For many of Maryland's starting football players, walking into the locker room before football practice and looking at the day's depth chart is a daily adventure.
At most schools, once a player wins the starting job he stays with the first team until he plays poorly or gets injured. But the way Coach Bobby Ross runs practices, few of the starting players' jobs are secure.
Alan Sadler, the starting punter, has been fighting off challengers every week for the last three. After a good performance at West Virginia, it hit Sadler that his job still wasn't secure.
"I was sitting on the bus next to Boomer (Esiason, the quarterback) on the way back home. And I thought, 'I didn't have a bad day--40-yard average, one punt over 50 yards. And I don't even know if I'll be punting next week.' "
Some of the players, usually the marginal starters, grumbled about Ross' practices in the beginning. The veteran starters didn't like being challenged during practice by nonlettermen.
"Some players probably like it, others probably don't," Ross said of his highly competitive practice sessions. It's competition, it should make them all better players, and I feel it's fair to everyone on the team. That's the bottom line."
"It was a shock at first," said guard Len Lynch, "but we've learned to live with it. A lot of guys like it."
Lynch lost his starting job to Shawn Benson last week, but has practiced well lately and could regain his spot before Saturday's game at Syracuse. "These practices have made both me and Shawn better players," Lynch said.
Said Benson: "You can't afford to pace yourself at all."
Sadler, whose closest competitor has been walk-on Glenn Watson, wasn't too fond of the arrangement at first.
"The week of practice after the Penn State game was really wild. You couldn't save your leg for Saturday because you had to kick for competition three or four days that week. For two days I was so worried about saving my leg that I drove to all my classes. I wouldn't walk anywhere. But it's made me a better player. I think most of the other players would tell you that."
Ross and his assistants have elevated several reserves into starting spots the last few weeks. Ross said Doug Miller, a junior, will start in place of senior Vince Tomasetti this week at center. Sophomore Greg Hill moved ahead of longtime starter Mike Lewis last week at one wide receiver spot.
"I don't want practices to drag," Ross said. "Some starters are clearly No. 1 at their positions. We don't work guys to the extent that they peak too early. But we want them to know that practice is important."
Because Ross will give even the freshmen a chance to move up the depth chart, two rookies, fullback Rick Badanjek and safety Al (Bam Bam) Covington have shown they are ready to play with the varsity. Badanjek has replaced senior John Nash as the starting fullback (Nash will receive the same amount of playing time as an all-purpose back).
"Everybody is trying to take advantage of the opportunity Coach Ross has put out there," Covington said. "And we haven't even had any team fights."