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As Maryland head football coach DJ Durkin opened his National Signing Day news conference last February, he commented that it was "
hard to wipe the smile off my face right now." Just more than six months later, Durkin and his staff are seeing an increase in the competition at all position groups thanks to a 28-man recruiting class with an abundance of potential.
"It's much more competitive now that there's better depth at spots and more guys competing at positions. That makes such a difference," Durkin said Aug. 9 before the Terps held their seventh camp practice of the summer and the first open to the media. "More than just us [saying], 'OK, here's how we practice, here's the culture' … when you have competition, that does a lot more than any sort of coaching can do. So that's been helpful, and that's the thought: always keep bringing great players in the program and keep the competition up."
Freshman quarterback Kasim Hill is the highest-profile newcomer and will challenge junior Caleb Henderson and sophomores Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager for the starting spot. At 6-foot-2 and 232 pounds with broad shoulders and a strong arm, Hill looks the part of a Big Ten quarterback. Durkin declined to single out a leader in the race for the starting job, though he praised his freshman passer.
"He's doing great, looks really good," Durkin said. "He doesn't look like a freshman. He's very mature with how he approaches meetings and really everything he does, so he's been great."
Seniors Jacquille Veii and Taivon Jacobs, junior D.J. Moore and sophomore DJ Turner are at the top of the receivers heap, but five freshmen -- including three from Georgia -- will also compete. One of those Georgia receivers is Carlos Carriere, who stands out because of how tall he is (6-foot-4) and how long his strides are. He caught a long pass down the sideline during a short scrimmage between young offensive players and young defensive players.
Two of the top rushers in the Big Ten -- junior Ty Johnson and sophomore Lorenzo Harrison -- return for the Terps, and they're joined by a talented trio of freshmen running backs in Anthony McFarland (DeMatha), Tayon Fleet-Davis (Potomac) and Javon Leake. McFarland is an explosive back who combines a low center of gravity with a powerful frame at 5-foot-8 and 208 pounds. Fleet-Davis, at 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds, looks like a potential short-yardage back, especially now that Kenneth Goins has departed. Harrison described Leake as "really fast."
"I feel like they're more competitive because we have more talent," Harrison said of his team's practices. "The young guys coming in, they're coming in ready to go. They're all trying to get a spot, so I feel like it's better energy around right now. Everybody's competing and everybody's trying to get on the field."
Durkin's staff also brought in sorely needed depth and size for the offensive and defensive lines. On the offensive side, 6-foot-4, 325-pound Jordan McNair (McDonogh); 6-foot-4, 294-pound Marcus Minor (DeMatha); 6-foot-7, 300-pound Tyran Hunt; and 6-foot-1, 307-pound Johnny Jordan (Gonzaga High) all stand out.
The increase in size on the defensive line might be even more noticeable, especially with respect to twin brothers Breyon and Brandon Gaddy. Breyon Gaddy, in particular, at 6-foot-2 and 360 pounds, is a monstrous presence in the middle of the defensive line, but he also exhibits light feet; he jumped and batted away a pass at the line of scrimmage during the aforementioned scrimmage between the younger Terps.
"At the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, we're having some good battles in practice," Durkin said. "It's helped us. They're making each other better."
Another factor contributing to better competition in practice is the improvement of returning players, Durkin said. Strength and conditioning coach Rick Court's offseason program has changed the players' bodies and "how we move," Durkin said, and the coach's culture has strongly taken hold, which has led to crisper, more efficient practices.
The unit with the best chance of a major improvement might be the offensive line, with a quartet of juniors -- left tackle Derwin Gray, left guard Sean Christie, center Brendan Moore and left tackle Damian Prince -- on the first unit. Moore echoed Durkin's sentiments, saying Court is "one of the best there is" and that this year has seen "more of a focus on technique rather than how to practice."
It all could help an offensive line that has a precious commodity in continuity but needs to be better than it was last year, especially at protecting the passer.
"We all came in together, we've spent a lot of time together on and off the field," Moore said of his unit. "That really goes a long way as far as chemistry, calling out what blocks to do when, having just good communication on the line, and also just knowing how fast people are with their feet or how much power to put into each double team. It's really, really good to have that much chemistry."
MORE DURKIN NOTES:
Durkin offered no timetable for his decision on a starting quarterback and said his passers are getting the same reps with the first and second units that they got at the start of camp. "After we get through our first big scrimmage this weekend [Aug. 12-13], I think we'll start to probably adjust and alter what those reps are," Durkin said. … Senior linebacker Shane Cockerille (Gilman) is practicing after being suspended for the Quick Lane Bowl Dec. 26 and sitting out spring ball, but Durkin offered no update on his status for the season. "We're not looking long term with him. He's got things he's got to do in order to be an active member of the team, and so far, now he's doing those," Durkin said. … Durkin indicated no one had gotten hurt in the first week of camp. "We're, knock on wood, doing good right now. Everyone's healthy out there competing. Couple bumps and bruises here and there but nothing major," Durkin said.
Maryland running back Lorenzo Harrison speaks to the media after practice Aug. 9:
Maryland center Brendan Moore talks to the media after practice Aug. 9: