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Maryland football’s offensive line had an up-and-down season in 2016

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But this unit is too talented not to be good next year

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NCAA Football: Maryland at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football lost to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26. With the regular season now firmly in the rear view, it’s time to enter postseason analysis mode. We’re doing a position-by-position evaluation of the team. Let’s check in with the offensive line.

The players

Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year 247 ranking
Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year 247 ranking
Quarvez Boulware OG 6'2 290 RFr. 0.9039
JaJuan Dulaney OT 6'3 297 Jr. 0.8432
Derwin Gray OT 6'5 328 So. 0.925
Richard Merritt OG 6'5 365 Fr. 0.8969
Damian Prince OT 6'3 315 So. 0.9858
Mike Minter OG 6'3 305 Jr. NR
Brendan Moore C 6'3 300 So. 0.821
Ellis McKennie OT 6'3 305 RFr. 0.8358
Joe Marchese OL 6'3 281 Sr. NR
Sean Christie OT 6'4 300 So. 0.8110
EJ Donahue OT 6'3 308 RFr. 0.8867
Brian Plummer OT 6'6 305 Fr. 0.8087
Terrance Davis OG 6'3 315 Fr. 0.9628
Michael Dunn OT 6'5 300 Sr. NR
Will McClain OG 6'5 305 RFr. 0.8292
Maurice Shelton OG 6'3 304 Sr. NR

Offensive line stats

Stat Avg. Rk
Stat Avg. Rk
Rushing S&P+ 120 13
Adj. Line Yards 114.4 15
SD Line Yards per Carry 2.72 107
PD Line Yards per Carry 3.93 12
Passing S&P+ 87.5 101
Adj. Sack Rate 56.7 123
SD Sack Rate 7.60% 114
PD Sack Rate 18.80% 128

What we thought was going to happen

Alex Kirshner figured we’d see at some solid improvement from Maryland’s line.

Mulrooney sat for most of his career behind starting center Sal Conaboy. He finally became a full-time starter there last year, and he did well with it. Doyle had a bad 2014 and was victimized a bunch by edge rushers, but he showed his mettle at a few positions last year. Maryland will miss both of their contributions. Zeller had a strong career, but guards are the most replaceable members of any offensive line.

Yet, things should be fine. Durkin has offered repeated, beyond-normal-talking-points praise for Moore all offseason, hailing him as a new leader on the line. And between Prince, Gray, Boulware, Mike Minter, JaJuan Dulaney and Maurice Shelton, someone can replace Doyle. There are lots of options here.

What actually happened

Well, Maryland did have a lot of options. And Durkin, offensive coordinator Walt Bell and line coach Dave Borbely decided they weren’t going to limit themselves to five guys up front. They rotated guys up front during games throughout the season, though this was the starting five:

Maryland’s starting O-line

LT LG C RG RT
LT LG C RG RT
Michael Dunn Mike Minter Brendan Moore Maurice Shelton Damian Prince
(later Terrance Davis)

The stats paint a very positive picture of Maryland’s run blocking. The linemen helped clear holes for Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison to gash opposing defenses for long gains. Here’s Damian Prince and Terrance Davis opening up Boston College’s line on Johnson’s 62-yard touchdown run in the Quick Lane Bowl:

Ty Johnson Quick Lane bowl Via ESPN

Maryland’s linemen were great at getting up in defenses on obvious passing downs, evidence by their No. 17 ranking in passing down line yards (it measures how many yards the linemen accounted for when the team ran it on obvious passing downs). But on standard downs (when it wasn’t obvious whether Maryland would run or pass), the line’s play suffered to the tune of a No. 107 ranking. That’s one outlying statistic though, and the line as a whole looked good in run blocking.

Pass blocking was a problem for the Terps all season. They let up 49 sacks, second-worst in all of FBS. Sacks aren’t the be-all, end-all stat by which to measure a line’s production, but there’s no shying away from it: Maryland was bad at protecting quarterback Perry Hills.

It’s also true that Hills wasn’t great at protecting himself. And it’s true that Maryland’s tight ends and running backs helped contribute to that sack count as well. Those aren’t details to just gloss over. But the linemen need to get better at this. With another season under their belts, they undoubtedly will.

Next year’s line will return probably four starters, so there’s every reason to think the players should get better at communication and fundamentals.

Michael Dunn, the line’s one departing starter, was a solid option all season, playing well enough that he could earn some NFL interest. He was reliable in every game he played, earning all-conference honorable mention from the media and from Pro Football Focus. An unspecified injury kept him out of the Quick Lane Bowl, where Derwin Gray filled in admirably.

What might happen in the future

Let’s check on who Maryland’s bringing back:

  • Derwin Gray, who played well in the Quick Lane Bowl and will finally get his shot to be a starter as a redshirt juinor.
  • Mike Minter, a former walk-on left guard who now has a couple years of starting experience.
  • Brendan Moore, who just finished his first year as a starter during his redshirt freshman season.
  • Terrance Davis, who stole the starting job at right guard halfway through the year as a true freshman.
  • Damian Prince, a former five-star recruit who performed well in his first season as a starter.

(It’s also possible five-star tackle Calvin Ashley joins this group. Maryland’s been pushing him to flip from Auburn, and with three high school teammates already committed to the Terps, it’s an option. But for now at least, he’s still committed to the Tigers.)

Expectations will and should be high for next season. The offensive line will be the most talented position group Maryland has, starting at least three blue-chip recruits. With 2016 as a learning year, there’s no reason these guys shouldn’t be able to push around most defenses they go up against.