Fragile Cummings Misses Practice Again -COLLEGE PARK

Now that he's back on planet Earth, Brian Cummings plans to once again put his fragile body on the line as Maryland's starting qu...

Now that he's back on planet Earth, Brian Cummings plans to once again put his fragile body on the line as Maryland's starting quarterback.

Cummings, still feeling the effects of a concussion he sustained Saturday in the Terrapins' 52-0 rout of Wake Forest, missed a second straight practice Tuesday. But he has been cleared to play, and Maryland is counting on him to start this weekend against winless Duke.

At one point Saturday, Cummings lay sprawled on the turf for more than a minute after a particularly devastating hit. He finally left for good late in the first half after completing 13 of 20 passes for 224 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.

"He was somewhere between here and Mars,'' coach Mark Duffner said Tuesday. "He was not in a state to play the second half.''

Cummings wasn't prepared to do much of anything. He was taken to a hospital for observation after the game and remained there through Monday morning.

Duffner said Cummings will play if the quarterback is able to get enough practice time this week. Earlier this season, Cummings had an ineffective start after missing a week's worth of workouts because of a separated shoulder.

Duffner said he was looking into getting a special helmet for the 5-foot-11 junior, who has taken more than his share of vicious hits this season, a few of which seemed to the Terrapins to be after the whistle.

"Brian's a tough guy. He can fight off injuries, but he's taken a lot of cheap shots this year,'' running back Buddy Rodgers said. "You can see on the films, he repeatedly is taking late hits.''

Forgive Duffner and Rodgers for seeming a bit overprotective of Cummings -- it's just that the Terrapins aren't the same team without him in the lineup.

Cummings was brilliant against Wake Forest, becoming the first Maryland quarterback in nearly two years to throw for three scores. His replacement, freshman Ken Mastrole, was 2-of-11 for 10 yards.

Cummings has completed 52 percent of his passes this season and ranks eighth on the school's career list, while Mastrole is just 31-of-72 and is still looking for his first touchdown pass.

It's not just the numbers, either. Cummings' willingness to play through pain has earned him the respect of virtually every one of his teammates.

"Seeing him out there gives us a lot of fire,'' Rodgers said. "It shows us that he's someone who cares about us, to sacrifice his body to play the game.''

Duffner said, "You hate to say one or two players -- like Cummings and Rodgers -- are the keys to the team, but it's obvious they are. We've got to keep Brian healthy.''

It hasn't been easy. Cummings hurt his shoulder last season and is playing with a surgically repaired knee. One reason for his expanding list of injuries is that Cummings isn't the type of guy that tiptoes out of bounds if the first-down marker is within reach.

"He gets into a frenzy at times,'' Duffner said. "He's a fierce competitor, strong, confident and a hard-playing guy. And, as he continues to play -- and if we can keep him healthy -- he's going to get better.''

Mastrole wasn't supposed to do much more this season than gain experience in a mop-up role, and he thus far has very much looked the part of a freshman -- particularly against Wake Forest.

"I was disappointed in his performance. It was a combination of him hurrying the ball and being a bit slow on his mechanics,'' Duffner said.

"My timing was off,'' Mastrole said. "I'll take the blame for those incomplete passes -- the linemen gave me all the time in the world. I played badly, but it's not going to ruin my confidence.''

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