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Maryland football's offensive line should be better in 2015 and even better after

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Maryland's offensive line has struggled for three seasons. Good times should be just around the corner.

Andrew Zeller (right) leads Maryland's offensive line into 2015.
Andrew Zeller (right) leads Maryland's offensive line into 2015.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

On-field results haven't always made it clear, but the Maryland football program has quietly spent the last three years building a war chest along its offensive line. In 2015, the Terrapins' year-over-year talent accumulation should give them the beef – and the skill – to win some of the Big Ten trench battles they lost last season. And there could be more to come.

For Maryland, it's been a quiet transformation. The Terps have mostly trotted out poor offensive lines under head coach Randy Edsall, who's cycled through both players and position coaches around the unit. Maryland offensive lines have had their moments, but not all that many of them.

Current offensive line coach Greg Studrawa inherited a bit of a challenge when he took the job before last season. Maryland had opted not to retain former position coach Tom Brattan, and new hire Dave DeGuglielmo left the job after about five minutes and without ever coaching a game at Maryland. In came Studrawa, whose starting unit had five upperclassmen but none who rated as four-star recruits or higher. The unit's results mostly hewed to the latter point.

Last season, the Terps ranked 40th nationally in adjusted line yards, an opponent-adjusted stat that measures how well lines contribute to their teams' running offense. That's pretty good, actually!

Unfortunately, it was the only line rate they measured well in. The Terps performed particularly poorly in short-yardage running situations (power success rate), and Maryland players were stopped in the backfield (either tackles for losses or sacks) at a high rate. All in all, it wasn't pretty:

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 108.2 2.86 2.96 37.3% 55.3% 20.7% 85.9 7.6% 9.1%
Rank 40 80 95 85 118 84 88 112 91

(Hat tips to SB Nation's Bill Connelly and the fine staff at Football Outsiders.)

Traditional and analytical measures paint a similar picture going back several years. The Terps put together a formidable offensive line in 2011, Edsall's first season, and fell off a cliff after that. The 2012 offensive line was quite arguably the worst in college football, and the line has moderately recovered but never been good since then. Plenty of factors (transfers, instability, high-level competition, et al) have contributed; but if you connect the dots, they don't spell anything good for Maryland's line in the last three seasons.

Teams want to be outside the central region of that graph, which means they're allowing fewer sacks than the national average and running for more yards per carry. (Different units and all, but no team is realistically going to have a lower rushing average, ever, than a national sacks-allowed average of about 2. That's why the middle's such a simple danger zone.)

In 2011, the Terps did it right. In 2012, they were smack in the middle of that graph. Other players are involved, sure, but more times than not, that's going to mean the offensive line is terrible. The line was pretty average in 2013, but then – by these metrics, anyway – pretty bad again last year. You want your team's lines to be spread out. These lines are not.

Maryland Football, National Ranks
2011 2012 2013 2014
Sacks Allowed/Game 37 116 68 103
Adjusted Sack Rate Unavailable 122 70 88
Yards Per Carry 25 121 83 98
Adjusted Line Yards Unavailable 124 44 40

But you're not reading a story about how bad Maryland's offensive line has been. You're reading a story about what Maryland's offensive line will be – and while that's not as numerically clear, it's highly likely that 2015 will bring the best five-man unit the Terps have had since 2011.

Here's the group Edsall, Studrawa and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley will take into fall training camp this weekend, broken down into the depth chart Maryland's released for the preseason:

Player Position Height, Weight Class Rivals 247 Composite
Michael Dunn LT 6'5, 306 Jr. NR NR
Derwin Gray LT 6'5, 315 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.925
Banks Agaruwa LT 6'5, 250 RSFr. NR NR
Ryan Doyle LG 6'4, 307 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8257
Mike Minter LG 6'3, 310 So. NR NR
Sean Christie LG 6'4, 310 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.811
Will McClain LG 6'5, 305 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8292
Evan Mulrooney C 6'4, 299 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8252
Brendan Moore C 6'3, 292 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.821
Joe Marchese C 6'3, 281 So. NR NR
Tyler Smith C 6'2, 310 Fr. NR NR
Andrew Zeller RG 6'5, 315 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8257
Stephen Grommer RG 6'5, 306 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8172
Maurice Shelton RG 6'3, 304 Jr. NR NR
Ellis McKennie RG 6'3, 305 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8358
Damian Prince RT 6'3, 325 RSFr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9858
JaJuan Dulaney RT 6'3, 295 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8432
EJ Donahue RT 6'5, 320 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8867
Mason Zimmerman RT 6'5, 310 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8311

