- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2007

PINEHURST, N.C. — The greatest uncertainty about the Maryland football program is the gaping hole at quarterback.

Predictably, coach Ralph Friedgen didn’t shrink from that reality yesterday during the ACC kickoff event.

“We have to find a quarterback that can play when the lights come on,” Friedgen said. “I think we have some that can play; it’s just they haven’t played yet.”

The Terrapins’ experience is limited, and the forthcoming battle between junior Jordan Steffy, Florida sophomore transfer Josh Portis and sophomore Chris Turner is sure to cast a shadow over nearly everything transpiring during a camp that starts Aug. 6.

The state of flux likely is part of the reason a media panel picked the Terps, 9-4 a season ago, to finish fifth in the six-team Atlantic Division.

Virginia Tech was an overwhelming choice to win both the Coastal Division and the league title game, while Virginia was voted fourth in the Coastal.

Much of the Terps’ fate could lie at quarterback, where Steffy has three years in the system but has taken only 14 snaps over the last two years — all in last year’s opener against William & Mary.

Portis is the most athletic signal-caller at Friedgen’s disposal since he arrived six years ago, and the coach indicated he would be willing to play both Steffy and Portis if it meant a better chance to win. There’s also Turner, a less mobile option who turned in a steady spring and would give the Terps a different look.

“If it’s between Steffy and Portis, I don’t think we’ll have to change a whole lot,” said Friedgen, who has Steffy listed atop the depth chart. “They’re similar enough. If it’s Turner, he’s not going to be able to do some of the things those two guys can do running the football.”

Much of any quarterback’s success will hinge on the play of a perilously thin offensive line. Maryland has seven linemen with game experience, a number reduced last month by Jared Gaither’s academic ineligibility.

Friedgen acknowledged Gaither could be a frustrating player — “sometimes he wouldn’t work” — but also said he discussed the gargantuan tackle with Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti before the club selected him in the fifth round of this month’s supplemental draft.

“I told them he just has to get away from some of the people he hangs around with and get his mind right and dedicate himself,” Friedgen said. “They got a steal.”

As a result, Gaither won’t be part of Maryland’s attempt to climb higher than anticipated in the conference. Last year, the Terps were picked fourth in the division and still came within a victory of winning the Atlantic.

Friedgen was unruffled by the latest slight to his program, pointing to it as more of the same in a balloting that typically leaves Maryland in the lower half of the league.

“It doesn’t matter where you start; it’s where you finish, right?” Friedgen said. “Now, I might take that back to our players, but it’s not a lot different.”

Notes — Cornerback Richard Taylor, who partially tore his left ACL in April, is eyeing a Sept. 1 return, though Friedgen said he wouldn’t play in the opener against Villanova. “He’s really pushing,” Friedgen said. “I’m trying to tell him you don’t want to blow this thing out.” …

Friedgen said offensive lineman Carl Russell and defensive lineman Joe Vellano, both members of a 25-man freshman class, likely will arrive on campus in the spring instead, meaning they will maintain true freshman status for 2008. The only freshman who has not qualified is tight end Devonte Campbell. …

Senior Scott Burley is applying for a hardship waiver after playing briefly in last year’s opener and then suffering an ankle injury. Friedgen hopes to know whether the left tackle will receive an extra year by the start of the season. …

Defensive lineman Barrod Heggs, who was suspended once last fall and missed spring practice to focus on academics, no longer is with the team.

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