Terps Football Spring Preview: Offensive Line

Pat Donohue, Staff Writer
Terrapin Sports Report

Graduated: Joe Marchese, Michael Dunn, Maurice Shelton

Returning: Derwin Gray, Richard Merritt, Damian Prince, Brendan Moore, Ellis McKennie, Sean Christie, Brian Plummer, Terrance Davis, Will McLain

Early Enrollees: Tyran Hunt

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USA TODAY Sports

Last season:

There was a lot of mixing and matching on the Terps offensive line last year. Besides then-sophomores Brendan Moore at center and Damian Prince at right tackle who started all 13 games at their spots, every position along the offensive front saw Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin make some change throughout the season. That’s not always the best formula for a unit that usually thrives on consistency, but the extra playing time some young blockers received while rotating in and out last year should only help the Terps offensive line moving forward.

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Despite being relatively young across the line in 2016, Maryland’s blockers still helped the Terps become the Big Ten’s fourth-best rushing offense with 199.5 yards on the ground per game and run for more than 2,500 yards for the first time since 2003. But pass blocking was arguably the team’s biggest weakness. The Big Ten-worst 3.8 sacks per game that the Terps let up last season was almost one sack more than the next-worst team in the conference (Northwestern, 3.0). But even while being pummeled at times, Terps quarterback Perry Hills was able to get enough help from his blockers to lead the Big Ten in completion percentage.

Another area where Maryland’s offensive could stand to improve from last season is in its discipline. The Terps were the most penalized team in the conference last year and many of those calls were against blockers along the offensive front.

Besides Moore and Prince, Mike Minter and Quarvez Boulware--who have both since left the program--Michael Dunn, Derwin Gray, Maurice Shelton and Terrance Davis all saw significant time and started at least one game on the offensive line for Maryland last year. Gray and Davis figure to have significant roles moving forward.

Top Storyline:

Will Prince and Gray live up to expectations?

The two juniors were local headliners of Maryland’s 2014 class and will likely be the Terps starting tackles next season. But neither Washington, D.C., native has shown much yet in their careers in College Park to quite warrant their high prospects coming out of high school--Prince was a five-star recruit and Gray a four-star.

But Prince and Gray can both put any doubters to rest with a solid season as the bookends of Maryland’s offensive line in 2017. There were just three games last season where Prince started at right tackle and Gray at left for the Terps, but a full offseason set in those spots could help build camaraderie along Maryland’s offensive line.

Size isn’t an issue for either blocker as they both look more like Big Ten-caliber offensive linemen than basically anyone else on the roster, sans Davis and perhaps early enrollee Tyran Hunt.

Spring practices are a bit too early to tell whether this is going to be a combination that works for the Terps, but unlike last season, there aren’t a handful of upperclassmen waiting in the wings to fill in if Prince or Gray can’t handle their workload, so the job security is most likely there one way or another. But if last year’s playing time helps and their potential begins to come to fruition, Prince and Gray could make Maryland’s offensive line reach new heights.

Prediction:

Davis will make a name for himself this season. The former four-star recruit out of Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic appeared in all 13 games for Maryland as a true freshman last season and finished the year with nine consecutive starts at right guard.

The 6-foot-3, 315-pound blocker was already one of the highest-rated prospects in a talented 2016 recruiting class for the Terps, but all the experience he gained in his first season in College Park should help him play like a sophomore that’s well beyond his years.

Davis’ biggest issue last season was getting called for penalties, but that’s to be expected of any true freshman playing his first high-level college football. Other than a false start here or a holding there, Davis did not looked outmatched by his competition while blocking and should only improve moving forward.

It will be interesting to see what guard position Davis starts at next season or if the Terps coaches entertain the idea of sliding him to tackle if Prince or Gray struggle. But regardless of where he plays, Davis is already one of the most physically imposing players on Maryland’s roster and should be in for a big sophomore year.

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