Bruce Campbell survived his first college camp, then sat back as the same six offensive linemen handled nearly all of the work for Maryland for nearly seven games last fall.
Then he was thrown into extended duty in the days leading into a meeting with Clemson and learned just what it meant to be part of the Terrapins‘ line last season.
“I don’t know what happened,” Campbell said. “Everything was happening so fast. It was ‘You’re up.’ I was like ‘Wow!’ It seemed overwhelming and at the same time stressful. It just seemed like the worst nightmare. But after getting used to the reps and being around the first team, it was like second nature to me.”
Campbell was, at least for a few days, an able-bodied reserve lineman Maryland wasn’t trying to redshirt, and that made him as scarce as a precious metal. But that situation has changed, and the Terps could enjoy far more versatility up front than in the past.
Four full-time starters return, all fifth-year seniors. Fourth-year junior Phil Costa is atop the depth chart at right guard and also is the backup at center. Fifth-year senior Jack Griffin is a reserve on both positions on the right side of the line. Then there are Campbell and Lamar Young, a redshirt freshman poised to play some at left guard.
It’s a remarkably experienced bunch, the payoff of time invested in maturing a line even if it was thin at times in the past.
“I think people really don’t understand how much effort and commitment it takes to become a decent offensive line,” center Edwin Williams said. “It just doesn’t take everybody benching 400 pounds and everybody being over 350. … You can’t just tell somebody that’s that big and strong to just go out and hit the guy next to him. That guy could veer, jump back, blitz.”
The Terps possess a combined 67 career starts on the line, but the position was a source of concern for much of camp. Coach Ralph Friedgen said this week that the unit struggled early on, a problem not helped in the last week with Scott Burley and Jaimie Thomas nursing injuries. But pass protection seems to be improved a season after Maryland yielded 40 sacks
There is also the reality the line needed to adapt to new offensive coordinator James Franklin’s scheme. In some ways, it has rendered some of the work of past years irrelevant because of the different things required.
Right tackle Dane Randolph said Franklin’s system is more manageable in some ways because more elements relate to each other. But it’s still something new, and the Terps are still adjusting with a little more than a week before the Aug. 30 opener against Delaware.
“We might have more variables to interchange with, but there’s a rite of passage you have to go through in preseason,” offensive line coach Tom Brattan said. “You can’t assume anything. You have all these guys who played and have experience, and that’s fine. Every year is different. The slate is clean this year.”
Yet that also means the unplanned patchwork of last season is gone. With so many redshirt freshmen at least nominally available and capable walk-ons like Paul Pinegar with an extra season of work to their credit, it appears unlikely Maryland will be less vulnerable to a single injury up front than last year.
Instead, the offensive line could prove to be one of the Terps’ greatest strengths.
“[It’s] between us and the linebackers, but I really think it’s the offensive line because that’s where everything starts,” Campbell said. “I’m happy [because] if one person goes out, we can just go in with the flow and won’t lose a touch. We all played last year and got game experience, and even if we didn’t, people grew up so much.”
That might just be enough to turn Campbell’s early-career nightmare into something much closer to a dream scenario.