COLLEGE PARK -- As the rest of his teammates collided at a recent spring football practice, Maryland's most experienced offensive lineman hobbled over to watch, a protective black boot on his left foot, his helmet hanging from his right hand.
Without starting right guard Andrew Crummey in the lineup because of a severely sprained left ankle and starting tackle Jared Gaither out for academic reasons, Maryland's offensive line is currently composed of a walk-on, a left tackle who has never started a game and three other players who have combined for just 21 career starts.
It was only a few months ago that Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was reveling in the fact he had two almost interchangeable offensive lines, and now, midway through spring practices, he's counting on a handful of inexperienced players, including two second-string walk-ons.
"If it was something I hadn't experienced before, I'd probably be a little concerned," Friedgen said. "I'm hoping we can get some help out of the freshmen. That's never a great situation, but it is what it is. I don't know what I can do. It's the cards we were dealt. We just have to play them."
The depth began to dwindle last year when starting left guard Donnie Woods announced he would not return for his senior year so he could pursue a career in the military. The graduation of left tackle Stephon Heyer also left a gaping hole, and reserve guard Garrick Clig decided not to return for his senior season.
Then, on the first day of spring practices, Friedgen announced Gaither, who has started 17 of the past 21 games at left or right tackle, would miss the entire spring to improve his grades.
Last week Crummey -- who leads his group with 28 career starts -- injured his ankle, and Jack Griffin, the team's backup right tackle, suffered a minor ankle sprain in Saturday's scrimmage. Crummey could return to practice tomorrow.
Those within the program have taken solace in the fact that younger players who otherwise might not have gotten into the competition are now getting more repetitions and are forced to learn quickly -- and it is only spring.
Crummey's misfortune has provided an opportunity for Phil Costa, a versatile redshirt sophomore who can double as a guard or center. He gained valuable experience at center last spring, when starter Edwin Williams was injured.
Friedgen said Costa tested the best of all the linemen during winter conditioning, but lacks experience. His only snaps came in the 2006 season opener against William and Mary and later against West Virginia.
"You're taking more reps, but as a guy that hasn't been on the field yet, that's what I want, to show them what I can do," Costa said. "I'm learning everything [at guard] right now. I go day by day learning guard and putting extra time in at film and not making any mistakes. That's what's important right now."
The injuries have also made room for two walk-ons -- Lee Oliver and Paul Pinegar -- to impress the coaching staff and work their way into backup roles. Oliver is No. 2 behind Crummey and Pinegar is a backup at left tackle for Scott Burley, a senior whose career has been hindered by injury. He is now struggling academically, according to Friedgen.
"Every year you face different types of adversity," said Williams, the only healthy consistent returning starter from last season. "I don't think there's ever been a time when we just had a full healthy offensive line, but it's not like we're going to skip a beat. Everybody takes care of everybody."
Concerned about the health of Griffin, Friedgen tinkered with Tuesday's practice plan just so his reserve right tackle could participate, albeit gingerly.
"It's not many times a coach is sympathetic to an offensive lineman and changes the practice so he could get through it," Friedgen said. "He got through it."
Notes -- Backup tailback Da'Rel Scott partially tore cartilage n his left knee and likely will miss the rest of spring practices, Friedgen said yesterday. ... Starting cornerback Richard Taylor injured his left knee while attempting an interception Tuesday, and reserve receiver Kevin Gresham fractured his finger and was being evaluated firstname.lastname@example.org