QB Bortenschlager's steady play could put him in conversation to start Maryland's opener

If you were to rate the performance of the three Maryland quarterbacks who played meaningful snaps at Saturday’s open scrimmage, some might have reasons to put freshman Kasim Hill at the top of the list. He was, after all, the most impressive in terms of potential.

There is at least one expert — offensive coordinator Walt Bell — who might say that sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome is still the leader going into the final two weeks of preparation for the 2017 opener at Texas on Sept. 2. And, ultimately, it will likely be Bell’s decision.

But don’t ignore Max Bortenschlager just yet.

Pigrome took the initial snaps with the No. 1 offense, and interestingly, Bortenschlager went out there ahead of Hill. While all three seemed to get about the same amount of chances with the first team and second team, Bortenschlager and Hill appeared to take a step toward securing the starting job and Pigrome might have taken a step back.

Hill showed the kind of big-time arm the Terps have lacked since the days of Sam Hollenbach — maybe even going back a decade further to Scott Milanovich — with a dart over the middle that Jacquille Veii somehow caught with one hand.

Though it’s difficult to fairly judge a run-first quarterback such as Pigrome in a scrimmage when the running plays by the guys wearing the yellow noncontact jerseys are quickly aborted, his penchant for throwing into coverage has to be a concern for Bell and second-year coach DJ Durkin.

As much as Durkin might have been hoping for a dual-threat quarterback such as transfer Caleb Henderson to prove he might be the best choice — at least until another dual-threat quarterback such as Hill is ready — that option appears off the table as Henderson sat out Saturday’s scrimmage because of a foot injury.

A day after getting picked off on what seemed to be a good throw and a better defensive play, Pigrome’s blind throw into coverage Saturday that was picked off by a waiting Darnell Savage Jr. might have opened the competition even more than it seemed to be going into the scrimmage.

Though Bortenschlager wasn’t as spectacular as Hill, who also threw a perfect deep ball to streaking freshman Jayden Comma late in the scrimmage, he showed great touch (especially on a back-shoulder throw to freshman Tahj Capehart) and a little more awareness in the pocket.

As exciting as the future seems to be with Hill, the immediate future is still a bit uncertain. Unless Hill makes great strides the next weeks, it’s not too difficult to imagine Bortenschlager as the No. 1 quarterback for Week 1, and depending on what happens in Austin, Hill getting the nod in Week 2 against Towson.

It still could be Pigrome, who seemed to come out of the spring as the potential No. 1. That lead has seemingly dwindled if not disappeared entirely. But since Bell has often proven to be unpredictable as a play-caller, the opening-day starter at Texas is still hard to predict.

Here are a couple of other takeaways from Saturday’s scrimmage:

DEFENSE HAS OFFENSE ON ITS HEELS

Not only is the defense ahead of the offense — as some defensive players suggested it was coming out of the first scrimmage a week ago — but it appears to be bigger, stronger and faster than a year ago.

The interior line was more active, but it was the play of linebackers Bryce Brand, Jalen Brooks and Nick Underwood that showed a significant jump from last season.

Brand, a freshman, was wearing a yellow jersey (for no contact), but that didn’t stop him from mixing it up as a pass rusher from the Buck linebacker spot. He had three potential sacks.

Brooks looks a lot faster and more physical than he had been in his first three years and seemed to complement fellow senior Jermaine Carter Jr. well in the middle of the field.

Underwood, a junior college transfer, had the lateral speed that was sorely missed a year ago.

TIMING OF OFFENSIVE LINE APPEARS OFF

A year after the offensive line had major struggles protecting the quarterback, that still seems to be a problem. While some of it again rests on the indecision of the quarterback, as was often the case last season with Perry Hills, the line was supposed to be a more experienced, cohesive group than a year ago.

There were a ton of false starts and missed assignments Saturday. Perhaps some of it still is because of moving a number of players into the rotation, including promising freshmen Marcus Minor and Johnny Jordan. It could also be the fact that they’ve had to work with four different quarterbacks for most of the preseason.

While the run-blocking was sharp opening holes, mostly Saturday for Ty Johnson and a trio of explosive freshmen, pass protection has to be shored up by the time the Terps get to Austin. It’s another reason why Durkin might not be willing to throw his future franchise quarterback out there so soon.

OFFENSIVE SKILL POSITIONS ARE LOADED

There was a running joke between Bell and the media last season about the number of running backs Durkin listed as the potential starter, beginning with around six when the season began and never going below two until Lorenzo Harrison III was suspended and Johnson got a bulk of the carries.

While Johnson and Harrison (who was held out Saturday) are expected to be the featured backs, Bell will give a number of others a chance to show their talent. The two most impressive Saturday were freshmen Anthony McFarland and Javon Leake. Sophomore Jake Funk also looked bigger and quicker than a year ago.

Not only do the Terps appear deeper and more explosive at running back than a season ago, they also look to be potentially better at receiver in terms of downfield breakaway speed on the outside. Capehart was clearly the most noticeable, especially when he caught the long ball.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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