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Maryland looks to keep building momentum in spring ball

Maryland’s second spring under head coach D.J. Durkin begins this weekend with as much optimism as the first.

Durkin and company rode the momentum of a strong September to a 6-6 finish and bowl appearance in his first year. The Terps got another boost of momentum this February when they signed a large and talented recruiting class that could pay early dividends next fall. Maryland brought in 29 new faces and ranked 20th in ESPN’s recruiting rankings.

There is a still a long way to go before Durkin’s program is ready to legitimately compete with former bosses Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, along with defending conference champ Penn State, in the East Division. After sweeping its non-conference slate last year, Maryland’s defense had trouble standing up to those frontrunners, losing to those three schools by a combined total of 159-20.

The Terps are lagging behind the Big Ten’s best in most facets of the game, and the effort to start closing some of those gaps starts fresh again this week in College Park.

Spring schedule: Maryland suits up for its first practice Sunday and will put in a full week of work before the school’s spring break begins on March 19. The spring season wraps up on April 22, a Saturday, with the team’s Red-White spring game at 12:30 p.m.

What’s new?: The Terps are replacing assistant coaches on both sides of the line of scrimmage this spring. Tyler Bowen, a former Maryland player, takes over an offensive line that gave up more sacks than any other Power Five team in the country last year. Bowen spent the last two seasons at Fordham. Durkin also hired Jimmy Brumbaugh to replace Mike London in the defensive line room. Brumbaugh was at Kentucky prior to coming to College Park and inherits a group that has to replace a handful of veterans.

Three things we want to see:

1) Pace of play. A debut season is a learning experience for every new coaching staff. For offensive coordinator Walt Bell, last fall was an experiment in figuring out how his frenetic, spread-the-field offense was going to fit in the Big Ten. He said this winter that during the 2016 season he learned how to negotiate things like opposing defenses and the way league referees pace a game differently than his previous conferences. It will be interesting to see what changes the offense makes to stay unique while figuring out how to make the most of their environment.

2) Fresh blood in the defensive backfield. Maryland’s buzzworthy recruiting class included eight players who enrolled this winter. Several of them will have a chance to step into some of the vacancies in the back end of the Terps’ defense this spring. Four-star prospects Deon Jones and Markquese Bell appear to be physically ready to play, according to Durkin. A couple of junior college transfers -- cornerback Alex Woods and linebacker Nick Underwood -- will also have an opportunity to stake out some territory on the depth chart this month.

3) Quarterback competition. Senior Perry Hills is gone, which leaves a handful of quarterbacks with limited experience to battle for a leg up this spring. Two transfers and two rising sophomores will be in College Park for the spring. Caleb Henderson sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina. Ryan Brand is a junior college transfer who started his career at Air Force. Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager have different skillsets, but both saw the field as true freshmen last year. They will all be working to try gain a jump start on each other and on highly-touted prospect Kasim Hill, who will join the team this summer.