Up front, the Terps are behind

A meeting more than a year in the making unfolded this week in Maryland’s football team house.

Tackle Tyler Bowen, beset with foot problems the past two seasons, made his way to coach Ralph Friedgen’s office. He had tried walking boots, resting, practicing every other day.

None of it mattered. The lingering pain never subsided for long. And now he had to deliver a message Friedgen agreed with: He couldn’t play anymore.

“He’d probably be our starting right tackle right now if he was healthy,” Friedgen said. “But he isn’t.”

Bowen is one piece of a star-crossed class of offensive linemen collected to offset an anticipated exodus after the 2008 season. But the Terrapins have missed on more than they’ve hit, and the result is a offensive line struggling during on-the-job training.

And it isn’t just the 2007 class. Maryland signed 11 scholarship offensive linemen between 2005 and 2007, and five didn’t begin this season in the program. Just one arrived in 2006, and he is no longer in College Park.

“Right now, we can’t focus on that,” said center Phil Costa, the line’s lone fifth-year senior. “It’s kind of in the background of what we’re doing. … We’ve got who we’ve got in this room, and that’s what we have to work with.”

The list of game-by-game starters from the first month of the season features former walk-ons (Andrew Gonnella and Paul Pinegar), a redshirt freshman (R.J. Dill) and a true freshman (Bennett Fulper). But while they’ve taken some lumps, other names who exited quietly are just as meaningful in assessing why the Terps (1-3) have labored up front.

Evan Eastburn. Zach Marshall. Bearthur Johnson. Joe Faiella. The Terps invested two seasons in all but Marshall. But for a variety of reasons they’re no longer around, and Maryland is in a bind as a result.

“If you lose those guys, it’s a hole you can’t make up rapidly,” offensive line coach Tom Brattan said. “You’re not going to go get a guy off the practice squad or pick somebody who was cut like they do in the NFL. You have to take what you’ve got, nurture them. You can’t play without big guys. … You treat the ones you have like gold.”

A bumpy stretch

Friedgen’s plan all along was to bring along a seven-man class signed in 2007 gradually so he could deploy several redshirt sophomores when the likes of Jaimie Thomas and Edwin Williams departed after last season.

It was a mix of a coveted prep school star (Bruce Campbell), some well-regarded prospects from Southern states (Bowen, Maurice Hampton and Lamar Young) and a few early commits (Faiella, Johnson and Stephen St. John).

Campbell is about what Maryland expected, a left tackle who could anchor its line for a couple of years. The other six have combined to play 13 games and start two - one fewer start than Gonnella, an invited walk-on from the same class.

“That’s recruiting in a nutshell sometimes,” ESPN.com recruiting analyst JC Shurburtt said. “I’m not a person that really likes to go back and say, ‘This is where they screwed up in this class.’ I don’t think you can use hindsight to evaluate recruiting. It would be almost as if you were critical of a fortune teller for not being correct.”

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