From beating Texas in Week 1 to missing out on a bowl game, 2017 was not the season anyone expected from the Maryland Terrapins.
It wasn’t the outcome D.J. Durkin was hoping for, but we’re not here to look backwards. It’s time to look forward and dive in to what could be for the Terps in year three of the Durkin era.
From questions at quarterback to what is going on with the Terps defense…let’s just say this is going to be a pivotal season in College Park, Md. shall we. So, it is only fitting we start with a look at the side of the ball that seems to be the key to success or failure for the Terps — offense.
Biggest Question Mark:
Health at QB
The 2017 season got off to a strange start, with Maryland going in to Austin and taking down a then ranked (I know, how was that possible) Texas Longhorns program. It came at a heavy price though, as starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
But, not all was lost because freshman Kasim Hill took over and led the team to victory on the road. All was good with the offense…until Hill also suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the third game of the season. That left the ill-fitted Max Bortenschlager as the only viable option and everything went downhill from there for Maryland.
The 2018 season hinges on just how quickly and effectively both Pigrome and Hill come back from their respective ACL injuries. Simply put, Maryland’s offense is no good without their style of QB play available. While Pigrome and Hill are a bit different in their skill sets, both are mobile quarterbacks with good arms. Bortenschlager is neither of those things and that was a major problem in 2017.
Can either get back to 100 percent in the spring and in to the fall? Will they ever be the same promising quarterbacks the early 2017 season proved them to be? Walt Bell’s offense has a chance to be dynamic in a division full of tough defenses, but that requires a mobile and quality quarterback. We simply have no idea how healthy or ready either Pigrome or Hill are going to be and that’s scary.
Reason to be Optimistic:
ACL recovery continues to change for the better
A lot of attention this offseason is going to go to the recoveries of Pigrome and Hill, but the good news is that things have continued to change for victims of an ACL tear. What was once a two-year process of full recovery has come down to six months or so post-surgery and the rest is just mentally getting back to full speed.
So, if you are Maryland, the biggest reason to be optimistic about this offense is that ACL injuries are nowhere near as damning to a player as they once were. I mean, look at how effective (in relative terms) Mike Dudek was for Illinois after back-to-back ACL tears.
Pigrome and Hill proved they had the chops before going down, so if both are healthy we should see a hearty quarterback competition this offseason and in the fall. It’s that kind of competition that will make the Terps offense better and it was their outlook before injury that made the Terps offense hum to near perfection.
Let’s not forget that Hill had thrown for 230 yards in less than two full games and had three total touchdowns to no interceptions and ran for 60 yards on 12 carries as well. Not too shabby for a true freshman that wasn’t supposed to be playing at all.
Now the question is can early season results be turned in to full-season production? The good news is that Hill’s arm talent shouldn’t go away following his ACL tear and he got all the mental reps a redshirt QB would’ve gotten anyway. My money is on a great recovery for both players and a fun offseason battle when they are fully ready to go.
Reason to be Pessimistic:
The Offensive Line
Maryland has tried hard to fix an offensive line that has been a big issue ever since it joined the Big Ten, but this past season proved to be more of the same for the Terps. As in, more good run blocking and really bad pass protection.
Part of that was on an immobile quarterback, but a lot of it was on an offensive line that couldn’t produce against good defenses. Maryland allowed 35 total sacks this season (2.9 per game) and were 12th in the Big Ten in sacks allowed. Meanwhile, the rushing game suffered once this offense became one-dimensional and finished 8th in the Big Ten by averaging 161.7 yards per game.
All of that happened with two NFL prospects in Derwin Gray and Damian Prince on the line. Gray is for sure back, making his announcement this morning, while Prince has yet to decide one way or the other.
— Derwin Gray (@Teamgrayy) January 8, 2018
But, therein lies the problem — there are NFL talents on the roster and they still have issues in pass protection and consistency. If a group that features that kind of talent can’t put it all together one year, what difference will another year make for this group? Something needs to change in order for this group to get ahead, and starting with offensive line improvement would be nice.
It’s just that this has been an issue before and hasn’t gotten much better. So, call me a pessimist, but I’m not going to count on the O-line as a strength of this team in 2018 until I actually see it happen.
Projected Starting Lineup (2018 class):
WR: Jahrvis Davenport, Sr.
WR: D.J. Turner, Jr.
WR: Taj Capehart, So.
LT: Derwin Gray, Sr.
LG: Sean Christie, Sr.
C: Brendan Moore, Sr.
RG: Terrance Davis, Jr.
RT: Damian Prince, Jr.
TE: Avery Edwards, Sr.
QB: Kasim Hill, Fr.
RB: Ty Johnson, Sr.
About the only controversy in these selections is who is going to take on the QB role. Ultimately, I believe that Hill is the quarterback Maryland has been wanting all along. He won’t kill you with his speed, even before the ACL surgery, but he can do enough you have to respect his running ability. Most importantly, Hill possesses the game-changing arm that Maryland really needs. As long as he’s healthy, you have to think he’s going to be ready after a season of mental reps in Walt Bell’s offense. He certainly showed it in limited playing time in 2017 and should get that season back upon waiver request.
If there was one thing that 2017 proved, it was that Walt Bell’s offense needs “his” style of quarterback to work. Both Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill fit that bill, and both will be returning from injury, which creates a lot of uncertainty. So does losing your best overall player, wide receiver D.J. Moore, to the NFL a year early. He was the lone bright spot in an ugly Terps offensive season in 2017.
But, he’s also one of three end of season starters gone at the most pivotal position in this offense — wide receiver. Also gone are Tavion Jacobs and Jacquille Veii, but only Jacobs was super productive. There are some good looking young receivers who simply didn’t get much of a chance in 2017 and that’s kind of the theme of this offense heading in to the offseason.
Overall, Maryland’s offense has the potential to be explosive if either of the quarterbacks can return to form. If not, this is a group that has a lot of work cut out for them.
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