Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen named Jordan Steffy the team’s starting quarterback Monday morning after a protracted three-way race for the job.
Whether that three-man competition is over - or whether all three will remain on the roster in coming weeks - remains unknown.
Steffy beat out incumbent Chris Turner and junior Josh Portis to earn the nod for the Aug. 30 opener against Delaware. Both Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin emphasized the need to find some use for the shifty Portis.
That leaves Turner, who started the final eight games last season, as the Terrapins’ No. 2 quarterback - for now.
Turner was not made available to the media just after Friedgen’s announcement, but his father expressed surprise at the decision when reached by telephone yesterday afternoon.
“We are shellshocked,” John Turner said. “We’ll probably talk about some things tonight, but right now we’re shellshocked.”
John Turner declined to comment further on whether his son would consider transferring from the school he led to a pair of victories over top-10 opponents last fall. Friedgen was not immediately available for comment on the possibility of Chris Turner leaving the program.
Either way, it will be Steffy’s team - at least initially, anyway. The fifth-year senior impressed Friedgen and Franklin with his steadiness, and both said he led nearly every statistic the coaches recorded during practices throughout camp.
Franklin canvassed several veterans over the weekend, and Friedgen said about two-thirds of them voiced support for Steffy. Friedgen also said it was important for his own credibility to base the decision on practice performance.
“If you don’t reward kids for practicing well, then I don’t know what you can base your decision on,” Friedgen said.
It is another shot for Steffy, who won the job in camp last year but was sidelined with a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit just before halftime at Rutgers. The Terps split Steffy’s first four games, and his most memorable play was probably an interception returned for a touchdown at Wake Forest that turned that game around for the Demon Deacons.
Turner stepped in for Steffy and rallied Maryland to a win at Rutgers. He later engineered an upset of Boston College. But Friedgen was not always pleased with his consistency, a refrain he continued to echo this month.
“I know I’m going to be second-guessed on it,” said Friedgen, who believes all three will play this year. “That’s people’s prerogative, but I would hope they would get behind this kid and give him all of the support they can like I am. I think he’s worked very hard, as all three of them have. That’s what made it a very hard decision.”
While the Steffy-Turner battle probably isn’t over unless Turner departs, Portis was assured some sort of role this season. Portis sat out 2006 because of his transfer from Florida, then served a suspension for cheating on a quiz last year.
Despite the inactivity, Portis retains the shiftiness that made him such an alluring addition more than two years ago.
“He’s one of the most freakish athletes I’ve ever been around at any level,” Franklin said. “He will play.”
Franklin’s scheme is based on a West Coast offense, a philosophy that meshes with the skills Steffy displayed during his five-game stint as a starter last year.
“It definitely does [play to my strengths],” Steffy said. “He sat here the first day, and he said the West Coast offense is designed to throw short passes and let your receivers run with the ball. It fits my style of play very well, although we are going to push the ball up the field a little more.”
That’s a trait Turner displayed more frequently than Steffy last season. It is uncertain whether Steffy can add that element to his game regularly, but he will get the chance to do so in the opening weeks of the season regardless of who else remains in College Park to send signals in from the sideline.
“We have to get going,” Friedgen said. “We can’t be sitting here. We have to have a leader, and if that’s the guy, we’re going to follow him. From all the evidence I have, he is. And if that’s not the case, we have to get somebody else. I think he’s deserved that opportunity.”
Note — Senior cornerback Richard Taylor was transported to an area hospital with a heat-related illness suffered early in the Terps’ morning practice. A team spokesman said Taylor was released later in the day.