And for the sake of comparison, here are the projected starters lined up against last season's five-man unit, which suffered no major injuries and stuck together with just one late replacement for the entire season:

2015 Maryland Starters (Projected)
Michael Dunn LT 6'5, 312 Jr. NR NR
Ryan Doyle LG 6'4, 307 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8257
Evan Mulrooney C 6'3, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8252
Andrew Zeller RG 6'5, 316 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8257
Damian Prince RT 6'3, 325 RSFr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9858
2014 Maryland Starters
Michael Dunn LT 6'5, 300 Jr. NR NR
Silvano Altamirano LG 6'2, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.802
Sal Conaboy C 6'3, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.862
Andrew Zeller RG 6'4, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8257
Ryan Doyle RT 6'4, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8257

The average 247 Composite recruiting rating of this year's starters is 0.8656 (not counting the unranked Dunn), up from last season's 0.8289 (also not counting Dunn). That's a pretty sizable jump. That's the difference between a mid-high-three star recruit and a low-three star recruit, which isn't nothing. It's mostly fueled by the arrival of Prince, the five-star wunderkind from Bishop McNamara who took a redshirt year in 2014. Prince has the widest range out possible 2015 outcomes of anybody on this line: He could be an immediate stud and challenge for All-Big Ten honors, or he might not be ready to play at all.

If Prince is a star, that's great for Maryland. The Terps will have a right tackle to stick one-on-one against, say, Ohio State's Joey Bosa or Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun. But if Prince falters, Maryland's probably still OK – and that's an unusual position for these Terps to be in. They're in this spot because they've got another blue-chip tackle behind him in Gray, who also redshirted last year and could play either left or right tackle (depending on his recovery timeline from a shoulder injury). Last season, while Gray and Prince redshirted, Maryland's tackle depth basically consisted of deep reserve senior Jake Wheeler, who performed admirably after Doyle proved unable to hold down the right edge. The only way Maryland regresses at that position is if Prince is overwhelmed but Maryland's coaches force him onto the field, anyway. Neither is particularly likely.

Doyle, by the way, is another matter. He and Altamirano were the weakest links on Maryland's line last season. Altamirano was undersized (just 290 pounds) and has since graduated, while Doyle has shifted to play guard, where he brings above-average size. He's 17 pounds bigger than Altimirano was last season and should give Maryland an upgrade in the "A-gap" between himself and the center. He's also athletic enough to do well pulling around the edge and blocking in space for Maryland backs. Zeller has 20 career starts (including ones in all 13 games last year) and has always been an effective run-blocker. He'll be a leader in this unit.

The loss of Conaboy, who started 35 games and was the Maryland line's strategic voice on the field, will hurt. Mulrooney has taken snaps at center for Maryland before, although the team listed him as a backup guard after he returned from an injury in the middle of last season. Grommer, the erstwhile backup center, is listed now behind Zeller at right guard, but it stands to reason that he might be Maryland's top backup at any of the interior positions. Especially in the college game, the center is critical for the communicative portion of his job – adjusting assignments, calling audibles and the like.

That's all just the top of Maryland's depth, which is what will matter in 2015. The Terrapins' line should be markedly better than it was a year ago, because Doyle has moved to a better spot, where he's both been replaced at right tackle and done the replacing of a smallish left guard. If either Prince or Gray takes any steps at all toward his tantalizing upside, that's gravy. Even if Prince is just all right and Gray barely plays, Maryland will have probably done better than last year.

But what 2015 really represents for the Terps' offensive line is a turning point. Or at least it should, because Maryland's roster composition and recent recruiting has given it an enviable foundation. Four-star guard Quarvez Boulware, a menacing local talent at the forefront of Maryland's "DMV2UMD" thing, isn't even on the four-deep depth chart. He'll spend the year getting better. Prince and Gray will do the same, albeit with more game snaps. McKennie and Donahue bring pedigrees into what will probably be redshirt freshman seasons.

There's real talent here, and it should start to blossom in time for Zeller, Dunn and Doyle to move on. Maryland's offensive line should be better in 2015, but the group's best days are just around the corner.