Big Ten East spotlight: 3 burning questions for Maryland entering media days
The dog days are coming, and that’s a good thing. With Big Ten Media Days kicking off on Monday, Land Of 10 is breaking down the three biggest questions each team is hoping to answer coming out of Chicago. We’ll post two per day, with one from each division, turning this time in the Big Ten East to a program trying to build under a first-year coach.
- Will it be Perry Hills or Caleb Rowe Sr. at quarterback?
The good news for Maryland is that it returns two experienced starting quarterbacks. The bad news is neither has emerged yet as a guy who can hold down the job on his own.
Senior Perry Hills is the dual threat who fit in well with the run-first attitude Maryland employed last year, but he was a difficult match for a 90th-ranked defense that required winning shootouts. His game worked on the ground well enough, totaling 535 yards and three scores on 4.9 yards per carry, but completing only 50 percent of his passes and throwing more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (8) just wasn’t good enough balance.
Senior Caleb Rowe is built to be much more of a passer, standing 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds with an impressive arm. Somehow, he struggled more in that department than Hills did last season. Rowe threw six touchdowns to 15 interceptions while completing only 46 percent of his passes.
Both are talented quarterbacks who have been through the ringer in this difficult division. In a Big Ten East where only Ohio State and Rutgers return starting quarterbacks, this could theoretically be one of the few areas where Maryland can try to get a jump on its stout competition, but it will take mass improvement under first-year coordinator Walt Bell to make it happen.
Just 31 years old, Bell plans to bring the heavy-tempo approach that averaged 79 plays per game in his two seasons at Arkansas State. To do it this season, he’ll need a quarterback he trusts to make quick checks and changes at the line without huddling. That’s where Rowe’s and Hills’ experience comes into play, but first, he needs to decide which player better represents the ability to run that havoc offense and, in turn, how much of a run-pass balance he wants to employ.
2. What impact can D.J. Durkin’s presence have on the defense?
Before D.J. Durkin became the head coach at Maryland, he ran successful defenses at Florida and Michigan under current Big Ten foes Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, respectively.
His latest job in one year at Michigan was his most impressive, and it leaves intrigue as to how quickly he could lay an imprint on Maryland’s defense, which finished last year 103rd in scoring and 103rd against the pass.
At Michigan, Durkin took a very good unit and made it even better. He introduced a multiple-fronts attack, which stymied opposing quarterbacks and created the confusion to allow star players to make a consistent impact. Michigan soared to fourth in total defense and sixth in scoring defense, and that was the catalyst to a rebounding 10-3 season.
At Maryland, Durkin will have a couple of playmakers to work with in do-it-all senior cornerback Will Likely and rangy linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. Beyond that, the cupboards are bare, especially up front, which is where Durkin’s units typically make their biggest impact.
Durkin also has to figure how much of a role to take on that side of the ball now that he’s a head coach for the first time. He’s already on his second coordinator in months after Scott Shafer left for personal reasons and Durkin replaced him with Kentucky linebackers coach Andy Buh. Buh plans to install the 3-4 base Durkin loves, but with his own deep experience — including defensive coordinator stops at Stanford, Nevada and California — it’ll be interesting to see how much he and his boss share that side of the ball, and how quickly they can start to turn it around.
3. How much can Will Likely do on his own?
There’s no debate as to who Maryland’s best player is. The only question is how much he can do for a team with so many holes.
Will Likely was so impactful during Maryland’s 3-9 season last year that he placed on the All-Big Ten teams twice. He was on the first team as an all-purpose player and on the second team as a cornerback. Even though he’s just 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, he finished third in the conference in punt returns in addition to posting a team-high 11 pass breakups and even chipping in a little in the rushing and receiving games.
Maryland can expect to use him as much as possible this season because that’s what a rebuilding team with major holes does when it has a player of his caliber. Likely will obviously continue to shadow No. 1 receivers on defense and field the returns in special teams, but what will be interesting to see is just how much of a role he takes for an offense badly in need of playmakers on the outside.
Considering Bell’s offense is predicated on speed and getting the ball to players in space, Likely seems likely to be a focal point. Depending on how much he can pick up of a new playbook while still devoting so much practice time to defense and special teams, he could be the chess piece this offense needs. Maryland has experienced quarterbacks, a deep stable of running backs and a talented offensive line, but it needs a playmaking wide receiver in the worst of ways.
The challenge for the Terps will be to develop Likely in this role in limited practice time, to find the right way to use his skill on offense without overextending him and to do it all without risking too much injury to a player who doesn’t have the size to absorb constant hits, something the return duties open up to on the regular as it is.