Maryland wingback Mike Lewis, whose dropped punt led to North Carolina's winning touchdown Saturday, probably will be relieved of his punt-return duties this week, Terrapin Coach Jerry Claiborne said yesterday.
"I think we'll just give Mike this week off unless something happens where we really need him back there," Claiborne said in response to a question at his weekly press conference. "I asked him yesterday, 'Mike, how about your mind?' and he just kind of shook his head. He's hurting. What would you say if you had dropped two punts in one game?"
Lewis, the team's leading receiver, also fumbled away a punt in the Syracuse game several weeks ago, leading to the Orangemen's come-from-behind tie. Lewis has fumbled four punts this season, losing three.
"I'm not going to criticize Mike Lewis," Claiborne said. "I'm the fumble coach and I'm the dropped-kick coach. I'll take the resonsibility."
Lewis made no excuses for his punt fumbles and did not protest Claiborne's decision. He has returned 24 punts an average of 6.3 yards, with a long return of 17.
Lewis will be replaced by Lendell Jones and Billy McFadden, each a starting defensive back. McFadden fractured a bone in his right hand Saturday and the area around his thumb was swollen yesterday, but he said he will play Saturday.
Jones will be the Terrapins' primary punt returner against Tulane in New Orleans.
Jones fumbled a punt deep in Maryland territory in the fourth quarter against West Virginia, and the Mountaineers scored the winning touchdown on the ensuing possession, leading to Lewis becoming the No. 1 punt returner.
"I understood why coach made the change," Jones said yesterday. "I'm glad I'm getting another chance, though. I'd like to redeem myself for that previous mistake.
"But maybe this is a good move for Mike. He has an awful lot of duties on the team. He's our leading receiver and he plays special teams. The fatigue might get to him late in the game. Maybe he just needs a little break."
Quarterback Norman (Boomer) Esiason practiced yesterday and is expected to start against Tulane. His backup, Bob Milkovich, has a sore right foot and did not practice.