Five things to watch at Maryland spring football

Maryland spring football kicks off Wednesday. Here are five areas worth watching as practices get underway.

Maryland's spring practice session begins Wednesday morning and will culminate with the annual Red-White scrimmage April 11 at Byrd Stadium.

Here are five things to keep an eye on as the Terps begin preparing for their second season in the Big Ten in the fall.

The development of backup quarterbacks Perry Hills and Shane Cockerille: It seems so long ago that Hills, then a true freshman, was thrown into a starting role for the first seven games after a season-ending injury to C.J. Brown in 2012. Now a redshirt junior, Hills has played sparingly since getting hurt himself that year. But he is the only other quarterback in the program beside fellow senior Caleb Rowe with any experience. With Rowe still rehabbing his own knee injury, Hills and Cockerille (Gilman) will get plenty of reps in the spring.

Decisions on the offensive line:  The Terps appear to have depth, and some experience, on a line has seemingly been a constant work-in-progress the past couple of years. Having lost center Sal Conaboy, left tackle Jake Wheeler and left guard Silvano Altamirano to graduation, Edsall said it's a matter of "moving guys into the right spots." Derwin Gray could start at left tackle as a redshirt freshman, and former prize recruit Damian Prince, also a redshirt freshman, could make his way onto the field at right tackle. Ryan Doyle will likely be at left guard, with either Steven Grommer or Brendan Moore replacing Conaboy. Left tackle Michael Dunn, a former walk-on, is verstatile enough to move inside to guard if Prince develops.

Receivers taking over for Stefon Diggs and Deon Long: This could be Maryland’s deepest position on either side of the ball. Given how much time Diggs missed the past two seasons, and Long missed after breaking his leg in 2013, the Terps are not hurting for experienced, fast and dangerous receivers. Sophomore Taivon Jacobs, arguably the fastest of the bunch, is still rehabbing a knee injury, but brother Levern Jacobs is back after sitting out last season on a school suspension. Juwan Winfree, Marcus Leak, DeAndre Lane and Amba Etta-Tawo  also return, as does converted quarterback Will Ulmer, who is hoping to make a push for playing time. Leak started fast last season, with three TDs in the first four games. Winfree showed some promise late before being suspended for the final two regular season games.

A first look at how the new 4-3 defense works compared to the old 3-4: With the Terps losing most of their starting front seven, Edsall will switch to a 4-3 defense under new coordinator Keith Dudzinski, who recently replaced Brian Stewart. Dudzinski was successful using that alignment while in the same position at Massachusetts a few years ago. Though senior end Quinton Jefferson and junior Yannick Ngakoue, who’ll move from linebacker to end in the new formation, are the only former starters, Edsall seems excited by some of those fighting for spots in the starting lineup, most notably sophomore pass rusher Jesse Aniebonam, sophomore ends Malik Jones (Dunbar) and sophomore tackles David Shaw and redshirt sophomre Kingsley Opara, as well as redshirt freshman lineman Brett Kulka.

The search for a punter:  The Nathan Renfro era is over. Once considered a promising prospect after taking over the duties from Brad Craddock, Renfro struggled to maintain consistency and often had trouble pooch kicking. Given the uncertainty at quarterback going into the season – particularly since Rowe won’t be back until the summer and has never been very consistent himself – punting will likely need to be a weapon for the Terps when it comes to winning the field position battles in the fall. Lee Shrader, a redshirt freshman, could be limited in the spring by a foot sprain. Early enrollee Nick Pritchard could wind up gettng most of the reps and thus a leg up going into fall camp.

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