- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 28, 2004

Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen produced a few tricks and even a treat yesterday.

Players devoured Popsicles as they walked off the field. Suddenly and symbolically, 17 straight days of practice melted away as the team began its preparations for opening opponent Northern Illinois next Saturday.

Friedgen also pulled some surprises on the depth chart. Russell Bonham upset Andrew Crummey at right guard. Ricardo Dickerson was moved from fullback to defensive end after playing both last season. Jordan Steffy outlasted Ryan Mitch for the No.2 quarterback spot, with Sam Hollenbach falling to fourth. Mario Merrills became the No.3 running back.

Friedgen even awarded scholarships to three walk-ons, linebackers David Holloway and Jeris Smith and nose tackle Henry Scott. Two scholarship players, defensive ends Patrick Powell and Jermaine Lemons, quit after dropping on the depth chart.

Steffy’s ability to run the option like starting quarterback Joel Statham helped make him the top backup. The freshman impressed coaches with his ability to grasp most of the offense while making fewer mental errors.

“Jordan has already surpassed [Mitch and Hollenbach] in his mental awareness and ability,” offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. “Not that he’s a finished product, but the thing he brings that you can’t coach is instinctiveness. He can run our option package like Joel. For a freshman, he’s more consistent mentally than the other two guys.”

Said Steffy: “I’m making mistakes that can be corrected. Other than that, I feel pretty good.”

Mitch rebounded from nearly leaving the team Monday by throwing two touchdowns in Thursday’s intrasquad scrimmage. However, too many mental errors relegated him to third string.

“I can’t ask for any more,” Mitch said. “I’m back on the team. I’m not satisfied. This isn’t a final thing. It’s the starting point.”

Taaffe measured the difference between Statham and Steffy as “significant” and said Statham need not worry about being pulled quickly if he plays poorly.

“You don’t want your quarterback looking over his shoulder every time he makes a mistake,” Taaffe said. “You can’t play quarterback like that.”

O-line depth

Friedgen’s aggressive recruiting of offensive linemen the last two years is finally providing needed depth after three seasons of having few backups. The Terps have benefited quickly from the depth as tackle Ryan Flynn filled in well for Heyer, who suffered a sprained knee Monday. There were even some challenges on the right side before tackle Lou Lombardo and Bonham emerged. Guard C.J. Brooks anchors the right side, while senior Kyle Schmitt plays center.

“Our depth, as time goes on, will get even better,” Friedgen said. “We have enough linemen in our program now. The problem is, we’re just young. Offensive linemen are like fine wine — you got to let them soak awhile.”

Extra points

Walk-ons can be added Monday when classes begin. Friedgen was only half-joking when saying he wanted to put a help-wanted ad in the student paper for defensive backs and receivers. … Running backs Keon Lattimore and J.P. Humber might be available against Northern Illinois after postponing surgery on their shoulders. …

Friedgen spoke during freshman orientation as part of a university plan to encourage better fan behavior after obscenity problems at basketball games last season. Friedgen sang the school fight song with students, telling them to learn it by November. … Virginia Tech and Southern Cal practiced at Maryland while preparing for their meeting tonight at FedEx Field.

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