Talent, inexperience mark Terps' backfield


COLLEGE PARK -- When Maryland football coaches appraise their running backs, talent is placed in the plus column and experience in the minus.

The Terps will conclude spring practice tomorrow with their third Alumni Game at Byrd Stadium (1 p.m.), and Buddy Rodgers most likely will be the starting superback in the run-and-shoot, one-back offense. Rodgers was a Parade All-American in high school, but he's still a true freshman.

Come September, he'll probably share the position with Brian Underwood, who, as a redshirt freshman, is the elder statesman among the running backs. Underwood has been slowed recently by a pulled hamstring muscle, but, when healthy, he's the Terps' most elusive runner.

Combined, their college experience consists of 80 carries and 309 yards last season, when senior Allen Williams accounted for 649 yards, 62.6 percent of Maryland's meager rushing total. Considering their lack of experience, it's probably in their best interest and that of the Terps that they split time.

"With all this offense asks of you, you just can't go 70-80 plays a game at superback with one guy," said Dave Ungerer, who coaches the Maryland running backs.

Both had their moments last season.

Rodgers, who's from East Providence, R.I., came to camp slightly overweight but had 44 yards rushing in a season-opening loss at Duke. He injured a knee and ankle the next week against Florida State, and had 23 carries the rest of the season, the majority in the Terps' short-yardage offense.

"Freshman year is one big reality check," Rodgers said. "I came in with a lot of attention -- 'There's the Parade All-American' -- and I expected to pick up right where I left off in high school. The size and speed of the players in college were a big jump for me."

Underwood, who's from New York City, had 109 yards against North Carolina and Georgia Tech in the midseason, but resumed a bit part in November. In early March he was charged with two counts of receiving a stolen telephone credit card. He declined to comment on the case.

Coach Mark Duffner has much bigger off-field concerns. Spurred by an allegation that one of his players bet on college athletics, a violation of NCAA rules, Maryland has been conducting an investigation since March 6. If any players are found guilty, they could lose their eligibility or be forced to sit out some games.

Maryland came out of last season with four freshman candidates at superback, and the potential of Rodgers, Underwood and Chaney Milner led the Terps to try Kendall Ogle at weakside linebacker this spring.

Despite that experiment, Maryland expects to be deeper and better on defense this season. The offense, however, could take a step back after three years of record-setting that couldn't make up for other deficiencies that have left Duffner with a three-year record of 9-24.

The Terps' offensive leader is quarterback Scott Milanovich, but he must perform in the classroom if he expects to play as a senior and finish his assault on school records that were set by Boomer Esiason. Milanovich must pass 18 credits this semester and six in the summer to play next season.

If Milanovich is ineligible, red-shirt freshman Brian Cummings would become the quarterback. Cummings ran the short-yardage offense last season and has a live arm, but he has never thrown a pass in a college game.

The Terps are loaded at wide receiver, and they better get open quickly. The offensive line lost four senior starters and its most experienced player, John Teter, may have back surgery. Maryland will start Aaron Henne at right guard.

One of the more encouraging developments this spring has been the return of Orlando Strozier, who led the Terps in interceptions as a freshman two years ago but missed all of last season because of knee surgery. He's played well at cornerback, and backed up Cummings at quarterback in the short-yardage offense.

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