COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Spring is a time for change and rebirth, and no Maryland Terp is reveling more in a renewal this month than junior offensive lineman Evan Mulrooney.
For two years he had been pulling on former offensive line coach Tom Brattan's shirtsleeve, bending his ear, about moving to guard. But it never happened. This spring, under new offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, Mulrooney, a former starter relegated to deep reserve duty in 2013, has finally gotten his wish.
Mulrooney is the Terps' only spring positional experiment this month, though he did see some spot guard duty in practices in 2013 when the Terps got hit by the injury bug.
He's at left guard this month, splitting reps evenly with senior junior college transfer Silvano Altamirano in one of the tightest camp battles this spring.
"Really, I am just so excited to play, have an opportunity....the fact that the coaches have a little trust in me and believe in me and think I can contribute as a guard. But I had been hounding the guys for two years, 'I think we would really benefit, I think we would really benefit,'" Mulrooney said with a smile.
Mulrooney, who had the misfortune of being stuck behind the Terps' biggest fixture up front, senior center Sal Conaboy, didn't even hear about the move until he read media reports last week on the eve of spring camp when Randy Edsall announced the news at his pre-spring presser.
"It was kind of crazy, but it's a breath of a fresh air. When I finally saw it in the papers, that I'd be playing guard, I was super-happy," Mulrooney said.
Mulrooney, at 6-feet-5, 295 pounds, is one of the more cerebral, thinking-man's Terps up front, while he's easily one of the team's biggest comics and cut-ups. But on the field he takes it all in stride and absorbs the mental work quickly, so the transition should be a smooth one.
"All the calls really are the same because as a center you are really only working with guards pretty much. Interior-wise, nothing changes," he said. "Outside, I am working with the tackles a little more. But the mindset's totally the same. You know, interior linemen, get nasty, get low, push people around and get after it. And get your nose bloody a little bit."
Last season, Mulrooney only saw reserve duty in eight games as backup to Conaboy, while most of those reps have come on special teams. He has seen a rebirth as well with Studrawa, though he was close with Brattan, who was his recruiter out of Delaware four years ago.
"He's just great," Mulrooney said. "Everyone is really on board with him because of all the knowledge and experience he brings to the table. Everyone is totally behind that and trusts what he is saying. What a great track record with all the guys down there [at LSU], and he has so many guys in the NFL. Him coming from the SEC, it's a really big breath of fresh air, you know, road graders, maulers, playing down there in ‘The Swamp.'"
Mulrooney said Studrawa has simplified things and cut back on many calls, and the thinking is now "more in concepts."
"He gives you more creative freedom and what not to now just react and not get up to the line and kind freeze up," he said. "It's more just get it and go, don't slow down, don't overthink things. So you love that attitude. So just play fast and give it all you can and if you do that you are fine in his book."
Mulrooney will still be an emergency backup at center, while Stephen Grommer is now listed at No. 2 behind Conaboy on the spring depth chart.
Mulrooney and Altamirano are good friends off the field, and keep the competition in perspective.
"And with Coach Studrawa, it's not so much like, 'We have to find five, we have to find five. Five, five, five. If I have to find six, seven, eight, if I can trust you guys to play, you'll play,'" he said.
Looking back to last year, Mulrooney was pretty blunt. Most of his playing time was toiling on the field goal team.
"It sucked. My worst nightmare came true to be honest with you," he said.
He said it never got so bad that he thought of leaving, while he added he totally respects Conaboy's game. But no Terp may be as happy to hit the field this month as Mulrooney, who despite the March 1 frigid morning temps when the Terps came out, was one of the few linemen wearing the Terps' new Under Armour spandex "short shorts" and reveling in it.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," when asked why he wasn't wearing the leggings most of his other teammates had on.
Mulrooney could easily overtake Altamirano, who is officially listed atop the spring depth chart at left guard, though there is an ‘or' separating the two given Altamirano was there all last season as a reserve.
"It was like well, if they don't play me at guard, I don't have many other options than just be Sal's backup and just lie down. So this just gives me such a great opportunity and gives me such a better outlook on things."
Mulrooney has kept the same weight as last year, and said he has kept up his same work ethic through the adversity. He said the line has so much better communication and chemistry after a year through the fire last season, and that he sees great opportunity for the 2014 offense with so many pieces back.
As far as that team comic goes, well Mulrooney can spend 8-10 minutes pulling a reporter's leg with some far-fetched story or hobby or obscure interest, only to break the news it was all a joke. But all with a straight face, and very believable. He loves a practical joke, while he did say, truthfully, his only new interest is fishing, which he's picked up with some of his fellow offensive line teammates and plans to pursue down south over spring break later this month.
Said Randy Edsall of Mulrooney after the first day of spring camp on Saturday, echoing his smarts and versatility:
"I think the thing is, it's different than playing center. It's just a matter of the footwork and the technique and he's got that down. He's smart enough."
Mulrooney Reveling in Move
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