- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

Maryland sophomore tight end Dan Gronkowski wore a knowing smile earlier this week when he was asked, once again, how the Terrapins would cope without star Vernon Davis.

The question was typical. The answer was honest.

“I’d love to have him on the team, but for me it’s a positive in somewhat of a way,” Gronkowski said.

It’s a common sentiment among the Terrapins’ unheralded tight end corps, a group that scrounged for playing time while Davis wowed everyone with his freakish athleticism and burgeoning pass-catching skills the last two seasons. Davis’ play proved especially appealing to the San Francisco 49ers, who took him sixth overall in April’s NFL Draft.

Davis’ decision to turn pro left a group that includes holdovers Joey Haynos and Gronkowski, former H-back Jason Goode, redshirt freshman Tommy Galt and true freshman Drew Gloster eager to assume a piece of the role Davis etched for himself in the offense now that the Terps have opened camp.

Other than Gloster, arguably the Terps’ top incoming recruit this season, the group is a relatively mysterious bunch. Collectively, they own 10 career receptions for 80 yards — or less than Davis’ yardage total in four separate games last season.

“Make no bones about it, I’d love to have Vernon back, but I have great kids to work with,” tight ends coach Ray Rychleski said. “I’m happy they’re getting their opportunity. They are hard workers. I’m privileged to coach these guys. They’re awfully special. Talented? We don’t know yet. But effort-wise, they’re giving us everything they’ve got.”

There is a philosophical shift in how the Terps will deploy their tight ends this season, and the loss of Davis’ ability to stretch the field is part of it. But coach Ralph Friedgen, who takes over the play-calling duties this season, also has a fondness for two- and three-tight end formations.

If Friedgen’s tendencies in past stints as an offensive coordinator are an accurate indicator — and his snickering in the spring about the effectiveness of using two tight ends when Joe Hamilton was his quarterback at Georgia Tech suggest they are — then Davis’ successors figure to have plenty to do.

Haynos, a 6-foot-7, 267-pound junior and former walk-on, has earned praise this week for his ability to move downfield. The 6-foot-6, 268-pound Gronkowski is a blocking specialist who came to Maryland two years ago as a quarterback and has progressed steadily if quietly. And Goode, who missed practice yesterday with a bruised thigh and could return by Monday, could line up in the backfield and catch some passes.

None will split out wide like Davis, instead working the inside of the field on possession routes in an attempt to lure defenses in tight. The Terps hope Gloster could eventually develop into a greater threat — perhaps even helping Maryland by the middle of this season — but the veterans ahead of him and his acclimation to the offense will limit his opportunities for now.

“I’m excited about his future,” Rychleski said. “It may not be right now, and that’s OK because Vernon’s wasn’t right now. This kid is further along than Vernon was so I think there’s great things to come.”

Maryland has come to expect that from its tight ends. Since Friedgen arrived, Davis, Jeff Dugan and Matt Murphy were drafted and Rob Abiamiri spent part of last season on Baltimore’s practice squad. Derek Miller, who finished his Maryland career last year, is in camp with Oakland this summer.

It’s a legacy the program is proud of, and one the Terps’ latest posse of tight ends wants to uphold.

“We’re a bunch of no-name tight ends,” Haynos said, “But we hope to change that this year.”

Notes — Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. visited practice and spoke with Friedgen for about five minutes. … Friedgen said the NCAA denied nose tackle Robert Armstrong’s appeal, leaving the junior academically ineligible this season. …

An MRI exam revealed reserve defensive end Deege Galt tore a knee ligament and some muscles Thursday and will undergo surgery. The staff originally believed Galt tore three knee ligaments. …

Linebacker Erin Henderson (hyperextended knee) sat out, while running back Keon Lattimore turned an ankle during practice. “We haven’t hit yet and we’ve got everybody hurt,” said Friedgen, who was uncertain if the Terps would scrimmage today as scheduled.

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