Terps Want a Quick Call on Quarterback Job
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Roughly 10 feet separated the chairs of the two players vying to be named the starting quarterback of the Maryland Terrapins. With their backs to each other in the middle of the team's locker room, Chris Turner and Jordan Steffy looked up at the throng of reporters surrounding each of them and handled the ensuing discussion as they would any other huddle.
Steffy leaned forward when he spoke, his shoulders buoyed by the pads he had yet to remove from the day's earlier photo shoot. The senior who started the first five games last season before suffering a concussion provided calculated responses to questions concerning the quarterback battle -- the hottest of topics on Maryland's first day of practice -- and insisted he's been told the competition remains wide open.
Not too far behind Steffy, Turner leaned back in his chair, his jersey sloping loosely across his bare shoulders. Turner, a junior who started the final eight games of the 2007 campaign after Steffy went down, talked about simply having to manage the game, saying, "I have enough weapons around me that if I do that, we'll be all right."
About a half-hour earlier, Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen had stood at a podium in the cafeteria one floor above the locker room at the field house adjacent to Byrd Stadium and stated definitively that even though Turner currently is listed as the top quarterback on the depth chart, neither signal caller has a lead in the race as of yet.
"I think it's pretty tight all the way around: 1A, 1B; 1A, 2A, whatever you want to do with it," Friedgen said. "I'd like to make a decision on that pretty early. One of the things we're trying to do differently than what I've done in the past is make our decisions on first and second teams earlier, maybe a week earlier, and really try to prepare for the season."
Friedgen made similar comments regarding a desire to make a quick decision on a starting quarterback early in training camp last season, yet waited nearly three weeks before giving the nod to Steffy. This season, Friedgen promised, will be different, a notion that could bode well for Turner.
After Steffy was brought down with a helmet-to-helmet hit late in the first half at Rutgers last September, Turner stepped in and led the Terrapins to an upset win over the Scarlet Knights, then the No. 10 team in the country. Steffy played in just two games the rest of the season, while Turner developed into the full-time starter.
That he has started the last eight games Maryland has played makes Turner confident that, if nothing else, he has momentum on his side. "I wouldn't say I have a leg up, but I definitely have a little bit of an edge, just because I'm going in number one" on the depth chart, Turner said. "I have a lot of experience. We're neck and neck at this point. We'll see what happens."
Turner completed 63.5 percent of his passes in 2007, throwing for 1,958 yards, 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also developed a reputation as player who performed dramatically better in scrimmages and games than he did in weekly practices. Consequently, Friedgen said consistency is the area in which Turner needs most improvement.
As for Steffy, Friedgen said he hoped to see a more relaxed version this season. Offensive coordinator James Franklin concurred, saying Steffy needs to learn how to "move on" from one game to the next and not let emotions from a previous performance linger. Steffy completed 67.3 percent of his passes in 2007. He recorded 686 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
Franklin is beginning his first season as the Maryland play-caller after spending two years as the offensive coordinator at Kansas State and one year as the wide receivers coach of the Green Bay Packers. Before that, Franklin spent five seasons as Maryland's wide receivers coach.
Upon his return to College Park, Franklin installed the West Coast offense, a system that may be better suited to the strengths of the more mobile Steffy. The new offensive schemes are based upon short pass routes and precise throws. "That's what we'll do, and that fits my game," Steffy said.
While junior Josh Portis has regained his academic eligibility after missing all of last season and may possess greater physical tools and athleticism than the other two quarterbacks, the battle for the starting position, barring injury, will come down to Turner or Steffy.
Asked to describe the differences in demeanor between the two quarterbacks, sophomore running back Da'Rel Scott said Steffy makes a concerted effort to take control of the huddle whereas Turner is more laid back. "He tries to get you to calm down," Scott said.
Both players applied their respective approaches yesterday toward answering different versions of the same question: How long will it take for a clear-cut starter at quarterback to emerge? For the second year in a row that query went unanswered on the first day of training camp.
"I'd like for it to have been yesterday," Franklin said, "but when it happens, it happens."