Football tour notebook: Fun takes from Maryland football practice
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — This was a quick-paced and long practice. Lots of tempo, no walking, all hustling. And the coaches were constantly chirping. The energy level was impressive for such a hot day. It was go, go go!
Here are my fun takes from Thursday’s practice:
Most impressive player: RB Wes Brown looks, walks and talks like an NFL back. He is what those in the biz call a “cut above.”
Loudest coach: Lots of candidates. Let’s go with DJ Durkin. At one point, he went ballistic on one player, removing his hat and crinkling it in a fit of rage.
Best drill: A form tackling drill provided some good pad popping—and energy.
Top specimen: CB Will Likely is just 5-7, but he is a ball of muscle, speed and fury.
Impressive newcomer: Cornerback JC Jackson looks headed for big things after just being cleared to practice after coming from a JC. He will be a star.
On the rise: Look for sophomore WR D.J. Moore to be All-Big Ten … if the QBs get him the ball.
Nagging question: Is the QB player better?
Under the radar: The Terps need a pass rusher. And DE Jesse Aniebonam could be that guy. He looks good walking off the bus. And he flashed today.
Number: 39, percentage of Maryland’s passes that were either broken up or intercepted a year ago.
Shane Cockerille is a unique player. He began his career at quarterback, moved to fullback, went back to QB and is now a starting linebacker. Andy Buh told me he likes Cockerille’s toughness. No doubt, he is a throwback.
The team received a big boost when JC Jackson was recently cleared to practice. He still doesn’t even have his name on his jersey. That’ll change. He is an uber talent who some feel is the best player on the team already. Jackson began his career at Florida before encountering off-field issues. He transferred to a JC and now is at Maryland after considering Clemson and South Carolina. Durkin had recruited him at Florida. Jackson will form a monster CB combo with Will Likely. Alvin Hill is another good corner. The safeties? Josh Woods and Darnell Savage. They look capable in what could be a nice secondary.
The development of the QBs can’t be overstated, as this position was abysmal last year. Caleb Rowe is hounded by bad decisions, while Perry Hills needs more accuracy. In the end, I think Hills will be the guy. His ability to run would seem to make him a better fit for the power spread that coordinator Walt Bell brought from Arkansas State. Hills looked solid today, while Rowe was relegated to the sideline dealing with an injury. No one else on the roster looks capable of challenging Hills if Rowe is out. Having said all of that, keep an eye on true freshman Tyrell Pigrome, whose athletic skills would seem a nice fit for this attack.
The offensive line is replacing three starters, but it could be good. The tackles are solid, with Michael Dunn on the left and Damian Prince on the right. And center Brendan Moore is a rising force and all-league caliber. The guard spots are a bit fluid, but JaJuan Dulaney and Maurice Shelton ran with the first team. There is a lot of good, young talent up front. The future looks bright.
This offense wants to pound the rock. And it has the running backs to do it. Wes Brown is a bell cow whom the staff loves but he’ll miss the first three games due to suspension. Ty Johnson can scoot and Virginia Tech transfer Trey Edmunds is a big back and a Terp legacy, as father Ferrell played in College Park. There is a gaggle of exciting freshmen. I love Jake Funk, a Maryland school boy legend.
DJ Durkin’s Michigan defense was built around good DBs. He liked to use his cornerbacks and safeties to create chaos against. That helped the linemen and linebackers attack more freely. Can he do that in College Park this fall? While Durkin has a defensive background, his coordinator is Andy Buh. He was with Durkin on Stanford’s staff under Jim Harbaugh and has experience in the Big Ten, serving as Wisconsin’s linebackers coach in 2012. Buh is a good coach.
The defensive line is a work-in-progress and must develop—quickly. DC Andy Duh mentioned Davis Shaw, Roman Braglio, Azukuike Ukandu and Jesse Aniebonam, who could be a good pass rusher. He certainly looks the part.
Maryland has one of the most unique punters in America: He’s a 28-year-old freshman from Australia named Wade Lees. If he plays four years, he’ll be 32 when he graduates. His nickname: “The Godfather.”
Some nice wideouts on the roster. Look for D.J. Moore to be a star. He was a freshman sensation in 2015 and has remade his body. The guy is gonna be a stud. Levern and Taivon Jacobs are back, but Taivon was limited today. Malcolm Culmer is a savvy vet. And New Mexico State grad transfer Teldrick Morgan is gonna make a difference.
Old Cole Field House is being gutted as I type this. The venerable gym will be converted into an indoor facility that the team hopes to practice in during the spring of 2017. Adjacent outdoor fields should open in 2018.
The staff is emphasizing ball protection. Good thing, as turnovers were a major issue in 2015. Check this out: Last year, the Terps had the most turnovers in the Big Ten in the last 20 seasons and the most interceptions by any FBS team in the last 20 seasons. Want more? Maryland is the only FBS team in the last 20 seasons to have two players throw at least 12 interceptions in a season. The Terps’ 29 picks led FBS in 2015.
The linebackers have a chance to be pretty good. I was impressed by Jermaine Carter. He is a good athlete who can cover a lot of ground and could end up being an All-Big Ten linebacker. A big key to their success will be how well the line keeps blockers from reaching him. Shane Cockerille will line up with Carter. Who is the third LB? Jalen Brooks is a guy along with Isaiah Davis.
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