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Terps QB Portis Holding His Own

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 13, 2008; 5:30 PM

Chris Turner and Jordan Steffy, two quarterbacks who combined to start every Maryland game last season, were expected to compete for the starting position in summer camp. The surprise is that they have been joined by a third candidate, Josh Portis, who remains in contention less than three weeks from the season opener.

All three have been getting equal reps in practice. Coach Ralph Friedgen would like to name a starter following Saturday evening's scrimmage, but he has not ruled out using a two- or even a three-quarterback system this season. The improvement Portis has made since the spring has enabled him to close the gap on Steffy and Turner and remain in the mix.

"He has not been calling the wrong play," Friedgen said of Portis. "He has been managing the game very well. He has been making good decisions on where to throw the ball. He makes some really great throws. Every now and then he will fumble a snap, go the wrong way, those are the type of things that just kill a play. I see him improving on those. I see him getting better."

Portis, the Florida transfer who was ineligible last season because of an academic honesty code violation, believes his biggest improvement has been managing the game better.

"I felt like mentally I have improved a lot," Portis said. "Being sharp out there. Focusing on signals, focusing on the playbook. Trying to be a quarterback more than just an athlete out there."

Portis said he has the same confidence throwing as he does running. But his eyes light up when he talks about his mobility.

"When I run the ball, I feel like I will take it to the house every time," Portis said. "If I cut back, okay, I'm taking it. I try not to settle for less. I try to make that my backup option to throwing the ball. You want to be explosive with arms and legs. You look at Vince Young, Steve McNair, McNabb. Even Tim Tebow, Pat White."

Friedgen said that even if Portis is not named the starter, he could figure into the offense in specific situations. The key for Portis, Friedgen said, is to eliminate the negatives -- the drive-killing fumble, for instance. Portis acknowledged the mental aspect of the game will continue to be his focus, but he said his primary strength is the ability to make the big play.

"Jordan is the type of guy who doesn't make many mistakes, a good manager, likes to dink and dunk," Portis said. "Chris might have a little more freedom, laid-back. Me, I try to make plays every time I get the ball. That's what I am used to. When I was at Florida, trying to make big play every play. Here is more of managing the game. I think I bring big-play potential to the offense."

Turner, who started the final seven games last season, entered camp with an edge in the quarterback race. He has played well at times, and Friedgen knows his potential in games, but he has yet to demonstrate the consistency needed to end the quarterback race.

"When he is on, he is pretty good," Friedgen said of Turner. "That's what he has to do: stay on. Sometimes, he is just not there. He is somewhere else. It's time to play someone else when that happens, and that may happen this year. We could be playing him, and it's not his day and we need to make a move and play someone else -- and he doesn't need to get upset about it."

Getting Involved

Friedgen had been sitting back during practice and letting offensive coordinator James Franklin and defensive coordinator Chris Cosh take much of the lead with their respective units. That changed Wednesday morning.

"They were tired and they were sore, but this was a character practice," Friedgen said. "And we had a pretty good practice. I had to push them, but that's my job. I told them after practice I have to get off my fat [butt] and start getting every ounce of energy and every ounce of talent out of them. I kind of let them down a little, and I am not going to do that anymore. I'm going to get right in there with them. Because I did that today, I got more out of them.

"I need to get in there and motivate them. I need to get more actively involved. That's probably the best way I coach anyway. They can count on that the rest of the year anyway." . . .

Safeties Jamari McCollough and Jeff Allen did not practice Wednesday morning because they were attending a class. Nose tackle Travis Ivey will not undergo surgery for his broken foot, but he will receive bone stimulation treatment instead. Linebacker Alex Wujciak was held from Wednesday's morning practice because of some swelling in his knee.

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