Terrapins Are Working to Get Off the Ground
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Isaiah Williams began demanding the ball before preseason practice even began, during summertime seven-on-seven drills. Darrius Heyward-Bey has given Maryland's quarterbacks extra incentive to perfect their timing; otherwise "he'll outrun our arms," Joel Statham said. And several veterans approached Coach Ralph Friedgen during the first few sweltering days of fall practice to ask variations on the same simple question: "Where'd you get these kids from?"
Williams and Heyward-Bey -- two-fifths of a quintet of freshman wide receivers -- have come to symbolize one of the oft-mentioned hopes of this sweaty preseason: that the Terrapins will jolt a stagnant offense back to life with a flash of speed and an ability to go deep.
There are many ways to quantify Maryland's abrupt fall from offensive grace last season. Through four games the Terps averaged more than 450 yards per game; over their last seven games they averaged 208 yards. In their final three games the Terps scored one touchdown, and in three straight games before their season finale they failed to average two yards per carry.
And then there was this: Maryland's longest pass play of the season went to a running back. Its second longest went to a tight end. And in those final seven sputtering games, the team's wide receivers caught a total of one pass of at least 25 yards.
Coaches, naturally, attribute that triumph of gravity to several factors. There were breakdowns in the offensive line, there were mental mistakes and turnovers, and there were inexperienced quarterbacks making improper reads, leading to the ascendance of new starter Sam Hollenbach. There was also a steady erosion in the foundation of success that had built up over three winning seasons -- "a couple of tough games offensively and then we lost our confidence and that thing just snowballed," offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said.
And finally, for lack of a better term, there was no Calvin Johnson. The Georgia Tech freshman combined a 6-foot-4 frame with impressive speed last season to finish second in the ACC in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns and among the leaders in yards per catch. It was a performance not unlike that of another tall and swift Georgia Tech receiver -- Dez White -- who in 1999 led the conference in yards per catch with Friedgen as his offensive coordinator.
"We haven't had a guy we could throw the ball up the field and just let them go get it," Friedgen said. "I think for us to have a good season, we have to find that guy that can make plays."
Which is why Friedgen instructed first-year receivers coach Bryan Bossard to begin tracking such catches during practice, so that the leaders could be recognized at team meetings. And which is why eyes light up and adjectives flow when the talents of the 6-3 Williams and the 6-3 Heyward-Bey are discussed.
"Just exceptional," Taaffe said of their speed.
"Unbelievable athletes," senior wide receiver Derrick Fenner said.
"They can play the deep ball as well as anybody I've seen," cornerback Josh Wilson said.
Perhaps the most discussed moment from the first week of camp was one such throw to Heyward-Bey, who was joined side-by-side with a defensive back, until he wasn't.