When Maryland Coach DJ Durkin was asked in mid-August if he had set a timetable to announce his starting quarterback, he quipped that the decision would be made sometime before the first series in the Sept. 2 season opener against Texas.
It was a Jim Harbaugh-esque answer from the second-year coach, who much like his former mentor in Ann Arbor, has held his cards close to the vest during Maryland’s three-week training camp. So when Durkin announced sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome as his starting quarterback Monday afternoon, a full five days before the Terrapins kickoff against the Longhorns in Austin, it came as somewhat of a surprise.
But there is no surprise in the actual selection of Pigrome, a dual-threat sophomore who showed flashes of promise during his rookie year and entered camp with perhaps the most momentum of any player at the position after a productive spring and summer. That he was the favorite to win the job and did enough to hold off the competition – including freshman Kasim Hill, sophomore Max Bortenschlager and injured junior Caleb Henderson – underscores Pigrome’s confidence and figures to be a comforting sign for Durkin and his staff.
Hill, a talented former four-star recruit from St. John’s College High School, is listed as the backup to Pigrome. Bortenschlager is slotted as the third-stringer.
Durkin has established a reputation for holding no-holds-barred competition at each spot on the roster every week, and while he has not stated publicly that he plans to use multiple quarterbacks against Texas and beyond, the position could remain fluid should Pigrome struggle. A year ago, Pigrome settled into a relief role as a backup behind the oft-injured Perry Hills and showed glimpses of his electric playmaking early in the season.
That included a 25-yard touchdown run in his first and only touch of a double-overtime win over Central Florida. Pigrome scored again on his first touch in a loss to Penn State after Hills went down, barreling into the end zone for a seven-yard score that became one of the highlights of his freshman season.
But the 5-foot-11, 196-pound Pigrome also endured expected growing pains, including in his first career start against Minnesota, an ugly 31-10 loss in which he committed three turnovers and showed just how far he would have to come as a passer. He finished the season with a 52.1 completion average (37-for-71 for 322 yards and two touchdowns) in 11 games, then went right to work during the offseason to improve his footing as a passer in the offensive system of Walt Bell, who recruited Pigrome out of Alabama.
Pigrome didn’t have a perfect fall camp – he was upstaged by both Hill and Bortenschlager during the team’s only open scrimmage in late August – but by the final open practice earlier this week, he was the only quarterback taking snaps exclusively with the first team.
“A lot more confidence. He’s been battling. The QB competition is very good. I feel like he had a year in the system, a year to acclimate to the college football scheme and style of play,” senior safety Denzel Conyers said of Pigrome earlier this month. “I feel like he’s taken it very serious. I’ve seen him over the summer out here every day, throwing balls to receivers, getting his timing. Pig is making great strides.”
Durkin still has viable options at backup, including Hill, who is widely considered the program’s future at the position. While it appears that Hill doesn’t have the speed or improvisational ability of Pigrome yet, the freshman arguably has a better arm and still has the mobility to be a capable dual-threat in Bell’s up-tempo scheme.
Durkin also could turn to Bortenschlager, who held his own in his first career start at Nebraska last November. It remains unclear when Maryland might have Henderson back. The North Carolina transfer missed the spring game because of a right foot injury and after entering August not fully healthy, has missed the late stages of fall camp with a boot on his right foot.
For now, the only clarity at the position is that Pigrome, barring an unforeseen development this week, will trot out for the first series against Texas.