Spring practice. The words have almost a gentle ring to them. But there has been little gentility on the Maryland practice field since Thursday, when the Terrapins put on the helmets and shoulder pads for the first time since the 28-27 victory over Tennessee in the Sun Bowl Dec. 22.

"It felt real good to get out there again," said quarterback Stan Gelbaugh. "I really didn't want last year to end." Maryland won its last seven games, the third-longest Division I-A winning streak in the country behind Brigham Young (24) and Florida (nine).

As the Terrapins drilled, Coach Bobby Ross stood in the mobile tower. He rarely used the bullhorn. Spring practice is not a time for devising intricate plays. Mostly, he wanted his players to hustle. "I don't want to see anybody walking out there. Let's move, move," he said.

"I wasn't displeased with anything I saw out there," Ross said after opening day. "We got in a little bit of hitting, but mostly we were teaching. In the spring it's a matter of effort and intensity, and nothing was really lacking there."

He said it is unlikely jobs can be won or lost in the spring. Rather, he is looking to see that the players are, for the most part, in good shape, and that their attitude is positive.

"We've all got to get into playing condition," Gelbaugh said. "Some of us had surgery in the offseason and we need to work off a long winter." Gelbaugh had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after last season and said it "never felt better."

Ross did single out a few individual performers. "Some of the younger kids stood out," he said. "Ben Jefferson, Kevin Walker and Neil Sampson, in particular."

Standing out would not be hard for Jefferson, a 6-foot-9, 295-pound freshman. Like all but one Maryland freshman, fullback Walker, he was redshirted last year and has four years of eligibility remaining.

In the past, Maryland began spring practice the week before spring break, then picked up again afterward. This year, Ross -- seeking greater continuity -- waited until after break to begin the ritual.

Navy, Virginia and Howard started their practice before break, the week of March 17.

Howard, in fact, began before spring, March 18, and worked out for five days. The Bison, 2-8 last year, will resume April 1.

Eighteen starters return from last year's team -- seven sophomores and 11 juniors. The Bison were so young and oft-injured last year that they started 15 freshmen more than once.

Second-year Coach Willie Jeffries, hoping to avoid the depth problem this year, has implemented a more severe spring weight training regimen than in years past.

The good news at Navy is that Napoleon McCallum -- last year a Heisman Trophy candidate before breaking his leg the second week of the season against Virginia -- is back, with his added year of eligibility, and practicing. But the Midshipmen's entire starting offensive line is gone, graduation-bound.

Besides filling that void, Navy hopes to shore up its defense, which allowed 377 yards per game last season. "We're looking for a more aggressive posture on defense," Coach Gary Tranquill said.

Most of Virginia's offense returns intact with quarterback Don Majkowski, who established himself as a starter last year, along with backfield members Howard Petty and Barry Word and Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year John Ford on the flank.

The Cavaliers' strong suit last year was defense, and Coach George Welsh -- just signed to a lengthy contract extension -- is dedicating this spring to finding replacements for two honorable mention all-Americas, safety Lester Lyles and defensive tackle Ron Mattes.