COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Besides center Brendan Moore and tackle Damian Prince, who both started all 13 games for the Terps last season, Maryland’s offensive line has been a work in progress. But with Moore and Prince returning to their positions as juniors next season, a new offensive line coach in place and several other blockers looking primed to breakout, 2017 could be the year that the potential the Terps offensive line has comes to fruition.
“I tell them all of the time that I think we have a lot of potential, but we have to turn that potential into production,” Maryland offensive line coach and former Terps blocker (2007-2010) Tyler Bowen said. “That’s what we’re doing right now in spring ball. That’s what we’ll continue to do throughout the summer and what we’ll continue to do through fall camp. But I think that’s where we are. There are a lot of really talented players. There are a lot of guys who have played a ton of games, that have experience, but we have to turn all of that potential into pure production and pick up where they stopped last year and keep improving throughout the summer and fall camp.”
Last season, the Terps excelled in run blocking and helped Maryland rush for nearly 200 yards per game and eclipse 2,500 yards on the ground for the first time since 2003. But pass protection was a different story. Maryland allowed 3.77 sacks per game in 2016, which ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams.
With added emphasis on pass blocking heading into next season, Maryland’s blockers are taking the task of protecting their quarterback very seriously.
“I feel like we have to take that personally,” Prince said. “We have to put that chip on our shoulder and kind of go about the season with that chip on our shoulder so that we don’t just forget. I think we’r going to have a good, productive season this year, but at the same time, I feel like it’s imperative to not forget the past and where we came from and don’t forget why we work as hard to be as good as we’re going to be.”
Prince, who Bowen said he has been particularly impressed with during spring practices, is not only looking to have a breakout campaign as a junior, he’s also hoping to take the next step as a leader for his teammates on and off the field.
“I’m now an upperclassmen going into my fourth year of being with the program and I want to be a guy that some of the younger guys can look up to,” Prince said. “I took it upon myself to take it up a notch with everything in the film room, in the weight room, even when it comes to stuff like class and just being an overall leader. I want to be someone that guys on the team can look up to on and off the field. I feel like that’s very important and I want to be that guy.”
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Prince, a former five-star recruit, is expected to bookend the Terps offensive line along with fellow highly recruited D.C. native Derwin Gray, who said he and Prince talk often about fulfilling their potential and making a name for themselves at Maryland.
“We talk about it all of the time because our lockers are right beside one another, so we always talk about how we came in highly recruited and how we now finally have the opportunity to be both tackles and basically represent where we come from because we both lived near each other and things like that,” Gray said. “So it’s bigger than us. We look at football as a way to put on for our families and also help our situation.”
Because of injury and several coaching changes, Gray’s career in College Park didn’t get off to as fast of a start as many would have hoped. But the 6-foot-5, 328-pounder is finally healthy and feeling good about the progression he has made throughout spring ball.
“Everybody knows I’ve been through two surgeries and things like that, but it feels great to be out here practicing with the guys and getting ready for the spring game, staying healthy through spring ball,” Gray said. “So it has been great and now I just have to continue to take care of my body off the field and make sure I stay on top of everything.”
Prince and Gray are now on their third offensive line coach since coming to College Park, but Bowen brings a millennial approach that could go a long way in coaching his players.
“He’s different because he’s a younger guy so he’s more familiar with some of the nuances of the position,” Prince said. “He’s into Twitter and things like that, so he looks up certain things and finds certain things that he feels are cool and he’s able to send out links to us constantly of little techniques. So I feel like that’s kind of what he brings to the table that’s kind of been different from what I’ve experienced in the past.”
Bowen has only been in College Park for a few months, but being able to reach out to his players on social media and through text messaging has helped accelerate his connection with them and assist his coaching.
“Maybe I’m just computer savvy, I don’t know,” Bowen said. “A lot of times when these guys get done here their time is so valuable so they get out of here and they have academics and other things on their plate, so if I see something on film I might video it and send it to them in a message. If I see something on Twitter that kind of reiterates what I’ve been teaching. All of these guys are all visual learners, so I think all of that stuff helps and as many ways as we can do that, as many tools as we can use to keep it light, keep it new, keep it fresh, I think that’s always good.”
But if you ask Bowen, the biggest thing he can provide for his unit is being able to relate to them because of the experience he gained while playing their same position at Maryland less than a decade ago.
“I think empathy is a good word,” Bowen said. “I tell guys all of the time--the players, the guys that we’re recruiting--I think I provide a unique perspective for guys because I’m not a coach that played the game 35 years ago, I’m a guy who has played it in the last 10 years. I’ve downblocked the three technique in what used to be Byrd Stadium and is now Maryland Stadium. I’ve been at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night and have had to play those games, so I know what they’re going through.
“I think empathy is a good word, but not sympathy. I also know what it likes to come out here and work hard and work towards a common goal with the guys. And I think some of that perspective is good for them and I think it’s good that I can provide that for them having done it not that long ago.”
Along with Prince, Bowen mentioned Moore, Gray, sophomore Terrance Davis and junior Sean Christie as the blockers that have stood out the most in spring ball. Those five have received most of the work with the first unit and could very well be the Terps starting offensive line next season.