There was absolutely no doubt how the question was going to be answered, but I asked it to Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen anyway recently.
Is it a priority to get some younger offensive linemen reps —- even if it’s just a series each game —- so he won’t head into 2009 with completely inexperienced options to replace the five fifth-year seniors gone at the end of the year.
Predictably, he looked at me like I was from Pluto (or whatever astronomers are calling the planet-that-isn’t these days), then patiently replied he was worried about winning games this year.
Like I said, totally predictable.
I took a similar tack with offensive line coach Tom Brattan while working on today’s dead-tree edition story on his unit. He was a bit more descriptive when I asked about making sure tackle Bruce Campbell, guard Lamar Young and maybe a few others get some sort of time this year.
“Of course. You’re not an ostrich,” Brattan said. “You don’t have your head in the sand. You have to look down the road. It’s a fine line. You don’t want to diminish what you have right now in 2008. Looking ahead to 2009 will get you beat in a heartbeat. At the same time, these guys need to get reps, get in the fray a little bit. Down the road, these are the guys we have to work with.”
A popular pastime in College Park is complaining about how the Terps don’t blow out their early-season nonconference fodder like they used to earlier in Friedgen’s tenure. And while Friedgen tends to pooh-pooh that talk as long as Maryland gets a win, the single most important reason a few bludgeonings can be good is the chance to get some actual game experience for younger players.
It would also help —- just a little bit, anyway —- in keeping the starters fresh down the road. I asked center Edwin Williams what it would mean to take 60 snaps a game rather 70 if somehow there was a push to get some game work for the program’s posse of redshirt freshmen on the line.
“It would definitely have a difference in the long run at the end of the season when we need to win the game,” Williams said. “Those November games are the most important games. If you want to win championships, you win in November. It would definitely be a huge advantage. It gives everyone experience in case somebody goes down.”
Granted, that can’t be expected every week, but let’s just say that somehow, Maryland was able to spell Williams and Scott Burley and Dane Randolph and Jaimie Thomas for an extra 50 plays this season. That’s nearly a game’s worth of wear and tear off them, and nearly a game’s worth of work for the likes of Stephen St. John or Paul Pinegar or Maurice Hampton or Danny Edwards or even freshman Justin Lewis.
There’s no reason to play for 2009 just yet. But if the opportunity presents itself and it won’t hurt the prospects for ‘08 a bit, Maryland would be downright silly if they didn’t take advantage of finding some extra work for its young linemen whenever it is possible.
—- Patrick Stevens