- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Maryland football team was eager this spring to take advantage of its offensive line depth, a trait that was cultivated over several seasons and appeared ready to pay dividends for the Terrapins.

Those hopes lasted less than a week.

Instead, the Terps have worked with as few as nine healthy offensive linemen in some of their first six practices, creating opportunities for several younger players while limiting options for the coaching staff.

“All the time in football, you can only hope and pray that everybody stays healthy throughout the whole spring,” said senior left tackle Stephon Heyer, who is working his way back from knee surgery last summer and scrimmaged some yesterday. “When somebody goes down, we usually just pick up and keep going. It’s been our M.O. for a long time.”

The unit figured it would be missing only starting left guard Donnie Woods, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery, going into the spring. However, right tackle Brandon Nixon was suspended at the start of spring practice, and center Edwin Williams tore a tendon in a finger of his non-snapping hand, underwent surgery and will miss the rest of the spring.

The Terps received a scare when left tackle Jared Gaither injured his back while working in the weight room last week, though an MRI exam showed no damage and Gaither returned in a limited capacity Saturday.

Then there’s Heyer, who tore the ACL in his left knee in August. Heyer estimated Sunday he is at about 80 percent as he continues his rehabilitation and reacquaints himself with techniques he has not employed for a while.

With the suddenly limited numbers, linemen have been forced to work harder and learn new positions. Andrew Crummey, a starter at right guard last year, has taken many snaps at center, while junior Garrick Clig has split time between guard and center.

“I’m very appreciative of the way they’re approaching that,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “They’re taking double reps now, and everybody is trying to help each other. They’re not moaning and groaning about it. They’re doing what they have to do to be better.”

The short-term aggravation could be worth it next fall for the Terps, who have been forced to utilize players who were previously seldom-used reserves. Clig has impressed the staff with his work, and offensive line coach Tom Brattan said tackle Dane Randolph has significantly reduced his assignment-related errors.

Tackle Scott Burley finally is healthy after enduring back problems, sophomore Lee Oliver has played guard despite an injured knee and former defensive lineman Jack Griffin is getting a chance to acclimate himself to the offensive line. Then there’s Jaimie Thomas, who has played well at left guard in Woods’ absence.

“Donnie’s going to have a fight on his hands to get his starting job back,” Friedgen said.

That’s the dream scenario — to have so much depth and versatility that strong battles for starting positions become commonplace. In the interim, the Terps simply want to squeeze through the spring without any more maladies.

“I turn around and watch Oklahoma play their spring game, and they have seven offensive linemen,” Brattan said. “I talk to coaches at UVa, and they have two tackles in the program that are healthy. You don’t have the numbers when you’re in the spring. The seniors are gone, and you don’t have the freshmen. But you have to go, and you have to produce.”

Notes — Tight end Jason Goode (sprained ankle) practiced yesterday but was not at full speed. … Nose tackle Robert Armstrong (back) and Gaither both practiced without noncontact jerseys.

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