- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

Jared Gaither didn’t need much time to become a solid offensive lineman. Maryland hopes it won’t be much longer before he entrenches himself as a starter.

Though coach Ralph Friedgen said it was unlikely the 6-foot-9, 340-pound Gaither would start at left tackle tomorrow against West Virginia at Byrd Stadium, he probably will take over at the position soon. That would allow Derek Miller to shift back to tight end, where he played his entire career before injuries forced him inside last month.

Earning a starting gig would cap a quick ascension for Gaither, who played football for the first time as a senior at Greenbelt’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School in 2003. He spent last year at Hargrave Military Academy, a stint that gave him time to both work on his grades and improve his skills as a tackle.

“It was a tough time, but I actually put myself in that predicament, and I figured I went there and took care of business,” Gaither said. “I’m pretty proud I did that. It was definitely stressful going through that, but I’m here now and ready to play.”

He’s appeared in Maryland’s first two games at left tackle, a critical position since he protects right-handed quarterback Sam Hollenbach’s blind side. Yet Gaither’s quick push for a substantial role with the Terps isn’t a surprise given his athleticism.

Gaither was a sought-after basketball player — he verbally committed to play at South Carolina before pursuing football — so he’s accustomed to the quickness and lateral movements a lineman needs.

“Pass protection [is like] man-to-man basketball,” offensive line coach Tom Brattan said. “He’s going to the hoop. The quarterback’s the hoop, [so] keep him from the hoop. It’s a little more violent, but it’s the same thing. Don’t let him inside.”

Although Gaither remains more project than polish, he can rely on his massive frame for some wiggle room as he adapts to the college game. Yet in time, coaches and teammates impressed with his eagerness to study and improve believe he could be an anchor for the Terps’ line.

“He’s more mature than other freshmen who come in, and he’s got more power,” senior center Andrew McDonald said. “@ 340 pounds, he’s a hard guy to move. It’s pretty amazing how much talent he has. He could be dominant — [maybe] he wouldn’t give up a sack all year. He’s an awesome run blocker, too, and it’s going to be awesome to see how he progresses.”

Punting ponderings

West Virginia quarterback Adam Bednarik, who splits time with Pat White, also handles some punting duties for the Mountaineers, a situation that could produce headaches for the Terps.

“It creates a lot of problems,” Friedgen said. “They actually run an option with him. If you don’t cover him, he’ll run the ball. If you cover him, he rugby punts the ball.”

Bednarik’s abilities also could be dangerous in third-and-long situations. If the Terps send a safety back to receive a punt, the Mountaineers likely would run a passing play. If no one is back, the possibility of a pooch punt exists.

Overflow solution

When Maryland sold 500 extra tickets for tomorrow’s game, it had to come up with a place to stash the extra fans.

One solution was to add a set of bleachers on the hill near the visitors’ locker room. The seats are tucked well beyond the end zone but probably will pacify many fans eager to catch a glimpse of the regional rivalry.

“It’s pretty crazy,” McDonald said. “Having stands almost behind the complex is pretty neat. … If we get some more people in here, I guess it’s worth it.”

Fenner still uncertain

Friedgen said wide receiver Derrick Fenner has yet to receive medical clearance and might miss tomorrow’s game. Fenner, who suffered a concussion Sept. 3 against Navy and has not played since, participated in noncontact drills in practice this week.

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