Maryland looks to take 'next step' in Durkin's 2nd season
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) -- As he enters his second season as Maryland's football coach, DJ Durkin has found that familiarity breeds content.
Upon his arrival a year ago, Durkin instituted a new scheme, a fresh outlook and a rigid set of rules designed to get the most out of a program that sputtered under his predecessor, Randy Edsall.
"We kind of came in and went crazy on a lot of things to get the urgency built up and to have them understand the level of competition we want this program to have," Durkin said. "Now there's a much better understanding of that. Our guys are operating at a higher level, and there's less anxiety on their part of what's coming next."
The Terrapins adjusted well enough last year to win their first four games, but that was followed by a stretch of six losses over seven games in the Big Ten. Maryland won its regular season finale over Rutgers to earn a berth in the Quick Lane Bowl, though a 36-30 defeat against Boston College produced a 6-7 finish.
With nine returning starters on defense and a solid recruiting class adding depth, Durkin expects improvement in 2017.
"It's natural for us to take the next step as a program," he said. "A lot has been made about us being a young team, but I think we're going to be pretty good."
The schedule, however, is imposing. The Terrapins open on the road against Texas, which will be launching a new era under coach Tom Herman.
"Texas is a really great program with a great history," wide receiver D.J. Turner said. "For us to go in and leave with a W would be really big. We want to show everybody we're just as good as any team in the country."
Some things to know about the 2017 Terrapins:
QUARTERBACK QUANDRY: Durkin's biggest task this month is finding a quarterback to replace Perry Hills, who started every game, threw for 12 touchdowns and ran for four scores. Maryland entered summer practice with three quarterbacks in the mix for the starting job: Sophomores Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager, and North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson.
Pigrome and Bortenschlager saw action last year. Henderson sat out the 2016 season following his transfer, but was a standout in high school. The winner of the competition won't necessary be the best passer, or the one most proficient at running out of the pocket.
"Any one of them can be a Division-I quarterback," Durkin said. "Now it becomes who's making the best decisions, who runs the offense the best, the best leader."
RUNNING WILD: The Terrapins last year had their first 2,500-yard rushing season since 2002, led by Ty Johnson, who averaged a school-record 9.1 yards per carry. Johnson returns, along with three starters on the offensive line.
"I don't plan on going backward, only forward," right tackle Damion Prince said. "Not too many offensive linemen can say they have the best offensive backfield in the conference."
SHAPE UP: Durkin and his staff have put the players on a strict training regimen, one that goes so far as to monitor the amount of hours they sleep. Calories and carbohydrates were also taken into account, along with time in the weight room. As a result, senior linebacker Jermaine Carter -- who has started 25 straight games -- is down 13 pounds to 225.
"I feel good. My teammates have also done a good job of losing weight," he said. "We know we're going to face tempo teams, so I wanted to have better energy and better stamina."
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Maryland hopes experience will be a factor in improving a defense that allowed at least 30 points in six games, including 59 at Michigan and 62 to Ohio State. "This defense is going to be better because we're more comfortable in our roles," Carter insisted. "Our freshmen played last year, so they've had an entire year to get more acclimated to the scheme."
BIG TEN CHALLENGE: The Terps went 3-6 in the Big Ten last year, and this season's schedule includes seven conference foes that appeared in the postseason in 2016. To make matters worse, the road schedule includes Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Not to mention that non-league game at Texas.