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Merrills' upside a lot like Downs

August 12, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Mario Merrills is moving his way up the University of Maryland depth chart because he's a little Downs.

Merrill's move into the Terrapins' featured back role has been a weird combination of talent, circumstance and need, but it has been enhanced by his ability to remind Maryland's staff of running back success of days gone by.

He has come on as 2005's version of Chris Downs.

"I have been compared to Chris," Merrills said Monday during Maryland's media day. "We are not real big guys but we make plays in the open field and we are also fast. We were in similar situations. Neither of us have got the chance to play until our senior year."

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Downs was the big surprise of the 2002 season for coach Ralph Friedgen and the Terps. Downs came out of nowhere to replace an injured Bruce Perry - Maryland's surprise back from 2001 - to help carry the Terps to the Peach Bowl.

Now, three years later, Merrills is finding himself in a similar role. The senior is being called on to replace Josh Allen, who is being redshirted this season to rehabilitate the knee he injured in last year's season finale with Wake Forest.

"You hate to see a guy like Josh Allen get hurt, but it definitely presents a great opportunity for myself and some of the other guys to get in there and make some plays," Merrills said. "This is an opportunity that I have been waiting for for a long time. I am just blessed and happy to be in the position I am in now."

But for Merrills, the promotion might have more pressure attached than Downs was faced with.

"Mario Merrills converted to starter in the spring and had a very good spring," Friedgen said. "I'm really hoping that he has the kind of year that Chris Downs had. He's been very solid for us and I think he has some explosiveness and quickness."

The Terps might need every ounce of it to be good this season.

Merrills will be running behind an inexperienced offensive line, which could make yardage tough to come by. He will also be working with a new quarterback in Sam Hollenbach, who will be running a slightly revamped offense to take all of those factors into consideration.

"We have got to get back to the running game," Friedgen said. "We have moved Ricardo Dickerson and Tim Cesa to fullback and we have two other fullbacks here."

"We have got to get the run working to help the quarterback ... we got away from that last year," Friedgen said. "Also, we still have the dimension of Jason Goode and Vernon Davis at the H-back, too."

Merrills will be forced to foot much of the load after only collecting 367 yards in 96 carries in his first three years combined.

If it's a prelude to things to come, Downs rushed for 1,154 yards in his breakout season after having less than 150 yards to his credit before becoming a starter.

"Chris was a great back here and he paved the way for me," Merrills said. "But I'm not going to go in and try to copy what he did. I'm going to run the way I can. I would love to get the ball 25 to 30 times a game. I think I can add something to the offense."

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