By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 25, 2006
Since the start of the season, Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen has waited for more of his team's wide receivers to prove that they are ready to play. As the Terrapins prepare for their first bowl appearance in three seasons, Friedgen's waiting time has run out. Maryland will take the field Friday against Purdue in the Champs Sports Bowl with just three wide receivers that Friedgen feels can measure up.
It's exactly the same number he started the year with.
"We need to be better," Friedgen said. "It's a liability for us now. For us to win eight games and have three wide receivers, that's pretty good."
The Terrapins (8-4) have been able to get by because the three receivers that Friedgen has used -- redshirt freshman Darrius Heyward-Bey and sophomores Isaiah Williams and Danny Oquendo -- have been productive despite very little experience entering the season.
Heyward-Bey emerged as a potential star, catching 41 passes for 613 yards and four touchdowns, all team highs. He was labeled a project out of high school, though his 4.2 second 40-yard dash time made the high school track star an attractive recruit. After early struggles, Heyward-Bey developed into a second-team all-ACC selection.
"I've got a long way to go to reach my potential," he said. "Just from spring ball to now, I've made a big jump. I just hope that continues for me."
Williams showed flashes of becoming a deep threat, coming on after a midseason slump to finish with 25 receptions for 355 yards and three touchdowns.
Oquendo didn't show the same explosiveness as his two peers, but he caught 31 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns to become a solid possession receiver for quarterback Sam Hollenbach.
But outside of the top three receivers, the situation is dire.
"The thing that frustrates me more than anything else is that we have some scholarship guys that are unable to learn or they can't even line up," Friedgen said. "It doesn't matter how good they are if they can't find where to line up. I've never experienced that in any of my years of coaching."
Senior Drew Weatherly caught one pass for one yard this season after he was expected to emerge into a key receiving threat. He started the year as the team's most experienced wideout but a nagging right foot injury suffered just before the opener sidelined him most of the year.
Maryland put 15 names on the preseason depth chart for its three wide receiver spots. The official depth chart released for the Champs Sports Bowl lists six names for the three spots.
"It's come along slower than I thought it would," wide receivers coach Bryan Bossard said.
The lack of depth worried Friedgen in case one of the top three went down. When Heyward-Bey left the Boston College game with a concussion, Friedgen's nightmare came true. Nolan Carroll, who struggled all season to grasp the Terrapins' offense, entered the game.
He dropped two passes, including a sure touchdown.
When Heyward-Bey was questionable for the Terrapins' season finale against Wake Forest, Friedgen faced the prospect of starting Carroll.
"He's a heartbeat away from playing," Friedgen said.
He wasn't smiling.
Another fall out from the lack of depth came with the level of competition in practice. Without any players ready to push the starters, Friedgen said it might have slowed the development of Heyward-Bey and Oquendo. He said the effect was most obvious on Williams.
Terrell Skinner, Matt Goldberg and Adrian Cannon were all expected to challenge Williams. None of them did.
"I really think he needs some competition," Friedgen said. "If he had a guy threatening his job, he'd probably become more productive."
With this season nearly finished, Friedgen has turned his attention to the future.
Friedgen said help might be on the way from the recruiting trail, though he didn't give names.
Meantime, Quintin McCree and Ronnie Tyler, wide receiver prospects who signed with Maryland as part of last year's recruiting class, spent the season at Hargrave Military Academy. Both reportedly are interested in enrolling for the spring semester, which could make them contenders to play in the fall.
"We're recruiting that position harder," recruiting coordinator Dave Sollazzo said. "No question, that's a priority."
Meanwhile, Friedgen said Carroll has shown improvement of late. Kevin Grisham, who transferred to Maryland from Division II Cheyney (Pa.) University, might also be in line.
"I watch him and he continually makes plays," he said. "I think he's got a chance to figure in."