- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Maryland offensive line lumbered out of Byrd Stadium last week after helping the Terrapins author the team’s best rushing performance in nearly four years.

They owed a bit of a debt to their own short-but-strong defensive line.

At the same time, the Terps’ defensive front had just helped hold Delaware to seven points in the season-opening victory, and its success could be attributed in part to its offensive counterpart.

Perhaps more than in the past, Maryland’s two lines complemented each other well throughout camp. The five offensive line starters from the opener average nearly 318 pounds, a physically overwhelming group capable of igniting a power running game.

The rejiggered defensive line, with no starters listed at 300 pounds for the first time in three years, is probably a more technically sound unit than in the past but capable of flustering larger, less savvy opponents.

“It’s kind of a win-win situation,” defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre said. “We go against probably the biggest line in the ACC, so it helps us prepare. I don’t think we’re seeing anyone that big in games. On the other side, it helps our offensive line come off the ball low.”

Both units figure to benefit from the relationship, including Saturday night when the Terps (1-0) visit undersized Middle Tennessee (0-1).

Physicality and depth on the line helped Maryland roll up 271 yards rushing in the opener, its most since a 2004 rout of Duke. Yet facing a team without quite as much size can have its drawbacks.

The Blue Raiders have no true behemoths on their defensive line, and only one of their listed starters weighs more than 265 pounds. That leads to other potential headaches that can at least be judged against a technically sound group in practice before playing a smaller team.

“Usually, they have quicker guys,” right tackle Dane Randolph said. “Playing against Delaware, [Matt Marcorelle] was a really quick guy. If I was running at full speed from 5 yards away, I don’t think anybody could stop me.”

Of course, the preparation of camp can help only so much. Coach Ralph Friedgen said offensive line coach Tom Brattan gave favorable grades to only two of the eight linemen who played against the Blue Hens and is seeking improvement in the Terps’ first road game of the season.

“I think we can get better,” Friedgen said. “Probably run-wise on certain plays I didn’t think we were blocking very well in practice. We probably did better than I thought we’d do. I thought our protection was pretty good. I thought the one sack we had, we held the ball too long.”

There are obvious differences on the defensive line. Though Friedgen bristled at the notion the group was undersized, it is smaller than last year.

Navarre moved inside after starting at defensive end for three years and is listed at 285 pounds. Mack Frost, tall and quick at 252 pounds, took over Navarre’s old spot. And while senior nose tackle Bemi Otulaja is 285 pounds, he’s also generously listed at 6-foot.

The biggest losses on the defensive front were Carlos Feliciano and Dre Moore, a pair of strong tackles with more than 600 pounds between them. By giving up some weight, this year’s line has a mandate to be efficient technically if it has any hope of being effective.

It meant linemen playing with leverage was a priority from the first day of camp against their hefty offensive counterparts and will continue against any opponent - even a line like Middle Tennessee’s with a relatively light average weight of 291 pounds.

“With Dre and Carlos, it was almost like a 60-40 ability and technique kind of thing,” Otulaja said. “Just because they were big, it overshadowed the fact that they didn’t always have to use technique. But due to the fact I’m smaller, Jeremy’s a little smaller but has the experience to back it up, and Mack’s tall but a little lighter, if we really want to be good, we have to use that technique.”

It’s important for both of Maryland’s lines to keep that in mind. After all, size is important but far from the only factor up front.

“In football, the low man wins,” Otulaja said. “Just because you’re tall and you’re big doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to block anybody, especially if you don’t have the technique.”

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