A football team needs an offensive line like a turtle needs a shell, and Maryland's been in a bad spot for years now in the former category (the latter -- still going strong). Once again, the Terps will have to replace multiple starters on the offensive line (and, once again, not only due to graduation), but will Maryland's increased incoming talent make the difference as they head to a new conference?
Maryland's offensive line improved (a lot) last season, in no small part due to how horrid the unit was in 2012. The Terps' big men ranked 122nd in the nation that year in Adjusted Line Yards (explanation here), 124th in Adjusted Sack Rate (explanation here), and did not rank in the top 100 nationally in any single category. The quarterback situation didn't help -- having Shawn Petty, a scout team linebacker, taking snaps surely lead to more sacks and negative plays than otherwise expected -- but the unit was quite possibly the worst among any BCS team in the nation.
Things looked a bit different in 2013, as the Terps ranked 44th nationwide in Adjusted Line Yards and 70th in Adjusted Sack Rate. Sal Conaboy anchored the line from the center position, and the losses of Bennett Fulper, Justin Gilbert and Josh Cary somehow did not result in a loss of production (again, likely at least partly due to the stability at quarterback).
Profiles in Terpage
Profiles in Terpage
Maryland looked set to improve on that line again in 2014, with two starters leaving (De'Onte Arnett and Mike Madaras) but seven players with starting experience returning and five incoming offensive linemen, including three with the potential to play from Day One. As tends to happen when things with Maryland appear to be going well, however, bad news struck.
First, the Terrapins received the news that highly touted JuCo offensive tackle Larry Mazyck, an absolute gigantic human being who has gone through the prep school and JuCo circuit (as well as spending a year at New Mexico) will not be coming to College Park after failing to qualify academically. A week and a half later, the hits kept coming -- rising sophomore Moise Larose, who took over the left tackle spot when Madaras left last season and appeared to have beaten out Ryan Doyle for the job in spring, had been suspended for one year by the university.
Where do the Terps turn at tackle?
Maryland's tackle position, previously flush with talent with six different players competing for two starting jobs, suddenly looks a lot thinner. Doyle and former walk-on Michael Dunn are the only viable in-house options at the moment, which means blue-chip true freshmen Damian Prince and Derwin Gray are almost certainly going to play right away.
That was an expected outcome from their commitment, but now Maryland has no wiggle room -- even if Prince or Gray aren't quite ready yet, the Terps don't have the kind of depth necessary to let them develop behind the scenes.
What about the guard positions?
The problems at tackle bleed into the interior line positions -- the players who lost out on the starting tackle jobs were expected to compete on the inside (Randy Edsall has said time and time again that he wants to put the five best players out there), so less competition at tackle means less competition at guard.
Evan Mulrooney and Andrew Zeller currently stand on top of the depth chart inside, but any of the four players competing for time at tackle could kick inside if need be. Mulrooney, a converted center (who played tackle in high school) could be a question mark, but he beat out Silvano Altamirano for the spot in spring practice and has looked quite good throughout his Maryland career.
As for Zeller, well, he's the No. 66 you see flying in to make this key block:
Is anything set in stone on the line?
Sal Conaboy, recent Rimington Watch List nominee, will be Maryland's starting center. All of the other players we have mentioned (Doyle, Dunn, Prince, Gray, Mulrooney, Zeller, Altamirano) will play. Where they'll play and how much they'll play? That's completely up in the air.
So what will the starting five look like?
I just told you that's completely up in the air! But, gun to my head, I imagine the two-deep looks something like this:
|Derwin Gray||Michael Dunn||Sal Conaboy||Andrew Zeller||Damian Prince|
|Ryan Doyle||Evan Mulrooney||Stephen Grommer||Silvano Altamirano||Jake Wheeler|
All things considered, that doesn't look too bad (assuming Gray and Prince are ready for Big Ten action). Doyle and Mulrooney will provide needed depth on the bench, but that's a starting group that has a combination of talent and experience. We can only wait and see if it's enough when Ohio State, Michigan State and other intimidating Big Ten front sevens come to play.