Terps quarterback O'Brien proves to be a fan favorite

SportsFootballMaryland TerrapinsDanny O'BrienAtlantic Coast ConferenceRalph FriedgenRandy Edsall

COLLEGE PARK — Given the early hour and the sleepy spectators, this clearly wasn't the Maryland football team's answer to Midnight Madness. But as the team's Fan Appreciation Day workout wore on early Saturday morning inside Byrd Stadium, the small crowd woke up.

By the time the Terrapins finished their two-hour session with four 100-yard gassers, many of the few hundred fans were up on their feet cheering and encouraging the players. At least half the crowd remained to chat with and get autographs from first-year coach Randy Edsall and his team.

Edsall said he was "grateful" for those who showed up and the enthusiasm they displayed at the end.

"I heard people yelling 'Get up front, get up front', so I didn't have to yell. I liked that," said Edsall, who had stopped practice on Friday to scream at his players for a lackluster effort. "I didn't even have to say anything. I think it's good to give the fans a chance to get out here and see the guys. You have people in the stadium, I think it brings a little more focus and concentration."

Nationally, the buzz about the Terps' Sept. 5 season opener against Miami will center on the scandal that has enveloped the Hurricanes. But for Maryland fans, much of the attention is directed toward redshirt sophomore quarterback Danny O'Brien. A relative unknown coming into last season, O'Brien went from backup to ACC rookie of the year.

"I think obviously when you talk about the most exciting person, it's Danny O'Brien, and what he might be able to do for this team that hasn't happened since Scotty McBrien," said Jim Cyr, a 1987 Maryland graduate who came down from Frederick with his son, J.P., to watch the workout.

O'Brien seems to take his new rock-star status in stride.

"It's different from that standpoint, but I've kind of approached the football aspect the exact same way just because it was proven successful last year," said O'Brien, who stood out there signing autographs longer than anyone, including Edsall, because of the high demand. "This kind of stuff's cool, but it really doesn't mean a lot, especially when it comes down to Sept. 5 at 8 p.m."

Cyr described himself as an "an eternal optimist" and expects the Terps to win eight or nine games in Edsall's first season.

"There's too much talent coming back," Cyr said. "My opinion is that Edsall will have them be more disciplined than Friedgen was — not that I had issues with Ralph — but it kind of seems to be his personality. Less mistakes."

The Terps were certainly not dazzling during the workout, including O'Brien, who had one of his passes late in the practice picked off by redshirt freshman Titus Till. The workout ended with sprints because junior kicker Nick Ferrara missed field goal tries of 52 and 47 yards. Ferrara said they were the first field goals he has missed in the first two weeks of practice.

Punter still up in the air

Edsall said that one of the more disappointing facets of Saturday's workout was the performance of the punters vying for a chance to replace Travis Baltz. None of the three — Ferrara, redshirt freshman Michael Tart or true freshman Nathan Renfro — separated himself from the pack.

"That will probably go right down to the end," Edsall said. Today they didn't punt as well as they did yesterday.. Yesterday they were just off the charts."

Ferrara also did the punting as a freshman when Baltz was injured, then lost his field goal kicking job last year when he got hurt.

"If I could do it then, I could do it now," Ferrara said of doing both the kicking and punting.

Position battles

Sunday's closed scrimmage could go a long way in helping determine a number of other position battlesAmong the most competitive are the competitions for the backup jobs at tailback, weakside linebacker and cornerback, Edsall said.

Another vacancy yet to be filled is at kick returner, where Edsall said Saturday that he has considered using starting tailback Davin Meggett.

"There's a lot of guys we could turn to," Edsall said. "We have some younger guys, that could get them experience and they're in a backup role [behind Meggett], then I'll probably lean more towards that. That first game, putting experience out there rather than inexperience [could be better]."

Burns adjusts

Devin Burns, who was recruited as a quarterback by former coach Ralph Friedgen, is making the adjustment to wide receiver under Edsall. Or readjustment, since Burns played wide receiver as a sophomore in high school in Georgia.

The redshirt freshman still has several players ahead of him, but at 6-foot-2 he's is one of the tallest and seemingly more athletic of the receivers. He made a couple of nice catches Saturday.

"There's a lot of competition. He's had a good camp," Edsall said. "There's a lot of guys to go through at that position. He's got to keep putting it on film and keep being consistent."

"Coach has been telling me that I've been doing good," Burns said, "so I'm just trying to work on the little things that will hopefully elevate to a starting position at some time."

Burns switched positions during spring practice and said he approached the new coaching staff about the move.

"It was kind of a mutual thing," Burns said. "They saw my potential, and they were up to it."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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