Maryland freshman offensive lineman Sean Christie bowed his head in silence last Thursday, looking down at his leg as he was carted off the practice field by a team trainer. An MRI exam would later reveal that Christie would need surgery on a damaged ligament in his knee, which means his season is likely over.
It was the first major injury of Maryland’s preseason camp, as the team came out of the first week relatively unscathed. Yet on Saturday, when Coach Randy Edsall made a brief statement on Christie’s condition, he noted Christie didn’t tear his anterior cruciate ligament but had rather suffered the same knee injury that crept up on redshirt freshman Mike Minter a year ago.
That Edsall could connect Christie’s condition with that of another offensive lineman on the roster was a blunt reminder of the team’s medical history over the past two seasons, a docket that has included injuries at nearly every position on the field.
“It was a shock,” Maryland senior defensive lineman Andre Monroe said of the injury trend the past two years. “That’s never something that you can just get used to.”
The loss of Christie will certainly be a blow to the young lineman’s development during his first year, but Edsall and his staff are hoping that it turns out to be an isolated incident — and that a “next man-up” mentality has become rooted enough that the team can withstand more adversity should it arise this season.
“I think every year is a different year,” Edsall said Monday during the team’s media day. “We’re older, we’re more mature, we’re stronger. Those guys are bigger. I’ll give you an example: [senior linebacker] Matt Robinson. This is the first time he’s ever been able to lift weights in the summer time because he hasn’t been injured.”
There is nothing that can prevent the epidemic from hitting again, Robinson said. He missed nine games in 2011 with a torn right labrum and a torn biceps injury, another seven games in 2012 with a torn left labrum and had to play through another shoulder injury last fall, this time the rotator cuff.
“Coaches always say, ‘You can’t help the club in the tub,’ ” Robinson said.
He watched as the team racked up injuries two seasons ago, most notably when it lost four of its quarterbacks and had to convert a linebacker to play at quarterback late in the year. The epidemic was at its height in the middle of last season, when the Terps faced Clemson with backups at quarterback, running back, tight end and multiple wide receiver positions. Maryland was also missing two cornerbacks, two linebackers and a safety that day — and the team hobbled to a disappointing finish in December.
“It’s just been a crazy thing to be a part of,” Robinson said. “I could just tell that us having to go through a lot of injuries has been something that is very rare . . . you can’t really control it.”
Robinson said the team has tried small measures to curb problems — he’s noticed less contact at practice to keep more bodies fresh, and in the weight room the team continues to focus on stretching and “other little flexible stuff to help us get better.”
Another trend this week has been players discussing their rehabilitation process with the media after practice. Quarterback C.J. Brown touched on how good he felt without the injuries that nagged him the last two years, including a torn ACL, a trunk injury and concussion. Wide receiver Deon Long spoke about his bond with Stefon Diggs, who both broke their legs in the same game last year. Cole Farrand tried to remember a concussion that kept him out after recording 23 tackles against Clemson. Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil said a torn pectoral muscle suffered in the middle of last year only fully healed a couple weeks before camp. And Jeremiah Johnson detailed his isolated, 10-month road to recovery after a broken toe and pulled hamstring.
All of those players are now healthy, and they basked in the heat as camp opened last week. Edsall noted before the preseason started that there was only so much the team could do. The staff added a nutritionist last year, and Edsall said he is constantly stressing dieting, rest, hydration, stretching and even cold tub baths after practice.
And the team has built depth at most positions across the field, which is critical to avoid a disaster, defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. He watched three quarterbacks go down in one season while he was at Houston, then watched four go down at Maryland two years ago.
“That’s not depth, that’s just bad luck,” Stewart said. “Injuries are a part of the game, and I don’t know how you can stop them. You got to be ready, have depth and make sure you coach to prepare everybody.”