Steffy keeps his cool in the pocket

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK -- Yesterday was only the first day of fall football practices at Maryland, but time is already running out for Josh Portis to displace Jordan Steffy as the team's top quarterback in 2007.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said he'd like to name his starting quarterback for the Sept. 1 season opener within "at least a week, maybe a little more." Friedgen shortened a timetable many thought would extend throughout most of the summer, and in doing so left little question as to who's got his vote.

"I'm not going to take a whole lot of time on making a decision," he said. " ... We've got to start focusing on who's the No. 1 guy."

Steffy appears to have no doubt it's him. He finished the spring at the top of the depth chart, has experience calling in plays as last year's backup and has been in Friedgen's system longer.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," Steffy said when asked if he's afraid of losing the starting job. "I've been here so long, I know the offense, I'm comfortable, and it's my job."

Maryland began its preparations yesterday with the goal of returning to a bowl game for the second straight season, but much of how this team fares will reflect the successes - or failures - of its inexperienced quarterback. As Sam Hollenbach's backup last year, Steffy played in the season opener against William and Mary, where he was 0-for-5 with an interception. Portis, a transfer from Florida, sat out last season because of NCAA rules.

Both bring an athletic dimension to the position that it has lacked in years past. Although Friedgen praised Steffy, he also said "it's realistic" Portis could still earn the starting nod.

"I'm not opposed to even playing two quarterbacks," Friedgen said.

Portis, whose limited playing time at Florida was strictly out of the shotgun formation, said he has gotten used to playing under center, and "worked hard" this summer to improve the trouble spots that have been holding him back. His athleticism, speed and ability to "create a good play out of a poor play with his ability to run" is something Friedgen is eager to add to his offense. What's holding Portis back, Friedgen said, are his timing and footwork.

Those are things Portis said he spent the summer weekends and weekdays trying to perfect.

He said he spent about 10 hours a week in the film room, and would lie on his bed watching DVDs of last year's games, studying other teams' schemes and players.

"The little things are what's most important," Portis said. "The little things can lead to big things if you don't correct them, and I feel I've done them."

At the very least, Steffy can take solace in the players around him alleviating some of the pressure. The Terps return their top two running backs - Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore - along with their top three wide receivers, starting fullback and all of their tight ends. If Steffy struggles throwing the ball, Maryland should be able to rely on an already-proven ground game, and he has already asked Lattimore and Ball for their help.

"[Steffy] told us that; he's like, 'I'm going to rely on you guys, you and Keon, I'm going to rely on you guys during games to get me started,'" Ball said. "Me and Keon are ready to accept the job. We did it last year, why not again?"

Friedgen said he has seen Steffy grow and mature on and off the field.

"I think he's confident in his ability, not only as a football player, but as a student and a person," Friedgen said. "I think he's ready for this challenge. I've been very impressed with him in that light. He seems very at peace with himself. He doesn't seem uptight about the whole situation. It's been nice just to see this kid develop."

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