The Terps have come a long way in the last three years in finally building what could have the makings of the BIG offensive line. But they are not quite there yet.
With spring camp beginning March 7, and with three starters moving on, it's time for some key underclassmen to finally step in the breach and live up to their accolades after several hits and misses a year ago.
That starts with sophomore Derwin Gray, the best left tackle on campus (shoot, the best tackle), if and when he ever starts to put his body and mind to it.
Slowed by injury and inconsistency last year, the former Under Armour All-American never ascended to the top spot, beat out by former overachieving walk-ons like Michael Dunn.
Gray has the size (6-feet-5, 328 pounds), and all the measureables and movement you want in your blind-side protector, but he has yet to master his assignments and play with a "streak." This will be a big spring for him trying to lock down that left side, or he could get left behind again, something the Terps really can't afford at this time. He has played in spurts, needs to play lower, and needs to master all the "little things" to become a regular.
Another youngster who is beginning to blossom is sophomore center Brendan Moore, the Texas native with very good athleticism, flexibility and "football IQ." He could be a three-year stalwart in the middle, replacing last year's starter Evan Mulrooney.
The middle of the line was a problem last year at times, with not enough strength, but the future looks bright with Moore, as well as redshirt freshman Quarvez Boulware, the brightest young pup in the large 2015 haul of offensive linemen. Boulware, the former four-star signee, can play center or guard.
Sophomore Damian Prince, despite thrown in the fire at times last year and suffering a concussion late, acquitted himself well as a rookie, all things considered. A massive physical presence at 6-3, 328-pounds, the five-star recruit came in with Gray but has surpassed him so far with his grasp of the game and his physicality. The good news is he can play both tackle in a pinch, or guard, which is his more natural position.
The other "flex" guy is the senior Dunn, who also played both positions last year and is the Terps most experienced returner despite his humble beginnings out of Walt Whitman High School. So he can go at either tackle, say, for instance, if Gray doesn't step up his game, or guard -- and on both sides.
When looking at the "best five" overall, another former walk-on, junior Mike Minter (6-3, 305) would be your other guard/fifth guy. Minter was injured late last season, so he (and many others when the spring injured list is released this month) availability will have to be assessed next week. Minter is another fierce competitor and "smart guy" in the trenches, though was undervalued in recruiting.
So those five, with Boulware as the likely No. 6, stand out the most heading into spring ball from our vantage point. New line coach Dave Borbely will also be looking to see if career reserve JaJuan Dulaney, a rising junior and former Georgia native three-star signee, can ever crack the rotation, among others, while valuable reserve (and yet another walk-on) Maurice Shelton returns for another season and stepped in last season late due to injuries.
Others to monitor for the two-deep this spring include sophomore Sean Christie, who showed flashes last fall in practice after blowing out his knee in his rookie camp. But who among a young, but still-raw, crop of freshmen/underclassmen like Ellis McKennie, Mason Zimmerman, and Will McClain will rise up to fill some crucial two-deep spots? There's also another walk-on inside, sophomore Joe Marchese, returning.
Maryland has signed excellent, back-to-back offensive line classes, headlined by more Under Armour All-Americans this winter. So the Terps are building towards a good future. But this season is crucial for the likes of Gray -- and establishing himself once and for all -- and continuing to build the future 2-3 deep with the numbers/talent now here. Four-star Under Armour All-American guard Terrance Davis out of DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) was the gem of this year's class.
The line, which also lost wily three-year starter Andrew Zeller at guard and jack-of-all-trades senior Ryan Doyle to graduation, was up and down for much of last season, lacking the physicality/punch in the run game, and yielding 35 sacks. One could hang several of those sacks on poor quarterback decisions, though, while the offense in general was under duress with signal-caller play so spotty.
The Terps are still trying to get meaner/nastier in the trenches, and instill more of a "downhill" attitude up front. Meanwhile, this spring they will have a slightly tweaked scheme with new offensive coordinator Walt Bell's more up-tempo, spread attack than Mike Locksley's conventional spread looks of the last three years.