Monday, Aug. 4, 2008

Maryland football team cautious about season-opening stretch

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Most college football coaches speak in generic terms and clichés during the preseason. But the way University of Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen sees it, there was justifiable reason for the Terps to haul out one particular cliché as practice got under way this week: They ‘‘can't look past” their Aug. 30 season opener against the University of Delaware.

Addressing a gathering of reporters Monday afternoon during the Terrapins' annual media day, Friedgen was cautiously optimistic about the upcoming slate. Maryland's opener comes against a Delaware team that was the runner-up in Division I-AA last year. And everyone at the Division I level learned a valuable lesson about games against I-AA competition last season when Appalachian State notched its shocking season-opening upset victory at Michigan.

‘‘All of our focus right now is on the season opener against Delaware,” Friedgen said. ‘‘When you talk about taking a season one game at a time, I don't want to sound cliché but that's the truth. We have three tough games [after Delaware], since we go to Middle Tennessee State and then host Cal and Eastern Michigan. We're going to see some offenses that we're not used to seeing. That's going to be quite a challenge for our coaching staff and our players.”

Although the Terps were ranked 10th against the run in the 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference last season and head into the current slate with three players vying for the starting quarterback slot, Friedgen admitted that he was ‘‘very excited” about the upcoming season. Among the potential starters are six Prince George's County high school graduates, including one of the league's top offensive linemen, DeMatha graduate Edwin Williams.

‘‘Our offensive line and defensive line have gotten better since the spring practice,” Friedgen said. ‘‘I think we have a good offensive line, with Edwin Williams our center among the All-ACC preseason first team. Our defense was 10th in the conference against the run last year and obviously that was something that we had to address. I think our line and our linebackers are very strong and they're fast. This is definitely the fastest team that I've had since I've been here. Everybody runs [the 40-yard dash] in under five seconds.”

Friedgen noted that Chris Turner, Josh Portis and Jordan Steffy will battle for the starting quarterback spot. Last season, Turner was third in the ACC in passing efficiency as he completed 153 of 241 passes for 1,958 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Offensively, Maryland was fifth overall in the conference.

‘‘Going into last year we had three quarterbacks with little game experience,” Friedgen said. ‘‘But this year, it's like 1, 1-A and 1-B. They're all pretty good and it's not a bad problem to have. Each of them has starting experience and they've all won games. At this point, I don't think it would be fair to say that Chris Turner is the clear-cut starter. We'll definitely try to make our first- and second-team choices one week earlier than normal.”

Maryland (6-7 overall, 3-5 in the ACC in 2007) was ninth overall in the conference in team defense, but 10th against the run while sixth against the pass. DeMatha graduates Jeff Allen will play a key role for the defense from his strong safety spot. He'll be backed up by another DeMatha grad, freshman Kenny Tate, who primarily spent his prep career as a wide receiver. Eleanor Roosevelt graduate Trey Covington and Gwynn Park graduate Adrian Moten will be valuable run stoppers at linebacker. Both Allen and Covington are set to graduate this spring.

‘‘When you look at our defense, our linebackers are a very experienced group,” Freidgen said. ‘‘Trey Covington, Adrian Moten and Jeremy Navarre will be keys for us at stopping the run, which we have to do better this year. Moten is one of our playmakers on defense. We have to do a better job in third-and-long situations.”

E-mail Ted Black at tblack@gazette.net.