COLLEGE PARK — "Four offensive linemen at Maryland actually nabbed a perpetrator this spring when he tried to break into their dorm. If only these guys had been as attentive on the field last season, then perhaps quarterback Scott Zolak might not have suffered 40 sacks. Zolak is gone, but Jim Sandwisch will have more of the same to look forward to this fall."
-- Sports Illustrated, Aug. 26, 1991
The insults hardly seem to stop. And when they do, it's probably because the line is so long.
"Those comments just stick me the wrong way," said Maryland senior center Mitch Suplee.
"I'm taking all of these negative comments as one, big major insult," said starting left tackle Steve Ingram. "All I keep hearing and reading about is that we don't have a good offensive line. We're always behind the eight ball. I think it's about time we started changing some opinions around here."
Next to the "Jim Sandwisch as a starting quarterback debate", questions about Maryland's 1991 offensive line are the hottest topic around the Terps camp.
If Sandwisch can throw, will he have protection? Where have all the quality linemen gone? Just who are these face-masked men?
Maryland has only one returning starter who has more than one year's experience as a regular, and that's Suplee. The rest are baby turtles, and part of a group that could make or break Maryland's season.
"My dream is to have four or five starters back for another season. That could happen next year," said Maryland offensive-line coach John Zernhelt. "Wow, that would be really nice."
Instead, Zernhelt will have to perform his annual patchwork for a team that hasn't had more than three starters return for a season since 1987.
The lack of depth is a reflection of the recruiting hard times the program has gone through since Bobby Ross left after the 1986 season, and also possibly a change in recruiting philosophy.
During the early 1980s, Maryland had outstanding linemen such as Ron Solt, Len Lynch, J.D. Maarleveld and Kevin Glover. This season, Maryland signed only one freshman lineman, tackle John Teter from De Matha High in Hyattsville.
"There are a lot of factors that go into recruiting, such as area, who else is recruiting the prospects, monies available and our needs. These things vary from year to year," said Zernhelt.
Suplee said: "For a couple of years, we brought in guys who were not that good. I'm not second-guessing the coaches because I really don't sit down to see what our needs are, but if I was the coach I'd bring in four offensive linemen every year, and hope to find two that could play. Things seemed to have turned around now because we've got some young guys now who down the road are going to be talented."
But what about this season? Besides Suplee, the Terps seem stronger at tackle, with junior David Dunne (6 feet 4, 277 pounds) and sophomore Steve Ingram (6-4, 263). They will be replacing NFL draftees Clarence Jones (New York Giants) and O'Neil Glenn.
Ingram played sparingly last season and started only against Georgia Tech. Dunne spent 1990 recovering from shoulder surgery.
The Terps had two promising prospects at guard, junior Dave deBruin (6-5, 261) and redshirt freshman Jade Dubis (6-1, 260). But deBruin is out with a sprained right knee and could miss the season opener Sept. 7 against Virginia, and Dubis has yet to play in a college game. Also, Kevin Arline (6-1, 263), expected to replace deBruin, has missed practice with a viral infection, and junior Ron Staffileno (6-2, 266), a reserve guard, has been slowed by a sprained ankle.
"Hey, we're a little banged up right now, but the guys are working hard and giving us a good effort," said Zernhelt. "We're not exactly where I would like us to be right now, but we're getting there. These guys are showing good awareness."
Zernhelt admits that one of the strengths of an offensive line is having played with the player next to you.
"This is a very unselfish group," said Suplee. "There are no superstars here. We bring our lunch pails every day and try to give the coaches a good day's work.
"We're still making mistakes, but that's what practice is for. We're going to work on finding the right chemistry, and that all comes with time."
NOTES: Senior starting CB Scott Rosen missed practice yesterday with a bruised right hamstring. . . . For the first time, head coach Joe Krivak publicly said his team's 35-30 come-from-behind win over Virginia in the season finale probably saved his job. The win helped give Maryland its first winning season and bowl appearance since 1985. "That's probably true, and I've got to be realistic about it. If we hadn't won, it probably would have been sayonara." Instead, Krivak was given a 4-year contract, which he said yesterday he plans to honor.