When the Maryland football team opens spring practice today, Coach Ralph Friedgen will be looking for a pass rusher to replace Shawne Merriman, a place kicker to replace Nick Novak and a running back to step in for Josh Allen, who will miss the entire 2005 season because of a knee injury.
Yet all eyes will be on the quarterback position, where Friedgen desperately wants to see Sam Hollenbach, Jordan Steffy or Joel Statham emerge as the clear-cut starter and become a solid, mistake-free quarterback in the mold of recent Terrapins Scott McBrien and Shaun Hill.
Joel Statham started 10 games last season but threw 15 interceptions. "We have to find a quarterback," Coach Ralph Friedgen said.
(Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
"We have to find a quarterback," Friedgen said. "The one thing we have this year that we didn't have last year is all of those guys have some experience. . . . That position is wide open."
Shaky quarterback play was the biggest factor in last season's disappointing 5-6 record. Despite a hard-hitting defense led by Merriman, who is expected to be a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, the Terrapins didn't receive a bowl invitation for the first time in four seasons under Friedgen because their offense struggled to pound out sustained drives, turned over the ball too often and produced far too few big plays.
Statham, a junior, started 10 games and completed a solid 53.8 percent of his passes but offset eight touchdowns with 15 interceptions. Statham was terrific in a win over Florida State but struggled in losses to West Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Clemson.
Steffy, a sophomore, played in six games and completed 12 of 32 passes for 132 yards and an interception, while Hollenbach, a junior, started the season finale against Wake Forest and led the Terrapins to a win by completing 16 of 27 passes for 164 yards.
Hollenbach and Steffy, who will go through his first full offseason after playing last season as a freshman, will open spring practice ranked 1A and 1B on the depth chart. But Statham also will get a chance to regain his starting job.
"We all know what's at stake, and we all want to be the starter," said Hollenbach, who after considering transferring says he's happy in College Park. "I think it's important for one of us to emerge this spring so we can go into the summer and fall building a relationship with our receivers."
Friedgen said he is looking for a quarterback who will avoid turnovers and, above all else, move the football. One season after McBrien threw six interceptions and never more than one in a game, Maryland quarterbacks were intercepted 16 times.
For the first time under Friedgen, the Terrapins finished with a negative turnover differential (minus-9). Their inability to offset those mistakes with big plays in the passing game caused defenses to load eight or nine defenders in the box to stop the run.
Maryland averaged 2.9 yards per carry, and tight end Vernon Davis was the only Terp to post a 100-yard receiving game.
In describing what he wants from his quarterback, Friedgen related a story dating from the 1989 season when he was the offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. Friedgen went into fall workouts looking for a quarterback to emerge and eventually chose freshman Shawn Jones, not because Jones put up the gaudiest stats but because he moved his team up and down the field whenever given the opportunity. The following season, Jones led the Yellow Jackets to a share of the national championship.
"He had the worst throwing percentage of the quarterbacks, but every time I put him on a team, whether it was the first team, second team or third team, they got on the scoreboard," Friedgen said. "We're going to look at who puts the team in the end zone. That's a lot more important than those other stats."
Hollenbach, Steffy and Statham will have 12 practices, two scrimmages and the spring game April 30 to sort out the quarterback position. The player who performs best likely will be under center when Maryland opens the 2005 season against Navy in Baltimore.
"If we see a guy emerging, he'll get more reps," Friedgen said. "I want this thing solidified as fast as possible, but by the same token, I want to make sure I have the right guy."
Terrapins Notes: Senior middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who led the ACC in tackles last season, had surgery on his wrist and will miss the spring season but is expected to be ready in time for the start of fall camp. . . .
Allen, who was the team's leading returning rusher, will miss the entire 2005 season because of a knee injury suffered in the season finale against Wake Forest. Allen will redshirt and retain eligibility for the 2006 season. Senior Mario Merrills, who rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries last season, will get the first shot at starting.