The Offensive Line Continues to Improve
It is no secret that Maryland's offensive line is a "work in progress". During the preseason, the offensive linemen shifted more then car with a manual transmission. Players shifted horizontally, like Ryan Doyle, who moved from left to right tackle. Then there were vertical shifts, like Michael Dunn, who moved up the depth chart and earned a starting spot.
When summer came to an end, so did the shifting. Randy Edsall found his five best lineman: left tackle Mike Madaras, left guard De'Onte Arnett, center Sal Conaboy, right guard Michael Dunn, and right tackle Ryan Doyle.
For the first time in the past two years Maryland's line finally has some stability. Through three games, the Terps have not had to deal with any injuries or personnel changes, allowing the front five to finally develop some continuity.
"I think out offense line is getting better. I like the fact that we haven't had any injuries there because I think that group needs as much work as they can get together all the time because of all the complexity and issues they have to face," head coach Randy Edsall said. "The more those guys can work together and communicate the better they are going to be. We've made progress but we have plenty of work to do. As long as we can continue to make progress that's what we are shooting for."
In 2012, Maryland gave up 10 sacks in its first three games of the season, this year the O-line has only given up three. No wonder quarterback C.J. Brown is happy about the line's progress.
"The communication has really gotten better each and every practice. Just going out there and making the right calls and everyone being comfortable with each other," Brown said. "I think it has been good for Sal [Conaboy] and good for myself to have an established line, and know who is going to be out there week in and week out."
The true test will come on Saturday, when the Terps face border-rival West Virginia at M&T Bank Stadium. In Morgantown last season, Maryland gave up five sacks, and there is no doubt the Mountaineers will bring the pressure on Saturday.
"This will be the toughest defense we've faced so far," offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. "The big thing is that they create pressure with their odd front. They've got some zone pressures that hey like to bring and that helps add guys to the box to stop the run and I think their secondary, especially their safeties, are athletic and talented and good tacklers. They play well in space. They create turnovers. We're going to have a challenge this Saturday and I know we're looking forward to it."
The O-line will do its best to keep C.J. Brown on his feet Saturday, but there are other lingering issues that need to be hammered out before the game as well. Maryland failed to convert on fourth-and-one twice against Connecticut, and they didn't fare much better on third down either. One of the failed conversions translated into seven points for the Huskies, who reached the end zone the following drive.
"That's something [converting third and fourth-downs] that an offensive line prides its self on," center Sal Conaboy said. "As an offensive unit when the coach has the trust in us to go and do that and we don't get it done, that is definitely frustrating. It is definitely something we can take and work on this week."
Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley wasn't pleased about the offense's poor conversion rate, but he also acknowledged that those plays are part of the growing process. There are still a lot of new faces in the offense, even if they are familiar ones.
"One of the things that jumped out to me in short yard situations is that on at least two of the situations our quarterback should have pulled the football and the conversion would have been there," Locksley said. "So there really are a number of things that contribute to improving that."
The good news is the faces on the offense line aren't changing. After utilizing four different lineups in 2012, Maryland's starting five has yet to change this season.
Center Sal Conaboy is the anchor of the line up front. He is responsible for making split-second decisions and adjustments that need to be made on every down. Conaboy admits his natural tendency is to lead by example, but this season he has made an effort to prove he can be a vocal leader that can lead this young developing line.
"I've been trying to work on all aspects of being a leader. I think it helps me to go out there and have to communicate and have to just get everyone on the same page," Conaboy said. "It's been really good. I have definitely noticed a difference week-to-week, from our communication to guys being locked in on their assignments, I definitely feel like it is coming together."
Conaboy paused and added, "But I guess we will really find out on Saturday."
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