By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 29, 2009
The 21st start of Chris Turner's career will be unlike any other he has made in a Maryland uniform. When he takes his first snap in next Saturday's season opener at 12th-ranked California, no questions will loom about another quarterback lurking over his shoulder.
After assuming the starting job because of a teammate's misfortune -- Jordan Steffy's concussion in 2007 and thumb injury in 2008 -- in each of the past two years, Turner now possesses undisputed ownership of the job, the offense and, by all accounts, the entire team. Once an uncertain wild card, the fifth-year senior now stands as the player Maryland can least afford to lose.
"He knows he is the guy," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "He knows that if we are going to win, we've got to go through him. He has taken that on his shoulders and run with it."
Through three weeks of training camp, Coach Ralph Friedgen has not expressed even a hint of displeasure about Turner to reporters. Assistant coaches and teammates have raved about Turner's confidence and poise, his improved preparation and precision. And on a team that includes 12 scholarship seniors, the Terrapins will lean on Turner's leadership more than ever.
This is the same player who earned attention in the past as much for persona as for performance. He long fought the perception of being a big-game performer -- he has helped lead Maryland to six wins in seven games against top 25 teams -- who struggled with consistency against weaker competition, as well as day to day in practice.
Turner's curly golden locks played into his laid-back West Coast image. The pedigree -- Turner's father, John, was the original drummer for the 1980s heavy-metal band Ratt -- and the nicknames -- "Sunshine Cali" and "Napoleon Dynamite" -- helped make Turner a fan favorite.
But the same player who Friedgen once said acts sometimes as if he is "on Pluto" is proving indispensable partly because of the very focus he may have not always possessed in the past.
"You can see how mature he is right now," Friedgen said last week.
Part of the improvement stems from more effective preparation. Offensive coordinator James Franklin said Turner may not have always seen the value in preparing like he does now. During the offseason, Turner and Franklin sat down to grade all 13 games from last season, all 214 completions and all 160 incompletions.
In the past, Turner would understand only the responsibilities of the quarterback and wide receivers; now, he has a better grasp on the varied protections and the duties of his offensive linemen, as well.
"Mentally, I am way further ahead than where I was last year," Turner said.
Physically, Turner has added muscle, lost body fat and dropped 16 pounds since the start of preseason camp. He performed a series of workouts on his rotator cuff and shoulder during the summer to add strength. Now 220 pounds, Turner is sporting shorter hair and a more defined build.
"You look at him, he was kind of mushy last year," Franklin said. "You look at him now and he's muscular and shaped. He looks more athletic."