- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

In the last two football seasons, Maryland struggled at the wrong moments, leading to 5-6 records. And in the aftermath, coach Ralph Friedgen invariably bemoaned the youth and inexperience of his teams.

The Terrapins remain relatively youthful with only 12 seniors on the roster this season, but the program finally has a healthy amount of game experience. And that is welcome at Maryland, which opened fall practice yesterday in College Park as it set out to reach a bowl for the first time in three years.

“We’re not young in the fact that no one hasn’t played,” Friedgen said. “Everyone else [besides the wideouts] has played 11, 12, 13 games. That’s the encouraging thing we have going. It’s where we need to be. Now they have to start believing in themselves and believing they can beat the teams we need to beat. When that happens, we have a chance.”

That experience can only help Sam Hollenbach, who will be the program’s first quarterback to start in consecutive seasons since Scott McBrien in 2003. Also promising is an offensive line that will include four players with starting experience when tackle Jared Gaither is scheduled to return from suspension in two weeks.

The Terps’ defense also returns seven starters, many of whom were forced to grow up during the last two years. Those players also endured five losses in games where the Terps led or trailed by less than a touchdown in the fourth quarter last season, including back-to-back setbacks to end the year.

“We’ve been ahead against good teams and ended up losing. We’ve been behind and had the ability to come back and just not doing that one thing to come back,” senior cornerback Josh Wilson said. “Being in those situations and losing them, you know what it took to lose them. Now you know what it takes to win them.”

Less than four weeks before the Sept.2 opener against William & Mary, the Terps do have some questions to sort out in camp. Tight end Vernon Davis is gone to the NFL, leaving Maryland’s offense without its most dynamic player from a year ago.

The top three wideouts from a year ago were all seniors, leaving Hollenbach with no proven targets.

“We have some talented speedsters,” senior wideout Drew Weatherly said. “We have big shoes to fill, but it gives us an opportunity to show why we have Division I scholarships to play football.”

Until that happens, Friedgen will endure questions about just how much he will be capable of achieving in his first season as offensive coordinator as well as headcoach. Weatherly (19 career receptions) is the most accomplished of the group, which also includes two sophomores who played sparingly last year and three redshirt freshmen.

“How fast that position develops will really be an asset to us in the rest of our offense,” Friedgen said. “If you’re limited throwing the ball, they’re going to gang up on your run. I think we have a chance with our backfield to have a good running game, so if we can get the big-play capabilities out of the young kids, I think we have a chance to be a good football team.”

Notes — Reserve tackle Scott Burley (high right ankle sprain) was in a walking boot and did not practice. Linebacker David Holloway is battling a hamstring injury but doesn’t expect it to linger. “I’ll be back soon,” the senior said with a shrug. … Junior defensive tackle Robert Armstrong, who redshirted last season with a back injury, is awaiting word from the NCAA on an academic waiver request. Armstrong just missed qualifying academically for this season but is practicing until a ruling is made.

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