When Maryland's defense lines up Saturday afternoon against Syracuse, sophomore Ted Chapman will be the starting left tackle. He has never played a down as a collegian. Duane Dunham will start at right tackle; he is a redshirt freshman and also will be playing his first down.

Bruce Mesner, a sophomore, will start at left guard. He played last year, but because of an injured shoulder missed most contact drills in preseason practice. Tom Parker, who likely would have been the starting right guard, missed two weeks of practice with a blood disorder and probably won't be at full strength.

Dave Amend, even though he has never played a down, might have been the starting right tackle, but missed a week of practice with a sprained ankle. Tom McHale, a starting tackle last year, quit before the preseason to find a school with a restaurant/hotel management major and because he no longer wanted to play football.

Coach Bobby Ross and his staff knew they would confront inexperience in trying to rebuild a defensive line, but preseason injuries have made the line Maryland's biggest question mark going into the season. Of Maryland's first eight down linemen -- four starters, four backups -- only one is a senior. One is a junior, three are sophomores, three freshmen. A walk-on, Jeff Furman, probably will play at guard.

Gib Romaine, the defensive coordinator, said yesterday, "It's the first time in my 12 years here at Maryland that we've gone into a season with not one tackle who had lined up and played at that position. We have several veterans at guard, but they've all been hurt."

So it didn't come as a complete surprise when Ross said, "Is my main concern the defensive line? Yes. It has to be.

"The situation has rightened itself to some degree as people have gotten healthier, but it's not where (a coach) would want it . . . I think that we'll make mistakes defensively. We're going to have a few breakdowns in terms of responsibility. But considering the adversity we've had, I think the defensive line has made the progress it could make."

Ross thought after spring practice that his line would be better than last year, when the Terrapins won eight of 11 regular season games. But then McHale quit. When the players came back to College Park for fall camp, reserve guard Neal Sampson, a sophomore, reported with a sore back and missed two weeks of practice.

"I'm not in the dark about our offense," Ross said. "I expect us to play well. Defensively, I'm in the dark. I don't know how they're going to play."

Most of Ross' uncertainty comes from not knowing how several players will react to game situations.

That seems to be where inexperienced lineman are most vulnerable: reaction. Not just reactions to opposing runners and blockers, but reactions to their own actions. Ross says maintaining responsibilities -- defensive assignments -- and discipline are crucial.

"They're okay as long as (we) have momentum," Ross said. "But things change once the other team has the momentum. They'll have to anticipate adversity, because there will be some. How will they deal with it? What do you do after one long run? How do you react? They can't go and fly off the kilter, because that won't help matters."

The line would have been inexperienced under any conditions. But had more players been healthy, Ross feels, the unit would have been far ahead of where it is now.

"They would have gotten more work," he said. "We had to cut back on scrimmage work simply because we didn't have that many healthy people. We didn't go to rehearsal situations. We did some, but in a dummy sense, not at full speed."

Rehearsals, Ross said, cannot be underestimated since Maryland's first opponent -- Syracuse -- returns 10 starters from last year and will obviously try to exploit the Terrapins' inexperience up front.

Neither Ross nor Romaine is in a panic, however. "I'm not fearful," Ross said. "We've got a lot of young players who are aggressive with talent."

And Romaine said, "We expect them to play well. They want to, and they've got a lot of talent."

Ross said he likely will play six tackles Saturday, none of the first four heavier than 250 pounds. "They're smaller than the people we've been playing the last couple of years," Ross said.

The most experienced of the tackles is Scott Tye, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior who has played on the offensive line and at defensive guard.

"The thing a young line has to get used to is the pace," Tye said. "Everything comes at you a lot quicker than in practice, and it takes game time to realize that. We're aware that we're smaller (at tackle), but we're also a lot quicker than some of the past linemen have been. Our strong point will be pursuit.

"And we're aware that people will question the defensive line," Tye said, "but like Coach Ross said, we have to take the negative and turn it into something positive. Personally, I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Mesner said he learned quickly to "shrug off" any preseason questions that outsiders might have raised about his line.

"One of the positive things that's happened because of these injuries is that we have found other guys, young guys, who can play," he said.

"We'll have a six-man rotation at tackle. One (defensive) starter might be worn out going against that many people. One way or another, we're determined to get the job done."