- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The only things missing from today’s “game” at Byrd Stadium will be fans and a final score.

Maryland’s final run-through before its opener against Northern Illinois on Sept.4 will be about the little things. From slapping the sign above the locker room door to rubbing Testudo’s nose for luck to which bench to sit on, the Terrapins’ dress rehearsal will simulate game experiences. Coaches will call plays from the press box. Players will learn where to stretch on the sideline and how to communicate with coaches.

“If you don’t practice, it can be mayhem on game day and you don’t have poise,” said offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. “The team that has the most poise gives themselves an edge. When the emotion of the game starts, everybody wants to get into the game, and you may need a guy and he’s not where he’s supposed to be.”

Quarterbacks will be the centerpiece, though. From starter Joel Statham’s reaction to playing inside Byrd to the order of three backups, the Terps want to find out how their passers will respond beyond the practice fields.

“Ultimately, the test is out there on game day, and it’s hard to simulate that,” Taaffe said. “Some guys aren’t good practice players and they go out there and the band is playing, the stadium is full and they light it up, and other guys get out there and panic in a game situation. It’s going to be on-the-job training.”

Coach Ralph Friedgen concedes Statham is his best quarterback, but he’s still concerned about Statham’s concentration in games. Statham didn’t rattle in emergency relief last year against Georgia Tech’s constant blitzing, but he started poorly in the Red-White spring game before 17,000 in April.

“I’m worried about certain things,” Friedgen said, “not as far as his playing the game, but as much as getting the right signal, putting in the right formation, motioning to the guy [whos out of position]. He’s still making a lot of mental mistakes. They’re wasted plays. I still want to see in a game situation where that improves. I don’t think we’re still going to know until he gets into a game or two.”

Defensive coordinator Gary Blackney and Taaffe will call plays for their sides, but Taaffe has an edge on his counterpart.

“Gary’s going to blitz every play,” Taaffe said jokingly. “We have to be ready for maximum protection because you know it’s coming.”

Jordan Steffy, Sam Hollenbach and Ryan Mitch will end a close race for backup quarterback. Whoever plays the best in the scrimmage becomes No.2 — and perhaps an eventual starter should Statham falter.

“The backup position is close between all three kids,” Friedgen said. “We have to make some tough decisions, but even those decisions aren’t made in stone. Things could happen. If you want to keep the job, you have to produce. If you don’t, somebody else needs the job.”

Notes — Injuries will prevent the Terps from learning much about their lines. Defensive end Kevin Eli and tackles Rob Armstrong and Justin Duffie remain sidelined, though they should return against Northern Illinois. Offensive tackle Stephon Heyer is out with a sprained knee that might have been season-ending if the Terps hadn’t invested in $800 custom braces. Running backs Keon Lattimore and J.P. Humber are out with shoulder injuries. …

The Terps completed their final two-a-day practices yesterday. Both were shortened 30 minutes after Friedgen said the players appeared worn Tuesday. … The team begins preparing for Northern Illinois tomorrow but will be off Monday when classes start.

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