DJ Durkin’s voice was a gravelly mess by the time Maryland’s second spring practice wrapped up on Tuesday morning, but he had enough wind to stay for a few minutes after the session and further instruct a few individual players. Exhaust every resource, he often tells his new team, and he’s beginning to show them how to do just that on the practice field.
Though Durkin and his staff determined the spring’s two-deep by grading each player performance in winter workouts rather than previous experience or by class — the depth chart was already changing by Tuesday. Durkin has equipped the practice fields with eight to ten cameras to watch every move of every player, and his staff will scour the film after each day to evaluate and apply grades.
“I want them to know that practice is important what they do is being evaluated,” Durkin said. “Their tape is their resume. They have to make their reps count.”
It is a chance for Durkin and his powerhouse staff – which includes three former FBS head coaches in Scott Shafer, Pete Lembo and Mike London – to get to know their personnel. But it is also a clean slate for Maryland’s players to make an impression and carve out a new role that might not have existed under former coach Randy Edsall and his staff.
“It’s just getting back to playing football, getting back to playing the sport that we love. Having fun,” Maryland linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. “Everybody has energy … everybody feeds off of it.”
The consensus, at least from several Maryland players who spoke with reporters Tuesday, is that this spring practice is shaping up to be much more energetic than any they’ve experienced in College Park. Durkin screamed his lungs out even during the most elementary exercises Tuesday. His offensive coordinator, 31-year-old Walt Bell, wore his hat backwards and ran full speed with his players between drills. Defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, the former Friendship Collegiate coach and Alabama assistant, lined up at times with his players and went stride for stride with them to enhance his instruction.
“The energy is through the roof,” senior defensive lineman Roman Braglio said.
Whether that energy can elevate a roster that struggled through a 3-9 season in 2015 remains to be seen. Durkin, who spoke to members of the media for the first time since National Signing Day in early February, hesitated to single out specific players or position groups as he held court with reporters. He said that freshman wide receiver D.J. Moore and Carter – both of whom are expected to be among the more productive players on the roster next season – have impressed the staff with their first two days of practice. Durkin also said senior quarterback Perry Hills, who started eight games under center last season, has emerged as a trusted leader early on in spring.
Hills split reps with senior Caleb Rowe, junior Shane Cockerille and redshirt freshman Gage Shaffer on Tuesday, as the group of signal callers tried to knock off rust from the long layoff. Stabilizing the position will be a priority for Durkin – Maryland quarterbacks combined for a passer rating of 90.27 last season, the worst mark of any Power Five conference team since 2008 – and Bell’s up-tempo system that flourished at Arkansas State should help. But Durkin was less concerned with schemes on Tuesday – he is also introducing a new base 3-4 defense – and more interested in further implementing his helter-skelter brand of coaching.
“The practices are just up-tempo. Something new, like, from last year,” said Moore, who caught 25 passes last season. “Wherever the ball is placed, we just have to be there, ready to go.”
Note: Senior cornerback Will Likely and junior offensive lineman Mike Minter both sat out Tuesday’s practice with undisclosed injuries. Durkin declined to discuss the nature of their injuries or the timetable of their absence, although he added that the school will release an updated injury report within the coming days.