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Terps' lines dotted by too many injuries

October 24, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - There is only one thing tougher than holding that line for the University of Maryland football team.

That would be forming one.

Seven games into the season and the Terrapins are at the bare minimum - five healthy and experienced offensive linemen and not much more than that on the defensive line - as they head into what has become a key Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division game on Saturday against Clemson.

And considering the line is the first line of protection on offense and resistance on defense, it is becoming more difficult for the Terrapins to protect or resist anything with each passing game.

"It is what it is," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen at his weekly media conference. "I told the team (Monday) that we've got five guys who can play and we are going to try to bring some of the younger kids along."

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Line play became the hot topic of conversation Tuesday. It was more important than the ongoing quarterback question (Who starts: Chris Turner or Jordan Steffy?). It was a juicier topic than allowing Virginia a game-ending 90-yard drive for a touchdown and a 18-17 victory on Saturday or three controversial calls which help sustain the drive.

It even made the obligatory "How do you come back from a loss like that" question just a glossed-over point.

That's because none of it mattered if Maryland can't put together two solid lines.

On offense, the Terps lost right guard Andrew Crummey with a broken leg during Oct. 6's win over Georgia Tech. On Saturday, left guard Jaimie Thomas broke his left leg and is out for the season. Maryland started the season with seven experienced linemen who rotated playing time.

On defense, end Mack Frost injured his right knee and had season-ending surgery. Reserve tackle Travis Ivey was already out with a knee problem from the Georgia Tech game.

"Our line was pretty good with Crummey and Thomas," Friedgen said. "You lose two of the better offensive guards in the conference, that hurts you. And now that Phil Costa and Jack Griffin have to play every down, we are losing our flexibility. We are going to have to start playing some younger kids that have to play one position, and that limits us.

"We have to practice to develop the younger kids and yet we can't wear the other starters out, so I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place."

Maryland's depth chart has five freshmen listed as backups for the offensive line this week.

The lack of depth on the offensive line is huge for the Terps because of other circumstances. The line problems carry over to almost every aspect of the offense.

For example, Turner is a redshirt sophomore who had no real game experience until last month. He went from third string to backup before the season and has been the No. 1 quarterback for the last 2 1/2 games. That's because opening game starter Jordan Steffy sustained a concussion during the Rutgers game and has yet to receive doctor's clearance to resume playing.

"The offensive line is a factor in Jordan's situation," Friedgen said. "He has to be totally healthy before I can let him go back in and play. I can't have him go in and get hurt right away again. But you can't guarantee that. I was concerned for Chris last week."

Maryland held its own against Virginia until Thomas went down. The Terps rolled up 133 yards in the 20 plays that Thomas was on the field and only 100 yards in the 37 after he left.

Even deeper, the running game suffered and so did Turner's protection while throwing the ball. The Terps rushed for 92 yards - and a 14-3 lead - on 16 carries with Thomas and managed only 38 yards on 22 carries after he left.

Meanwhile, Turner was pressured and was sacked for a safety in the third quarter to bring Virginia within 17-12 in what might have been the turning point of the game.

Now the Terps need to find some answers. Maryland (4-3, 1-2) is still two victories away from a bowl while hanging on by a thread for a chance at the Atlantic title and a trip to the ACC Championship game with two league losses.

"It's all part of the game," said tailback Keon Lattimore. "There is a lot of turmoil in football. You get guys hurt and then you have to get the young guys ready. I have 100-percent confidence in the line. They have got to step up and become men fast, but that is the reason you come to college - to become a man. They want to have the opportunity to have their number called. Now they have to take it."

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