- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

If the Maryland football team breaks a two-year bowl drought this fall, it could be because of the new faces in seven-on-seven drills this spring.

The Terrapins begin spring practice today in College Park with a large crop of experienced players — including 16 starters — who intend to return to the postseason after back-to-back 5-6 seasons.

“The pressure is I am sick of losing,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I don’t know if that is self-imposed or what, but it doesn’t matter. It is about time we start winning again.”

Two areas of concern are who will catch passes and who will defend them. The team’s top four targets are gone, including a probable first-round in April’s NFL Draft, tight end Vernon Davis, who led the team with 54 receptions. Dan Gronkowski and Jason Goode will line up at tight end, but more of the production likely will have to come from the wide receivers in 2006.

With the top three wideouts graduated, senior Drew Weatherly will be joined by a contingent of players in their second year in the program, including sophomores Isaiah Williams and Danny Oquendo and redshirt freshmen Nolan Carroll, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Terrell Skinner.

While the Terps have older players in the secondary, they are not necessarily blessed with lots of experience. Senior corner Josh Wilson will be the anchor, but he will have a new running mate with Gerrick McPhearson gone. Notre Dame transfer Isaiah Gardner, who played in 10 games during his first season of eligibility with the Terps, begins the spring atop the depth chart.

Christian Varner returns at one safety position, while senior Marcus Wimbush gets the first crack at replacing Milton Harris. The coaching staff has been waiting for Wimbush’s production to match his potential for several seasons.

The players throwing during the seven-on-seven drills and full-team scrimmages also will be watched closely. Sam Hollenbach returns after passing for 2,539 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also threw 15 interceptions, which is part of the reason Friedgen has opened the job up for competition.

“I think being an athlete means you are going to be competing every time you’re on the field, whether it’s the practice field or the game field,” said Hollenbach, who has been cleared to participate after dealing with a left shoulder injury during the latter part of last season. “Obviously there were a lot of mistakes that I made last season that I need to improve on.”

Hollenbach will have to make better decisions and hold off a healthier Jordan Steffy to remain the starter. Followers of the program also will get a sneak peek at Florida transfer Josh Portis, who will sit out this season but could vie the job in 2007.

A pair of starters from 2004 also will rejoin practice. Tailback Josh Allen and offensive tackle Stephon Heyer are back after serious knee injuries kept them out last season. Both watched players (Lance Ball and Jared Gaither) have breakout seasons at their positions last fall, and the offensive line and running back are expected to be two of the team’s biggest strengths.

“I’m really excited to get back out there,” Allen said. “I did get to practice a little at the end of last season, but that was mostly down with the scout team. … There’s nothing I can’t do right now. I’m just focused on getting back to being the old Josh Allen.”

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