The Prospectus: Offensive line is, once again, a tricky situation for Maryland. They've been understocked on the lines for years now, and this year isn't very different; almost everyone on the line has moved positions to where they are now, and few have any real experience.
Klemm, Conaboy, and Arnett are all newcomers to the starting lineup, and Gilbert has played only four games in the past two years due to injuries. Fulper's started 22 games, but only 3 of them came at left guard, his new position. There's some depth at the guard spots - Cary and White have both started multiple games - but everywhere else, they'll be relying on redshirt freshmen. It's not an exciting proposition, especially at an area that will suffer as many as injuries as offensive line.
We've already got a taste of those injuries, with Cary out for the next week or two. That should push Arnett into the starting spot for good, at least for the first few weeks of the season. It also means, unless they're eager to see a walk-on as the primary backup at right guard, that Pete White will be pulling some serious double-duty.
There are some positives, of course; Gilbert is a serviceable, experienced right tackle, and Fulper should be fine at guard. And while guys like Klemm, Conaboy, Arnett, Zeller, and Doyle are new faces, that also means they could surprise us. It's unlikely, but certainly possible - especially for Conaboy and Arnett, who were big names out of high school and have impressed the staff.
But if it sounds like I'm being generally pessimistic, well, I am. At least a bit. The line lacks experience throughout the depth chart, and none of the names here - save Madaras, Arnett, and perhaps Brigham - were big recruits. They'll be a decent, but not necessarily particularly good, fit for Locksley's scheme - few of the projected starters strike me as light, mobile spread linemen, least of all Gilbert, whose mobility has to be limited after multiple leg injuries.
I do expect plenty of movement, though. Most of these guys have been moved around already, and almost everyone will be in play to start somewhere. That makes for a very fluid lineup, so it may be too early to make decisions with any measure of conviction.
A potential x-factor is Mike Madaras, the highly-regarded true freshman. Rarely do freshmen feature on the line, and I'm certainly not expecting Madaras to make the early leap. But I also didn't expect it from Bennett Fulper, and he started the opener against Cal four years back. Madaras could play almost anywhere across the line and is a very good run-blocker, which is big for Maryland's running spread. Even if he only ends up as a reserve, it could be a significant boost to a relatively weak unit.
But when an offensive line has just 30 starts between the projected starters, it's a scary proposition. It's even scarier given that there's no rock anywhere on the line for others to lean upon and key off. Fulper comes the closest, but he's not an all-ACC type by any stretch and is in a new position himself. This could be a very bumpy road, especially in the early days.
That's scary. Because Maryland's just had their offensive paradigm changed, at least somewhat, with C.J. Brown's season-ending injury. They need to rely even more upon the line and skill position players, and I'm just not sure if there's enough talent and experience here to keep the backfield consistently safe. Hope I'm wrong.
The Future: The present may be scary, but in a few years Maryland's line should be quite tantalizing. While it may prove too early for Madaras and Nick Brigham to get serious playing time right now, they should be fixtures in the coming years, Madaras especially. Conaboy, meanwhile, is only a sophomore and could be a three-year starter at center. Then, of course, there's current commitment Derwin Gray, one of the best tackles in the country and a perfect foil for Madaras.
That's the foundation of a very, very good line. But just as promising is the depth that's been built up; Zeller, Doyle, and Mulrooney are young guys who have time to grow and improve, and other commitments like Jajuan Dulaney and Tanner Hartmann should be able to adequately make up the numbers and maybe even challenge for a starting spot.
And if Maryland can land Na'Ty Rodgers to top it all off? Pfff. That's a huge collection of solid offensive line talent. Maybe Madaras would have to move inside, but still, any lineup that looks like Gray - Brigham - Conaboy - Madaras - Rodgers is all-ACC stuff.
Optimism: Gilbert and Fulper have both been around the block a few times, and while Klemm hasn't started he's not exactly a new kid - he's already a junior, so he's soaked up plenty of coaching. While the other two spots lack real experience, there's plenty of talent between former four-star types like White and Arnett. And hey, sometimes guys are best when their backs are against the wall. They certainly are here.
Pessimism: There aren't any real battle-tested warriors you know you can count on (like Andrew Gonnella last year, for instance), and in all likelihood three starters won't have any real experience at all. And if they get hit with injuries, the replacements are even greener.
Random, Baseless Prediction: Klemm, Fulper, Conaboy, Arnett, and Gilbert start against William & Mary, but we see several combinations throughout the year, with Peter White, Josh Garry, and Ryan Doyle all seeing the starting lineup at various points and Madaras seeing the field on more than one occasion. They avoid any serious injuries - because, seriously, we've had our fair share - and get the youngsters some valuable playing time, but do allow nearly 30 sacks and occasionally struggle to open holes for the backs. Both Conaboy and Madaras look promising, though, and end up good bets for the future.
Final Words: Most of these previews, as I noted with the receivers, consist of at least some measure of talking ourselves into Maryland being successful. It's possible to do on the line, too, but it's a lot tougher. I really can't see this being a dominant line; there's just too little experience and no pillar the others can rely upon. They won't necessarily be porous, mind you, but before yesterday's news, this was by far the most worrisome position Maryland had. Factor in a new quarterback, who needs a firm offensive line ahead of him keeping things steady, and it becomes all that much more important that they settle in early. Unfortunately, I'm not confident they will.