Spring Football Preview I: Quarterbacks

Spring Football begins March 4. In anticipation of it, we're breaking down each position, starting with the quarterbacks

With presumptive starter Caleb Rowe on the sidelines (knee) this spring, and fingers crossed that same left knee doesn’t suffer a third injury in four years in 2015, all eyes are back on this depleted roster spot this month in camp.

A thin group to begin with, two Maryland players are left standing this spring to tote the rock, and neither project to be 'the guy' anytime soon.

Rowe, who twice in non-contact tore ligaments in his knee – once at Boston College running to the sideline, the second mid-season at a practice in Byrd Stadium on a simple run when his leg buckled – even had a flu bug while in San Francisco with the team for the Foster Farms Bowl two months ago. Hopefully, his luck can only get better.

Randy Edsall has so many players out – all positions – this month in camp that the Terps didn’t even put out a two-deep. But he will begin spring camp with sophomore lefty Shane Cockerille, a running quarterback at Gilman who has never played a down at Maryland, at the top of a precarious depth chart, with yeoman junior Perry Hills at No. 2.

Edsall said last week that both will gets reps with first team, though it’s obvious, looking to the future, that Cockerille needs and wants quality reps as the Terps fortify the position, and hope for the best. Last year Maryland signed Will Ulmer, who has since moved to slot receiver, and this year they inked Gage Shaffer, who is more of a developmental guy a few years away (think Sam Hollenbach).

Meanwhile, the Terps don’t even have any walk-ons to at least run scout team this spring, though they hope by the end of the school year to add at the very least a fifth-year transfer to help right away, among some practice players.

Starting with Cockerille, who Edsall said last week has matured considerably in the last year (code for probably has gotten in the film room more, his books, more vocal, etc.), the rugged, though quiet, former state wrestling champion at the Baltimore prep power, and one-time Elite 11 QB finalist the summer before his senior year, it will be a huge spring.

Cockerille, who in high school for three years was more ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ has begun to see the field, his progressions, and tighten up his throwing motion, while also fine-tuning his footwork, which at times was all over the place. But mostly, reading defenses, seeing his receivers, and getting the ball out on time have been the keys, and he has a strong arm and can whip it around. But breaking him down and making him into a college-level quarterback remains a process, one the coaches hope he turns the corner more with this spring.

Cockerille can still take it and run, but this year’s offense will likely be geared more around drop-back, pocket looks with Rowe the starter, so he needs to adapt in the pocket well. And become more demonstrative and take-charge in the huddle running an offense.

Hills, who came to Maryland both a passer and runner and another ‘tough guy’ former wrestling champ, lost a little of his speed and athleticism when he blew out his knee versus NC State as a freshman when called into duty his first year. A gutsy kid who this past season filled in more than admirably when C.J Brown was hurt against Iowa (Hills threw for 86 yards and a touchdown, which was a 53-yard beauty to Stefon Diggs), Hills is still hoping to get his shot again.

As a rookie in 2012, the year six Terps QBs got hurt/dinged, he completed 97-of-169 passes for 1,336 yards, 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in 7 contests. In 2014, he appeared in 3 games and was 5-for-10 for 86 yards and the score. His first pass to Diggs that day against Iowa, a sideline ball, was a perfect dart, one of the better looking throws all season for any Terps QB.

But Hills is not going to ‘wow’ you yet, and he has lost some of that early mobility, so he will be a solid reserve again who can help situationally.

Rowe remains the strongest arm, quickest release and best gunslinger in the program, and had he not gotten hurt, who knows what could have been (maybe another win or two in 2014). He played in four games last fall, completing 34-of-54 passes for 489 yards, 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, and no Terp quarterback could spread and distribute the ball as quickly and effectively as Rowe during his time on the field (see Ohio State game).

Rowe, last season, took the next step as a passer/reader who got further into his progressions and didn’t take as many chances throwing the ball into crowds.

The Terps will hope to add an insurance policy this spring/summer via the fifth-year route, and some national names are still being bandied about, in case Rowe is not fully back, or gets hurt again, as this remains a spot with a razor-thin margin of error. Rowe is expected to gain a medical redshirt year, news the Terps hope to hear by the end of March. The Terps are clearly looking for more consistency at the position, and hopefully a healthy Rowe can deliver in the fall. But for the spring, though, look at is as a mini-audition for Cockerille, and how far he has come or not, while Hills will always be waiting in the wings to step in, as he has ably done in the past in times of trouble.

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