- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2009

Derek Drummond retreated to his locker after a workout last month, only to find a couple of pages taped at eye level.

It was a prominent online outlet’s ACC defensive line rankings, and the Maryland defensive end wasn’t too surprised his unit wasn’t at the top since some other teams retained many of their starters.

“Then I flip to the back page, and I’m like, ‘We’re last?’ ” Drummond said. “We can’t get a break nowhere. It kind of messed me up.”

At least that rundown didn’t have the personal overtones of another similar ranking from another site, this one poking at the Terrapins’ questions at the position.

“It basically said the reason we’re the 12th-ranked defensive line in the ACC is because we have so much lack of experience and lack of depth that I’m the starting nose,” redshirt freshman A.J. Francis said. “That’s what it said. When I read that, I’ve never been more motivated in my entire life.”

Such is how the Terrapins and their untested line are perceived. A good chunk of the problem is a sustained history of mediocrity, earned from shaky performances at the wrong moment and extensive statistical irrelevance.

While Maryland handled the run in bowl victories against Purdue (2006) and Nevada (2008), it was also pulverized in high-profile Thursday night losses at West Virginia and Virginia Tech in those same seasons.

The Terps also have finished in the bottom half of the ACC in both rushing defense and sacks for five straight seasons.

“We have our ups and downs, but this year we finally have it under control,” Drummond said. “We do have a lot to prove. We have fairly inexperienced guys.”

Therein lies another reason for questions. Senior defensive tackle Travis Ivey owns four career starts - the most of anyone on the unit.

Nose tackle Dion Armstrong, the only other lineman with more than two starts, is ineligible but practicing with the team while he attempts to improve his status.

That leaves players like Drummond (one career start) and redshirt freshmen Masengo Kabongo and Francis as significant pieces in the line’s rotation.

“For some reason they think because we’re young, we won’t be good,” Francis said. “Like being young is a curse. What I don’t understand is, yeah, we don’t have the experience, but experience isn’t always everything. You can have a lot of guys with experience who can’t make plays. With this new defense, I think the pressure we’re going to get on the quarterback is going to completely change how people have been playing.”

Francis believes new coordinator Don Brown’s scheme, which emphasizes attacking the ball rather than sitting back and reading how an opposing offensive line is functioning, will lead to improvement.

And even with Armstrong in limbo, it’s possible Maryland will be deeper (if untested) on the line than it has in years.

“I think we have the people,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “They’re just young. We have to keep working with them, and hopefully they continue to get better. Guys like [Jared] Harrell and Ivey and Drummond and [Deege] Galt, they have to step up. It’s their turn.”

None of them, though, offer much of a history to assess. As a result, there might be more unpleasant rankings tacked onto lockers before the season begins.

The existing reminders of external doubt aren’t going away, either, although by the linemen’s choice.

“I’ll take it down,” Ivey grumbled, “when it’s correct.”

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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