- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin ticks down the talent at his disposal in his second season and can envision improvement nearly everywhere.

Wideouts? Deeper than last year. Tight ends? Potentially more options. Running back and quarterback? The Terrapins have established answers at both.

So what’s left to cause some concern?

“It’s the O-line,” Franklin said. “The problem is you can’t do well at any of those other things unless the O-line does well.”

With Maryland’s camp under way Monday and the Sept. 5 opener at California looming, solving the line quandary might be the Terps’ most significant task in the coming weeks.

It’s a two-pronged problem. Maryland’s line was senior-laden in 2008, with five fifth-year players filling vital roles. Talent wasn’t necessarily an issue - four latched on with NFL teams, including one who was drafted - but the group in general underachieved during an 8-5 season.

So maybe all that lost experience isn’t as meaningful as it would seem on paper. Yet many of the replacements are guys who either played sparingly or didn’t sniff the field last year, which in itself creates doubts.

“I think the biggest change this year is we have a lot of guys who are hungry and a lot of guys who need to prove themselves,” senior center Phil Costa said. “Maybe in last year’s line, the seniors were content with how they played in the past and that it would just roll over. That’s not really how it is at O-line. You have to keep fighting and keep getting better every year.”

Costa, who moves over from left guard, is one of the Terps’ few known quantities. Another is hulking left tackle Bruce Campbell, whose academic issues from the spring are no longer a concern.

Elsewhere, there is uncertainty. The right tackle battle features an undersized technician (Paul Pinegar), an inexperienced option (redshirt freshman R.J. Dill) and a promising player with an extensive history of foot injuries (Tyler Bowen).

Redshirt freshman Justin Lewis is favored to win the right guard job, and Andrew Gonnella and Lamar Young begin camp splitting reps at left guard.

The three have combined to play in three career games, almost exclusively after the outcome was decided. That group, though, is unwilling to let the absence of a track record determine the course of their year.

“Nobody knows anything until the season starts,” Young said. “It’s just predictions. You can think what you want, but we predict we’re going to be pretty good.”

It was a common sentiment for the entire unit. Franklin said he was impressed with the group’s attitude, but realistically the Terps won’t entirely know what they have until the opener.

For now, it’s a matter of gradual improvement - especially since practice has started.

“I think they’re energized,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I’m going to be patient, but I think they’re the key. If they can come along and play well for us, we’ll be pretty good on offense.”

Notes - Friedgen said nose tackle Dion Armstrong’s “eligibility is in question,” but the sophomore has joined the Terps for practice. …

Wide receiver Emani Lee-Odai (ankle) will miss the first week of camp. …

Friedgen said he is down 105 pounds on his diet, which he started 10 months ago.

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

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