Coming off a season in which neither the offensive nor defensive lines preformed all that well, two new Maryland football position coaches have arrived in College Park with one common goal: change the culture.
Offensive line coach Tyler Bowen replaced Dave Borbely, who moved to an off-the-field role, while Jimmy Brumbaugh replaced Mike London, who is now the head coach at Howard.
Bowen, a former Terp who was a student assistant on Ralph Friedgen’s 2010 staff, returns to Maryland from Fordham, where he led the Patriots to the No. 4 offense in the NCAA FCS in total offense and scoring average. In his second stint in College Park, Bowen brings a young, energetic approach to a position group loaded with potential.
“I think I provide a unique prospective for guys because I’m not a guy who coached that played the game 35 years ago, I’m a guy that’s played it in the last 10 years,” Bowen told reporters Thursday.
Bowen, who’s not yet even 35 years old, finds it effective to keep in touch with his offensive linemen through text messages when they’re not at the team facility. If he finds an example of a perfect use of technique on film, he texts the video to the players to help drive home his message.
“Maybe I’m just computer savvy, I don’t know,” Bowen said. “I just used it last week with all of our tackles last week … I find one that we did in practice that was perfect and I take a video of it and text it out to them in a group chat and say ‘Hey, this is exactly what we’re looking for.’”
Derwin Gray, who projects to be the team’s starting left tackle as he enters his redshirt junior season, has noticed a difference in the offensive line’s attitude as a unit since Bowen’s arrival in February.
“He brings a lot of energy in the building,” Gray said. “He brings a lot of energy and it just translates onto the field for us.”
While playing with energy is certainly an important component to both pass protection and run blocking, Gray says Bowen’s biggest teaching point is technique.
“He’s very big on technique — basically starting from the ground up because he doesn’t want you to just rush into certain things and miss another step,” Gray said. “So he’s big on making sure our feet were good. Once our feet are good, we go from our feet to our hands, our hands to our eyes.”
The renewed focus on technique is proving to be effective in practice when the offensive and defensive lines face off in various drills. Leading up to the spring game and into the fall, Bowen said, those drills will help both lines continue to improve.
The offensive line was No. 12 in the country last season in rushing S&P+, which measures the total success of the run game, and the defensive line was great at sacking the quarterback, coming in at No. 14 in adjusted sack rate, which is an opponent-adjusted measure of sacks. Otherwise, each line has a long way to go. The defensive line was No. 127 of 128 teams in rushing S&P+ and the offensive line was No. 124 in adjusted sack rate.
“Honestly, I think this is one of the best places I’ve been or seen where the offense and defense work together to get what we need out of practice,” Bowen said. “We do a ton of work together during group periods and [Brumbaugh has] been an unbelievable resource for me.”
Brumbaugh, who has spent over 13 years playing and coaching in the SEC, echoed Bowen’s “iron sharpens iron” mentality, noting that pitting the lines against each other in practice makes each unit better.
“We really work good together because we have a lot of one-on-one situations, five-on-four situations so we’ve got a lot of situations to put our guys in,” Brumbaugh said. “We talk about callous on our bodies. When you callous your body, you become physical, then you’ve got the ability to become tough. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
Rising senior Jesse Aniebonam, the team’s projected starting BUCK linebacker — a position that specializes in rushing the passer from a two-point stance — said he’s noticed how Brumbaugh is trying to change up the culture in the defensive line’s meeting room, specifically noting an uptick in intensity.
There’s a lot more that goes into bringing extra intensity than just more energy, Aniebonam said. Brumbaugh focuses on a few smaller details that, when put together, can make this one of the best defensive lines in the Big Ten.
“There’s explosion, there’s get-off off the ball — that’s a really big thing that he harps on,” Aniebonam said. “Just being explosive with our movements and getting things done in an explosive way so that we can have a really successful defensive line.”
While the potential and experience may be there, Bowen said, leaving it untapped is pointless.
“We’ve got to turn all of that potential into pure production,” Bowen said, “and pick up where they stopped last year and keep improving throughout the summer and fall camp.”