The Maryland football team that finished DJ Durkin’s first season in College Park with a 6-7 record after a loss to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl will look a lot different when it takes the field Saturday for the annual Red-White spring game.
Here are five questions for fans (and media) to consider as the Terps get ready for the 2017 season:
How does Caleb Henderson’s absence from the spring game impact Maryland’s quarterback situation?
The redshirt junior transfer from North Carolina had a good spring, by all accounts, until suffering an ankle injury in practice earlier this week. Durkin said before practice Thursday that the injury was not serious and he expects Henderson to be fully recovered for summer workouts and fall camp.
Still, given Durkin’s approach in making everyone compete for playing time, Henderson had shared snaps with rising sophomores Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager. Pigrome served as the primary backup to Perry Hills last season and Bortenschlager was a surprise starter on the road against Nebraska late in the season.
Just as Hills opened the door for himself with a strong spring game two years ago and eventually beat out Caleb Rowe in the fall for the opening day starting job in 2015, Pigrome or Bortenschlager could help themselves stay in the mix with a good performance in the offense-versus-defense scrimmage.
Then there is the X factor: incoming freshman Kasim Hill. The highly-rated four-star prospect from Bowie and St. John's College High has attended some spring practices to get himself comfortable with his future teammates and surroundings. Durkin said Thursday that the team’s depth chart “is written in pencil, especially at quarterback.”
Who will play alongside Jermaine Carter Jr. at linebacker?
The absence of rising senior Shane Cockerille (Gilman) during spring practice has given opportunities to others, particularly rising redshirt sophomore Isaiah Davis and junior college transfer Nick Underwood.
Cockerille, whose status for the fall is still in question as he attends to what Durkin has only referred to as off-field “responsibilities," would have likely been the team’s leading tackler last season had he not been ruled ineligible for the bowl game.
Still, there was a feeling that the Terps had to get faster, more physical and more athletic at that position to have any chance of competing against what has been ranked as one of the toughest schedules in the country next season.
Davis, the younger brother of former Terp and current Pittsburgh Steelers safety Sean Davis, checks all of those boxes and has appeared to have a good enough spring to merit strong consideration as a starter, regardless of whether Cockerille returns.
Underwood, who was ranked the No. 8 inside linebacker and No. 120 player overall as a senior two years ago in Lake Oswego High in Oregon, will certainly help give the Terps some depth at linebacker they desperately lacked a year ago.
Will Durkin continue to split the kicking duties?
A year ago, kicker Adam Greene seemed to have very little in the way of competition after assuming the No. 1 job when Brad Craddock broke his arm toward the end of the 2015 season. Greene made three of five attempts, including a career-best 44-yarder, as Craddock’s replacement.
While Greene started and finished the 2016 season as the team’s No. 1 field-goal kicker and was nearly perfect on his point-after-attempts (37 of 38 overall), despite some inconsistencies, his troubles getting distance on his kickoffs led to him losing that job early on to Danny Sutton. His lack of distance on field goals (a season-high 37-yard field goal) raised questions as well.
Greene was nine of 14 overall and missed both of his attempts against Rutgers, which led to then-freshman Mike Shinsky getting a shot. The former McDonogh standout kicked a 41-yarder on his only try of the season in the regular-season finale against the Scarlet Knights.
Durkin was a bit evasive a couple of weeks ago when asked about the kicking competition and said it would likely go into the fall, when Greene could also face some competition from Paul Inzerillo, a preferred walk-on from Staten Island, N.Y., who kicked seven field goals of 40 yards or more as a senior in high school.
How much has the addition of new coaches Tyler Bowen and Jimmy Brumbaugh improved play in the trenches?
Durkin made it clear after the season that for the program to move forward, the offensive and defensive lines had to better.
That led to Durkin bringing in Bowen, who had started his coaching career as a student assistant under Ralph Friedgen after his own career as a tight end was cut short by injuries. Bowen coached the offensive line and served as offensive coordinator at Fordham last season.
The departure of associate head coach Mike London, who became Howard’s head coach in late January, also opened up a spot coaching the defensive line. Enter Brumbaugh, who has spent much of his career in the Southeastern Conference and has developed several NFL players.
Bowen’s approach seems to be more new age, with offensive tackle Damian Prince talking about how the former Terp uses social media to show his players videos while they are not at practice. Brumbaugh appears to be more of an old-school teacher who still likes to put his hand in the dirt.
Given the offense-versus defense format for Saturday’s spring game, the improvement of both units might be the easiest to judge.
Who is the breakout player of spring practice?
With the departure of seniors Levern Jacobs and Teldrick Morgan, there were some questions at slot receiver going into the spring. Both rising sophomore DJ Turner as well as rising senior Jaquille Veii and Jacobs' little brother, Taivon, have shown the ability to catch the ball in traffic and have open-field speed.
Quietly, rising junior Sean Christie has moved himself into the mix on the offensive line. With the sudden departure of stalwart Mike Minter, who decided that his body had endured enough pain after three years and departed after graduating in December, Christie will certainly help fill a void at offensive guard.
While not considered a surprise, rising junior D.J. Moore has shown improvement from a breakthrough season in which he caught 41 passes for 637 yards and six touchdowns, including a 92-yard catch-and-run touchdown at Nebraska. With improved play at quarterback, Moore could be one of the best wideouts in the Big Ten.