If Maryland's offense runs as wild as preseason imaginations around here, Darryl Wright would have absolutely no reason to show up on game days.

But on those few times when the Terrapins' offense does stall, Maryland will look to Wright and expect much better results than last year.

"I'm thinking our punting game will be more of a weapon this year," Coach Bobby Ross said yesterday before the team resumed workouts in preparation for Saturday's season opener against Penn State. "In fact, I'm counting on it.

"Darryl is hitting the ball better than any punter since we've been here (four seasons). We're really expecting the punting to be much better."

Stan Gelbaugh (before he became the starting quarterback) and Wright combined last year to average 37.5 yards per punt; Maryland's opponents averaged 42.0.

But Gelbaugh averaged only 36.4 per kick. Wright got stronger over the final eight games and wound up averaging 41.4 with only six of his 22 punts returned. Ten of his punts landed inside the 20.

The numbers for Wright, a redshirt sophomore from DeMatha High School, weren't bad considering the circumstances that surrounded him when he stepped into the starting lineup, five games into the season against Penn State when Gelbaugh moved to quarterback.

"Last year I was more worried about being the starter than punting and preparing myself for a game," Wright said yesterday. "And of the next eight games, only one was played in Byrd Stadium. The surroundings kept changing every week, and I never really got comfortable.

"I think I'm starting with an edge this summer. Right now, I'm more concerned with technique. I'm not working to get the job, I'm trying to strengthen my position. Last year against Penn State, everything was such a blur. This time, I'll be more aware of the game situations.

"I've been hearing Coach Ross is pleased with the way I've been punting, too, and that helps a lot."

Ross has grown pleased as Wright has learned to keep punts in the air longer.

"I want that height," Ross said. "The ideal punt to me would be about 41 yards with a hang time of 4.5 seconds or better (which usually will produce no return). It's the net average that's important to me. I think the punt coverage team was under a lot of pressure last year, and hang time gives them a little more time."

Wright, after a summer of strenuous workouts with his father at Beckett Field in New Carrollton, has come back with his leg a lot stronger, he says. "I worked with the weights more than in the past and I kicked to the point where I'd get tired, then go 10 or 15 more kicks before stopping.

"I know we want consistency in hang time and I also should be a couple of yards better. Last year in practice I'd average 40 to 41 yards per kick; this year so far it's been 43 to 44 yards."

Wright, who had a net average of 39.8 yards last season, said he'd like to average 41 or 42 yards net this season. "It's a team goal more than individual," he said.

The Terrapins' offense is so good, the team's punter just doesn't get very many opportunities. Last season, Maryland punted 38 times, opponents 54. Wright punted only once against Virginia and attempted only one punt in the second half against Miami.

"It's true," he said. "With this offense we have, I don't get that many chances."

Ross said that it could go down to Saturday before he knows whether junior running back Tommy Neal (hyperextended knee) will be able to play much. Ross said he has several options, including moving senior fullback Rick Badanjek to tailback and Stephon Scriber up to No. 1 fullback. Mike Anderson, the impressive freshman from DeMatha, could move into Neal's spot, as could Scriber. "We just haven't thought it out, yet," Ross said . . .

Chad Sydnor, the second-string cornerback, has tendinitis in his ankles, Ross said, "and it's a matter of how much pain he's in" that will determine Sydnor's status for Saturday. One place Maryland can ill afford injury is in the secondary . . .

David Amend, a converted defensive lineman, probably will start at center, but John Rugg probably will play a lot. Ross said Scott Schankweiler and Steve Kelley, who started camp listed as No. 3 on the depth chart, will start at the outside linebacker positions.