The Maryland football team's offensive line yielded mixed results during the 2016 season, as the unit helped the Terps run for 4.9 yards per carry and blocked for an 1,000-yard rusher in Ty Johnson, but the unit also allowed a Big Ten-worst 49 sacks. The offensive line has lost a good bit of experience, as well; longtime left tackle Michael Dunn will graduate, while left guard Mike Minter is moving on from football after scores of injuries.
But while the unit loses Dunn and Minter -- two productive blockers in the run game, in particular -- it gains a new coach. The Terps hired Tyler Bowen in February and made Dave Borbely, who coached the offensive line last year, an off-the-field special assistant to head coach DJ Durkin.
Bowen returned to his roots when he took the job; he was an offensive lineman for three years at Maryland, but injuries cut his career short, and he was a graduate assistant for the Terps in 2010. Bowen spent the last two seasons at Fordham University and was the offensive coordinator in 2016; Fordham scored 40.1 points a game last year, one of the top marks in the FCS.
"Tyler Bowen's been great. He's doing a great job with our guys. He's a former Terp. I think that's great to get a Terp back here with us," Durkin said before practice March 30, the first practice open to the media this spring. "I think he's a bright young star in this profession. You look at the success of places he's been and what they've done. He has a great understanding of the game. He's an O-line coach that's also called plays. He's been calling plays and coordinating offense, which I think really helps see the big picture. He's doing a great job with our guys."
Bowen is tasked with an offensive line that struggled to keep quarterbacks upright last year, particularly on traditional five- and seven-step drop-backs. The first offensive line unit during practice March 30 was Derwin Gray at left tackle, Sean Christie at left guard, Brendan Moore at center, Terrance Davis at right guard and Damian Prince at right tackle. Gray, Christie, Moore and Prince will all be juniors next year, while Davis will be a sophomore.
Moore started all 13 games at center last year, while Prince started all 13 at right tackle. Davis started the last nine games of the season at right guard and played in all 13, while Gray started three games at left tackle when Dunn was hurt. Gray also played in all 13 games. Christie, meantime, is a new addition to the starting offensive line.
After practice March 30, Moore lauded what Bowen brings to the table, indicating that "his energy and his joy and his love for the game really, really inspire a lot of us to play harder." Bowen's energy was apparent during offensive line drills, especially in how the coach conveyed the proper technique for each drill.
"[Bowen's] been here for a very short time, and you can already tell that he's a ridiculously good coach, at least in my opinion," Moore said. "He's helped me on a lot of things that I needed to shore up technique-wise. He's helping me a lot with my foot placement, my hand placement. He has this thing that says, 'Aim small, miss small,' which just means if you're a perfectionist, then your margin of error's going to be smaller than if you're just saying, 'Block this guy.' That attention to detail, I think, is really what I need as well as [what] the rest of the O-line needs, to get a lot better."
More notes from practice March 30:
- Durkin revealed linebacker Shane Cockerille is not currently practicing with the team. Cockerille started at weakside inside linebacker as a junior in Maryland's 4-2-5 scheme last year. Cockerille made 108 tackles, including eight for a loss, last year but was ineligible for the Quick Lane Bowl against Boston College Dec. 26.
"[Cockerille] has some responsibilities he needs fulfill to remain as an active member of this team, so he is still a member of this team, but he's fulfilling some other responsibilities," Durkin said. "He's not practicing with us right now. It'll be up to Shane as to how that goes in the future, if he does rejoin us in a full-time basis."
- Safety Denzel Conyers was recently granted a medical hardship waiver by the NCAA and will be eligible for the 2017 season. Conyers was expected to be one of the senior leaders on the Terps' defense last year but suffered a torn ACL during Maryland's win at Central Florida Sept. 17, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. Conyers wasn't practicing March 30, but he'll be back for a second shot at his senior season.
"That was great. Just so happy for Denzel and for our team. I mean, Denzel's a great kid, great leader," Durkin said. "…We know he can help our team. But for him, just to see the look on his face when he got that news was … that's what you coach for, that's what you do it for, so we're very excited for him."
- Rising senior Jermaine Carter Jr. will lead the defense this coming fall from the Mike linebacker spot. Carter, who switched his jersey number from 23 to 1, indicated that he's dropped five pounds since the 2016 season ended.
"It was one of my goals. It's my last season. You look at linebackers in the NFL, they're about 220, 225. So I've got to slim down a little bit. It's been helping me," Carter said. "… Right now, I feel better, and if you feel better, you're obviously going to play better, hopefully."