ORONO — Scan the football field at the University of Maine.

There is no group of players that wants to build a bruising, bashing ground attack this fall more than Maine’s offensive linemen.

“We love to (run the ball). It’s one of our biggest motivators,” said junior guard Steven Shea.

Exactly which five players will crack the starting lineup and have that chance is unclear until preseason camp wraps up Thursday and preparations begin for Maine’s opener Sept. 2 against Albany.

But Maine returns four of five starters – each a year older, bigger and more experienced.

“I sincerely feel like we’ve gotten better as a whole group,” said Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove. “Last year we were very hard-pressed to get five Colonial Athletic Association linemen on the field at once.”

Maine morphed into a passing team just a few games into the 2009 season, after a run-heavy 2008.

While the change made for entertaining football, it translated to a 5-6 record, well out contention for the NCAA playoffs.

Several newcomers were thrust into starting roles.

the end of last fall, Maine had three red-shirt freshmen and one true freshman in the starting lineup.

They excelled at pass blocking – helping to lead Maine to the top of the CAA in passing offense with 273.4 yards per game.

But Maine’s run game was ranked 11th of 12 teams, averaging just 79 yards a game.

“A lot of these guys learned things the hard way,” said Cosgrove. “As a result, there was a lot of purpose to things they did in the offseason to prepare.”

Offensive line coach Frank Giufre said he’s seen improvement during camp already.

“When you play a bunch of red-shirt freshmen, it’s hard. They don’t know the guy next to them,” said Giufre. “They’re a little more seasoned now. And they’re doing a better job.”

In the running for starting jobs on the offensive line:

Josh Spearin, at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, is a sophomore who played as a true freshman. He is competing at left tackle with senior Alex Batanian (6-6, 280).

Matt Spearin, Josh’s brother, is a 6-3, 280-pound sophomore who red-shirted as a freshman and is competing at left guard with Shea (6-4, 295) and senior Matt Barber (6-6, 295).

Sophomore center Garrett Williamson (6-3, 275) is backed up by Shea.

And Chris Howley, a 6-3, 295 sophomore, and red-shirt freshman Joseph Hook, 6-5, 290, are competing at right guard.

“We’re a pretty tight-knit group,” said Shea, from Corinna and Nokomis High. “Communication has gotten a lot better. New guys are starting to step up. We’re really working our butts off. And when you understand the game, it starts to slow down for you.”

Josh Spearin, a former Bonny Eagle star, can relate to that.

“I was cramming last year to learn the offense. This year I can sit back and fine-tune things more,” he said. “They put their faith in me last year. And I feel like I need to repay them.

“We want to be known as a hard-nosed football team. As a line, we felt like we were letting the team down last year.”

Cosgrove said the starting five will work itself out sometime early next week, but he is confident there is more depth than last year.

Said Cosgrove: “We’ve got a competitive group. And I think our five will be a better five than last year.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]