Thursday, October 27, 2005

Even after he lost the starting quarterback job late last season, Joel Statham continued to prepare as if he would be playing every week.

On Saturday, the junior’s readiness could be tested.

Starter Sam Hollenbach practiced for the first time since spraining his nonthrowing shoulder Oct.20 against Virginia Tech. The junior didn’t take a full complement of first-team snaps but participated throughout practice. He wore a restraint, which combined with the injury hampered his ability to perform basic chores like leaning over to take snaps and handing off to running backs.

“I don’t think it’s anything that can get worse with the amount of pain I have,” said Hollenbach, who received treatment for the injury for about 3 hours yesterday. “That’s basically what I want to hear, so if I can get through the pain I’ll be all right.”

However, coach Ralph Friedgen declined to announce who would start Saturday at No.10 Florida State, preferring to see how Hollenbach performs in practice today and indicating he was willing to wait until just before kickoff to make a decision. That leaves open the possibility Statham could make his first start since last year’s penultimate game, a 55-6 loss at Virginia Tech.

Statham managed only 70 yards passing and three interceptions that night before yielding late in the third quarter to Hollenbach, who has started every game since for the Terps (4-3, 2-2 ACC).

Statham was disappointed, but he didn’t sulk about losing his job after tossing eight touchdown passes and 15 interceptions in 10 starts and topping 115 yards passing in only one of his final six games. He didn’t consider transferring — “It never crossed my mind,” Statham said. “I’ve made too many friends here.” — and instead was determined to be ready whenever his second chance arrived.

“I kind of held back a little bit because I knew last year I made some mistakes I wasn’t supposed to,” Statham said. “I just had to work on getting better. I knew Sam was playing good at the time, and he has been this whole season. It’s unfortunate that he got hurt right now. I was OK with it, and I’m still OK with it now. I’ll be ready to play when the time comes.”

Statham adjusted to his new role this year, which until this week entailed taking the second-team snaps in practice. During games, he talks to offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe on a headset and signals plays into Hollenbach. He also has provided insight to Hollenbach, acting as an extra set of eyes to help Maryland’s detailed offense.

Statham’s only game experience this year was a 3-for-6, 24-yard outing in the fourth quarter of a water-logged rout of Temple this month.

“Even though he’s not starting, he’s positive,” receiver Jo Jo Walker said. “He still helps Sam. He’s a great dude to lose his spot and still be positive because most people would just go into the tank and be ‘Whatever, I don’t like this program.’ He never said that one time. He is very positive, and he still competes. Even though he’s No. 2, he competes like he is No. 1.”

He also might be better prepared to be a starter now than he was a year ago. Taaffe hasn’t seen Statham making as many mental errors in practice and believes Statham has improved.

Statham turned in arguably his best outing last year against Florida State, throwing for 333 yards and a touchdown in a 20-17 upset of the Seminoles. That, coupled with nearly a full year of starting experience, should calm his nerves if he is asked to attempt an encore in Tallahassee.

“I already got all that stuff out of my system now,” Statham said. “Of course, when I walk out in front of 85,000 people, I’ll probably get a little jitters, but they’ll go away after a couple of plays.”

Notes — Friedgen said tailback Lance Ball has emerged as the Terps’ No.1 running back. “When you look at the stats, Lance is far above the other guys.” Meanwhile, Keon Lattimore (shoulder) probably will miss Saturday’s game, with J.P. Humber moving up to third-string tailback. …

Friedgen said he believes senior tackle Stephon Heyer, who tore the ACL in his left knee in camp, will return next season. Friedgen said tailback Josh Allen, who dislocated his left knee in last year’s finale and is redshirting this year, could be ready for spring practice. …

Ricardo Dickerson switched from fullback to rush linebacker, a move Friedgen hopes will prevent the Terps from burning freshman Barrod Heggs’ redshirt.

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