By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
By early June, Phil Costa had heard enough critics discount Maryland's offensive line, so the unit's lone senior gathered the younger linemen in the Gossett Team House to deliver a pointed rebuttal.
"It is going to be a little different than last year," Costa told teammates. "They thought they were entitled to something. I don't care what year you are, I want to bring a new attitude: You are coming to play every day."
Five fifth-year seniors played significant roles on an offensive line that last season failed to live up to expectations, producing mediocre or inconsistent results. Costa and teammates are intent on proving that last year's experience and this season's youth mean the same thing: nothing.
"Age is nothing but a number," said junior Bruce Campbell, Maryland's starting left tackle.
Throughout the summer, Maryland's new-look line has been almost universally panned by analysts and pegged as one of the ACC's worst. Critics look at a unit that lost four players who combined to start 110 games in their careers, and a line that returns two starters -- Costa, who moves from guard to center, and Campbell -- who have started just 27 combined games.
And on an offense that includes a senior quarterback (Chris Turner), a returning first-team all-ACC running back (Da'Rel Scott) and a talented group of wide receivers, finding stability and success along the line is viewed as the coaches' most important objective.
"That," offensive coordinator James Franklin said, "is the challenge we have on offense."
Franklin acknowledges that experience does count but believes there is enough talent and competition at three positions -- right and left guard and right tackle -- to help compensate for the unit's youth. And he doesn't believe the presence of an experienced quarterback, one who will play his third consecutive season as the primary starter, should be discounted.
"If I had to choose between a veteran quarterback with a young line and a young quarterback with an experienced line, I would choose having a veteran quarterback and a young line," Franklin said. "An experienced quarterback can get the ball out faster, so the line does not have to block as long."
When dissecting each position on the line, Coach Ralph Friedgen has a good sense what he will get out of Costa, who has started 19 games. Friedgen considers Costa the quarterback of the line and said he already has provided strong leadership and earned the respect of players, and is unafraid of voicing his opinion to players or coaches.
At left tackle, Maryland has a physical specimen in Campbell, a 6-foot-7, 310-pound player who can bench press 490 pounds. Friedgen said Campbell is a very good athlete who has impressive speed -- 4.7 in the 40-yard dash -- for his size.
"Bruce is going to dominate," Costa said.
One of the most intense battles in camp is occurring at right tackle, where Paul Pinegar, R.J. Dill and Tyler Bowen are engaged in a three-man competition. Only Pinegar, a junior, has played in games (12), and only as a reserve.
What weighs on Friedgen's mind is the competition at both guard positions. Coaches are evaluating sophomores Andrew Gonnella, Lamar Young and Maurice Hampton, and redshirt freshman Justin Lewis. But no one has emerged, and Friedgen is eager to see more of 340-pound Pete White, a heralded freshman who is a strong pass blocker.
Costa, though, said he is more concerned with the right tackle position because at least the guards will be next to experienced players in Costa and Campbell.
"We feel it's our time," said Bowen, hoping to fill the right tackle spot. "We have been in the shadows of the other seniors."
Tom Brattan, Maryland's ninth-year offensive line coach, said this is the youngest the unit has been in recent memory. The youth, he said, requires him to emphasize fundamentals more because you can't take anything for granted. But he also said that coaching a new group of linemen renews enthusiasm and purpose for the coaches.
The same applies to the more experienced players. Costa, who did not want to disparage last season's veterans, said that player-run summer workouts were the most efficient and well executed he can recall.
How that translates to the season is another matter. Campbell and Costa like the potential and the hunger in their younger teammates. They take the offseason barbs personally and have no plans to forget the critics anytime soon.
"It's going to be with us the whole season," Costa said. "Even if we start out good, we have to keep saying it."
Staff writer Steve Yanda contributed to this report.