- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Maryland football team entered last season with serious doubts about a backfield filled with inexperienced rushers.

Next fall could prove quite the opposite, creating the right kind of problem for coach Ralph Friedgen.

Lance Ball likely will enter the season as the starting tailback after emerging as the Terrapins’ primary ballcarrier in the second half of last season. However, senior Josh Allen is back working out with the Terps this spring after missing last year with a serious knee injury. He could re-emerge as well.

If both are healthy, they will give Maryland a first in program history: the option of using two backs who already boast 900-yard rushing seasons.

Ball had 903 yards and six touchdowns on 189 carries last season as a sophomore. Allen rushed for 922 yards and eight touchdowns on 186 carries in 2003.

“If we can get Lance playing even better than he did last year and Josh even close to what he was, I think we’d have two pretty good running backs,” Friedgen said. “What Josh would bring to the table is he can go all the way. If we can get him back to that, we’ll be in pretty good shape. I don’t know if that will happen or not.”

That Allen is even back is impressive. He dislocated his left knee in the 2004 season finale against Wake Forest and underwent a procedure six days later to repair six tears before spending 10 weeks in a leg brace. At this time a year ago, Allen watched spring practice with the knowledge he would not be ready in the fall.

Now, though, he has an obvious goal — be ready for Maryland’s Sept. 2 opener against William & Mary.

“As long as I’m able to come out here and work toward it, it’s a good feeling,” Allen said. “I have to work on getting my burst back and my speed. I’m not completely back to 100 percent as far as my speed goes, but that’s something I’m looking to come along and progress through the spring and progress through the summer. By the time the season comes, I plan to be ready and rolling.”

While Allen continues to work on rebuilding strength in his legs, Ball is simply fine-tuning the areas of his multi-faceted game. He is working to improve his speed after offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus and is also trying to bolster his route-running and pass-blocking skills.

One significant difference from a year ago is Ball’s comfort level. Last year’s numbers prove he can succeed at the college level.

“I just think I’m a little bit more confident, more confident in myself and more confident in the line,” Ball said. “I just have a little swagger to me now.”

It shows. He’s slimmed down from 225 pounds to 211 pounds, and he hopes to play at a slightly lighter weight in the fall. The coaching staff has also raised its expectations for Ball after his breakout season.

Meanwhile, Keon Lattimore, last year’s third-string back who is sitting out the spring with a shoulder injury, could compete with Ball and Allen for snaps. All three possess experience Maryland lacked a year ago, which has only improved the effectiveness of this spring’s practices.

“As soon as we started spring practice and were in meetings, I could tell in the room I could go a lot faster talking about a play and installing a play,” running backs coach John Donovan said. “Most of them have been in the game already. Last year, I was looking at them and they might have had a couple reps here but they didn’t know what was going on. It’s nice to have guys who have been in the fray.”

Notes — The Terps’ first scrimmage of the spring is tomorrow at 10 a.m. and is open to the public. … Friedgen expressed frustration yesterday with tailback J.P. Humber, who has missed more than a week with a pulled quadriceps. Humber was the fourth-string back last year and ran for 53 yards, all in a rout at Temple.

“He had two good days of practice, he looked like he might be able to help us, and I haven’t seen him,” Friedgen said. “I told him, ‘It could be the same old thing as last year. You were hurt all spring last year. I’m moving on and I’ll find another guy. … You’re a senior and your opportunity passed you by. You’d better wake up. You have to be tougher. A little pulled muscle? Let’s go.’ ”

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