Young O-Line to Become Strongpoint for Terps

Injuries led to playing time, valuable experience in 2010

At the conclusion of the Maryland-Florida State showdown, just two of the five offensive starting linemen from the Terps’ opening day lineup remained on the field in their original positions.

Once again, injuries plagued the Terrapins, who thought they had established their line after mixing and matching throughout the 2009 season. But the time on the field for the young reserves, however, may prove to be the building blocks for a battle-tested line heading into 2011 and beyond.

After losing starting left tackle Justin Gilbert and second-string right tackle Pete DeSouza to various injuries this season, the Terps once again witnessed déjà vu. Right guard Justin Lewis went down with a knee injury, and center Bennett Fulper suffered a hand injury, forcing their eighth and nine linemen to see action.

True freshman Max Garcia took the field at left tackle for the first time in 2010, and redshirt freshman Pete White manned the right guard spot. In total, the scrappy offensive line allowed the nation-leading Seminoles to sack quarterback Danny O’Brien twice.

“They have [had] every reason in the world to cave in this year, throw in the white towel because they have been through so much. They continue to fight and it continues to impress me each week,” O’Brien said.

The Terps have tested about four different line shuffles now, leaning on Dill’s ability to play both left and right tackle and Paul Pinegar to fill in anywhere. Pinegar, the only senior on the line, is the only player who will not return in 2011.

R.J. Dill, Andrew Gonnella, Justin Lewis and Justin Gilbert will pioneer a veteran line next season. It will be the decision of Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen who selects the best candidate to find the fifth lineman.

Regardless, it is the invaluable playing time these young hogs have already gathered that instills a sense of confidence going forward.

“Going into the year, I was concerned about our depth at offensive line because obviously last year we struggled in that area; we were forced to play a lot of young players,” Friedgen said.

As a result, however, “All of those guys are going to grow up one day and be pretty good because they are going to have a lot of experience from playing a long time.”

Fulper returned to the game in the fourth quarter Saturday after X-rays on his hand proved negative, but there has been no word on which starting five Friedgen will elect to start against North Carolina State.

There is reason to believe that in addition to the starters, presumably Dill, Gonnella, Fulper and Pinegar, that Garcia and White will receive time. Another dark horse could be the newest lineman, DeOnte Arnett.

Following the injury to DeSouza, former defensive linemen Arnett chose to switch sides of the ball. Friedgen calls the transition amazing because how rapidly his progress has been.

Due to his instincts, intelligence and improvements he has made, he may have no choice but put him in the game.

“Is he ready to play against the 23rd team in the country? I don’t know. He’s a lot further ahead than I thought he would be at this time. And who knows? We may have to play him,” Friedgen said.

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