Maryland football practices running like clockwork in coach DJ Durkin's second season

A measure of Maryland’s progress as a football team can often be found in how much second-year Terps coach DJ Durkin adheres to the practice schedule.

After a day off Tuesday, some figured that the 2½-hour session might go a little long.

Instead, it ended right on time.

While some of it has to do with Durkin’s own adjustment to being a head coach, much of it is the result of the veterans knowing what is expected and the younger players — even the freshmen — being up to speed on the playbook and the practice plan.

“I’ve been very pleased with how our guys have handled practice, our tempo. It’s been really good,” Durkin said before practice Wednesday, the first one this year open to the media. “Our older guys have a real good understanding of what we want, good leadership.

“The young guys we brought in, there’s a lot talking about the recruiting class and all that. Those guys are good football players. They do a nice job of learning and coming along and competing. It’s been good. Obviously there’s a lot of work to do, a long way to go.”

Durkin has seen growth from the team’s experience as well as an infusion of talented depth that has allowed the practices to run more smoothly and be more competitive than they were a year ago.

Given that Maryland will open the season at Texas on Sept. 2, that is needed.

Asked how different the practices have looked the past week than they did last summer, Durkin said, smiling: “Very different. I don’t know how to quite measure that other than noticeably different by myself and all the coaches. ...Things are running very efficiently, which is a good thing.”

Said junior center Brendan Moore: "Last year was more learn how to practice, learn the culture he [Durkin] wants us to have. And this year we’re actually honing … our technique. Not that we weren’t last year. It’s more a focus on technique than how to practice.”

Along with several players being noticeably bigger, and in the case of slimmed-down senior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. quicker, than they were after more than a year under Rick Court, the director of football sports performance, the Terps have added more talent than any other year in recent memory.

Freshmen are competing at several positions, most significantly at quarterback where Kasim Hill is challenging redshirt junior Caleb Henderson as well as sophomores Tyrelle Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager for the starting job going into Austin.

But freshmen are also trying to compete for playing time at running back, wide receiver and safety, as well as on the offense and defensive lines. After playing 16 freshmen in his first year, Durkin expects to use as many, if not more, this year.

“Really that [2017] class as a whole, there’s times in practice when they open your eyes and you say, ‘Wow, that’s what we thought we’re getting and we’re glad we got it,’ ” Durkin said. “There’s also times like normal freshmen when you scratch your head a little bit and say, ‘OK, we’ve got to get this cleaned up.’ ”

A year after being one of the biggest revelations in preseason camp — and eventually becoming one of the team’s biggest offensive weapons — sophomore running back Lorenzo Harrison Jr. has seen the atmosphere in practice ramp up to another level.

“I feel they’re more competitive because we have more talent,” said Harrison, who is expected to regain his position in a deep rotation led by junior Ty Johnson. “The young guys coming in, they’re all ready to go, they’re all trying to get a spot. I feel like it’s better energy around, everyone’s competing. Everybody is trying to get on the field.”

Said Durkin: “It’s much more competitive now. There’s more depth in spots, more guys competing at positions. That’s makes such a difference. More than just us — ‘OK, here’s how we practice, here’s the culture’ — when you have competition, that’s a lot more than any sort of coaching can do. That’s been helpful. That’s the thought always, keep bringing great players in the program and keep the competition up.”

NOTES: Five more players have changed their numbers since last season, bringing the total to 12. Among those to change their numbers recently was senior linebacker Jesse Aniebonam, who will now wear No. 6, and senior nose tackle Kingsley Opara, who will wear No. 8.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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