After going just 3-9 in 2015, the Maryland Terrapins took a step forward in head coach DJ Durkin’s first season in College Park. While Maryland did finish fourth in the Big Ten East division with a 6-7 (3-6) record, the Terrapins were invited to the Quick Lane Bowl, where they lost 36-30 to Boston College.
With Maryland set to begin spring practice on March 12, the Terrapins will look to improve even further in a loaded Big Ten. Before their spring game on April 22, they will have a few positions to address.
5 Storylines to Watch During Maryland's Spring Practice
1. Quarterback competition
Last season’s starter, Perry Hills, has exhausted his eligibility, so the Terrapins will be looking to identify a new starter this spring. There’s a chance that Maryland could start true freshman Kasim Hill, but he won’t be on campus until fall camp.
Hill was highly touted after a productive run at St. John’s College High in Washington, D.C.. Hill (6-2, 230) threw for 1,431 yards and 16 touchdowns while rushing for 885 yards and 10 more scores, as he led his team to Washington Catholic Athletic Conference finals.
Until Hill arrives, North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson, sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and sophomore Max Bortenschlage will compete for the starting job. Pigrome and Bortenschlage both saw game action last season, but neither was specular when they played.
2. Other than D.J. Moore, what receiver can be a contributor?
Maryland has a stud of a receiver Moore, who had 47 receptions for 637 yards and six touchdowns in 2016, but the Terrapins don’t have any other proven pass catchers entering the spring. Teldrick Morgan and Levern Jacobs have graduated, so Maryland will need to figure out who can help replace their production.
Ty Johnson, the team’s leading rusher, is second to Moore in terms of production as a receiver after catching 16 passes for 206 yards and a score last season. Sophomore D.J. Turner and Jahrvis Davenport may be ready to fill the void, but they combined for a total of three receptions in 2016.
Tavion Jacobs will return after missing all of last season because of injury, but he’s had a hard time staying healthy. He had 21 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns in 2015. Jaqcuille Veii and Chris Jones both figure to be in the receiver battle mix as well.
3. New offensive line coach
Last month, head coach DJ Durkin hired former Fordham offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen as his new offensive line coach. He will replace Dave Borbely, who will remain on staff as a special assistant.
While at Fordham, Bowen oversaw one of the FCS’ more successful offenses, as Fordham finished fourth in both scoring (40.1 ppg) and total (498.2 ypg) offense. Maryland fared well on the ground last year, averaging 199.5 rushing yards per game, but also gave up a whopping 49 sacks. Only one other team (San Jose State, 50) in the FBS surrendered more in 2016.
4. Who can help on the defensive line?
Maryland’s top three defensive linemen have graduated, so there are plenty of spots to fill up front. The Terrapins did a good job of getting to the quarterback last season, collecting 38 sacks to finish third in the Big Ten and tied for 19th nationally.
Durkin bought in a number of defensive linemen in his 2017 recruiting class that could see action as freshmen, including Breyon Gaddy. But until Gaddy arrives in the fall, expect to see seniors Chandler Burkett and Jesse Aniebonam leading the way. Burkett recorded 5.5 sacks a season ago while Aniebonam finished in the top 10 in the Big Ten in both sacks (9.0, tied for fourth) and tackles for a loss (14, eighth).
5. Maryland’s young secondary
The Terrapins will have three defensive backs that enrolled early participating in spring practice, including highly regarded cornerback Deon Jones. After suffering a knee injury in his senior season, Jones is looking to return and carve out a role as a true freshman. Alex Woods and Fofie Bazzie also enrolled early in hopes of showing the coaching staff they are ready to play right away.
Markquese Bell is another newcomer who should see some time in the secondary during the spring. Bell was recruited as an athlete, but is projected by some to become a safety. Josh Woods and Darnell Savage are returning at that position, but both were inconsistent last season, so this could be one of the more spirited competitions during the spring.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Maryland in the Big Ten
Head coach DJ Durkin’s debut at Maryland was a successful one in that the Terrapins qualified for a bowl game. However, unless progress is made at several positions, it could be difficult to get to six wins again in 2017. Not only does Maryland reside in a loaded Big Ten East Division, it also has some tough non-conference games on its schedule. The Terrapins open the season at Texas and also will play UCF before entering conference play.
In the Big Ten, Maryland gets Minnesota and Northwestern as its crossover opponents. Besides having to face Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State, the Terrapins also will play Rutgers at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 4. Maryland needs at least two wins in its three non-conference games to put itself in position for another bowl appearance, but even that’s no guarantee in the rugged Big Ten.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.