Pinegar: The Centerpiece to the Terps' O-Line

Maryland center Paul Pinegar is now the centerpiece of the offensive line.

In sports history, position changes are not that rare. This past season, nine-time consecutive Gold Glove award winner Torii Hunter moved from center field to right field. In fact, a few years back, future Hall of Famer Alex Rodriguez moved from shortstop to third place when he became a New York Yankee. Even Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. made the switch.

But in the game of football, it’s not as common to change your positions, especially on a yearly basis. That’s why the Maryland Terrapins are lucky to have do-it-all lineman Paul Pinegar on the roster.

This season, you’ll find Pinegar listed as the team’s starting center. As a freshman in 2007, however, he played in five games as a left tackle. In his junior season, the lineman started all 12 games, including right tackle, left tackle and left guard, becoming the first lineman to start at all three positions during the Ralph Friedgen era, according to the official Maryland football Web site.

“This past spring was a big learning experience for me,” Pinegar explained. “Snapping the ball was a whole new element I had to learn. I didn’t have a lot of trouble with the under center snaps, but shotgun [snaps] were a little hard at first. I think I’ve got that pretty much down now. Being able to snap and go at the same time is a completely new element that was brought to the table. I think this fall I’m really starting to fit into [the new position].”

And a learning experience it was. When asked what the biggest thing he picked up about the position between the spring and training camp, Pinegar replied “communication.”

“Communication is probably the most important part of being t he center. Getting everybody on the same page is the most important thing. Being able to get up , get set, read the defense and get everybody on the same page rather than just lollygagging up to the line and snapping the ball and not knowing what you’re doing.”

In addition to snapping the ball, Pinegar had to learn the other nuances of the position, including pointing out defenders, learning what his fellow linemen’s blocking assignments are and determining blocks or protections under certain circumstances.

“Center has the position of being the quarterback of the offensive line. I got to point out the Mike linebacker each play because a lot of times our plays revolve around where that certain linebacker is,” according to Pinegar. “I really got to help everyone get on the same page.”

Fortunately, being familiar with all five positions along the offensive line has eased Pinegar’s transition. After all, you need to have faith in your player to ask him to make such a move.

“I think my experience has really helped me. If you were going to ask a true freshman to move from tackle to center, it would be a very hard transition. I think slowly moving me inward was beneficial for me and a smart move by the coaches.”

What’s interesting about Pinegar is his lack of inquisition from his former Terps teammates. Both Edwin Williams, a three-year starter at center at Maryland, and Phil Costa, who spent two years playing both guard positions and his senior season as the starting center, were in similar situations.

“I was pretty close with Edwin Williams and Phil [Costa] was my locker neighbor and we talked a lot. I haven’t been able to talk to them a lot about the [center] position,” Pinegar said. “I should have [asked for advice] because both played center and guard at one point or another.”

Pinegar compared himself to Costa, as both chose to be silent leaders and do most of their speaking through their gritty play on the field.

“I’m generally not a vocal guy. I try to lead by example by using good effort in practice – finishing a block, not talking back to the coaches – basically, just trying to show these young guys what to do by not speaking a lot is my M.O. “

“Phil [Costa] and I were kind of the same person. He didn’t talk a lot either. He was pretty quiet and reserved. He wasn’t very vocal. also told guys to just do what they’re told and make sure you know your assignments. He was never a guy to get on somebody or be offering up advice. That was just his nature – he was another lead by example-type guy.”

Hopefully, Pinegar’s leadership can anchor an offensive line that allowed 25 sacks to opposing defenses last season. As most people are quick to dub the offensive line as the weakest group of players on the Terps’ team, Pinegar believes that they’re ready to prove their doubters wrong.

“I understand where they’re coming from,” Pinegar said. “We kind of had a rough year last year, losing five fifth-year seniors and having to replace all those [positions]. I think we’re ready to step up to the challenge. I think we’re all ready to prove ourselves worthy.”

Throughout the offseason, the offensive line has been challenged by a talented defense – they’re own. Defensive coordinator Don Brown and his attacking style of defense is what convinced Pinegar that the offensive line is capable of handling almost any opposing defense this season.

“I think practicing against our defense and what coach [Don] Brown has been putting in – they’re a very unorthodox defense. They bring a lot of different things, and I think being able to block those things is really just going to help us. Plus, we also have a quarterback who can make something of his legs in Jamarr [Robinson]. If he feels pressure, he can get out and get 10 yards on his own.”

While a lot rests of Robinson and his array of talent, his success is limited to whatever the offensive line brings to the table. The team is expected to start Justin Lewis, Andrew Gonnella, R.J. Dill and Justin Gilbert alongside Pinegar – all of whom have seen playing time in their careers.

“I’m hoping that that experience will really help up to mature for this season,” Pinegar said. “I think the offense rests of the offensive line’s back. The quarterback can’t pass if the [offensive] line can’t protect. The running backs can’t run if we don’t block. Obviously the offensive line has to do well for the offense to do well. I think as good of a season we’re going to have is all depending on how well we perform.”

And with high expectations like that, a team must be confident and have a steady mindset – both of which have been preached all offseason by Friedgen.

“As a team, our expectations – we’re taking it one game at a time. Our goal is beat to Navy and become 1-0, then focuses on the next game and become 2-0 and so on,” Pinegar said. “For myself, I really just hope that I can b e a good leader for the offensive line and the rest of the line. I hope people see me as a leader.”

Pinegar’s other expectations extend off the football field though. As a history major at Maryland, he’s earned three consecutive Academic All-ACC selections. His academic career is something he puts first and foremost.

“[Being named as an Academic All-ACC choice] says that I can do well both on and off the field, especially at Maryland. Maryland is not exactly an easy school. History is not exactly an easy major.”

When I asked Pinegar about his future after graduating from Maryland, he laughed at the prospects of lining up as an NFL lineman. While he recognizes he brings a lot to the table, he’s more focused on his “plan B.”

“The NFL – if it happens, it happens. Going there, I’m going to market my versatility, my technique, my knowledge of assignments. But really, that’s a dream, but I’m building a backup [plan].

As for his immediate future, Pinegar, along with the rest of his teammates are focused on taking the “one game at a time” approach, and could only look to the Sept. 6 matchup against in-state rival Navy. However, he did mention he has a bigger dream he’s anticipating.

“Four months from now we’ll be practicing for the ACC Championship game and then the Orange Bowl. That’s our dream, but we’re taking it one game at a time.”

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