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The best gift Randy Edsall left for DJ Durkin is a talented Maryland football offensive line

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This is an offensive line that could have liftoff any time.

Former top recruits Derwin Gray and Damian Prince enter their third season in Maryland's program.
Former top recruits Derwin Gray and Damian Prince enter their third season in Maryland's program.
Alexander Jonesi

I think this is going to be a generally better year for the Maryland football team’s offense. I think the quarterbacks will be better because they can’t possibly be worse, the running backs will be strong because there are so many good ones and the receivers will be better because the quarterbacks have to be, too.

Maryland’s offensive line should be better, too, but for a different reason: Randy Edsall built a war chest of talented players in the trenches, and DJ Durkin enters the program right as several of them should be really coming of age.

It’s hard to guess exactly what Maryland’s starting offensive line will look like this year, but we can make some educated guesses. Brendan Moore is going to play center. Michael Dunn will be one tackle, and Derwin Gray or Damian Prince will probably be the other. Whoever isn’t will be one guard, and then there’s probably another guard spot really up for grabs.

Prince was a five-star recruit in the class of 2014, one of the highest-rated of Edsall’s tenure at Maryland. Gray was four stars in the same class. Moore was three stars out of Texas that year, but he’s solidly outpacing his recruiting ranking.

Dunn was a walk-on four years ago, and he’s emerged as the steadiest horse in this race. Now he could have the company of three really, really talented young players who have spent exactly two years in the program, beefing up and honing their crafts on the way to earning more consistent playing time.

This should be the start of two or three years of quality line play.

Not that Maryland’s line was bad last season, because it wasn’t. The Terps were a pretty efficient running team, even though some of their biggest gains came on quarterback scrambles after Perry Hills lost his pocket.

But college football is cyclical, and Maryland’s hitting a good spot. In addition to Prince, Moore and Gray, Maryland has 2015 four-star interior lineman Quarvez Boulware coming off his redshirt season. Four-star 2016 guards Terrance Davis and Richard Merritt are showing up now, and they’ll keep the pipeline stocked. Four-star 2017 tackle Jordan McNair is already verbally committed.

Maryland doesn’t recruit like Ohio State or Michigan, and it’ll never be a Big Ten East favorite. But if you just looked at Maryland’s offensive line, which could plausibly start three or four blue-chip recruits at points this year and next, you wouldn’t know it.

Maryland loses three senior starters: Evan Mulrooney, Ryan Doyle and Andrew Zeller.

But the Terps are in good shape to replace them.

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 needs to get better? Start with pass blocking, then look to power running.

Maryland quarterbacks weren’t punching backs last year, but they weren’t always safe.

Let's go to the tables, courtesy of SB Nation's Bill Connelly:

Offensive Line

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 110.8 2.93 3.48 40.2% 51.7% 21.1% 105.4 3.8% 9.5%
Rank 22 59 40 48 124 89 52 40 96
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Michael Dunn LT 6'5, 312 Sr. NR NR 12 38
Ryan Doyle LG 12 35
Andrew Zeller RG 12 32
Evan Mulrooney C 12 17
Damian Prince RT 6'3, 328 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9858 6 6
Mike Minter LG 6'3, 305 Jr. NR NR 3 3
Maurice Shelton RG 6'3, 304 Sr. NR NR 2 2
Stephen Grommer C 1 1
JaJuan Dulaney LG 6'3, 302 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8432 0 0
Brendan Moore C 6'3, 295 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8210 0 0
Derwin Gray RT 6'5, 328 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9250 0 0
Quarvez Boulware LG 6'2, 304 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9039

EJ Donahue OL 6'3, 320 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8867

Ellis McKennie OL 6'3, 315 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8358

Will McClain LT 6'5, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8292

Terrance Davis OL 6'3, 320 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9628

Richard Merritt OL 6'4, 338 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8969

Maryland QBs took sacks on 10 percent of their passing-down drop-backs, which is pretty bad. Sack rate is a shared statistic between receivers, linemen and quarterbacks, but the protection here needs to get better.

The line was generally good in run blocking, finishing in the top 25 in adjusted line yards. That's a measurement of how many yards per carry a line adds to running backs' totals, basically.

The Terps were awful in short yardage last year. It was the worst thing about the running game, as Maryland only converted a hair more than half its attempts on third- or fourth-and-2, or less. Having bruising runners like Trey Edmunds should help that figure this year, but improvement is sorely needed. A lot of that will fall on Moore and company, and it comes down to little more than being stronger and generating more push than the other guys.

maryland spring practice Alexander Jonesi

Maryland line coach Dave Borbely at spring practice. (Photo: Alexander Jonesi)

There's a lot to work on and a lot of talent.

These players are good. Or, at least they're supremely talented and ought to be good. The job of coaxing gobs of potential from Prince, Gray and others out into the open falls to new offensive line coach Dave Borbely. He came over with associate head coach Mike London, having spent time on his staff at Virginia.

Borbely has a lot to work with. Maryland has no fewer than nine or 10 offensive linemen who figure to be playable if necessary this season, and at least three of those (Prince, Gray, Boulware, perhaps Davis) came to College Park as top recruits. The line was fine last season, but it had warts.

Borbely's task is to find the right five or six big bodies and turn them, together, into a slightly more perfect union.