In new system, Maryland quarterbacks working to learn, improve

Carroll County Times
Perry Hills on Maryland's offense for quarterbacks: "It can really be anything."

COLLEGE PARK — For Caleb Rowe, Maryland's quarterback position is "definitely an open job." So he and Perry Hills have put in extra film sessions and extra meetings with offensive coordinator Walt Bell in order to get a handle on the Terps' new offense.

Both fifth-year seniors are trying to put last season's quarterback struggles behind them and get a fresh start under coach DJ Durkin. But Hills, Rowe and redshirt freshman Gage Shaffer all have work to do to grasp Bell's offense before the season starts in September.

"I think they're doing well," Durkin said. "They've got obviously a ways to go, but they're doing well with it."

Hills drew praise from Durkin two weeks ago for his effort in the team's winter workouts under strength coach Rick Court. It's been the common refrain for Hills' career at Maryland, whether coming from the new staff or the old one.

But Hills needs to show improvement on the field, where he threw eight touchdowns and 15 interceptions in the fall. Last summer, he worked extensively with his high school quarterbacks coach to improve his athleticism, and that showed with 535 rushing yards and a string of three straight 100-yard rushing games in October.

When Maryland was on spring break last week, Hills returned to Pittsburgh, where he worked with former NFL quarterback Gus Frerotte, and he continues to try to get up to speed with the system.

"It's a lot more high tempo," Hills said. "Our last offense had some uptempo components, but this one's just straight high tempo. We're going to do some things, and we're going to get really good at those things. It's not going to be a million different things, but we're just going to get really good at what we do."

Rowe returned to South Carolina over spring break to spend time with his family, which includes a niece and nephew who are each a few months old. He said Bell's offense fits him because it allows him to "throw the ball around, find receivers."

Last season — which Rowe called "a pretty hard year, personally and for the team" — he struggled with his decision-making. . But in the season finale against Rutgers, Rowe replaced Hills and piloted the Terps to a 46-41 comeback victory, and he said he's worked on making quicker decisions and improving his mobility in the pocket.

"The offense is a lot easier," Rowe said. "At this point, it's all terminology. Concepts are fairly the same. It's just about getting it down mentally and running it faster."

Bell's system appears like it will be tailored to whichever quarterback wins the job, whether it's Hills, Rowe, Shaffer or an incoming freshman — Tyrrell Pigrome or Max Bortenschlager. There's flexibility in it. Last October, former coach Randy Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley reinvented the Terps offense into a run-first scheme under Hills, which played to his strengths.

Under Bell, Hills has seen that the future of Maryland's offense doesn't lie in one specific aspect of the game.

"The offense, it can be quarterback run, it can be throwing," Hills said. "It can really be anything."

Durkin and the staff are still working on evaluating the team's quarterbacks. On Tuesday, he singled out each of the three returning players for praise. Above all, their development will come down to each getting the chance to learn the system and practice with it. During Maryland's practice Tuesday, there were often multiple team periods happening at once, giving players chances to participate instead of simply watching.

"They're all in their own way having better days than others as we keep going, but that's indicative of learning a new scheme," Durkin said. "We'll keep working with them, getting them all reps."

While they traded the starting quarterback job back and forth last season, Rowe and Hills remained supportive of each other, and they knew that at any time, they could be pressed back into action. So this spring, the quarterbacks are trying to make sure that in whoever wins the job, Maryland is in good hands.

"Honestly," Rowe said, "I think any quarterback that plays here in this offense is going to do a very good job."

daniel.gallen@carrollcountytimes.com

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