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For Terps tight end, it's better to receive

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK - It could be argued that Jeff Dugan was at the center of the 2001 play that served notice Maryland's offense would no longer be of the plodding variety.

The play executed against Wake Forest that season, 49 Stretch, is best known for the 80-yard touchdown run by Bruce Perry, emblematic of the Terps' then-newfound ability to score from anywhere at any time, a quality the team has displayed since.

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But the result - with Perry bouncing outside on an easy handoff dive play - was made possible by a crushing block on the left side by Dugan, who began making a name for himself as one of the top tight ends in the Atlantic Coast Conference. To attain that status while making only 16 catches over the past two seasons is a testament to how much his blocking figures in what has been the league's top running attack over that period.

"Jeff made it easy for Bruce Perry to get 1,000 yards [in 2001]," said Ray Rychleski, who coaches the team's tight ends, "and then Chris Downs comes in [in 2002] and he becomes another 1,000-yard rusher."

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Look for that trend to continue, but Maryland would like to see its tight ends become more prominent in the passing game as the team's playbook expands. Since the end of last season, the coaching staff has worked toward adding large receivers capable of playing tight end - such as Rob Abiamiri and Vernon Davis - in hopes of further challenging defenses after scoring a school-record 451 points last season.

In addition to playing tight end, Abiamiri and Davis have the ability to line up as running backs and wide receivers in the H-back role. In the passing game, the team hopes to create some room for conventional wide-outs Latrez Harrison and Steve Suter.

"When you have guys on the inside like [slot back] Jo Jo Walker and then Rob or Vernon on the other side," offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said, "the defenses have to think about double-covering the outside receivers because it forces them to use linebackers to cover fast tight ends. We feel we can win those matchups."

To keep up, and to increase his chances of maintaining his playing time, Dugan, 6 feet 4 and 256 pounds, spent much of the summer trying to improve his receiving skills.

"I've seen a lot of improvement in his game since spring - catching balls with [quarterback Scott McBrien] in seven-on-seven drills and running routes," Abiamiri said. "It's all competition. We all want to play, and we all want to better ourselves so we can have a good team."

Dugan still prefers his highlights in the running game to any glories receiving - "it pumps you up when you get a good block" - but also hopes to equal his season-high of 25 catches from his first year in 2000.

When Dugan started at Maryland - as a freshman who had played tackle in high school - he ran routes, "but not with any precision or emphasis on it," he said. "Every once in a while, I'd get a lot of play-action passes. I was more like a glorified tackle."

Though good feet have been a strong point in his blocking, mechanical movements hindered Dugan in his previous route running, characterized by "run 8 yards and turn out," as opposed to a greater ability to read defenders that he has recently gained.

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Because of that, coach Ralph Friedgen said he anticipates Dugan - who graduated this summer with a finance degree - will have post-Maryland prospects on the field.

"He's a dominant blocker for a tight end," Friedgen said. "And with the added skills that he has as a receiver, he has a legitimate shot at playing at the next level. I don't think you could have said that last year."


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