Maryland rewind '08: Offensive line

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My friend the Official Dot-Com Diva just named the Maryland offensive line as the most overrated in all the ACC this year.

So is that fair?

Well, maybe, so long as some of the “credit” for such a distinction is being laid on people who actually hype those preseason ratings.

That, of course, would be folks like beat writers. Who blog here. And were, obviously, quite wrong about the relative strength of the Terrapins‘ line.

It was a wildly inconsistent unit on a wildly inconsistent team. Well, everyone but Edwin Williams, anyway. And Jaimie Thomas got invited to a postseason all-star game, so it couldn’t have been a completely lost season for him, either.

But even as that line helped steamroll Nevada in the Humanitarian Bowl, it still got pulverized late in the season at Virginia Tech and Boston College. Even as it held up in pass protection deep into the fall (15 sacks in the first 10 games), it was reamed for 11 sacks in the last two regular-season outings.

It was never a terribly boastful unit, never one to talk itself up beyond the reality that as a senior-laden group in a crucial position, the Terps would probably go as far as they could take them.

That goes for pretty much any offensive line. The correlation between good line play and good offenses is striking. A team can have mediocre running backs and still have a good running game. But great running backs will get stuffed if there’s no holes to run through.

Whether or not Da’Rel Scott is great, above average or whatever label you want to place on him is a topic for another day. But he wasn’t making it past the line of scrimmage all that much for good chunks of this season.

Eventually, the problems prompted Maryland to start Bruce Campbell at left tackle and slide Scott Burley over to right tackle in place of Dane Randolph at midseason, but that only did so much to help.

In the end, the unit was perhaps slightly better than the previous year’s injury-ravaged version, which was simultaneously a bit eye-opening yet not surprising at all.

It was a fine exhibit in how experience isn’t an end-all, even at the position where experience would figure to help the most. Nix that, where development and maturity would help the most. But the group also has to play well, and the Terps most certainly did not play well up front in the second half of 2007. With really only the addition of a left guard (Thomas) to that mix in ‘08, there was modest improvement.

In retrospect, the Maryland offensive line was probably a shade below what it should have been, and well below what the expectations were. The difference in those two lies on those making predictions, not on those blocking defensive linemen.

A greater question is whether things will remain steady next season. Only Campbell and Phil Costa among Maryland’s first seven linemen will be back, and those prognosticators will probably call for a dip in production up front.

It could yet happen, especially since the Terps’ coaching staff didn’t play the next wave of linemen much at all this season. But there’s also a chance “inexperience” won’t prove to be a major issue at all, and Maryland will remain about the same once 2009 has come and gone.

Conventional wisdom was wrong with Maryland’s offensive line in ‘08, in part because of inflated expectations and in part because of erratic play. It would come as no surprise if conventional wisdom didn’t match up to reality again next season, either.

Patrick Stevens

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