The number will haunt them like a ghost, at least until they prove otherwise. Thirty-nine. The number of sacks allowed by the Maryland offensive line last season (only a handful of teams nationally allowed more). The number of blemishes, the number of chances for outsiders to scrutinize and deconstruct and wonder just how the same demoralizing result could repeat itself over and over.
It makes them angry, that number. Motivates them, too. But they know that’s all talk. The real signs of change must come this fall, when a talented offense of playmakers will be supported by a defiant group of linemen, bent on making up for 2012.
“I think any time you’re 4-8, for whatever reason, some say that’s not reflective of who we are, this is what we’ve got to do to improve,” offensive line coach Tom Brattan said Monday. “You’d hope there’s a certain sense of urgency or a chip or however you want to say it, hey, we need to get this done now. This wasn’t a real comfortable feeling in the offseason, so let’s get this bad taste out of our mouths.”
The sentiment spread team-wide, but no more so than along the front five, where the Terps managed to actually stay somewhat healthy but still endured the inconsistency issues that defined the season. Gone are Bennett Fulper (30 career starts), Justin Gilbert (18) and Josh Cary (12). In their place steps right tackle Nick Klemm (four starts) and left guard Andrew Zeller (three), who actually might be the line’s biggest question marks.
Maryland isn’t beholden to the depth chart’s current first-stringers, but Coach Randy Edsall seems content to enter the season opener with Klemm, Zeller, right tackle De’Onte Arnett, left tackle Nick Klemm and center Sal Conaboy as the starters. Center Evan Mulrooney, who received five starts last season but missed most of this spring with a torn gluteal muscle (read: his butt), transfer Silvano Altamirano and sophomore Ryan Doyle should serve as the key backups.
Mike Madaras, a sophomore from Good Counsel, figures to be the line’s linchpin for years to come after starting eight games as a freshman on the blindside, but is currently finishing a two-week suspension for violating university policy. Maryland has not given a specific reason for Madaras’s punishment, but according to the school’s student-athlete handbook, the only offense that warrants an automatic two-week suspension is a second violation of the drug policy.
“You hope that you’re done with it,” Brattan said. “They’re 18, they make a mistake, pay the consequences, come back ready to go.”
Doyle has taken first-team repetitions at left tackle in Madaras’s stead, but a move to right tackle could potentially happen if Klemm struggles early. He was benched for Madaras after four games, but still appeared in all 12. As for Mulrooney, the odds-on favorite to win this year’s A.J. Francis Best Quote Award, he played left tackle for Delaware’s state champion in high school, and would embrace a move to another interior spot if it meant immediate playing time, provided that he doesn’t overtake Conaboy this summer.
“You can say you’ve got five that are coming out of the summer who had pretty good summers, and at the end of the spring where they were,” Brattan said. “I don’t think that disallows any competitive battles. That’s what you want. You don’t go in and say okay you’re the five, everyone else is working for backups. That doesn’t make for a good situation.”