- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen couldn’t name a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game at Middle Tennessee.

He did, however, muster an impassioned defense of past, present and perhaps future starting quarterback Jordan Steffy.

Steffy underwent an X-ray Tuesday morning, three days after departing the Terrapins’ season-opening 14-7 defeat of Delaware with what Friedgen described as an injured right thumb. Friedgen said Steffy is questionable for Saturday.

Steffy, who won the starting quarterback job in camp last month, was booed at times during a 10-for-18, 115-yard performance. He threw two interceptions, both in the second half, and the fan reaction to his miscues irked Friedgen.

“I’m like a father. If you boo my son, I’m going to get upset,” Friedgen said. “That’s how I look at this kid. If he was a kid who didn’t give effort or didn’t prepare, then that would be a different story. But that’s not the case with this kid. … If you want to boo me, boo me. Don’t boo the kid.”

Friedgen probably possesses other concerns beyond his patrons’ reaction to quarterback play - namely figuring out who would start for the Terps (1-0) this weekend.

Steffy didn’t practice the last two days. Steffy stood with his helmet hanging in his right hand Tuesday, his thumb taped up as backups Chris Turner, Josh Portis and Jamarr Robinson practiced.

Friedgen wouldn’t commit to Steffy as this week’s starter if he is healthy, only adding to the uncertainty. He said Steffy struggled to take snaps and hand off.

Portis and Turner split snaps in Monday’s practice. Neither Steffy nor Turner was made available to reporters Tuesday, and Steffy’s status for Thursday is not known.

“I find it very questionable [he’ll practice],” offensive coordinator James Franklin said.

Whether Steffy can practice - and by missing three straight days of practice, it would make it much more unlikely he would start Saturday - temporarily became a secondary issue when Friedgen came to his defense.

Steffy, who started the first five games last season before a concussion sidelined him, was not a popular choice when he earned the quarterback job last month. His performance prompted jeers throughout the second half before he was lifted.

Friedgen said Steffy believes he was injured when his hand hit a defender’s helmet on a pass to Davin Meggett on the penultimate play of the third quarter. Steffy took three more snaps before Turner entered in his stead to cheers.

“I’ve got a kid who has done everything I can possibly ask him to do,” Friedgen said of Steffy. “Would I like him to make some better decisions or throw some better passes? Sure. But this kid to me is the epitome of what we want in this football program.”

Certainly, Steffy’s resilience - overcoming a concussion in 2004, a redshirt season the year, a one-game cameo in 2006 and his abbreviated tenure as a starter last fall - all contribute to Friedgen’s admiration for the fifth-year senior.

Yesterday’s defense, though, seemed a fortnight in the making. Friedgen pointed to superior practice performance when he named Steffy the starter Aug. 18, and he re-emphasized his decision-making process yesterday.

“People don’t believe me, and I’ve got a lot invested in this also,” Friedgen said. “But I wouldn’t put a guy out there I didn’t think was the best guy. In practice, he is. … It’s a learning process. The game has to slow down for you. It hasn’t always for Jordan right now.”

That still doesn’t solve the short-term quandary of who will play Saturday. But one thing seems definite: Friedgen believes Steffy will be a factor as the season progresses.

“I can tell you this, regardless of who plays this week or next week or whatever: Jordan will come in and win a game for us before the season is over,” Friedgen said. “I promise you that.”

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