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Vanderlinden tones down optimism for '98 Terps

August 16, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Coach Ron Vanderlinden still has his eternal flame burning to make the University of Maryland football team a success.

But this year, the second in his five-year plan, the wick has been turned down a bit.

Vanderlinden, without hesitation, claims Maryland is tracking its way to returning as one of the powers in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But during Maryland's annual media day on Friday, Vanderlinden remained confident of the future, while the words he chose about the present were a little more guarded.

Missing were the sweeping claims of the Terrapins reaching a postseason bowl, like those that were liberally used when he was hired for the job. Instead, there was more of a sense of a concerted effort to establish strong organization, order and stability for a strong foundation.

"We had 61 players stay on campus most of the summer to work out. Ninety-five percent of them have been able to pass our fitness test on the first try," Vanderlinden said. "If the team reports in shape, we have a chance for a fast start. And by these players staying the summer, they are making a statement that they want to win."

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Wanting to win and winning were two entirely different factors for the Terps in 1997. With Vanderlinden's bowl prediction hanging over its head, Maryland started the season 0-3 before defeating Temple and Duke. The Terps lost their last six straight to finish 2-9 and with a front row seat to watch all the bowl games on TV.

This year's emphasis is more on the lines of getting the Terps' style of play established as they begin full-squad workouts today. That took the entire spring practice to consolidate and simplify the offense while working on players' recognition of the system.

"We are like a car with an old manual transmission," Vanderlinden said. "Eventually, everything will turn into automatic. How much we've grown remains to be seen. Almost daily, I'm seeing changes. To turn the program around, we need to play physical up front and run the ball."

The first step was to get the quarterbacks comfortable in the system and help make sophomore tailback Lamont Jordan more comfortable. The key was working on the offensive line, by trimming the extra weight off the linemen to make them more mobile to finish off blocks in the Terps' attack style of offense.

"We had linemen who couldn't hit a moving target," Vanderlinden conceded. "If you can't block on the perimeter, it's tough to run the ball. And last year, we didn't have a true fullback either. Last year, we had to compromise some things to get the system to work. This spring, we made great strides in tightening the system down."

Vanderlinden said Ken Mastrole won the starting quarterback job coming out of spring practice over a field of three freshmen, but warned the junior won't be named the opening day starter just yet to keep the competition at the position keen.

Mastrole will be replacing Brain Cummings, a three-year starter who was known for his mobility in the pocket. Vanderlinden is now looking to establish his "attack" offense built around the running game and protecting the quarterback.

"It's a style that we need to get after most of the defenses in the ACC," Vanderlinden said. "This is a pressure and speed-conscious conference, and until we are able to match up with those teams, we will lose. We want to keep defenses honest, be able to throw the ball on our own terms and work it downfield for scores."

Still, no bowl game was mentioned ... but it doesn't mean Vanderlinden is chalking up his second year for experience despite the low regard for the Terps, who were picked to finish last in the ACC this season and will face five bowl teams from 1997.

"I'm not conceding anything," Vanderlinden said. "I wouldn't do that to my seniors. I'm going to play my best players. I'll be doggoned if I'll write off a season. I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure we win every game."

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