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Terps no pitcure of health as opener nears

August 27, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland football team doesn't exactly have a clean slate for Thursday's season opener at Northern Illinois.

In fact, the board looks more like the patient list on ER.

The No. 15 Terrapins are far from A-1 health heading into the matchup with underrated and dangerous Northern Illinois. That could be a bad thing turning into a very good thing in the estimation of Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

"We have three starters and a chief backup not playing. I'd like to have them, but you can't do anything about it," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media luncheon.

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The injury list is long. Receiver Steve Suter, tailbacks Bruce Perry and Mario Merrills, free safeties Matt Bryant and Marcus Wimbush, offensive guard Ed Tyler and nose tackle Justin Duffie won't play on Thursday.

Quarterback Scott McBrien, back from a pulled leg muscle, just returned to practice Monday.

"Scott isn't at full speed. If he goes full speed, he might pull it again," Friedgen said. "I hold my breath when he's out there because if that would happen it would be a setback. Orlando (Evans) has been practicing well. We are going to have to get him on the field some in this game."

The only thing Friedgen can to is bring up the next players on the depth chart and allow them to play. A victory is the main objective, but if the replacements are able to do the job while getting experience, all the better down the road.

And in that case, it will be a chance for Maryland to score straight As on their game plan against the Huskies, the favorites to win the Mid-American Conference title.

Tailback Josh Allen, linebacker Leroy Ambush and offensive guard Akil Patterson will be counted on to grade out favorably. Ambush and Patterson are Frederick High graduates.

Ambush, a senior, started last season and Allen was Maryland's second-leading rusher last season as a freshman. For Patterson, it will be the sophomore's first starting opportunity.

"He's been practicing better of late," Friedgen said. "I hope this will be a learning experience for him and will help him grow. He has (center Kyle) Schmitt and (tackle Eric) Dumas on each side of him, so they will help him out. Once he gets experience and comfortable, he could be a good football player."

Friedgen isn't worried about Patterson's ability to play, just the seasoning he needs to do it.

"He is a very physical player, I'm not worried about that, but he still does the little things that can hurt you, like jump offsides," Friedgen said. "As long as I see players getting better, I can tolerate mistakes, as long as they are moving in the right direction. If he does well in a game like this, it will help his confidence. You can't do good unless you feel good."

Ambush started at linebacker last season, but stood in the shadow of E.J. Henderson. His maturity caught Friedgen's eye in the preseason.

"I named him captain (of the defense) this week." Friedgen said. "He has had a heck of a camp. He has practiced well everyday and has played as well as he ever has. Leroy battles with (tight end) Jeff Dugan every day and he's winning more of those battles than he used to."

But Allen will be the one in the biggest spotlight, especially with two tailbacks out and McBrien at less than perfect health.

"This is a big week for us all. I'm going to have to carry the load," Allen said. "I feel prepared to get the job done. I've improved a lot in the mental aspect of the game. I was forced to come into it faster than I thought I would because of injuries last year. I got into it sooner as a freshman and it should help me this year."

The start of the season - especially one with a veteran team - isn't ideal to experiment with the lineup, but it may be as good a time as any if players like Allen and Patterson have learned their lessons.

"A lot of time, it's a matter of how you perform when you are hurting ... when you want to give up," Friedgen said. "You have to fight through it. It's a learning experience. We practice hard because I want them to learn it during practice, not during a game."

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