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Maryland football’s offensive line lost some pieces, but is still strong

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This is one of Maryland’s deepest position groups.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Hey guys, spring practice is underway, so we’re going unit-by-unit and projecting what we think the depth chart will look like at each position in 2017. We’ll include notes from spring practice where we can. First we looked at the quarterbacks, then we did the running backs and wide receivers, now we’re onto the offensive line.

This offseason, Maryland football lost starting left tackle Michael Dunn to graduation, starting left guard Mike Minter to retirement and former four-star recruit Quarvez Boulware — who looked like Minter’s potential replacement — to transfer.

If there was any one position group that could withstand a handful of departures, though, it would be the offensive line. Maryland has a handful of former blue-chip recruits across the line and several players who have seen extended play during their tenure at Maryland.

The players

Departures: Michael Dunn (graduation), Mike Minter (retired), Quarvez Boulware (transfer), JaJuan Dulaney (transfer), EJ Donahue (transfer), Joe Marchese (graduation), Maurice Shelton (graduation)

Returning players: Derwin Gray, Damian Prince, Brendan Moore, Ellis McKennie, Sean Christie, Terrance Davis, Will McClain

Transfers: None

Incoming freshmen: Richard Merritt (redshirt), Brian Plummer (redshirt), Marcus Minor, Jordan McNair, Johnny Jordan, Tyran Hunt (early enrollee)

Here’s what the depth chart may look like:

Offensive line depth chart -

Depth chart Left tackle Left guard Center Right guard Right tackle
Depth chart Left tackle Left guard Center Right guard Right tackle
Starters Derwin Gray Sean Christie Brendan Moore Terrance Davis Damian Prince
2nd team Brian Plummer Richard Merritt Sean Christie Ellis McKennie Jordan McNair
3rd team Tyran Hunt Will McClain Johnny Jordan Richard Merritt Marcus Minor

Here’s why

Maryland returns three of five starters on the offensive line, only having to fill the spots Dunn and Minter left open. Gray will likely play at left tackle, as he rotated in at that position last year when Dunn couldn’t go. Christie has been taking first-team reps during both open spring practices and looks to have the inside track to holding onto that spot going into the fall. The center and right side of the line should stay the same as they were last year; barring any unforeseen circumstances, that means Moore at center, Davis at right guard and Prince at right tackle.

Projecting anything other than the first team gets dicey, because the most likely scenario involves moving first-team players around and inserting a replacement where needed. Assuming a full line change took place, however, the second and third teams look to be loaded with newcomers. The preference for head coach DJ Durkin is likely to have at least one of the four incoming freshmen redshirt, but we’ve seen that he’ll play the best players, regardless of age.

Key battle: Sean Christie vs. Richard Merritt for left guard

Heading into the spring, it appeared as if Boulware was going to be the guy to step in at left guard, but he decided to leave the program last week. Now, that spot is up for grabs and Christie and Merritt seem to be the two most likely candidates to fill it.

Christie was taking first team reps at both open practices, so he looks to have the upper hand for now. However, Merritt’s sheer size — he’s 6’5 and listed at 365 pounds — makes him an intriguing option on the line. As long as he’s in shape enough to be an effective pulling guard, he should at least be in the discussion for playing time.

Many of the likely reserves are unproven, but were highly touted enough coming out of high school that one may end up being a pleasant surprise if forced into relief duty.

Big question: Will the pass blocking improve?

It’s year two of the same pass blocking scheme for the offensive line, so logically the answer should be yes. But anybody who’s been a Maryland fan for an extended period of time knows that it’s never that easy.

Maryland’s got two former four-star linemen in Davis and Gray and a former five-star lineman in Prince. Christie and Moore, both former three-star recruits, should be able to hold down their spots adequately enough to form a pocket for whoever ends up playing quarterback.

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

Last season, Maryland’s offensive linemen were efficient run blockers, averaging 114.4 adjusted line yards — which measures the line’s responsibility for rushing production — which was good for No. 15 in the nation. On the other hand, the unit was one of the worst in the nation when it came to pass blocking. The Terps’ offensive line was No. 123 out of 128 FBS teams in opponent-adjusted sack rate, which indicates that opponents reached the quarterback too quickly, too frequently.

On the bright side, it would be hard to get worse, and with another year in the system under their belts, this talented group should take steps in the right direction.