Amid Uncertainty, Friedgen Stands Up for Steffy

Chris Turner, protected here by Phil Costa, left, and Davin Meggett, came on for Jordan Steffy in Saturday's season-opening 14-7 victory over Delaware.
Chris Turner, protected here by Phil Costa, left, and Davin Meggett, came on for Jordan Steffy in Saturday's season-opening 14-7 victory over Delaware. (By Joel Richardson For The Washington Post)
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By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

All signs point to either Chris Turner or Josh Portis starting at quarterback for Maryland in Saturday's game at Middle Tennessee. After Coach Ralph Friedgen announced yesterday he would determine Saturday's starter based on this week's practice performances, opening game starter Jordan Steffy did not practice for the second consecutive day because of a thumb injury.

This was the latest twist in the College Park quarterback drama that continued to build yesterday, when Friedgen vociferously and at times emotionally defended the fifth-year senior against the backlash of fans, many of whom booed the quarterback before he was replaced in the fourth quarter of Saturday's home victory over Delaware.

"You want to boo me, boo me. Don't boo the kid," Friedgen said. "Would I like him to make some better decisions or make some better passes? Sure. But this kid to me is the epitome of what we want in this football program. With what he is dealing with, and the scrutiny of every pass being judged, some of those people booing him would love for their children to be like Jordan Steffy."

Friedgen said Steffy underwent X-rays yesterday to determine the severity of the right thumb injury suffered in Saturday's second half. The results were unavailable, but offensive coordinator James Franklin said Steffy was "very questionable" to practice today, which players typically have needed to do to start the next game.

Steffy, who Friedgen said has had trouble gripping a football, had part of his throwing hand in a wrap as he stood on the field during yesterday's practice. Friedgen said Steffy, even if healthy, might not start because he first wants to see how backup Chris Turner and third-stringer Josh Portis practice this week before making a decision.

Steffy, a month shy of his 23rd birthday, used to practice giving interviews in middle school, but Friedgen said he has felt the need to insulate Steffy from media scrutiny, which was why Steffy was not allowed to speak to reporters after Saturday's game. Steffy was also not made available to speak with reporters yesterday.

"Maybe I am like a father," Friedgen said. "If you're booing my son, I'm going to get upset. That's how I look at this kid. If he was a kid who didn't give effort, who didn't prepare, then that would be a different story."

A series of events between Thursday and yesterday raised more questions about Friedgen's views on his most visible and prominent position. On Thursday, Friedgen said he had no doubt Steffy had the best control of the offense, but Friedgen yesterday could not guarantee Steffy would remain the starter even if he was healthy.

After Saturday's game, Friedgen said he replaced Steffy with Turner early in the fourth quarter because Steffy's thumb was hurt and he could not function. But on Sunday, he said he did not know if Steffy would have remained in the game had he not gotten hurt.

On Sunday, Friedgen said his team emerged from the opener fairly healthy. But in the same conversation he said that his starting quarterback could not grip a football and he feared a fractured thumb.

Friedgen said: "I can tell you this: Regardless of who plays this week, next week or whatever, Jordan will come in and win a game for us before the season is over. I promise you that."

"If the fans don't believe in you, it is going to be tough," Portis said. "But I believe in him."

Steffy, who threw two interceptions, looked shaky most of the game and was booed by fans throughout the third quarter, told Friedgen that a defender hit his thumb when he completed a pass to running back Davin Meggett in the second half. Three offensive players -- center Edwin Williams, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and running back Da'Rel Scott -- said after the game they were unaware Steffy was injured. Television coverage showed Steffy on the sideline with a towel over his right hand in the game's final minutes.

Friedgen's late-August decision to name Steffy the opening game starter was unpopular among Terrapins fans. In practice, coaches said, Steffy outperformed Turner, who typically plays better in games than in practice.

"People don't believe me," Friedgen said. "I have a lot invested in this also, and I would not put a guy out there who I didn't think was the best guy. In practice, [Steffy] is."

Terrapins Note: Maryland announced yesterday a five-year, $17.5 million deal with Under Armour that will give the Baltimore-based apparel company the right to provide uniforms, apparel and footwear to each of the school's 27 varsity sports. Under Armour had previously signed deals with football, men's soccer and men's lacrosse teams.

The contract that Gary Williams, the men's basketball coach, had with Nike expired Aug. 31. The men's basketball team will still wear Nike footwear this season, but it could wear Under Armour shoes next season.

"I think I was with Nike 19 years, so it was hard to leave," Williams said. "But I really think, for the school, this is what you want."

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