COLLEGE PARK -- Offensive line play has been one of the strengths of the Maryland football team in recent years, but the Terrapins will be challenged in the trenches as they approach their season opener against Notre Dame on Saturday in the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J.
Plans that seemed relatively static from spring practice -- Kyle Schmitt as center, Todd Wike and Lamar Bryant as guards and C.J. Brooks and Matt Crawford as tackle -- have been less so this month.
Linemen Raheem Lewis, Tim Donovan and Will Ferguson, all freshmen last year, were dismissed from school for academic reasons. Ed Tyler broke his foot several weeks ago, robbing Schmitt of a backup at center, and cramping problems kept Wike out of several practices during two-a-days.
Thus, Maryland has been shuffling players in the past three weeks, trying to build some depth. Whereas most programs have 15 to 20 players at the guard, tackle and center positions, this team likely will play only 10 players, if Tyler recovers.
Wike, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection at left guard last season, likely will start at center, with Schmitt as his backup. Schmitt doubles at right guard, where Bryant starts. Brooks starts at left guard in addition to the left tackle he played last year. Matt Crawford would play at right tackle, and Eric Dumas or Stephon Heyer would play center.
Or some variation on that.
"Therefore, we have a lot of depth," coach Ralph Friedgen said. "We'll do it with mirrors."
One of the surprises in this is the relative instability at center, where Melvin Fowler started 44 straight games, to be succeeded by Schmitt, it was assumed. But with Schmitt being inconsistent, and with Brooks playing well at left guard when Wike was out, it was decided to mix things up.
"He's kind of struggled," Friedgen said of Schmitt. "I'm not down on him, but to get our five best players on the field, it might be that Wike heads back to center."
As in last year's season opener against North Carolina, Maryland faces a team with a new staff. Tyrone Willingham leads Notre Dame after seven years at Stanford.
The toughest part is scouting. In 2001, Maryland's staff had to guess which would influence the Tar Heels defense more, what defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta did at Ohio State in 2000 or what head coach John Bunting did with the New Orleans Saints.
Similarly, it's tough to tell whether Notre Dame will stick with what it used last year, because the defensive coordinator in 2001, Greg Mattis, is now defensive line coach. On the other side of the ball, will the Irish use their traditional run-based attack or pass more like Willingham's teams did at Stanford?
"Offensively, we really don't know what we're getting," Friedgen said in his weekly news conference yesterday. "It's tough to watch Notre Dame's personnel and then try to watch Stanford's offense. I'm anxious to see how that's all going to work out."
Suter on hold
Former North Carroll standout Steve Suter, touted by coaches as one of the potential breakout stars of this season, is questionable for Saturday's game with a quadriceps strain in his right leg that he's been bothered by since last week.
At one point, Suter, a sophomore wide receiver who suffered a broken thumb last season, had made nine catches for more than 20 yards each in scrimmage situations during practices.
"I'm concerned that he's not practicing," Friedgen said, "because he's made big, big plays."
Friedgen said again that he doesn't plan to reveal his starter at tailback (Jason Crawford or Mario Merrills) or at quarterback (Chris Kelley or Scott McBrien). ... The team heads for New Jersey and one last practice tomorrow and plans to go on a boat ride around Manhattan on Friday.