their line rotation. Patrick Powell appears ahead of Omar Savage and Mack Frost.

“We have bodies, just not anybody with experience,” Friedgen said. “You have so many young guys there’s not that much difference. Let the second team get in there and go hard and all of a sudden you have experience. That’s when you build things.”

Notes — Maryland is ranked 22nd in the Associated Press preseason poll. … Receivers Drew Weatherly (ankle) and Curtis Williams (hamstring), linebacker Chase Bullock (hamstring) and Eli missed practice yesterday. … The Terps moved practice six hours earlier to avoid the rain.

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