By Eric Prisbell
Friday, November 13, 2009
While outside interest in Maryland's disappointing season has continued to wane with each successive loss, considerable intrigue remains about one position on the field -- quarterback -- because Coach Ralph Friedgen has not ruled out playing two freshmen who otherwise would redshirt.
A left knee injury to three-year starter Chris Turner has raised questions about what approach Friedgen should take now that his team has been eliminated from bowl contention. Turner is listed as doubtful for Saturday's game against Virginia Tech, and all signs point to backup Jamarr Robinson making his first career start.
The more complicated issue involves two promising freshmen -- Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown -- who have yet to play this season, with Maryland (2-7, 1-4 ACC) assured of a losing record. If neither plays in the three remaining games, both would retain four years of eligibility.
Before Turner was hurt in Saturday's loss at North Carolina State, Friedgen called the quarterback situation a dilemma because he was weighing getting a freshman, most likely O'Brien, some playing time before spring practice versus preserving the player's year of eligibility through a redshirt season. But Friedgen made clear this week that he is no longer torn.
"I am going to do what I've got to do to win," Friedgen said. "If winning a game means playing Danny, then I'm going to play Danny. One year I went through three quarterbacks. Anything is up for grabs right now."
Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin have said that O'Brien would prefer to redshirt this season. But Friedgen said this week that he has wanted to play O'Brien the past few weeks, and he said there was some discussion among coaches at halftime of the N.C. State game whether to play O'Brien at least some in the second half.
A native of Kernersville, N.C., O'Brien has earned praise from coaches this season for his preparation, dedication to film work and knowledge of the offense. Friedgen said he was "amazed how fast he could pick some of this up."
When asked whether there will come a point this season when it will become too late to use O'Brien, Franklin said, "That's really Coach's call, and the thing I know with Coach is that he is going to have a hard time if we have got a chance to win the game. I don't care if it is the last game, I just know Coach, he is going to want to win."
While O'Brien's debut remains a possibility Saturday, Friedgen has guaranteed that Robinson will see significant action for the second consecutive week. A confident Robinson met with a handful of media members Wednesday night, saying, "This is the beginning of a big future for me."
Robinson had an uneven performance in a little more than a half of action in the 38-31 loss at N.C. State. He threw incompletions on the first four pass attempts of his career, which included overthrowing an open LaQuan Williams deep downfield. Robinson settled down and completed five of his last seven passes for 27 yards.
Perhaps more impressive was what he did on the ground. The redshirt sophomore led Maryland with 38 rushing yards on nine attempts, including a 19-yard run. He was sacked once on Maryland's final drive, losing a contact lens. With blurred vision in one eye, he finished out the game.
Robinson said he could only laugh when watching the film of his performance because "some of the simple mistakes that I made, like the overthrown pass and just me running around and seeing things that were clearly right in front of me that I missed. Just me being so excited and jittery. I am a lot more patient and calm now."
Robinson has the strongest arm of any Maryland quarterback. He is also the most mobile, a skill that could come in handy playing behind an offensive line that has struggled mightily through most of the season. And he has the confidence of teammates who have seen him make plays in practice.
Linebacker Adrian Moten compared Robinson to Virginia Tech's dual-threat quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, adding that, "Taylor is a good quarterback. He is just like Jamarr. I think Jamarr has a better arm and accuracy than he does."
Robinson felt his comfort level improve significantly as Saturday's game progressed. He knows he faces a significant challenge against Virginia Tech, but he is confident in his preparation and ability.
"We are going to get an idea of what he can do for us now," Friedgen said.
Robinson said he is treating the last three games as an audition. He is expected to compete with O'Brien and Brown in spring practice for next season's starting job. It remains to be seen whether O'Brien and/or Brown also will get similar auditions this month.
"Guys like this," Franklin said, "they get in, they have some success, they build some confidence. You never know where their career could go from there."