Friday, April 13, 2007

Tom Brattan walked off Maryland’s practice field earlier this week after an afternoon of mixing and matching offensive linemen just to get through the day and provided some wary sagacity.

“You have to be creative when you’re coaching,” Brattan said.

Especially as the Terrapins’ offensive line coach during the spring.

Injuries, early departures and academic concerns have left the depleted Terps with just seven scholarship offensive linemen a little more than two weeks before the April 28 spring game.

The Terps had only one senior (tackle Stephon Heyer) on the line last year, but juniors Garrick Clig and Donnie Woods both opted to pursue options beyond football after the season. Tackle Brandon Nixon, who missed all of last season, flunked out of school, taking away another body.

Coach Ralph Friedgen excused Jared Gaither from spring practice to permit the tackle to focus on academics so he could remain in school. Then last week, right guard Andrew Crummey suffered a severe ankle sprain, though Friedgen said he could return tomorrow.

It has left the Terps decidedly short-handed, an all-too-familiar situation for a coach who constantly preaches the importance of developing line depth.

“The frustrating part of that is we worked very hard for four years to build up the depth, and now we don’t have it,” Friedgen said. “It’s kind of like it was when we got here. We went three years with seven offensive linemen. We just put the names in different spots, and that’s what we’re going to do again. We just want to get seven linemen that can play.”

Maryland relied mostly on seven linemen throughout a 9-4 season last year, with three tackles, three guards and a center receiving most of the work. Only three of those players are now available, though the roster will be replenished to some extent when as many as eight potential linemen arrive next season.

For now, Maryland is vulnerable to even the slightest injury, such as Jack Griffin’s twisted ankle that limited the guard/tackle to mostly team drills Tuesday.

“It’s different this year than it was last year,” left guard Jaimie Thomas said. “Last year we had more depth, so when somebody got hurt you could put someone in there and not really miss a beat. This year we have some young guys and we’re trying to teach them and they’re coming along well, but they’re not there quite yet.”

They are, however, earning opportunities. Friedgen joked his healthy linemen cannot complain about not receiving enough reps, and some of them are getting looks and developing versatility they might not have otherwise.

Griffin, a defensive lineman-turned-offensive tackle who redshirted last season, started taking reps at guard when Crummey was injured. Walk-ons Paul Pinegar and Lee Oliver are earning work with the second unit.

And Phil Costa, who played in only two games as a reserve center last year, also has taken starter’s snaps at right guard during Crummey’s absence.

“It’s just another way to get on the field, and that’s what I want playing either guard or center,” Costa said.

Friedgen remains concerned, particularly with only three full-time tackles available in addition to Griffin. Yet a long-term benefit of shuffling players to different positions could be a better understanding of how things work, as well as possible flexibility in case of injuries.

“They’re forced to know what the guy next to him is doing,” Brattan said. “Therefore they have a really good feel for things. Not to make the analogy to it, but on game day the pros only have seven guys or eight at best. You do what you got to do.”

Notes — Friedgen said an MRI exam revealed tailback Da’Rel Scott has a partially torn meniscus. Scott will miss the rest of the spring. …

Cornerback Richard Taylor (left knee) and wideout Kevin Gresham (fractured finger) were injured Tuesday, though Friedgen is optimistic Taylor will return for the spring game.

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