Terrapins hang out hopes on offensive line

Uzelac challenges unit to rise to the occasion

September 01, 1999|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- LaMont Jordan is out to become the first Maryland player in 17 years to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Three young quarterbacks, Randall Jones, Calvin McCall and Latrez Harrison, each want to prove they are No. 1.

Coach Ron Vanderlinden believes he has assembled enough talent at the skill positions to make enough big plays to sustain long scoring drives.

And all the Maryland coaches and players want to win more games than they lose.

However, none of this will happen unless an often-maligned offensive line breaks through.

Senior captains Brad Messina (left tackle) and Jamie Wu (right guard) need to lead a charge that will produce the holes Jordan needs to run through and the time the quarterbacks need to throw the ball downfield to the likes of speedy wide receiver Jermaine Arrington.

Messina, Wu and sophomore center Melvin Fowler are the class of the offensive line that is driven every day by coach Elliot Uzelac to rise above its capabilities and perform at a higher level.

Uzelac, former head coach at Navy, lashes out at his big offensive linemen and they have responded positively. In a little more than one year, Uzelac has turned a patchwork offensive line into a unit that has gained a measure of respect around the ACC.

The best example of Uzelac's work is 6-foot-5, 285-pound sophomore Chris Snader, who will start at left guard tomorrow night at 6 o'clock in the season opener against Temple at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.

Snader came to Maryland in 1997 from Stephen Decatur High School in Bishopville, Worcester County, and was redshirted that year. Then last season, Uzelac arrived as centers/guards coach and he immediately took on Snader as a project.

Snader played little last season as a redshirt freshman but now suddenly he is a starter after a long preseason camp under Uzelac.

Uzelac screamed instructions at Snader for three weeks and they have apparently sunk in enough that he has replaced Mike George, who was listed as the starter at left guard as late as last Friday.

Snader had been listed as a backup to Wu at right guard before getting the opportunity to start.

Uzelac has said: "These guys know I'm only trying to make them better players. That's all there is to it. They know I'll be right there for them whenever they need me on or off the field. We laugh and joke a lot together and we're all pretty close. This is what college football is all about."

Messina smiled widely as soon as Uzelac's name was mentioned.

"Coach Uzelac always says: `The time to worry is if I don't yell at you. That means I don't care,' " Messina said. "I have a lot of respect for him. He yells at me but I understand his motives. We all just want to improve and help our team become the most dominant rushing team in the league. We were third last year [161.2 yards a game]."

Messina calls himself the "elder statesman and father figure" of the offensive line, which will also include redshirt freshman Matt Crawford starting at right tackle against Temple.

Crawford jumped ahead of junior Tim Howard in the final days of preseason camp.

If Messina is the elder statesman at left tackle, Wu is the glue on the right side with his knowledge of the game and affinity for being in the right place at the right time.

Wu won't soon be forgotten for his heads-up play in a tough 24-10 loss to Florida State last year. Maryland was down only 16-10 in the third quarter when a scrambling Jones was hit in the end zone and fumbled, giving the Seminoles a chance to recover for a touchdown.

But Wu pounced on the ball quickly in the end zone, resulting in just a safety and an 18-10 deficit for the Terps.

Also, Wu will be playing in pain often this season due to three inflamed disks in his back.

"They're going to bother me off and on," Wu said. "But it's nothing I can't deal with. I've been getting a lot of treatment and it's helping. I can fight through it."

Fowler went from a defensive lineman to a starting center in the ACC in three weeks.

Then he had off-season shoulder surgery that idled him for seven months and he has worked overtime on conditioning to catch up.

"There are definitely more expectations for the line this year but we like it that way," Fowler said. "We're ready to prove we can play."

If Fowler, Messina, Wu, Snader, Crawford, Howard and George stay healthy, the offensive line should wipe out the frustrations from the past two seasons.

"If we suffer a couple of injuries, especially early in the season, we're in trouble," Vanderlinden said.

Pub Date: 9/01/99

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