Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Inexperienced O-line could cost Terps

The Wall Street Journal had a recent story that should give Maryland fans some trepidation about the coming football season. In that story the Journal explored the correlation between the number of career starts for an offensive line and the success of the team. They pointed out that Alabama, Utah and Ole Miss all had very experienced offensive lines that contributed to their surprisingly successful seasons. On the other hand Clemson, Georgia and Missouri all struggled to meet preseason expectations with inexperienced offensive lines.

In the ACC only Duke has fewer career starts than Maryland's 27. Center Phil Costa(19) and left tackle Bruce Campbell(8) account for all of those starts on the line. Lamar Young and Justin Lewis, a sophomore and redshirt freshman respectively, are currently slated to start at the guard positions. The undersized Paul Pinager (6-4, 280) is currently listed at right tackle but it would be a bad sign if either Tyler Bowen or Stephen St. John don't take over the position. The one bright spot is that there is some quality depth on the line so the staff will be able to replace underachieving players even if their backups have little experience either. The preseason practices should be very competitive and it will be worth watching the position battles on the offensive line closely.

In case you were wondering Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Florida State and Boston College rank as the most experienced offensive line units in the ACC. It will be a fierce battle for the Atlantic division but Maryland is unlikely to be in the mix. The Terps do have a big advantage with senior, and third year starter, Chris Turner at quarterback but as Clemson demonstrated last season a weak offensive line can nullify a good quarterback. On the other hand experience doesn't always translate into success as Maryland's own offensive line proved last year. As I wrote in previewing the offensive line last August that while they were the third most experienced line in the ACC they had never gelled as a group. Like Virginia Tech's line this season there were enough struggles to make you wonder if they were just a collection of mediocre players that were a year older. Ralph Friedgen will have to hope that this young group of players can gel quickly or that he finds the right combination to start the season. At least at the most critical position Maryland has a likely All-ACC candidate in Bruce Campbell.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Maryland improves APR but still trails in ACC

The NCAA released the annual APR (academic progress report) and it was a mixed bag for Maryland. The men's basketball team has improved the dismal graduation rates that garnered so much media attention in recent years with the last four seniors either graduated or likely to graduate things seemed headed in the right direction. I am sympathetic to Gary Williams claims that the NCAA's formula doesn't account for transfers, junior college players or early NBA entrants and so is not a foolproof way of measuring a school's commitment to educating its student athletes. You can tell these are somewhat of a farce by noticing that a few years ago Florida State had an APR rating in the top 10% of the the NCAA for its basketball program and was inside the top 30% for its football program while massive academic fraud and cheating was taking place.

The numbers still say that Maryland is last in men's basketball in the ACC but the surprising thing is that the football team has seen its numbers decline the last few years and now sits at last in the ACC with a 931 score. That is above the 925 cutoff number that could trigger sanctions but the trends on the football team bear watching. It is worth noting that not many other non-revenue sports at Maryland perform much better compared to their peers: only the men's swimming, and women's field hockey, lacrosse and track score better than the 80th percentile.

You can read more about the report on Patrick Stevens' Washington Times blog here.

The most notable ACC school to suffer penalties was Georgia Tech which had its men's basketball team lose two scholarships. Things just got more difficult for Paul Hewitt but he may not be around long enough to worry about it.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Filling holes

Here is a quick look at who will replace the Terrapin football players taken in the draft a few weeks ago:

WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (1st Round)
Replacement: Torrey Smith
Smith really came on at the end of the season and started the last six games. He may not have some of the speed or measurables of Heyward-Bey, though he isn't lacking in quickness or moves, but he is a playmaker. With Heyward-Bey nursing an injury against Boston College Smith had a coming out party with 8 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown against a pretty good defense. In the last six games Smith caught 16 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown while Heyward-Bey had 19 catches for 233 yards and a touchdown. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Smith matches or betters Heyward-Bey's totals from last season with perhaps more consistent performances.

CB Kevin Barnes (3rd Round)
Replacement: Anthony Wiseman
Barnes might be the toughest player to replace. Neither Wiseman nor Nolan Carroll have the tools or instincts that Barnes possesses but with an improves group of safeties and a new and aggressive scheme by defensive coordinator Don Brown perhaps the staff can offset the loss of an elite college corner like Barnes.

LB Moise Fokou (7th Round)
Replacement: Demetrius Hartsfield
The linebacker corps will look very different this coming season. There are a grab bag of younger players looking to take up spots and outside of Adrian Moten it isn't clear where anyone is going to play. Alex Wujciak would likely to be another starter but is coming off surgery. Things were desperate enough that the staff took tight end washout Drew Gloster and moved him to middle linebacker for the spring. Fokou was a very reliable player who was normally right where he needed to be even if he wasn't a "big play" defender. Unless one of the younger 'backers can develop quickly it will be tough to replace his steady play.

LG Jamie Thomas (7th Round)
Replacement: Lamar Young or Andrew Gonnella
Like the rest of the offensive line this position is searching for answers among a group of young and mostly untested reserves. Young would seem to be the early favorite to replace Thomas but the whole line is in such flux it is hard to say who will play where outside of center (Phil Costa) and left tackle (Bruce Campbell). Thomas was at times a dominant run blocker but like the rest of the unit struggled with consistency, especially in pass blocking.

TE Dan Gronkowski (7th Round)
Replacement: Lansford Watson
Watson has all the tools to be a great college tight end but the staff has been disappointed in his performance at times. He has the size and speed you want in a tight end but can he commit to blocking and running disciplined routes? He may give way to Tommy Galt if he cannot convince the staff he is committed to being the starter. H-backs Devonte Campbell and Matt Furstenburg might also revive the position if neither Watson and Galt cannot provide the production in the passing game. Based on talent alone this group has the potential to improve on Gronkowski's 29 catches, 287 yards and 3 touchdowns but hasn't shown enough to instill confidence that will happen.