During the heat of August, when two-a-day referred both to Maryland's practice schedule and the rate at which the Terps were losing offensive linemen to injury, sophomore guard Andrew Crummey temporarily shelved the typical preseason optimism.
"It's rough going," he said then. "We have a couple guys who've played, but no studs, no returning all-ACC guys. . . . It's going to be interesting to see what happens."
Crummey got his first look at Maryland's pieced-together line in Saturday's season-opening win over Navy, and after watching game film, his enthusiasm was back.
"We worked hard all camp," Crummey said, "and to get that kind of performance was sweet."
Maryland's coaches remained considerably more guarded. The line played better than would have been expected during those injury-plagued days, they agreed, but has plenty of room to develop before the Terps' ACC schedule begins Saturday against Clemson.
"We're a work in progress," offensive line coach Tom Brattan said. "I think we made some improvements Saturday, but we've got a long way to go to be as good as we can be."
By the numbers, at least, it was an encouraging debut, especially with the Terps' five starters combining for seven career starts prior to Saturday's game.
Maryland's offensive line yielded 26 sacks over the final seven games of 2004; this inexperienced group gave up just one. Its running game had averaged 1.8 yards per carry over the final seven games of 2004; this smallish group of linemen, with two starters weighing less than 280 pounds, helped the Terps average 5.3 yards per carry against Navy, including 5.8 in the second half.
"When things got a little tight there, they held together, and we got our running game really kind of dominating in the second half," offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. "We told them, 'Hey, we've got the running game going and we're gonna run the football, let's go.' And they responded very well. We were ripping the yardage off pretty good."
Things were considerably less encouraging in the first half. There were mental mistakes and missed assignments on the line, and starting quarterback Sam Hollenbach was hurried several times, flinging a pass under pressure that resulted in Navy's second interception.
"Just basic little small mistakes, first-game jitters," sophomore right tackle Brandon Nixon said. "Then in the second half we were just like, 'Forget it, yo, just don't think about the crowd or nothing, just go out and play. . . .' We made more cut blocks, more big blocks, everybody's assignments were sharp. We gave the quarterback a lot more protection, and with his protection, he was more accurate in the second half."
That improvement happened despite the absence of Donnie Woods, who left the game because of cramps about three minutes into the third quarter, leading to the debut of redshirt freshman Jaimie Thomas. The massive freshman acquitted himself well, but Woods's departure was still a sickeningly familiar sight for a team with five linemen who missed time because of injuries during preseason camp. The line's only stalwart, Stephon Heyer, is out for the season because of a knee injury, and reserve guard Russell Bonham did not dress Saturday night because of a hyperextended elbow. (Woods and Bonham should be at full strength this weekend.)
With freshmen or sophomores filling the second string and the Terps trailing for much of last Saturday's game, the four starters other than Woods each stayed on the field for all 70 offensive plays, which exponentially increased their experience. Center Ryan McDonald, for example, had participated in a total of 77 plays over the past two seasons. Senior left tackle Derek Miller, a converted blocking tight end, hadn't been on the field for that many snaps since he was in high school.
Clemson's defense figures to present a sterner test. The Tigers limited Maryland to 194 yards of total offense a year ago, and in their season opener Saturday, they knocked off then-No. 17 Texas A&M and dealt an early blow to the Heisman Trophy hopes of Aggies' quarterback Reggie McNeal. But the suddenly optimistic Crummey predicted another solid showing.
Clemson's "got some big size, they've got some good athleticism, but Navy in their own right was a good hard-nosed team, so I think we can run the ball," he said. "I think we'll just keep on hitting them until they give."
Terrapins Notes: Wide receiver Derrick Fenner (concussion) did not practice yesterday and remains a game time decision, Coach Ralph Friedgen said. . . .
The Maryland Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will collect cash donations from fans at the next two home games to raise money for Hurricane Katrina evacuees.