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No Easy Answers To Offensive Troubles

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

 

September 16, 2002

COLLEGE PARK - Sorry to be so judgmental, especially just three games into the season, but Scott McBrien is not a Division I-A starting quarterback.

McBrien's performance in Maryland's embarrassing 37-10 loss to fifth-ranked Florida State provided further evidence that he simply does not have the tools to be successful at the ACC level.

It all starts with the obvious physical limitations. McBrien is 6-0 and 180 pounds (maybe), and he's not very athletic in terms of speed, quickness, moves, etc. Watching McBrien operate against the big, strong, fast defenders of Florida State was sad at times, as it was clear he was in over his head.

Fans and media were led to believe that McBrien had the intangibles to overcome his physical shortcomings. He reportedly possessed a strong, accurate arm, plenty of poise and was a thinking man's signal-caller. If he has those things, everyone is still dying to see them.

Given an opportunity to prove himself against two quality defenses (Notre Dame and Florida State), the junior transfer from West Virginia did not pass muster. What were his deficiencies? An offensive coach's post-game checklist may have looked like this: too often locks in on one receiver; does not look for second and third options; does not set up properly in pocket; routinely has happy feet; not very accurate, as evidenced by overthrown, underthrown and flat-out missed receivers; absolutely no running threat whatsoever.

A power running team that hands off 25-30 times a game might be able to get away with a quarterback of McBrien's abilities. But Maryland, which employs a diverse attack that requires the quarterback to make a lot of reads and decisions, cannot get away with being subpar at this most crucial position. The really bad news is that McBrien apparently is the team's best option at this point.

Some would like head coach Ralph Friedgen to go with Chris Kelley, but he's looked even worse than McBrien so far. While Kelley certainly has more of an upside, it's obvious that he is not fully recovered (physically or mentally) from his latest knee injury. That a kid three months removed from surgery should have to serve as the backup is glaring evidence that the Terps' quarterback situation has fallen back below ACC standards.

Not that Maryland's early offensive woes were all the fault of the quarterbacks. The loss of primary weapon Bruce Perry (groin injury), last year's surprise 1,000-yard tailback, left the team's running and short passing games in shambles. Chris Downs and the rest of the not-ready-for-prime-time tailbacks proved a major dropoff on a number of fronts.

For all of the talk of improvement at wide receiver, the Terps still do not have a playmaker at that position. Starters Jafar Williams and Scooter Monroe do not possess the speed to get separation against top-flight cornerbacks, and neither is much of a threat after the catch. Converted quarterback Latrez Harrison shows the most potential, but he's still learning the little things, such as how to get off the line and find open space under pressure.

Then there's the offensive line, which looked solid on paper in the preseason but has proven a major disappointment thus far. Run blocking and pass protection both have been poor, and that more than anything explains the Terps' lack of offensive continuity.

How can a unit that returned four starters go from a strength to a weakness so quickly? It all starts at center, where the loss of first-team All-ACC selection Melvin Fowler hurt even worse than expected. Fowler, now with the Cleveland Browns, held the line together and gave Maryland a huge advantage in the heart of the trenches.

Sophomore Kyle Schmitt, who wasn't a center to begin with, was not up to the challenge of replacing Fowler. That forced the coaching staff to switch Todd Wike from guard to center. So instead of having an All-America candidate at guard, the team has a mediocre center who isn't comfortable in the position and - truth be told - doesn't really want to play there.

It was a domino effect from there, as C.J. Brooks shifted from tackle to guard and Eric Dumas was inserted into the lineup at the all-important left tackle spot. Clearly, all the shuffling and using players out of position prevented the line from coming together.

Shallow Offensive Line Hurting

Starting right tackle Matt Crawford left the Florida State game with an MCL problem. While the extent of Crawford's injury was not known at press time, the potential loss of the steady senior would be another crippling blow to a unit that has been depleted to an alarming level.

If Crawford is out for an extended period of time, Maryland would be down to just 12 scholarship offensive linemen. When you consider that the Terps are hesitant to play three of those linemen (Ed Tyler, Matt Powell, Lou Lombardo), and that another (Akil Patterson) was converted from defensive tackle during the preseason, you begin to understand the depth (or lack thereof) of the problem. That, folks, is bordering on a crisis.

How does such a situation arise? It's simple, really. It all can be summed up in two words - injuries and attrition.

A whopping eight offensive linemen recruited since 1999 are no longer in the program. Players such as Bob Krantz, Nick Fisher and Aaron Wormley - all of whom would be redshirt seniors or juniors this season - should be filling key roles on the depth chart. Three line recruits from last season - Tim Donovan (family illness), Raheem Lewis (out of shape) and Jason Holman (grades) - already are gone.

The latest blow came in mid-September, when promising true freshman Nathaniel Clayton left the team. A mobile 6-5, 310-pounder from City College in Baltimore, Clayton was so impressive in the preseason that he vaulted to second on the depth chart at center. Then he suffered a severe neck stinger in practice one day. After initial concern that the injury was career-threatening, he was cleared to play and returned to practice. However, suddenly gun-shy and basically afraid to butt heads, the youngster was totally ineffective and realized his heart was no longer into playing football. Just like that, a future starter turned into a probable transfer.

All of which explains why a defensive lineman such as Patterson can be converted to guard in late August and already rank No. 2 on the depth chart. It's also why a true freshman such as Stephon Heyer has to be the backup at left tackle.

In all, the Terps are relying on six sophomores or freshmen on the two-deep along the offensive line. That's never a good situation at a position that should be dominated by seniors and juniors, who have three or four years worth of strength and weight training behind them.

Cochran Leads Pleasant Surprises

It was a foregone conclusion, even in the minds of Maryland's coaches, that true freshman Shawne Merriman would wind up as the starter at Leo linebacker. That hybrid position, also known as rush end, was vacated when 2001 starter Mike Whaley failed out of school. Merriman, a mature and well-developed SuperPrep All-American, seemingly had all of the tools to leap over the remaining players at the position.

However, sophomore Jamahl Cochran rose to the challenge and held off Merriman, who is definitely as good as advertised but a true freshman nonetheless. Cochran definitely ranked as Maryland's most improved player, and probably its biggest surprise, in the early going. He's been a consistent playmaker so far this fall.

Cochran, who has bulked up from 215 to 241 pounds since arriving in College Park, was the team's fourth-leading tackler through three games with 17. He led the team with four sacks. Short for a linebacker or end at 6-0, Cochran boasts the fourth-highest strength index (738) on the team. He ranks No. 1 among linebackers on the Iron Terp list, and the results of that dedication in the weight room have shown on the field so far this season.

Another player who has stepped up this season is junior defensive end Scott Smith, one of those players who always had talent but didn't seem to know how to use it. The light apparently has finally gone on for Smith, who played so well through three games that he was pushing returning starter Durrand Roundtree for playing time.