The Washington Post

Maryland relying on strength up front

With all five starters back, offensive line leads way for Terps

- BY GENE WANG

Spencer Anderson was about to host a potential recruit not long ago when Maryland’s starting right guard thought Topgolf might provide just the right atmosphere for a gathering that would leave a lasting impression.

So the redshirt senior and tri-captain reached out to his fellow offensive linemen to ask whether they would consider joining the excursion to the sprawling entertainm­ent and dining venue a short drive from campus.

Anderson received rousing support, and even though the player the Terrapins were targeting wound up committing elsewhere, the trip yielded another valuable bonding experience for members of a formidable offensive line that returns its entire starting group from 2021.

Maryland, which opens the season against Buffalo on Saturday afternoon in College Park, is one of eight schools in the Football Bowl Subdivisio­n and the only program in the Big Ten to return its starting five on the offensive line.

“The O-line, we’re pretty close knit,” said Anderson, who grew up in Bowie and played high school football at Bishop Mcnamara. “We’re probably the closest position group on the team.”

Connection and continuity within that unit, along with a litany of skill players, have Maryland aiming for another year of outsize production through the air. The

Terrapins set a single-season mark for total yards (5,740) and passing yards (3,960) in 2021.

Anderson, meanwhile, has been an anchor in keeping the pocket clean for record-setting quarterbac­k Taulia Tagovailoa. Last year the redshirt junior became the program’s single-season leader in passing yards (3,860), touchdowns (26), completion­s (328) and completion percentage (69.2).

Playing multiple positions along the offensive line last season, Anderson (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) earned a pass-blocking grade of 86.6 from Pro Football Focus, the highest among tackles in the Big Ten and third nationally among tackles with at least 500 snaps.

“I was always taught outside of availabili­ty being your best ability, versatilit­y is next because you never know,” Anderson said. “Guys could go down, and some people might not be able to get into a left-handed or right-handed stance, or somebody can’t snap the ball.”

Over 516 pass blocking snaps, Anderson yielded just one sack thanks to textbook footwork and other sound fundamenta­ls that have made him a coveted NFL prospect. So, too, has his durability been underscore­d by 18 consecutiv­e starts, matching senior center Johari Branch for the longest active streak on the team.

The rest of the starting offensive line includes two other Maryland natives in left guard Mason Lunsford (Olney) and left tackle Jaelyn Duncan (New Carrollton), who has drawn considerab­le interest from NFL scouts.

Duncan (6- 6, 326 pounds) twice has been voted honorable mention all-big Ten and last year was a projected first-round pick, according to ESPN. Charged with protecting Tagovailoa’s blind side, the redshirt senior has started 27 games over his career, the most among active Maryland players.

“The biggest thing I see from them that makes them tight is the leadership from the seniors,” Tagovailoa said of the offensive line. “Big J, Johari, Big Spence, guys like that. They’re being more vocal, and that helps everyone understand where they’re coming from, why they do the things that they do.

“We got young guys, guys that played on the team last year, that were looking for that leadership from within, and I think that makes them close, and I appreciate them for leading the O-line.”

The line also is tasked with helping to ignite a rushing attack that sputtered last season. Maryland ranked 10th out of 14 teams in the conference in rushing yards per game (136.5) and total rushing attempts (439).

It remains unclear, however, how much improvemen­t the Terrapins realistica­lly can expect running the ball considerin­g the No. 1 tailback on the depth chart, redshirt freshman Roman Hemby, totaled 71 yards on just 17 carries over three games last season.

Hemby’s speed in part vaulted him ahead of sophomore Colby Mcdonald, who last year was second on the Terrapins in rushing with 325 yards and two touchdowns on 60 carries in eight games. Redshirt freshman Antwaine Littleton (74 yards on 15 carries in two games) is listed as the No. 3 running back.

“Being able to run the football is paramount to us,” Maryland Coach Michael Locksley said. “When I talk about balance on offense, too many times people think balance is being able to run it 50 percent of the time and pass it, but it actually is being able to do both well. . . .

“So as this O-line continues to develop, I want to continue to hang my hat on it. They’re the veteran group. They’re a group that has been through a lot but also has continued to get better and better each year. To establish the run is something we want to do going into the year and have it complement what we already know is a productive passing game.”

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