Maryland football coach DJ Durkin talks about the team's recruiting class. (Don Markus/Baltimore Sun video)
COLLEGE PARK — Given how the Maryland football team finished its first season under DJ Durkin, and how well Durkin and his staff recruited going into his second year, it's not hard to envision several of next season's freshmen playing big roles pretty quickly – possibly as opening day starters at Texas.
Here's a look at the five players with the best chance to start in their first year at Maryland, and why some might be in the starting lineup sooner rather than later:
Kasim Hill, QB: Based on some of the comments Durkin made about the four-star quarterback from St. John's College High, it seems as if the 6-2, 230-pound Hill will get every opportunity to start as a true freshmen.
Given the success others have had in the Big Ten – including Ohio State's J.T. Barrett – there is certainly precedent for Durkin turning the offense over to Hill right from the start.
North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson will get a majority of the reps in spring practice, but will probably need to go into preseason camp as the clear favorite to keep Hill on the sideline.
Breyon Gaddy, DL: With graduation of nose tackle Azubuike Ukandu, there will certainly be opportunity for the 6-4, 320-pound Gaddy to get some time on the defensive line.
Though rising senior Kingsley Opara is expected to take Ukandu's place in the starting lineup, Gaddy should get nearly as many reps.
Considering how porous the Terps were against the run a year ago with Ukandu and Opara in the middle of that line, Gaddy could become "the force in the middle" that defensive coordinator Andy Buh predicted on Wednesday.
Anthony McFarland, RB: At most schools, McFarland might have been redshirted as a freshman, especially after missing his senior year at DeMatha High because of a broken leg. But not at Maryland.
With the way Durkin rotated rising junior Ty Johnson and rising sophomore Lorenzo Harrison last season – at least until Harrison, a former high school teammate of McFarland, was suspended for the last four games - he will definitely give "Ant" a chance to be part of the rotation at running back.
McFarland appears to have the kind of breakaway speed fits well into Walt Bell's offense, and many who have watched him play in high school believe he is even more explosive than either Johnson or Harrison, whose suspension was lifted last month.
Nick Underwood, LB: One of the seven early enrollees in the recruiting class, the 6-foot, 215-pound linebacker is also one of two junior college transfers who are coming in for the 2017 season.
Considering how much Durkin and Buh played Jermaine Carter Jr. and Shane Cockerillle (Gilman) last season – seemingly for more snaps than anyone on defense – Underwood will at least provide depth.
There is also some uncertainty surrounding Cockerille's eligibility. After leading the team in tackles in his first season playing the position, Cockerille was suspended for the bowl game and is still trying to get back for spring practice.
Markquese Bell, DB: Given his size and athleticism, the player whom Durkin said Wednesday "looked like an NFL safety" will certainly have a chance to get on the field as a freshman, if not start early on.
The 6-2, 194-pound Bell, a four-star prospect and a consensus top 100 player in the country, was a 7-foot high jumper in high school in New Jersey who "might be our most athletic DB," said secondary coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim.
With some of the issues the Terps had last season at safety between injuries to senior Denzel Conyers and inconsistent play from then sophomore Darnell Savage Jr. and junior Josh Woods, Bell could very well be in the starting lineup in Austin.