Maryland’s offensive line reviewed a tumultuous 2012 season with winces and embarrassment. Amid constant injuries at quarterback, the offensive front five was equally unpredictable, ceding a league-worst 39 sacks that hardly made transitioning between signal-callers any easier. Reviewing film, they saw breakdowns and miscommunications. So first week the unit returned for workouts, they sat down together and issued an ultimatum.
“We said this is it…it’s not the end of the world or anything, but we have to put our foot down and say we’re a dominant bunch,” center Evan Mulrooney said. “Look around the team, you see Deon Long and [Stefon Diggs] with the receivers. You see Brandon Ross, Wes Brown, Albert Reid all in the backfield. You say, ‘Wow, we have a lot of talent.’”
But looking ahead to 2013, the offensive linemen see one glaring question mark sticking out of Gossett Field House: themselves.
“I’ll say it once, I’ll say it a million times,” Mulrooney said, “We’re taking it upon ourselves to say, hey we need to get this train rolling. We’re the backbone of this offense and possibly the whole team. Without a good offensive line, your team doesn’t really go anywhere far.”
Plenty of reasons had Maryland finishing 4-8 during Coach Randy Edsall’s second season, the offensive line notwithstanding. An unstable and unpredictable unit certainly didn’t help matters. Only Justin Gilbert started all 12 games, still battling soreness on his injured knees. Eight players were tabbed to start altogether, and six had started two games or fewer entering the season. Suffice to say, experience wasn’t an asset.
“We got to mature a little bit,” Mulrooney said. “Collectively, we don’t have any seniors except De’Onte and Klemm. I hate to keep saying it and beating it into the ground, but you have to take it upon yourself. We’re not using this inexperienced thing as an excuse. You can’t judge anything. You can’t say in the future, I’ll beat that guy out or whatever. We’re just excited to get back out there.”
With spring practices around the corner on Saturday, only De’Onte Arnett has double-digit career starts. The rising senior will open the spring at first-team left guard, alongside Madaras, Andrew Zeller (right guard) and Nick Klemm (right tackle). Mulrooney and Sal Conaboy will battle for first-string center.
“Seeing Sal and Evan there, and when you try to move somebody, we went through all the scenarios to try to look at things, and when it came down to be for me, where we’re at right now is where we need to be,” Edsall said.
During Monday’s press conference, Edsall also mentioned Ryan Doyle, Jake Wheeler and walk-on Michael Dunn as potential challengers for back-up spots, while Steven Grommer should slot into the third-string center position. Dunn, a 6 foot 5, 290-pound lineman from Bethesda, became Mulrooney’s paragon to explain the guiding principles of offensive line coach Tom Brattan, concerning the unit’s inexperience.
“Numbers wise, no [we’re not experienced],” Mulrooney said. “But Coach Brattan coaches us the way, this is what you can expect, this is what will happen. He’s been around the game however long he’s been. A long time, let’s put it at that. And he couldn’t care less if Michael Dunn comes in and starts, even if he had no experience. He would put Michael Dunn at right tackle if we went down to Death Valley and Mike earned that spot. He doesn’t care about all that. Numbers don’t mean anything.”
Except sacks, of which there were plenty in 2012. North Carolina State tallied six in a game when Maryland played three quarterbacks. Florida State, the ACC’s leader in sacks, had five, as did West Virginia. Only William & Mary was held without a sack, while North Carolina and Boston College managed just one.
Adding junior-college transfer Silvano Altamirano at guard could stabilize the line some too. The San Diego native’s highlight video drew Mulrooney’s attention, especially the opening play, when Altamirano pancakes an oncoming pass-rusher then promptly shoves him back into the ground when the unassuming lineman tries to stand.
“I’m really excited to see Silvano,” Mulrooney said. “He is one mean dude, man, I’ll tell you that much. If you see his highlight tape, he’s just after dudes … If he pancakes someone, they try to get up and he’ll push them down. Then you see him walking around, he’s smiling, you’re like what dude, what’s your problem? He’s like ‘I’m a different person on the field.’ I hope so. I’m real excited to see him play.”
Offseason work, Mulrooney said, began in the weight room. There, a collective understand has developed that 2012 was simply unacceptable.
“Taking a step back, looking at last season, you see the 40 sacks or however many it was, some ridiculous numbers that was god-awful,” he said. “That’s really embarrassing to say I was a part of that line. We’re taking it upon ourselves. It was our fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It wasn’t Coach Brattan’s fault. He coaches us the same way he coached the 2001 ACC championship team. We’re taking it upon ourselves to say hey, we’re going to crank this thing up.”