- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

More than two decades of coaching offensive linemen has taught Maryland assistant Tom Brattan the value of chemistry.

Whether it’s sharing a meal or competing in video games at the end of the day, the Terrapins’ young line already is building the camaraderie that could help keep the group together for years to come.

“The little time we have, we use it on video games to relieve stress, or we do homework and study hall,” sophomore right tackle Brandon Nixon said. “But we always talk about football.”

There has been plenty for the maturing unit, which turned in its best performance of the season in last week’s 45-33 victory against Virginia, to talk about. The line received plenty of praise for its cohesive performance as it helped Maryland run for a season-high 250 yards against the then-ranked Cavaliers.

“They never get enough credit when things are going good, and they always get all the blame when things are going bad,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “It’s not one of those star positions. The guy next to you, you know you’re dependent on how well he plays. If more things in life could be like that, we’d probably have a better world because there really are no phonies on the offensive line.”

There wasn’t a lot of experience on the line at the start of the season, either. The Terps lost senior left tackle Stephon Heyer to a knee injury early in camp, and three sophomores (Nixon, left guard Donnie Woods and right guard Andrew Crummey) and a freshman (Jared Gaither) are starting. Senior center Ryan McDonald had never started before this year’s opener, and three of the top backups (Dane Randolph, Jaimie Thomas and Edwin Williams) are redshirt freshmen.

That led to some predictable struggles, especially in a rushing attack that floundered in losses to Clemson and West Virginia. Some of it was picking up the footwork needed for the Terps’ blocking schemes. The unit also needed to learn how to communicate with each other, a process that always takes time.

However, Friedgen pointed to a relatively simple reason for the line’s ability to open gaping holes for the rushing attack last week — the unit was hitting its landmarks, or the basic aiming point for a block to be made, such as the outside number on a defender’s jersey.

That was an encouraging step for a group that hasn’t entirely grasped all of the sport’s basics. Friedgen changed his practice routine a few weeks ago, allowing Brattan to spend a half-hour each day working on fundamentals.

“It’s a fine line. You have to be patient, but at some point in time when you go over it ad infinitum, you go, ‘When’s it going to sink in?’ ” Brattan said.

“You go over and over the same stuff, but that’s kind of the nature of the position sometimes. You can see it, you can read it, but you have to experience it.”

Both Brattan and Friedgen are encouraged by the unit’s progress, but they would like to see a follow-up when the Terps (3-2) visit Temple (0-5) tomorrow to prove last week’s performance wasn’t simply a matter of being excited about facing a ranked team. The group probably will continue to make some mistakes as it matures, but the foundation for the Terps to control the line of scrimmage appears to exist.

“Nobody has a crystal ball, but usually your great offensive lines are the ones that have seen a lot of stuff, have grown into their bodies and know each other very well …,” Brattan said. “I think we have unlimited potential, but we all know what potential is.”

So does the line, which isn’t worried about future success as much as helping the Terps extend their winning streak to three. The unit also isn’t interested in blaming its collective inexperience for its shaky play earlier this season.

“Maybe we were a little bit more prepared and focused,” Gaither said. “I think we’re just ready. Enough is enough. We’re ready, so get it done.”

Notes — Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (leg) missed his second straight practice, but Friedgen said he probably will play tomorrow. … Friedgen said sophomore Lance Ball, who ran for 163 yards against Virginia, probably will start at tailback. Danny Oquendo will replace Vernon Davis as one of the Terps’ kickoff returners to provide Davis with some rest.

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