- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

In November, Keon Lattimore glumly assessed an increasingly lost season during a talk with Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

The tailback wasn’t the only one disappointed when a shoulder injury foiled his year and ultimately required offseason surgery that cost him spring practice. Friedgen wasn’t any happier and knew he needed as much running back depth as he could muster.

“He told me what he expected of me this season and I gave him my word,” Lattimore said. “I said ‘Coach, when I come back, I’ll be ready.’”

The junior wasn’t kidding. With the Terrapins battling through minor injuries throughout practice this month, Lattimore’s re-emergence is one of camp’s most welcome developments. He scored two touchdowns in Saturday’s scrimmage, displaying a burst absent for much of last season.

Lattimore’s new look — he has about 210 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame, down from between 230 and 235 pounds last season — is the byproduct of his offseason regimen. He logged time with his teammates during the week, then went home to Baltimore where he endured the notoriously grueling workouts of his half-brother, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

Lattimore provides Friedgen with a welcome situation — plenty of depth at running back. Incumbent starter Lance Ball will likely receive much of the work. Senior Josh Allen will earn some carries after rehabbing from a knee injury that cost him all of last season. With Friedgen calling the plays, it is possible the Terps will frequently deploy two-back sets.

“He’s made some cuts that have been just big-time cuts,” Friedgen said. “He’s just playing free and he’s just having a good time out there. If he continues to practice like this, he’s going to have a big year. We’ve had 10 practices, and he’s done it every practice. There’s not been one bad practice that he’s had, so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to do that come game time.”

There was a brief time last season when it seemed Lattimore would assume the bulk of the backfield work. When Mario Merrills struggled for three weeks after a strong opening game, Lattimore used his punishing style to run for 76 yards and an impressive 3-yard touchdown in a victory at Wake Forest.

Yet he never sealed the job. The next week, Ball scampered for 163 yards against Virginia and soon emerged as the primary ballcarrier. Lattimore partially dislocated his right shoulder that month, tumbled down the depth chart and didn’t have a carry in the final four games.

When he did play and practice with the injury, he found it hard to concentrate on bursting through holes and picking up yardage. Lattimore’s thoughts constantly drifted to his injury, and he admits he began to protect his shoulder while he ran.

“It was just a mind thing,” Lattimore said. “I was just thinking about it, and that hampered my season.”

Friedgen noticed it, and in his meeting with Lattimore pointed out the tailback’s 3.1 average a carry. It was far below both Friedgen’s expectations and the performance of an effective every-down back.

But after that, Friedgen allowed Lattimore to offer a self-diagnosis — as well as a promise for the future.

“He just told me he was kind of inconsistent,” Friedgen said. “He said ‘Coach, I really think I’m thinking too much and I’m afraid of making a mistake. I’m not playing with any confidence.’ I said ‘You’re right.’ He said ‘I’m not going to do that anymore.’”

The decision to slim down is helping Lattimore, who believes he’s as slippery as when he played receiver in high school. The rigorous offseason might not vault Lattimore into a starter’s role this month, but he seems poised to move past his two injury-plagued seasons at Maryland.

“This is the best I’ve felt since I got here,” Lattimore said. “I’m in great shape — tip-top shape. I’m more elusive, quicker, faster. It feels good to be back out here.”

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