After only four days of practice, sophomore Joel Statham has widened his lead over Maryland's three other contenders for the starting quarterback job, Coach Ralph Friedgen said yesterday.

Statham has exhibited a throwing release that Friedgen said is even quicker than that of former Terps quarterback Scott McBrien. In addition, the coaching staff has been impressed with how Statham is mixing his cadence at the line of scrimmage better than he had during spring practice.

The biggest surprise, though, is that Ryan Mitch, who struggled in the spring by throwing into double coverage, is making a run at backup Sam Hollenbach.

Freshman Jordan Steffy remains in contention because of his mobility and strong arm. Friedgen said earlier in the week that Steffy might be the subject of too much hype because, while he is talented, he also is a work in progress.

A concern with Steffy is his footwork, said Friedgen, who added, "he is hanging in there pretty good."

Offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe has said the staff would like to pinpoint a starter in the next few days so the team can "chart its course."

"They're all very athletic," wide receiver Rich Parson said of the quarterbacks.

"It's exciting. At the same time, it's scary because we're used to having a veteran."

Strong Secondary

Friedgen has been particularly impressed with the secondary, saying it has looked even better than last year's group, which saw all four defensive backs earn all-conference recognition. This season's group includes three new starters, likely Chris Kelley (strong safety), Ray Custis (free safety) and Reuben Haigler (cornerback). Junior Gerrick McPhearson also will see action at cornerback in part because of his speed -- he ran a 4.29 in the 40 in the spring.

Too High

Four of Maryland's opponents -- Florida State (fifth), West Virginia (10th), Clemson (15th ) and Virginia (16th) -- are ranked higher than the 22nd-ranked Terps in the Associated Press preseason top 25, which was released yesterday. Friedgen has said it's almost a disadvantage to be ranked high because if you lose early, as Maryland did last season, it's hard to make up ground in the polls.

Eli Hurting

Senior defensive end Kevin Eli, a key member of the front four, is sidelined for at least several days with an injured hamstring. Other notable injuries include wide receiver Drew Weatherly (ankle), linebacker Chase Bullock (hamstring) and Custis (hamstring). . . . Russell Bonham, a 6-2, 300-pound junior, is pushing redshirt freshman Andrew Crummey for the starting guard positionon the revamped right side of the line. . . . Freshman linebacker Eric Lenz has stood out on pass defense, having intercepted three passes in four practices. . . . Today, the Terps will stage a goal-line scrimmage and another scrimmage strictly for young players.

A quick release and a deceptive cadence have helped distinguish Terps' Joel Statham from three other QB hopefuls.