- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2004

Maryland junior defensive end Shawne Merriman may skip his final season pending an NFL panel’s analysis of his draft potential.

Merriman plans to submit his application in January to a panel of NFL personnel officials that will project in which round he might be taken in the April 23-24 draft. If the panel predicts Merriman will go in the first two rounds, the All-ACC lineman probably will forgo his senior year. However, Merriman can return to Maryland (4-6, 2-5 ACC), which plays Wake Forest (4-6, 1-6) in the season finale Saturday, as long as he doesn’t sign with an agent.

“That’s all you can really do — just see where you’re at no matter what,” Merriman said. “All kind of weird things happen, but you try not to think about it unless you’re 100 percent sure of making that jump. It’s all up in the air.”

It’s possible Merriman could merit a second-round selection, but another standout season could help his draft position. In any case, leaving early is a gamble, as shown last year by defensive tackle Randy Starks. He decided last spring to skip his senior season after some draft analysts said he was a possible first-round selection. The NFL panel projected Starks would go in the second round, but Starks fell to the third round. That drop cost him several million dollars in his initial four-year deal with Cincinnati.

“Randy was very talented, but I’m my own man. I think things would be a little different [in the draft],” Merriman said. “Nothing is guaranteed. That’s the scary part of that situation. You can be told so many different things by different people, and it can turn around and bite you.”

Merriman moved closer to the line this season, but in the past the Terps used his speed to cover receivers and running backs on passing routes at linebacker. The NFL might consider him a “tweener,” which would limit his draft value, but Merriman sees the versatility as an asset.

“Put 10 pounds on me and put my hand down and I can be a true defensive end, or I can stay where I am and run with backs and wide receivers,” he said. “It’s whatever anybody wants to do with me. I like to rush the passer, but I like running with those backs and receivers at times.”

Merriman, an “Iron Terp” with a 590-pound squat press and a 41-inch vertical leap — a team-record for a defensive lineman — has 19 career sacks, trailing only Mike Corvino (24) in Terps history. His six sacks, nine quarterback hurries and 13 tackles for loss lead the Terps this season. Merriman’s 7.3 tackles a game are 11th in the ACC.

“Shawne does things you don’t see in college football,” defensive tackle Robert Armstrong said. “Even if you double-team him, you can’t do anything to him. He’s that good.”

Hollenbach starts

Quarterback Sam Hollenbach will start against Wake Forest, while backup Jordan Steffy is doubtful after remaining out yesterday with a concussion. Joel Statham is the backup for the first time this season, while Ryan Mitch will be activated after missing two games for violating a team rule.

“I felt like it was time to give Jordan if healthy or Sam the opportunity to see if it gives us a spark and more consistency,” offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said.

Friedgen said Hollenbach has improved greatly since summer camp, when he got snaps regularly. Hollenbach once considered leaving, but Friedgen said he could compete for the starting job when spring practice begins April 2.

“Sam was very calm and took what he had [against Virginia Tech on Nov. 18],” Friedgen said. “Hopefully, it will carry into Saturday.”

Taaffe wanted?

Taaffe labeled reports he’s among the candidates for Ohio University’s opening as meritless. Coach Brian Knorr was fired Nov. 19 after going 11-35 over four seasons. Ohio officials expect to hire a new coach by mid-December. Taaffe said he would consider it but hasn’t been contacted.

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