Ralph Friedgen yesterday named Joel Statham his starting quarterback to open the season but conceded that all of Maryland's quarterbacks are struggling to some degree.

With the season-opening Northern Illinois game eight days away, Friedgen acknowledged after yesterday's scrimmage that "all the quarterbacks are having trouble with the signals . . . getting the plays called."

Statham, a sophomore and the clear front-runner to land the job since the spring, has done nothing to lose the job. What's more, no one has impressed the coaching staff enough to make a serious run at the position.

Statham did not look his finest yesterday, during what coaches had described as a formal "dress rehearsal" before the season. He completed 3 of 10 passes for 27 yards, at times playing against the first-team defense but, as Friedgen noted, has been better at getting the team in and out of the huddle than the others.

"Joel has set himself apart as the leader of the offense," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said.

The staff will officially name a backup quarterback today, when the Terrapins begin preparation for Northern Illinois. Friedgen was hesitant to comment on any of the three potential backups until he reviews the scrimmage film.

"Joel is out there ahead of us," freshman quarterback Jordan Steffy said. "After that, it's pretty much even who gets number two."

Steffy, who completed 10 of 15 passes for 135 yards, looked impressive for much of the afternoon. But freshman cornerback Kevin Barnes intercepted one of Steffy's passes and would have returned it for a touchdown had Steffy not tackled him. Steffy also was disappointed that he had a delay of game penalty.

Ryan Mitch completed 9 of 14 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns, including a 41-yard touchdown pass to Drew Weatherly. Mitch, however, said he expects to be corrected on the touchdown pass because he threw into double coverage, a habit he displayed throughout spring practice.

Regardless of who is named backup today, Mitch sees it merely as a "starting point. There's room for improvement and room to drop off."

Sam Hollenbach completed 5 of 9 passes, but also had two interceptions. Friedgen has not ruled Hollenbach out of the quarterback race but yesterday said, "You don't throw the ball late to Domonique's side. He'll pick it off every time."

Terrapin Notes: One concern is defensive line. Senior end Kevin Eli (hamstring) is doubtful for the opener, while end Shawne Merriman (hamstring) is questionable. Defensive tackle Robert Armstrong, meantime, has battled reoccurring back problems but competed yesterday . . .

Fullback Ricardo Dickerson (knee) and tailback Sam Maldonado (stinger) join a cast of banged up running backs. J.P. Humber (shoulder) is questionable for the opener and Keon Lattimore (shoulder) is out. . . . Left tackle Stephon Heyer (knee) should return Monday. . . . Maryland has announced that it has balanced its athletic budget for the 10th straight year.

Quarterback Joel Statham has been better at getting the team in and out of the huddle, says Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen.