The wheels of change began to turn around this time last season. The Maryland football team was 2-1 in mid-September after a three-point home loss to Connecticut, and a relatively stable offensive line was protecting freshman quarterback Perry Hills. Only one backup – first-year left tackle Mike Madaras — played on the line over the first three games. Three other second-stringers appeared against the Huskies, but the group was set.
But the shakeups soon began. Madaras overtook Nick Klemm at left tackle in the fifth game. Evan Mulrooney started five straight games toward the end of the season. Andrew Zeller received two spot starts in De’Onte Arnett’s stead to open ACC play. Only right tackle Justin Gilbert started at least 10 games last season.
This season, however, Maryland Coach Randy Edsall has been able to control the group’s rotation, rather than having to compensate for injuries and poor production. Eleven offensive linemen have played this season but only seven saw the field last Saturday against Connecticut, the first game in which Maryland was seriously challenged this season.
“I think our offensive line is getting better with each week,” Edsall said. “I like the fact we haven’t had any injuries there. I think that group needs as much work as they can get together all the time, because of the complexity and the issues that they have to confront in the run game, in the passing game with twists and blitzes. The more those guys can work together and communicate, the better they’re going to be.
“As long as we can continue to make progress, that’s what we’re shooting for.”
The result? A remarkably more stable group that has buttressed the offense — albeit against competition nowhere near what Maryland will face when ACC play starts next month — and stayed away from the limelight.
“It’s good to keep building each week for us, not have to switch out with any injury problems, knock on wood,” center Sal Conaboy said. “I think it’s good for our cohesion as a unit.”
The lack of injuries helps. So does the team’s stability at quarterback after that position was ravaged by injuries last season. C.J. Brown’s calming huddle presence and relative experience has eased the burden off those charged with protecting him.
“That’s one of the group that has the important continuity, those guys all have to work together,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. “We’re fortunate. I hate to talk about it. We’re fortunate that they’ve been able to stick together, play together and improve together.”
Twice last weekend, both on fourth-and-short situations, the offensive line’s shortcomings were exposed. On Maryland’s first drive, Brown misread the Connecticut linebackers and handed off to running back Brandon Ross. He should have kept it, but the Huskies exploded through the line and popped Ross for a three-yard loss.
Three possessions later, on fourth and inches, Brown tried to dive over the pile. He received an unfavorable spot, but the lack of push allowed Connecticut to drive him back.
These were rare situations Maryland won’t often encounter running its normal no-huddle, spread offense. Nonetheless, those drives stalled and the Terrapins failed to score in the first quarter.
“That’s something an offensive line prides itself on, and an offensive unit,” Conaboy said. “When the coach has the trust in us to do that, and when we don’t get it done, it’s frustrating. We’ll take it and work on it this week. He talked to us a little bit about that. He wants to build confidence in us, and he wants us to know that he has that confidence in us.”
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