- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It was only about an hour after the Maryland football team capped its second straight 5-6 season in November when coach Ralph Friedgen said the Terrapins’ quarterback competition would be open this spring.

Incumbent starter Sam Hollenbach certainly was listening.

The senior knew there were facets of the game in which he struggled even as he was dealing with a separated collarbone while Maryland’s season unraveled in November. And in February, when offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe resigned and Friedgen assumed control of coaching the quarterbacks, Hollenbach was assured of regular reminders of what to work on.

“Regardless of what was said, personally I think I need to improve,” Hollenbach said. “That’s kind of the outlook I’m trying to stick with. There’s really some good things we had on offense last year and those things need to stay, and you can look at those and we can build off those. He’s been very specific with me on things I need to improve.”

Hollenbach has taken most of the first-team snaps this spring, while sophomore Jordan Steffy is still the No. 2 quarterback. Friedgen has not been effusive in his praise for either this month, though that might be as much a function of his high standards as anything else.

The senior, though, appears to have an edge heading into Saturday’s spring game.

“He’s in the lead right now,” Friedgen said.

Hollenbach has done plenty to get there, some of it subtle. He has worked to cut the depth on his shotgun drops to 4 yards instead of 5, a three-foot difference that limits the angle defensive ends can take to get past a tackle.

Other things are more obvious. Hollenbach threw 15 interceptions last year — six in the last three games — and it was his proclivity for turnovers that irritated Friedgen in the first place.

“I expect him to be a great player and nothing less,” Friedgen said yesterday. “When he doesn’t live up to that expectation, I’m not a happy person. I’m not happy when he throws interceptions like he did today in the red zone. That has to stop if we’re going to win. It doesn’t matter how good he plays, if he keeps turning the ball over we’re not going to win.”

Hollenbach, though, likely will be more effective thanks to experience and the absence of his collarbone injury. He appears comfortable this spring even as Friedgen dissects his play during each practice.

He also has a far different group of targets than a season ago. Gone are tight end Vernon Davis, a likely top-10 pick in Saturday’s NFL Draft, and three senior wideouts. In their place are senior Drew Weatherly, as well as several inexperienced receivers who have struggled for much of the spring.

Hollenbach’s steadiness, which was touted in the first half of last season, should help accelerate the maturation of the receiving corps.

“A year ago, Sam was the same Sam to me,” Weatherly said. “He was calm, poised in the pocket and made plays when the opportunity was there. I feel he’s stepped up and done the exact same thing.”

The Terps hope it can continue when they re-convene in August. Hollenbach is the only eligible player in the program who threw a pass at the collegiate level last year, and plenty of people — Hollenbach included — will look for him to do more in his final season.

“Going through a season, people expect you to be that much better,” Hollenbach said. “That’s where I expect myself to be — not to make the mistakes I did last year, having the experience I did, managing the game better. [Its] just being in situations more than one time, being able to handle different things, and that’s what I feel more comfortable with and hopefully that’ll translate in the fall.”

Notes — Friedgen said left tackle Stephon Heyer is unlikely to participate in the spring game. Heyer, who is coming back from a torn knee ligament, is working through an ankle injury. … Friedgen said he expects cornerback Josh Wilson (sprained left knee) and offensive tackle Zach Marshall (sprained right knee) to be ready for the spring game. Both were injured in Sunday’s scrimmage.

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