Following last year's disappointing 5-6 season, several members of Maryland's coaching staff consulted with their peers at Redskins Park. And why not?
Both teams had trotted out occasionally dominant defenses that were sabotaged by malfunctioning offenses. Both teams were led by head coaches with reputations as offensive innovators whose schemes no longer seemed effective during the worst of the struggles. And both teams saw their failings symbolized by often clumsy quarterbacking that had fans braying for a change.
While the Terps' problems behind center may not have triggered the legendary angst that surrounds every Redskins quarterbacking hullabaloo, that position will nevertheless be the clear focus at fall practice, which begins today in College Park.
Junior Sam Hollenbach got a win in last year's season finale against Wake Forest -- his first career start -- and Coach Ralph Friedgen said last month the job is Hollenbach's to lose. Sophomore Jordan Steffy missed spring practice with knee and elbow problems but is nearing full strength and will have a chance to compete for the job, Friedgen said. If they stumble, last year's beleaguered starter, Joel Statham, could reenter the mix.
Until an official starter is announced for the Sept. 3 opener against Navy at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, early returns will be scrutinized, slip-ups will be duly noted and the rest of the Terrapins will continue to deflect questions about their preferences.
"I believe in Coach Friedgen and his staff making decisions for us, and it really isn't my decision to make," tackle Stephon Heyer said. "Of course, you want a quarterback that's going to be there [consistently], but it's college, you can't really expect a quarterback to stay there forever. He's got four or five years and then he's going to be gone, and then you have a similar situation the next time around. I mean, it happens. There's always a controversy."
This year's, though, will have particular poignancy after a year in which Terps quarterbacks threw eight touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Turnovers will be a near-obsession heading into the fall -- Friedgen maintained that last year's team would have finished at least 7-4 had it been able to protect the ball -- and Hollenbach's decision making and ability to learn from past mistakes are key factors in his early lead.
"You can't turn the ball over and win, that's the bottom line," Friedgen said. "And when you do that, then you've got to get someone else in there that's not going to throw interceptions, and give yourself a chance to win."
So Hollenbach, a 6-foot-5 Pennsylvania native who had slipped to fourth on the depth chart last summer, now finds himself at least temporarily leading an offense that ranked near the bottom of the ACC in virtually every significant category last fall. Maryland was ninth in rushing, ninth in passing, ninth in scoring, ninth in total turnovers and ninth in turnover differential.
Such results were particularly galling to Friedgen, who had occasionally been tagged with the "offensive genius" label as he led his alma mater to 31 wins in his first three seasons.
"They're not calling me that any more, are they?" he now says with a laugh.
Indeed, the national media are not calling Maryland much of anything. The Terps were predicted to finish fifth in the six-team Atlantic Division by the ACC media. They received two votes in the preseason USA Today/ESPN Coaches' poll -- two fewer than Washington, which is coming off a one-win season.
They have an inexperienced defensive line and an inexperienced secondary, a special teams unit that must replace several stalwarts and an offense with assorted question marks in addition to the most obvious one behind center. Oh, but they have a still-defiant head coach.
"I think we have some talent on this football team," Friedgen said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to see that we're better."