Dienhart: Here's what I'll be watching at Maryland practice

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Here's what I'll be watching at Maryland practice

The DJ Durkin era has begun in College Park, Maryland. Can he move the Terrapins up the pecking order in the rugged Big Ten East?

It will be tough, as Durkin and company have some key personnel issues to deal with and problems to solve. In the Big Ten, Maryland ranked 11th in scoring defense (34.4 ppg) and 11th in total defense (421.2 ypg). The offense also has problems. No school in the nation turned the ball over more than Maryland’s 36. And the quarterback play was abysmal, as the Terps tossed an FBS-high 29 interceptions for a program that had a Big Ten-worst minus-18 turnover margin.

Here is what I’ll be looking for at Maryland practice Thursday.

1. Is the passing game better? As mentioned in the intro, the Terps were miserable last year in the aerial game, ranking 126th in the nation in passing efficiency. Goal No. 1 is to find a good QB, a position that has been lacking in recent years. Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe are battling to run the attack of Walt Bell, who will push the buttons on a go-go attack. Is the offense clicking? Again, Bell has installed a new up-tempo spread scheme that will feature a quick pace. Efficiency will be key. Are all the players on board and working in unison? Timing and chemistry are keys to success for an offense that wants to be built around the run.

2. Can the defense stop people? The unit won’t lack for brain power, as Durkin is a defensive coach by trade and line coach Mike London is Virginia’s former head coach. London’s line is key with rushers like Yannick Ngakoue, the program’s all-time single-season sack leader, and Quinton Jefferson in the NFL. A good rush would help a secondary that often got torched in 2015, surrendering 258 yards passing per game.

3. Is the offense protecting the ball? Again, as mentioned in the intro, turnovers were a huge issue last season. The Terps turned it over a ridiculous 36 times with three or more giveaways seven times. In 2014, Maryland was even in turnover margin. Maryland only won the turnover battle once – registering a plus-one in the loss to Indiana. It all begins with the QBs. Each also was an interception machine in 2015, as Hills tossed 13 and Rowe had 15.

4. How are the linebackers looking? This could be one of the Big Ten’s most underrated LB corps led by Jermaine Carter. Jalen Brooks also is a good linebacker, the one area on a maligned defense that could be pretty stout.

5. Do the receivers look good? This group has a chance to excel with players like Malcolm Culmer, Levern Jacobs, Taivon Jacobs and D.J. Moore. These guys need to catch everything thrown to them to help up a fragile passing game. The corps was a bit erratic last year; it must grow up and excel.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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