The University of Maryland's spring football practice will end Saturday, and Coach Bobby Ross said yesterday he still was far from determining who will start at quarterback against Pittsburgh in the season opener Sept. 1.
Ross said junior Dan Henning and sophomore Drew Komlo are about even going into Saturday's annual Red-White intrasquad game, which will be shortened to four 10-minute quarters because of a lack of offensive linemen. But the coach also said Neil O'Donnell, a redshirt freshman, has worked with the first team and is still in the running.
"We have Henning listed as No. 1, but there is no No. 1 right now," Ross said. "The battle is real close. The spring game may help us along. But they are very close . . . We might not make that decision until the week before the first game."
Ross said each quarterback has a strength: "Henning, experience; Komlo, a good, live arm; O'Donnell, an excellent athlete, probably our best runner."
Although no one has emerged as No. 1, Ross said, "The improvement we've made at that position is very satisfying." As a result, he said he may be quicker to make a change in quarterbacks than in the past.
He also said he would have no qualms about starting O'Donnell, if he proves best in practice, but would have to go into the first game with a simplified game plan because of his inexperience.
The 2 p.m. Red-White game in Byrd Stadium, for which there will be no admission charge, will have some other wrinkles: no kickoffs; punting but no attempts to block punts, and no punt returns. It also will be the first time Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof and James Milling, the two swiftest and leading receivers last season, play at the same time.
"With those two and tight end Ferrell Edmunds, what you're going to see us do a lot of next year is go deep," Ross said. "I guess it's the Los Angeles Raiders' approach. We're going to let three guys go out there and lay it deep."
Quarterback and offensive line were Ross' main concerns going into spring practice, and he seems to be satisfied with the progress at each. Even with injuries on the line, "we've accomplished what we wanted to do," he said.
Six interior linemen, including four of the five starters on Maryland's 9-3 Cherry Bowl champions, are gone, and three of those starters were NFL draftees this week. Ross said he wanted to move center Bill Hughes to guard this year, but that has been hampered by injuries to centers Mark Rothrock and John Rugg.
Assuming they are healthy in the fall, Ross said he expects one of them starting at center, with Hughes and Dave Amend at guard and 6-foot-8 1/2, 322-pound Ben Jefferson and John Sorna at tackle. Hughes practiced at all three offensive line positions during the spring, and Amend and redshirt freshman Mark Agent at two each. "We feel we've made good progress there," Ross said. "If we can come up with eight people who can play all the positions, we'll be okay."
Defensively, Ross said the Terrapins have the potential to be better than last season if the three-man secondary remains healthy.