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Terps try to turn preseason print into solid season

August 08, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - They didn't come to praise the University of Maryland football team. They came to bury them.

Preseason publications far and wide have panned the Terrapins, even before the 2006 season started. The magazines have printed all the dirt. And now, it was time to bury the Terps with it.

Maryland is selected to be also-ran also running to keep the Atlantic Coast Conference's 12-team, championship game eligibility intact. The Terps are wearing concrete spikes in the Atlantic Division pool with nary a player on the ACC's list of top 30 players.

So they say, says University of Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

"I'm not worried about that," Friedgen huffed Monday during Maryland's annual football media day kickoff. "I'm not worried about the individual players I'm worried about the team. If we win, it will work itself out. Not many of them recognized E.J. Henderson, but when we started winning, everyone started to put him on a list."

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Henderson was a throwback name to Maryland's early success under Friedgen. Henderson flourished as a middle linebacker and was the backbone to the Terps' defense in Friedgen's first two years. He was an ACC Player of the Year and a second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings.

He got his. Now it's the turn of a young but semitested group of Terrapins to make their mark in a season that will carry a double-edged sword.

They have to convince themselves they are good enough after two 5-6 seasons to prove they belong with the big dogs of the ACC.

"I've had 18 straight years of winning and I kind of got spoiled I guess," Friedgen said. "When I look at our team I don't see us that far away. We've got to get things corrected and I think this team has a hunger that they want to be good. Personally I've worked hard, if not harder, than I ever have in my life to get this program back where we need to be."

The Terps have missed the bowl season for the last two years. And they missed the postseason despite having some prime talent in a number of positions, like tight end Vernon Davis, who was the first pick of San Francisco in the NFL draft, and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, Cleveland's second pick.

As the Terps start to climb the mountain again, three notions were prevalent.

1. Maryland's wide receivers must come of age quickly.

2. The Terps have to win on the road for the chance to reach a bowl game.

3. The Terps have an urgency that is tempered by calmness.

Maryland was erratic under quarterback Sam Hollenbach last season, but it spent much of 2005 searching for a steady running game and a consistent offensive line.

Hollenbach is back, a year smarter and more experienced. The running backs got deeper with the return of Josh Allen, who missed last season due to injury. And the offensive line is young, but has a year of play under its belts.

Now it's time to settle in on receivers.

"I think the key to our team will be our wide receivers." Friedgen said. "I like our talent, I like our athleticism and I like our speed, they're just very inexperienced. I have one senior there, two sophomores that played sparingly last year, and everybody else is a redshirt freshman. I'm anxious to see them. How fast this position develops will really be an asset to us in the rest of our offense."

David Weatherly is Maryland's most experienced receiver.

Meanwhile, Maryland was 3-2 at home, 1-4 on the road and 1-0 at neutral sites last season. If the Terps had flipped one loss, especially on the road, they would have been bowl eligible.

It isn't any different this season, especially when Maryland is scheduled to play Miami and Florida State at Byrd Stadium this year.

"The key to our season is to win on the road and we play at some really tough places," Friedgen said. "I think that every year in the ACC it's how you do on the road. I'm preparing the team to have a mental toughness that you need to have when on the road."

Despite all the posturing, there is the realization Maryland must learn to play like winners again. Friedgen is trying to create the feeling as his own offensive coordinator and pointed out the Terps hung tough in a couple of crucial games last season to get the feel of playing competitive football.

Still, for Maryland to get back on the winning and bowl maps, it will be a step-by-step process.

"We don't want to panic and say we need to get back to a bowl. We don't want to put any added pressure on ourselves," Hollenbach said. "We know that we need to just take it one game at a time and take it as it comes. We can't tell what will happen until Sept. 2 (the season opener with William and Mary). Then we will know who will be able to play under the lights."

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