COLLEGE PARK ——One month after his Maryland basketball career came to an end, Cliff Tucker made his public debut on the football field for the Terps.
The swingman-turned-wide receiver showcased his quick hands and athletic ability during Thursday's open practice. Listed at 6 feet 6, Tucker — sporting No. 88 — towered over most of the other receivers.
"He's got good size and good leaping ability," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "We have to get him back to catching that oblong ball instead of that round ball, which is a little tougher to catch."
Edsall said another school showed interest in adding Tucker to its football team. When he heard Tucker was pursuing a return to the gridiron, Edsall reached out to the former Texas prep star.
"Here's a young man that's right here on this campus who's played before and expressed interest," Edsall said. "I'd be crazy as a coach to not have him come out and work with us."
Edsall said it was too early to make predictions, but intimated that Tucker will have a chance to compete for playing time, which should be available in a depleted receiving corps that lost starters Torrey Smith to the NFL and Adrian Cannon to graduation and faces unresolved eligibility issues with freshman Nigel King.
"[Tucker] caught one pass [in Tuesday's practice] going across the middle and got hit, which was good to see," Edsall said. "We're working with him and seeing how he likes it and how he can improve."
Quarterback Danny O'Brien said he was encouraged with Tucker's first practices.
"He seemed really excited to get a new start with things," O'Brien said. "Getting out for the first time and playing football was exciting for him. I think he said he was All-State in Texas, so we know he can play, and it was pretty cool seeing him out there for the first time."
O'Brien progressing, Brown impressing
In a teleconference with reporters earlier this week, Edsall said backup quarterback C.J. Brown was "putting pressure" on O'Brien, last season's Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year.
The Terps coach seemed to express more confidence in O'Brien on Thursday.
"Danny's doing well. He's getting more accustomed to what we're doing," Edsall said. "He's throwing the ball better, getting his timing down with those guys."
Edsall praised Brown as well, and said there would be no harm in having two capable passers.
"At the quarterback position, I think we can have a solid two-deep," Edsall said. "I want that mindset that somebody's breathing down my neck trying to take my job. If our young men can play with that type of urgency, then you have the chance to be a really good team."
Garcia stepping in at left tackle
Sophomore Max Garcia is expected to begin the 2011 season as Maryland's starting left tackle after junior Justin Gilbert tore his ACL for the second straight year.
"I'm being really grateful for my opportunity," Garcia said. "You hate to see one of your teammates get hurt again after rehabbing for so long, but you have to take advantage of what God's given you."
Edsall said he liked what Garcia has shown in practice.
"I like his toughness, he's an aggressive young man, and he's got good feet," Edsall said. "And he's got a tenacity about him that I think you gotta have up on the offensive line. … He's got that physical presence and the tools."
The 6-foot-5, 290-pound tackle knows he has a lot of work ahead.
"I'm trying to be more dominant," Garcia said. "I'm really trying to be consistent and dominate on the line and be more of a leader, be more vocal. I want to show the coaches what I have to offer."
Robinson impressing in secondary
Edsall praised sophomore safety Matt Robinson (Atholton) for having a good spring. The unit lost Antwine Perez to graduation and Kenny Tate to linebacker.
"Matt's a big, tall, rangy guy who can bring a physical presence," Edsall said. "But he's also very smart, intelligent, and he understands the game."
Edsall called the safeties the "quarterbacks of the defense" because of their numerous responsibilities before the play, such as alerting the linebackers and cornerbacks of the coverages to run.
But Robinson said he has handled the task well thus far.
"I've felt good. I've been able to learn the defense pretty quickly," he said. "I'm just now trying to get the technique down to be the best football player I can be."