Saturday, May 06, 2006

Red White Game

The offense for the Maryland football team in the annual spring game went in like the proverbial lion and went out like a lamb, as the moribund 16-12 score would indicate. After the first two quarters each offense had only produced a combined 3 points and by the end of the game the offenses had only produced 21 points. I don’t think anyone expected the offenses to be prolific at this point in the season with youth at a number of key positions and injuries hampering the development on the offensive line, but the impotent performance by each unit in the game and the shaky play at quarterback is very troubling.

Neither starter Sam Hollenbach nor backup Jordan Steffy distinguished themselves in a mistake prone day for the quarterback position. The two completed less than 50 % of their attempts and threw four interceptions with only one touchdown. The inexperienced receiver corps certainly didn’t help but this seems to indicate that the position will be even more of a problem than it was last year. With the starter Hollenbach returning that would seem more unlikely but he has lost every reliable target from last season and is left with a bunch of mistake prone and inexperienced underclassmen.

One of the bright spots in the game was the play of the running backs. Lance Ball further solidified his claim to the starting job with 58 yards but the backup job is open with Josh Allen, J.P. Humber and freshman Morgan Green all competing for the carries. It is nice to see Allen back on the field but it would be unrealistic to expect him to be a major contributor after such a devastating knee injury.

The receivers did little to calm fears that they will be a major weakness of the team this season. Darius Heyward-Bey and Terrell Skinner both showed some ability to be big play threats but are hampered by their lack of experience. The rest of the wideouts had a rather pedestrian game. Senior Drew Weatherly continues to dissapoint.

The offensive line is still suffering from injuries to Edwin Williams and Stephon Heyer and off the field issues to 2005 starter RT Brandon Nixon. Nixon may not return to the team but Williams and Heyer should be ready for August practices. The line will be paper thin again this season and will not be able to sustain any injuries without significant drop off.

Both defenses were solid but their performance is perhaps slightly skewed by the ineptitude of both offenses. I don’t believe that a defense that was nothing better than mediocre last season, and lost a number of important starters, will be appreciably better this year. Most concerning was the poor third down defense, which haunted the defense last year and was the main problem in a number of losses. The offenses converted about 44% of their third downs, which would be a very respectable number for any offense. During the spring the offense is usually behind the defense so that rate is even more concerning.

Injury plagued Robert Armstrong had another setback as he was suspended from the team for unspecified reasons. If he is absent from the lineup for either injury or off the field problems it will be a tough blow for an already shaky defensive front. If Melvin Alaeze can qualify he would provide a disruptive force on the line that is lacking right now. Defensive tackle Dre Moore showed some promis with 2 sacks in the game but other players who should be starting to show something like Carlos Feliciano, Dennis Marsh and Trey Covington have yet to demonstrate that they will provide quality depth.

Freshman linebacker Chris Clinton was very active and gave glimpses that he might be the next great ‘backer at Maryland. The rest of the linebackers seem solid and there is better depth at that position than probably any other on the team. The group does seem to lack a dominating player at this point.

The secondary is another area of concern with several starters missing from last season. Kevin Barnes impressed in the scrimmage and seems to be the leading candidate to start opposite Josh Wilson. The safety position is also up in the air with transfers Isaiah Gardner and Hunter Reddick possibly in the mix at strong safety if Marcus Wimbush cannot solidify his hold on the position. Reddick might contribute right away in a defensive backfield that lacks experience.

The kicking game was atrocious as Dan Ennis and Obi Egekeze were both shaky. Egekeze missed two longer field goals and neither showed the ability to reliably make field goals longer than 40 yards. The lack of a reliable kicker will result in a loss or two this fall.

Overall the spring game hardly supplied anything to be optimistic about this fall. The team will require dramatic improvement in numerous areas to be competitive this coming season.

Scouting Greivis

It has often been said in the media that next season Gary Williams will finally have a true point guard again in frosh Eric Hayes. Hopefully that will be the case but no other member of the 2006 class has the greater potential to make Maryland better from the start than 6'5" guard Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez is one of those players that recruiting services have differing opinions on: some think he is a merely decent recruit and others think he is a borderline top 100 caliber player. In my opinion there are not 50 high school players who have more potential to contribute and compete well at the high major level right away than Vasquez.

Fellow classmates PG Eric Hayes and SF Landon Milbourne are held in higher regard by most recruiting services but have less potential to be immediate contributors than Vasquez. My opinion about Vasquez is based off my impressions from game tape in Vasquez's senior season at Montrose Christian. If you think I may be overhyping the kid slightly then I would point out that Gary Williams himself so liked Vasquez that he got personally involved in the recruitment of Vasquez early last spring. Regardless of your feelings about Williams' recruiting style it shows how highly the coach thought of him. While scouting 2005 recruit Uche Echefu the coach noticed Vasquez and decided to put full effort to land the Venezuelan. It came down to the Terps or Virginia Tech with the Maryland clearly the superior program.

Here is some of what has me excited about Vasquez.

Offense: Vaz can legitimately play any perimeter position. He has the ball handling skills to play point guard with effectiveness. He has excellent court vision and handles traps and full court pressure like a seasoned player. Vaz is a good shooter with solid form and elevation on his shot. His length will help him shoot over shorter players at the point guard and shooting guard positions. He is capable of doing damage from beyond the arch but he is most dangerous distributing the ball in the context of an offense. It is no mistake that Kevin Durant looked great playing with Vaz because he is the kind of player that will make his teammates better. While he doesn't possess great quickness he is good at using his body to shield smaller defenders and drive to the basket. His game right now isn't all that different from Chris McCray's, though he is more polished than McCray was in high school. He also has a decent nose for offensive rebounds. Vasquez has the potential to be more than the role player that McCray was for most of his career.

Defense: Vaz's long arms and length will help him defend at any position on the perimeter. He may struggle with smaller and quicker opponents as any 6'5" guard might, but he has the ability to be physical and wear those smaller guards down on either end of the floor. He showed the basic capability to defend smaller and quicker guards. Though he needs to add muscle, he is a good defensive rebounder. Despite his slender frame he seems willing to mix it up with opponents and doesn't shy away from contact.

Intangibles: Vasquez is a vocal player and will engage in his share of trash talking. He enjoys playing mind games and will sometimes bait opposing players into retaliating against him with a foul. He will be one of the more hated players in the ACC as he has no qualms about yacking back at a hostile crowd. He has the qualities to be a leader on the court, however, and seems to enjoy the respect of his teammates beyond his performance on the box score. He will be a player that Maryland fans will grow to love.