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Maryland spring practice preview: Hills, Rowe headline returning quarterbacks

Maryland hits the field for the first time under coach DJ Durkin in less than two weeks for spring practice, which culminates in the Terps' annual spring game on April 16. With a new coach and new systems on both sides of the ball, it's a period of distinct transition for a program coming off a 3-9 season.

And while Durkin has already started putting his stamp on the program, Maryland's on-field transition starts over the next few weeks in practice. So leading into practice, we'll preview each of the Terps' position groups, starting Wednesday with quarterbacks.

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Returners

Perry Hills, senior: 90 of 180 for 1,001 yards, 8 touchdowns, 13 interceptions (nine games, eight starts)

Caleb Rowe, senior: 76 of 165 for 894 yards, 6 touchdowns, 15 interceptions (10 games, four starts)

Shane Cockerille: junior: 11 of 23 for 82 yards (situationally in 11 games)

Gage Shaffer, redshirt freshman: Redshirted in 2015

2015 reflection

Maryland's quarterback play was historically bad in 2015, with Hills, Rowe and Daxx Garman combined to toss 29 interceptions in 12 games. As a group, Maryland's quarterbacks completed only 47.2 percent of their passes, and the Terps' passer rating of 90.3 ranked 127th nationally, in front of only Georgia Southern, a triple-option team that threw only 137 passes all season.

There were a few bright spots in 2015. Hills rushed for 398 yards in a three-game stretch in October and helped put a scare into then-No. 1 Ohio State in former coach Randy Edsall's final games. In the season finale against Rutgers, Rowe relieved Hills and didn't turn the ball over while throwing for 239 yards and orchestrating an attack that rushed for 401 yards.

Overall, it's hard to see Maryland's quarterback play being worse in 2016, no matter who is under center. But it's going to need to improve significantly for the Terps to have a chance at sniffing .500 this fall.

Looking ahead

Hills and Rowe are both entering their fifth year in College Park, and they've both shown glimpses of what they're capable of doing when they're at their best. For Hills, it's his intangibles, toughness and improved running ability. Rowe has the gunslinger's arm and has made his share of tough throws in college.

But both had opportunities to seize the starting job last season, and neither could hold on to it for very long. So that opens things up in camp.

Shaffer is a former three-star recruit who stands 6-feet-7 with a good arm. He ran with the scout team last season, though he was suspended for the final two games of the year. Shaffer showed well last August in Maryland's open scrimmage, but that's the most significant glimpse the public has gotten of him.

Cockerille's future is more up in the air, after he switched between fullback and quarterback last season while also contributing on special teams. He played more than half of Maryland's loss to Indiana after Rowe left with an injury and Hills was out with mononucleosis, but the Terps struggled to get a downfield passing game going with him while the Hoosiers stacked the box.

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Once fall camp rolls around, incoming freshmen Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager, a pair of three-star recruits, will be on campus to add to the depth and competition of the position.

What to watch for

The most intriguing part of spring practice for the quarterbacks might have more to do with offensive coordinator Walt Bell's new scheme than the actual quarterback play. It took until Maryland revamped its offense against Ohio State with Hills under center before the Terps started clicking with any cohesion.

Things might move slowly at first as Bell installs his spread system, but it will be interesting to see how he tailors it for a group of quarterbacks who each have different skill sets. In his previous stop at Arkansas State, Bell's offense had a pass-heavy season — which would seem to favor Rowe — and a run-heavy season — Hills' forte in 2015. Either way, Bell's system figures to be tailored to whoever will step under center, and it figures to have some fireworks in store for 2016.

We'll take a look at the running backs on Thursday, where a number of newcomers could have a chance to make a major impact in 2016.

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