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Podlesh gives Terrapins a leg up on competition

October 27, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - In the grand scheme of things, casual fans write off Adam Podlesh's importance to the University of Maryland's game plan.

He doesn't throw passes, nor does he catch them. He doesn't run with the ball either. Scoring touchdowns? There would have to be a huge mistake if he is running for the end zone with the ball tucked under his arm.

For Podlesh, Maryland practice is boot camp. His job is punting the ball whenever a Terrapins drive stalls. It is one of the most mundane actions in a football game, unless something goes wrong.

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Yet Podlesh has more of a bearing on the game than many believe. He is the game within the game.

"When I'm practicing, I'm trying to work on height," Podlesh said. "You don't want to give up anything."

Podlesh might be a key component to any Maryland success on Saturday when the Terps travel to Tallahassee, Fla., to face Florida State. The Seminoles are known for their overall team speed, which translates to dangerous situations on special teams, like when Podlesh punts.

His job will be to position the ball while trying to give his punt coverage the time to get downfield and surround the Seminoles' returner, all in an effort to stop the big play and save field position.

"You got some great athletes on that team," Podlesh said. "Florida State is a dangerous team. That's why every yard counts."

The punting game is sort of a chess match. Field position has a huge bearing on what kind of kick Podlesh tries and where he is trying to place the ball. It is even more imperative against a team like Florida State, which not only uses its speed but also employs trick plays to get the advantage on returns.

"Obviously, what I do depends on the situation," Podlesh said. "I work on getting the height on the ball, but there is more to it than just the punt. There is the snap, the blocking and the coverage downfield. I just try to get it in a position where the gunners (first tacklers to leave the line of scrimmage) can get down there."

Podlesh can control the field position by many means: "Sky" punts to try to prevent returns; deep punts to drive returners back; and directional kicks where he tries to place a ball on a certain spot near a sideline or in front of the goal line.

"I work on directional punting so I can put it in a position where we want to stop the return," Podlesh said. "If I'm doing the sky punts, I'm not worried about position. I'm trying to put it in a spot but I'm not too worried about placing it because the coverage is getting down the field."

Podlesh's success isn't really measured by the length of his kicks. If long kicks lead to moderate returns, the field position he is trying to pick up for the Terps is diminished. Podlesh's effectiveness is measured in different ways besides points, yards and percentages.

"I look at net average," he said. "If I can get a better net average than the other guy, I'm satisfied. If I can get balls inside of the 20, that's big. But being able to put the ball on the 1 and have it stay there, that's the greatest thrill I get. If I could do that every time, that would be fantastic."

And Maryland would have an unscored advantage over Florida State on Saturday.

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