For a lengthy period of time, Maryland's coaching staff has raved about Joel Statham's potential. But the raves, though frequent over the past eight months, always came with caveats.
If he could just relax in front of crowds, they said, he'd gain more confidence.
If he could ignore his natural instincts, they said, focus instead on his footwork and his ability to read coverage, he'd get the ball to the right guy nearly every time.
If he could simply cut down on his mistakes, they said, if he could take a sack or throw the ball away instead of forcing it, he'd give his team a chance to win every time out. All those statements are still true about Statham, but four games into his sophomore year, some of the raves no longer need caveats.
Against Duke Saturday, in Maryland's 55-21 victory, Statham did show more confidence. He did get the ball to the right guy nearly every time. And while he still made mistakes, he also made plays, which was an encouraging sign for Ralph Friedgen heading into the Terps' week off.
"I don't think Joel's come close to [his potential] yet," Friedgen said, the day after Statham threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns against the Blue Devils. "I think he's ahead of Scott [McBrien] as far as reading coverages. I'm very pleased with that. He's done an exceptional job of going to the right person with the ball. It took awhile for even Scott and Shaun [Hill] to get that down. Joel's got it."
What Statham also has, however, is a gunslinger's mentality: an eagerness to try to complete every pass even when the other team has things covered. The first quarter against Duke, Statham threw into double coverage on third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, and was intercepted by Blue Devils safety C.J. Woodard. Friedgen was willing to write off some of Statham's other mistakes - chalk them up to a bad route or bad luck - but that play was the kind Friedgen knows he has to get corrected before the Terps face Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Clemson in their next three games.
"You hate to take points off the board," Friedgen said. "That's one of the hardest things to teach a young kid. The tough thing is, those young guys expect good things to happen every time, and you don't want to destroy aggressiveness. You want them to take chances, but if it's covered, throw it away, or throw the ball where your guy is the only guy that can catch it. ... Eventually young guys learn how to do that, but it sometimes takes a little longer than you think it should."
Despite Statham's obvious progress, Friedgen said after examining the game film, he had mixed feelings about the Terps' offensive performance. Tight end Vernon Davis had a breakout game, and is making fewer mental errors, and Josh Allen looks like he's fully healthy again. But at the same time, there is room for improvement.
"I know this doesn't sound real good, because we had almost 700 yards, but I didn't think we played as well as we could offensively," Friedgen said. "We made a lot of mistakes, and up front we need to play better. Our wide receivers can play better. On the other hand, we played a lot of kids at crucial times in the game. From that standpoint, I think we got better. In the end, I hope that will help us later in the season."
Friedgen also praised Maryland's defense, which gave up just 185 yards, forced four turnovers and allowed Duke possession for only 18 1/2 minutes.
"They just continue to play well," Friedgen said. "Henry Scott is stepping up big time, playing defensive end for us when it's not his natural position, and Chris Kelley had another great game, flying around, causing fumbles and recovering fumbles. ... They're all playing hard over there and they're not backing off one bit."
One thing Friedgen was not happy with was kickoff coverage, vowing that there will be improvement or there will be changes. Duke's Chris Davis returned a kick 94 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, helping the Blue Devils pull within 10-7.
"Guys aren't running like they need to be running," Friedgen said. "We have to look at who wants to be on that team and move some people around."
Maryland did make it out of the Duke game without any significant injuries, and expects to get Kevin Eli (concussion) back for Georgia Tech Oct. 9.
Next for Maryland
Matchup: Georgia Tech (2-1, 1-1) vs. No. 24 Maryland (3-1, 1-0)
Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park
When: Oct. 9, time TBA
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)