Max Bortenschlager and the rest of the Terrapins' offense will be learning a new system under coordinator Matt Canada
After posting a huge road victory over the Texas Longhorns in their opener, many thought the Maryland Terrapins were ready to turn the corner in 2017. But the team proceeded to win just three more games to finish with a disappointing 4-8 record. The Terrapins went lost seven of their final eight games and went just 2-7 in Big Ten play.
Entering his third year as head coach, DJ Durkin, and his revamped coaching staff will look to get things turned around in hopes of becoming bowl eligible once again in 2018. That works begins with spring practice, which kicked off on Monday.
5 Storylines to Watch During Maryland's Spring Practice
1. Who will replace DJ Moore?
Maryland will have to replace its most dynamic player, as Moore elected to enter the NFL draft a year earlier. The first-team All-Big Ten honoree led the conference in both receptions (80) and receiving yards (1,033) and paced the Terrapins with nine total touchdowns.
Taivon Jacobs (above, right) finished second on the team with the 47 catches for 553 yards and five touchdown catches. He has one more season of eligibility after being granted a medical redshirt from the NCAA because of injuries that sidelined him two years prior. Jâahrvis Davenport was the third-leading receiver, but he only registered 13 catches for 123 yards last year.
2. How much will Max Bortenschlager progress in the Maryland offense?
For the spring, Bortenschlager will serve as Maryland's No. 1 quarterback with Tyrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill both nursing knee injuries that ended their 2017 campaigns early.
In 12 games last year, Bortenschlager threw for 1,313 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. The only other healthy quarterbacks on the roster this spring are true freshman Tyler DeSue, one of the team’s early enrollees, and sophomore walk-on Legend Bumbraugh.
3. Offensive line depth
Guard Terrance Davis, left tackle Derwin Gray and right tackle Damian Prince, three starters on Maryland's offensive line will miss spring practice due to injuries. So similar to quarterback, head coach DJ Durkin won’t have many healthy bodies to work with up front on offense either.
Rising sophomores Johnny Jordan, Marcus Minor and Jordan McNair figure to get a ton of reps in the coming weeks. All three players got snaps last season as the offensive line had to deal with a fair number of injuries.
4. Defensive line
Maryland's pass rush was nonexistent a year ago, finishing with just 16 sacks in 12 games. Only 13 FBS teams had fewer and only two of those (Nebraska, Oregon State) hail from a Power 5 conference. The Terrapins’ leading sacker from last season was Jermaine Carter with 3.5, and he’s out of eligibility.
The good news is that Jesse Aniebonam is fully recovered from the broken ankle he suffered in last season’s opener against Texas. He led the team with nine sacks in 2016 even though he wasn’t an every-down player that season. The hope is that he can emerge as a consistent pass-rushing threat.
Another new face to watch is Auburn transfer Byron Cowart. The No. 1 high school prospect back in 2015, Cowart never lived up to the billing with the Tigers, but is getting a chance to start over with the Terps.
5. How will the coaching staff gel?
In January, Durkin hired Matt Canada as Maryland’s new offensive coordinator following his parting of ways with LSU. Canada is highly respected for his ability to oversee productive offenses, but he’s also made numerous stops along the way. This will be the sixth school he’s served as OC for in the last eight years alone.
There will obviously be a feeling out period as Canada gets acclimated to his players, a process that will be somewhat complicated due to Pigrome, Hill and several offensive linemen not participating in spring practice because of injuries. Either way, plenty of eyes will be on Canada as he looks to get more out of an offense that ranked 100th or worse nationally in three of the four major offensive categories (scoring, total and passing offense) in 2017.
The other new face on the coaching staff is safeties coach Chuck Heater, who was at Marshall last season. Heater and Durkin worked together in 2013 when both were at Florida. As Marshall’s defensive coordinator, the Thundering Herd had one of the top defenses in the nation last season, as they ranked among the top in both scoring (19.9 ppg) and rushing (121.2 ypg) defense as well as finishing tied for 10th in the red zone.
— 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.