After a month of evaluation, Ralph Friedgen solidified his quarterback pecking order Friday, choosing an 18-year-old as Maryland's backup to start the season.

Freshman Jordan Steffy, the recruit who diligently studied the Terrapins' playbook while still in high school, will back up starter Joel Statham in the season opener against Northern Illinois on Sept. 4.

Throughout the summer, coaches said the question with Steffy was not his talent, but rather his mental capacity to absorb a complicated offense at a young age. Although he has recently hit a mental wall, according to Friedgen, Steffy emerged in a tight race over Ryan Mitch.

The announcement was a noteworthy accomplishment for Steffy, who entered camp first having to rise above quarterbacks Dan Gronkowski and Erin Henderson, both of whom have since switched positions. Finally, Steffy had to beat out Mitch and Sam Hollenbach, who entered camp as the expected backup but who will start the season fourth.

The news capped a whirlwind week for Mitch, who nearly quit the team a few days ago after reaching an emotional "boiling point."

"It's a good improvement, but I'm not satisfied," Mitch said. "I just want to go up higher. I'm going to keep trying for number two and number one. I'm going to have this as a good starting point and hopefully move my way up by the end of the year."

Dickerson Moves

Fullback Ricardo Dickerson has moved to defensive end in part to bolster a defensive line that has been hobbled by injury. Kevin Eli, Shawne Merriman and Robert Armstrong all have missed significant portions of August practice because of nagging injuries; Merriman and Eli are questionable for the Northern Illinois game.

Dickerson's move also illustrates how much Friedgen plans to rely on tight ends this season. Maurice Smith will be the starting fullback, but expect tight ends Vernon Davis or Rob Abiamiri to lineup at fullback on occasion. Coaches have been enthusiastic about the possibilities of the Davis-Abiamiri combo since the spring. Freshman tight end Jason Goode also could see action lining up at fullback.

Scholarships Awarded

Friedgen awarded scholarships to three players -- senior Henry Scott, sophomore David Holloway and sophomore Jeris Smith -- who have seen time on the scout team in the past.

"These are guys who have persevered," Friedgen said. "Those are guys I admire."

Meantime, two scholarship players, both redshirt freshmen defensive linemen, have left the team. Patrick Powell and Jermaine Lemons left without informing the coaching staff after they learned they were not on the two-deep depth chart.

Bonham to Start

Junior Russell Bonham has pulled ahead of redshirt freshman Andrew Crummey at right guard and is expected to start against Northern Illinois. . . . Mario Merrills was tabbed as Maryland's third-string running back. . . . Friedgen spoke to Maryland's freshman class yesterday, declaring that they will all learn the fight song by November.

Jordan Steffy has absorbed a complicated offense.