- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 9, 2006

Darrius Heyward-Bey was a regular on Maryland’s travel roster last season, even though it was clear at midseason the Terrapins planned to redshirt him. Nevertheless, he still readied himself the night before games in case circumstances forced him into action.

All that work still didn’t entirely prepare the redshirt freshman for his first extensive time in Maryland’s season opener last week.

“I was trying to do the same things and I was thinking ‘Man, it’s not the same feeling. I feel like I’m really going to play,’” Heyward-Bey said. “But after I got out there and after the first play, I adjusted to the speed of play and was fine.”

The 27-14 victory over William & Mary was an opportunity for Heyward-Bey, as well as sophomore teammates Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams, to become more accustomed to play at the college level. Their second chance comes tonight when the Terrapins (1-0) meet Middle Tennessee (1-0) at Byrd Stadium.

The receiver position was the Terps’ biggest unknown when camp convened just more than a month ago. Gone were three senior wideouts and tight end Vernon Davis, a group that accounted for 160 of Maryland’s 210 receptions last season.

Senior Drew Weatherly was supposed to provide a veteran influence, but he missed the opener and had surgery to correct a stress fracture in his right foot. Maryland’s other receivers have come along slower than expected, vexing coach Ralph Friedgen with their practice performance.

It has meant a greater burden on Oquendo, Williams and Heyward-Bey, none of whom played much last year. Oquendo played in every game and even started the finale, but he still had only three receptions. Williams made one catch, and Heyward-Bey was on the field for one play.

Their production was solid for both a first look and a conservative game plan. Oquendo looks like he could be a valuable possession receiver and a frequent third-down target after hauling in a team-high 55 yards. Williams delivered a 47-yard catch on his favorite route, a fly pattern, to set up a touchdown. Heyward-Bey didn’t have a reception, but did run an end around.

“The big thing with receivers is if they want the ball,” senior quarterback Sam Hollenbach said. “I looked at Darrius, Isaiah and Danny and they all just wanted the ball. That’s a good sign. That means they’re comfortable.”

But far from perfect. Coaches quickly found the precision of the unit’s route-running was off after watching film, and much of the week was spent improving timing in an attempt to decrease overthrown and underthrown passes that can become interceptions.

A repeat of those errors could be costly tonight. The Blue Raiders are likely to press the Terps’ receivers (Middle Tennessee limited Florida International to 6.8 yards a catch in its opener last week) and might prove more capable of exploiting mistakes than William & Mary.

“A lot of it reverts back to what they did in high school. Our young receivers are supposed to run a route at 12 yards and they start breaking it at 8. That affects the timing a little bit,” Friedgen said. “Those are areas we need to get better. That’s partly youth and inexperience, but I don’t like hearing that any more than you do.”

The Terps’ youth eventually will have to become reliable, and Friedgen hopes it is in time for next week’s visit to No. 6 West Virginia. Tonight could provide a valuable second step in the group’s maturation process now that the opening-night jitters are gone.

Certainly, a breakout outing or two would be welcome tonight in addition to five days hence. However, if Maryland jumps to a big early lead and turns to the same run-heavy style it deployed last week, the receivers’ progress might be measured more on adjusted technique and route-running and less on big plays created.

“There’s still a lot to improve on,” Heyward-Bey said. “No knock on William & Mary, but we play the West Virginias, the Miamis and the Florida States. What we did Saturday was good enough to win, but it’s not good enough to beat the best out there.”

It is tough to read much more into that first game, and even Williams agrees it would be difficult to gauge much from last weekend. Yet he also believes outsiders should anticipate more — a lot more — by year’s end.

“They better expect talent,” Williams said. “There’s no way anyone can expect anything yet. I don’t think our coming out party will be until West Virginia. … We’re not worried about it. We have all season to make plays.”

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