Maryland’s Tyrrell Pigrome hounded his wide receivers at all hours this summer, sometimes texting early in the morning after a workout or at midnight. “Let’s go and throw,” is all the sophomore quarterback would text, setting up freelance sessions to test routes and strengthen timing ahead of the team’s quarterback derby in fall camp.
“Any time he was available, we made ourselves available to go do that with him,” junior wide receiver D.J. Moore said.
Pigrome might have been the favorite to win the starting job during the offseason, but if those impromptu throwing sessions proved anything, it was that the Alabama native knew just how much he needed to improve to earn the keys to Walt Bell’s offense.
A year ago, he simply wasn’t ready to efficiently handle the up-tempo system. The speed of the game was overwhelming and forced him to largely survive on his running ability. So as he met with reporters for the first time on Wednesday, less than 48 hours after Maryland Coach DJ Durkin announced he would start on Saturday against No. 23 Texas, Pigrome spoke at length about his largely untapped potential as a passer.
“I have a lot to prove with my passing game. Because, running, that’s never been a big problem for me. Passing, I feel like I have a big point to prove. … Ever since high school I always knew I can pass, but last year the game was so fast for me, I stayed in panic mode, kind of,” said Pigrome, who completed just 52 percent of his passes (37 for 72) for 322 yards with two touchdowns against two interceptions in 2016. “I never had my feet in the right position to play, or ready to throw the ball, I would always just throw the ball inaccurate and short.”
His first career start, in a 31-10 loss to Minnesota, illustrated Pigrome’s struggles. On a day when Maryland’s protection was shaky and the running game largely ineffective, Pigrome completed just 18 for 37 passes for 161 yards. He committed three turnovers, and of his 25 rushes, Bell estimated only five of those were designed runs.
Although Pigrome had shown special athleticism — including on a 25-yard, game-winning touchdown run in double overtime against Central Florida — he played out the season mostly in mop-up duty or in special packages, knowing that he would need to use the entire offseason to develop as a passer in a complex system.
“Pig had to play well before he was ready to play. The roster, with where it’s been, had we stayed healthy, this should be a redshirt freshman,” said Bell, whose offense played four quarterbacks last season. “He had to play before he was ready. That helps you improve. Sometimes those failures make you a better human being, a better player. He has really improved.”
Pigrome’s second career start will come against the Longhorns on Saturday in Austin, and he won’t have to look over his shoulder, Bell insisted. There is no special package in place for highly touted freshman Kasim Hill, largely because he has much of the same skill-set as Pigrome. But the game plan also lends itself to Pigrome playing without caution and with an air of freedom.
Aside from having an improved offensive line — led by junior center Brendan Moore, an Austin native who will make his homecoming this weekend — Pigrome also has a backfield duo of junior Ty Johnson (9.1 yards per carry in 2016) and Lorenzo Harrison (7.2) to lean on.
On the perimeter, while seniors Jacquille Veii and Taivon Jacobs add much-needed experience to a group depleted by graduation, Moore is also expected to be among the best wide receivers in the Big Ten.
Moore caught six touchdowns last year, the most since Stefon Diggs in 2012, and averaged 15.3 yards per catch. He also added about 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason, which should help him more in blocking schemes and running in the open field, where according to Pro Football Focus, he led the Big Ten with 13 forced missed tackles a year ago. And after a summer working with the motivated Pigrome — both players practiced routes on their own every other day — Maryland might have something this season it simply didn’t a year ago: a dangerous passing game.
“The freedom has always been there,” Pigrome said. Durkin “always tells me to play ball and have fun doing it.”
Note: Senior linebacker Shane Cockerille, who was suspended for undisclosed reasons before last season’s Quick Lane Bowl and didn’t participate with the team during spring and summer drills, has been reinstated to the team and will start at Texas. Cockerille, who had never played linebacker until last season after competing at quarterback and fullback during his first three years with the program, finished with 108 tackles and was third in the Big Ten with 9.0 tackles per game.
“What’s great about it, he hasn’t lost any of his instincts … you’ll probably see a better, faster, smarter Shane Cockerille this year,” Maryland co-defensive coordinator Andy Buh said. “We’re looking for a lot of production out of that position group in general.”
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