- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2004

Joel Statham will start at quarterback for Maryland’s opener against Northern Illinois on Sept.4 despite a lackluster scrimmage yesterday at Byrd Stadium.

Three backups failed to distinguish themselves for the No.2 job, much less press Statham in the team’s final summer scrimmage. But Statham didn’t bolster coach Ralph Friedgen’s confidence either, completing just three of 10 passes, including two of seven on the opening drive.

“I didn’t think Joel played very well today,” Friedgen said. “But Joel’s so much better getting them in and out of the huddle and getting them in the right play. … We wanted to get a look at the other guys. If we had played Joel the rest of the way he would have been fine.”

Preparing a quarterback has been the No.1 goal of fall practice, but after 16 days the top four passers still misunderstood signals at times. The Terrapins expect to struggle early with an inexperienced passer, but Statham conceded he has to start better.

“I wasn’t ready to go,” Statham said, “and [offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe] told me I need to be ready by 5:30 for a 6 o’clock game and not 6:45.”

Friedgen wanted to review the scrimmage film before naming a No.2 quarterback today. Ryan Mitch and Jordan Steffy continued their close duel for the backup spot while Sam Hollenbach clearly fell to No.4 after throwing two interceptions.

“I didn’t think anybody had a real spectacular day today,” Friedgen said. “It’s hard to judge a scrimmage like this because so many players you’re counting on are not involved in it [because of injuries]. We’re all getting a little squirmish about playing kids.”

Mitch completed nine of 14 for 104 yards and two touchdowns, including a 42-yarder to receiver Drew Weatherly over two defenders. After nearly quitting the team Monday when he believed he had slipped to fourth string, Mitch has been more consistent.

“I made a few mistakes that I’m going to get yelled at [for],” he said, “but hopefully the coaches saw I made a few plays.”

Steffy continues to show exceptional poise for a freshman. His best play might have been keeping the ball when he was flushed from the pocket and both receivers were covered instead of forcing a throw. Steffy completed 10 of 15 for 135 yards with one interception

“It’s going to take time,” he said. “I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m going to make plays. I feel more comfortable out here.”

The Terps also looked at determining some backup roles. Mario Merrills might have earned the No.3 running back spot by gaining 89 yards on 14 carries, though Lance Ball gained 104 yards on 19 carries with a sharp 18-yard touchdown. Dan Melendez (seven catches for 81 yards) and Weatherly (five for 80) were the featured receivers after four wideouts were withheld because of injuries.

It was the Terps’ first contact practice in the stadium since the spring game April29. Wearing new uniforms before a restricted crowd of 50 boosters, players seemed to regain some zip after five double practices over the previous 10 days.

“It’s a different feeling than being on the practice field,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. “The tempo is a lot faster.”

Notes — Defensive end Kevin Eli (hamstring) and running backs J.P. Humbert (shoulder) and Keon Lattimore (shoulder) aren’t expected to play against Northern Illinois. Receivers Steve Suter (knee), Rich Parson (thumb) and JoJo Walker (hamstring) and offensive tackle Stephon Heyer (knee) are probable while defensive end Shawne Merriman (hamstring) is questionable.

Freshman defensive tackle Jack Griffin could start despite playing with the sort of high ankle sprain that often requires several weeks’ rest. Fullback Ricardo Dickerson should play after suffering a bruised knee in the scrimmage. … Kicker Nick Novak converted two 30-yard field goals and a 35-yarder.

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