- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2008

The experience of a starting quarterback on any team receiving even a mild amount of scrutiny is like a yo-yo.

There are highs and lows, sometimes more pronounced than necessary. And then there are the weird moments, the vignettes so rare and striking they only add a layer to the pressure of taking more than 50 snaps each Saturday.

It’s the part of being a quarterback that’s not taught in a meeting room or a practice session, but it only burnishes the maturation of those who earn the opportunity to build upon their performance over several seasons. Maryland’s Chris Turner has gradually assimilated the lessons big and small as the Terrapins (7-5) prepare to face Nevada (7-5) in Tuesday’s Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

He could glean wisdom from Maryland’s surprise victories and its demoralizing November fade, and patience from the occasional suggestion from a fellow student whose football credentials start and end with proficiency at PlayStation.

“That’s the most outrageous thing that’s happened - someone saying, ‘This is what I do in my game,’” Turner said. “Or there’s a flag football league and guys say, ‘Just throw it up. That’s what I do. Just throw it to the back of the end zone.’ You can’t do those things against Florida State. Those kids are on scholarship, too.”

But so is Turner, and his growth in the past year helped Maryland rally from potentially crippling losses and provides optimism about the man who next season could become the program’s first three-year starter at quarterback since Brian Cummings (1995-97).

That would lend the Terps some stability not seen during coach Ralph Friedgen’s tenure. And regardless of how close it was to not happening - Turner pondered transferring after losing a camp battle to Jordan Steffy - the junior still substantially added to his understanding this season.

“I don’t think about August,” Turner said. “I don’t think about not starting the first game. Obviously in August I was upset I wasn’t named the starter, and obviously I’m happy I stayed and happy things worked out. I’m disappointed because I think we could have done better and I could have done better. I think back on very specific plays where things would have turned out differently.”

Those aren’t necessarily the obvious calls - a fumble at Virginia Tech, two interceptions against Florida State. Instead, Turner can flip through his mental Rolodex and pinpoint key moments.

In the Boston College game, it’s easy to recall the Eagles’ clinching interception return for a score in the fourth quarter. But Turner recalls a reverse on Maryland’s previous possession. Boston College blitzed right into it, but Turner believes if he had seen it coming, he could have thrown to Torrey Smith in one-on-one coverage - possibly for a touchdown.

It’s a play Turner tucked away for the future. And his quick grasp of what he missed fits in well with the increasing realization of his impact on nearly every facet of the offense.

“Overall, his growth has been pretty good,” offensive coordinator James Franklin said. “There’s some things in the offseason I’m looking forward to working on and taking his game to the next level, but for the most part he’s been good.”

He was probably at his most efficient in the middle of the season, throwing 132 passes without an interception as the Terps surged to 7-3. But even with the solid play, Turner said he knows he must improve his arm strength. He also wants a greater understanding of Franklin’s offense, even though he concedes he probably knows it better than Friedgen’s scheme.

Friedgen, ever the perfectionist, still grouses from time to time about Turner’s consistency. But Friedgen quickly acknowledges Turner’s down spells have decreased from game-long ordeals to quarter-long struggles.

Working against Turner was Maryland’s tendency to become one-dimensional. The Terps rushed for fewer than 100 yards in three of their losses; it was especially clear during the two-game skid to close the regular season when the Terps had no choice but to pass.

“He’s shown great toughness,” Franklin said. “There’s been a couple games we’ve gotten into a situation where we had to throw the ball - and everybody in the stadium knew we were going to throw the ball to get back in the game. People are teeing off on us pretty good and he’s taking some shots and standing in there and making some big throws.”

Still, there is progress to be made, starting with a bowl game against the nation’s worst pass defense. But after that is an offseason when Turner plans to do as much as possible to master the offense - even if, as he noted dryly, he can’t push the X button to solve his problems.

“I’m excited about next year,” he said. “We have a lot to improve on and personally I have a lot to improve on. If we can get this win, it’ll be a lot of momentum going to spring.”

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