Thursday, August 14, 2008

Season Preview: Offensive Line

It doesn't take a football genius to figure out that a team's fortunes are almost always tied to how well they play on the line of scrimmage. When Maryland has had a stable and healthy offensive line the team has normally done well and when it hasn't the record reflects that too. This year the offensive line is one of the most mature in the ACC with 66 career starts among its returning starters from last season. Only North Carolina and Virginia Tech have more career starts among their returning starters from last season. This line is very experienced but it is an open question as to how good this group will play. Having a high number of mediocre players returning may not produce good results. The line was 10th in the ACC with 40 sacks allowed and 10th in sacks per pass attempt even though the offense was a mostly run oriented scheme. There were injury issues on the line and the quarterbacks didn't help matters but that isn't a great sign going into this year. The run blocking wasn't exactly outstanding either and too often Maryland couldn't finish off drives or convert short yardage when the team needed it.

Both the tackle spots are held by fifth year seniors with Scott Burley on the left and Dane Randolph on the right. Both are solid if unspectacular and do a decent job run blocking. Each has a history of injuries and it has probably sapped them of their athleticism. Each is somewhat stiff in pass blocking and struggle with speed rushers. Behind them is sophomore Bruce Campbell who came in as a true freshman and played well. He could fill in at either tackle spot.

Jamie Thomas returns at guard after missing some of the end of last season with an broken bone in his leg. He is a massive and physical guard who should excel at run blocking. He hasn't shown the ability to dominate on the line as he should given his 6-4 330 pound NFL style body. I expect that he will elevate his play this year with Andrew Crummy having moved on. At right guard Phil Costa and Jack Griffin will battle for the starting spot. Griffin's body type makes him much better suited to play tackle and at 6-6 300 pounds he would struggle to keep a low center of gravity against defensive tackles. Costa is a more natural interior lineman and can also play center but was at times overpowered last season. If he has been able to upgrade his strength he should be able to take over the position at some point.

The true anchor of the line is center Edwin Williams. He is a smart and feisty player who is a leader on and off the field. He is a preseason All-ACC pick and deservedly so since he will likely find his way to an NFL training camp next year. As the commander of the line he needs to cut down on his mental mistakes and make more of the right calls in blocking. Though the line is experienced whether it will gel into an effective unit will have much to do with how Williams handles being the leader of this group. Besides that Williams is a real credit to Maryland's football program and a solid student athlete.

It will be worth keeping an eye on the health and early effectiveness of this group. If they struggle to dominate teams like Delaware and Eastern Michigan then the offense will struggle again this season. The young running backs need help from the line to open some running lanes and they need to give Chris Turner or Jordan Steffy the time to find open receivers.

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