There are a couple of proven runners, a premier wide receiver and an experienced, beefy offensive line working out in College Park these days. All eyes, though, are on the quarterback spot, where a four-way battle is raging.
North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson, who got some work in an offense similar to Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell’s attack, seemed to be the frontrunner for the job. But Henderson broke his foot last spring and is just “85-90 percent” at practices, although he’s getting his full share of reps as coaches split time among the quartet with the first and second units.
Sophomore Tyrell Pigrome appeared in 11 games last year and was a running sensation, but he didn’t make enough plays in the passing game to automatically earn the job this season. He looks more poised and a more proven passer so far. Sophomore Max Bortenschlager is big and strong, but he completed just 48 percent of his throws in his two 2016 appearances. He still throws the prettiest balls among the group.
Finally, four-star freshman Kasim Hill out of Washington, D.C., has impressed with his maturity and skill level, and second-year coach DJ Durkin proved last year he wasn’t afraid to play freshmen. Stay tuned.
Junior Ty Johnson, he of the 1,004 rushing yards and school-record 9.1-yard average per carry, and sophomore LoLo Harrison, who had a freshman record 7.2 yards per rush, anchor a strong running game that churned out 199.5 yards per game. Wideout D.J. Moore has caught a pass in 21 straight games and has nine scoring catches in his career, equaling the most ever for a Terrapin rising junior.
The offense did the heavy lifting for a rebuilding defense that allowed 29.5 points per game but hopes to be much improved with more experience in Durkin’s multiple schemes.
Two years of recruiting for Durkin and his staff — and two years in Rick Court’s strength program — have made Maryland bigger on both sides of the ball, a point of emphasis, particularly on defense, where the Terps essentially had sand kicked in their faces. In one late-season stretch, Big Ten foes Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska pounded Maryland by a combined score of 149-13.
The Terrapins should know in a hurry if their defense is improved. Maryland opens on the road at Texas on Sept. 2. The home opener is the following week against Towson and then a big Sept. 23 home clash with Central Florida looms large on the Terrapins’ way to bowl eligibility.
The conference schedule is typically rugged with road dates at Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Late-season showdowns with Michigan and Penn State at home won’t be any picnic either.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: MLB Jermaine Carter, Jr. — He’s the leader of a defense that has to be better (80th in total defense, allowing 434 yards per last year). He has started a team-high 25 consecutive games, has two All-Big Ten honorable mention awards, is on the Dick Butkus watch list and has led the team in tackles in each of the past two seasons. He’s leaner and is eying being more of a factor in coverage. The hope is that he also has more help in front of him to cut down on that 4.8 yards per rush the team allowed last season, when seven foes went for more than 200 yards rushing.
BREAKOUT STAR: DE Jesse Aniebonam — Aniebonam burst on the scene last year with a team-high 14 tackles for loss. His nine sacks ranked fifth in the Big Ten, not bad for a part-time starter. Aniebonam, who checks in at 260 pounds, looks noticeably bigger and stronger in camp, all the better to terrorize quarterbacks and be more of a factor in the running game, moving to true defensive end, instead of the hybrid “Buck” end. He said he’s faster than ever, too, which would be saying something.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: S Markquese Bell — He has been a head-turning standout in preseason camp, not just by observers, but by receivers crossing the middle. A consensus four-star recruit out of Bridgeton, N.J., he’ll play on defense in many of Maryland’s multiple schemes. Early enrolled last spring, he’s part of a Top 20 recruiting class, Maryland’s best ever, and he’s at a position of need in a secondary that is rebuilding. Freshman Buck end Bryce Brand has also been impressive in early camp. And we never had this discussion if impressive freshman Kasim Hill wins the QB job.
–WLB Shane Cockerille, who was suspended from the team before last year’s Quick Lane Bowl appearance, has been reinstated academically and is eligible to play against Texas, pending certain undisclosed protocols set forth by coach DJ Durkin. Cockerille, a senior who began his career at quarterback, was honorable mention All-Big Ten last year with 108 tackles, including nine for loss.
–S Denzel Conyers received a hardship waiver from the NCAA to play a sixth season following his ACL injury in the third game of last year. He had a career-high eight tackles against UCF in that game. His return is key, a true vet playing among a bunch of youngsters in the secondary, but he’s still not full speed, held out every few days to rest.
–Maryland will visit Minnesota on September 30th
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