COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- There was a time, actually just a few months ago, Maryland redshirt freshman quarterback Shane Cockerille was almost unrecognizable traipsing around campus in his big, un-laced boots. His unkempt beard was so full and bushy, and his eye contact so minimal, you almost thought he was “Yukon Jack” or something transplanted in from the Klondike and out of his comfort zone.
But this month Cockerille looks more than comfortable in his Terps surroundings.
The beard is gone, his eyes are clear and his face fresh, and he looks you in the eye and is fully engaged when he speaks. He looked slimmed down, and sharp in his full Under Armour red, black and gray workout gear head to toe.
What’s also engaged is his play, at least in the first week of spring practices this month at Byrd Stadium, where he has been tossing it around like he’s back in his backyard at home with his pops, Todd Cockerille.
While he’s only entering his sophomore season next fall, it seems like it’s been years observers and fans have been wondering when the former Gilman School four-star, Elite 11 hurler was going to make his mark at Maryland. This spring, the quarterback more known for his running ability and something of a sidearm passing delivery at the Baltimore prep power, has a great opportunity to shine, and has been making the most of it so far.
And even more so now, not only given Maryland has only two healthy quarterbacks in spring camp, but Saturday afternoon late in practice backup Perry Hills injured his hamstring, so it may be only Cockerille for a time. The presumptive starter for the fall, Caleb Rowe, continues to rehab his surgically repaired knee and is not participating this month in team drills.
But right out of the box, a few days after Randy Edsall said he wanted to see more leadership out of Cockerille, the strong-armed lefty busted out on Day One in Byrd with great accuracy and touch in the short, intermediate and long game, dropping in 40-50 yard touchdown tosses between multiple defenders, in-stride, to the sweet spot on countless scoring strikes to receivers like Levern Jacobs, Will Ulmer and Juwann Winfree.
“I would say for sure,” Cockerille of said of his Day One passing performance. “All during the off-season I was out working, working on my release, working on my timing, because I was taking first-team reps and had to be ready. But Wednesday I thought I threw the ball pretty well, and I guess just going out putting in extra work in when nobody’s watching, with Levern and guys like that, the timing is better now and you can see it on the field.”
Equally important, Cockerille, as he did on Day Two as well on Saturday in Byrd, was reading and getting through his progressions, be it throwing or keeping the ball, on several long quarterback runs as well. Mentally and physically he looks the part, where just last fall there were times his footwork, drops, release still looked all over the place, and his reads poor.
Its only two days, and the full pads aren’t on yet/contact scrimmaging, but Edsall has proven correct in giving Cockerille the No. 1 spot heading into the spring, and he is running with it. He’s never appeared as confident, and it gives Maryland more depth (or beyond) given their quarterback numbers/woes of late, not to mention Rowe’s hoped-for return to health by the 2015 season.
Cockerille said his confidence is way up, he's hit the film room harder, and coming from scout team last year, "the speed’s a lot different, it’s actually real football now. Other than that, I am trying to take what Coach [Mike] Locksley tells me in the classroom and bring it out to the field and do the best that I can do.”
Said Randy Edsall on Saturday after practice, who added the offense is “communicating and talking really well,” which he rarely says just two days in to any camp:
“I thought they have made the right reads and did the things they were supposed to do with the ball. And the one thing is, if it wasn’t there they pulled the ball down and took off with it,” Edsall said. “And I have seen them throw the ball more underneath and with check-downs than I have seen in a long time, which I think is very good. They are taking what the defense gives you, and that’s what I have seen them do really well so far.”
Edsall said both triggermen “need every rep they can get, and it’s good because you get a chance to see them now control the huddle, how they react under pressure. And today….and again, making the right checks they have to make, those are the things I think I have been pleased with.”
Cockerille hasn’t just sat around trying to get better. In addition to working off-season with his original quarterback guru, Chris Baucia, who has trained everyone from Scott McBrien to Kevin Hogan, last summer Cockerille headed to Virginia Beach, Va., to work with Sam Mora, one of noted national QB guru George Whitfield’s staff.
The lefty said his biggest things have been his release and his feet.
“My feet tell me when to throw. I’m at the top of my drop not double-hitching hanging onto the ball, my feet tell me it’s time to get the ball out,” Cockerille said.
And Cockerville, a friendly sort, has a wide variety of friends on the team. He and the family have taken redshirt freshman defensive end Chandler Burkett under their wing (he’s a Florida native), whom Cockerille brings home on weekends when there’s free time and throw for hours at places like Goucher College in Towson. And Cockerille has stood for hours this off-season before mirrors refining everything from his posture to stance, not to mention increased time in the film room.
Cockerille also worked with video and computer programs and cameras, that filmed and broke down his mechanics, where he saw things like a “slashing” kind of motion in his throws, which he has since worked to improve. He has thrown with more accuracy and strength/distance than seen before, while he’s getting it out quickly as well and not getting bogged down and fumbling around in the pocket wondering what to do next.
If any Terp quarterback of late was in a “zone” it was Cockerille last Wednesday in Byrd, completely at ease dropping balls in the tiniest of windows deep downfield.
Said Terps junior right tackle Andrew Zeller, an elder statesman up front on a line of some fresh faces this spring, of the two QBs this spring:
“They are just working the best they can. They have put in a lot of time,” Zeller said. “Every time I come over here, even when we are not practicing, you see Caleb and Perry and Shane in the film room. They have made it a goal for themselves to be as big a technician as they can as far as knowing the playbook and knowing everything they possibly can to be the best they can for us.”
The quiet and stoic Cockerille, still a leader more by example than words, said his ability to run a huddle has improved as well, “and now you have to live a different lifestyle now. How you got to carry yourself, both on the field and off the field.”
The 6-foot-2, 222-pound Cockerille feels bad Hills got nicked March 7, but will do whatever he has to to hold down the fort this month in camp. And some other youngsters on offense are jumping out as well, namely redshirt freshman receiver Will Ulmer (the former quarterback), who Cockerille almost described himself when breaking down the athletic St. John’s graduate yesterday after practice.
“Will, as you can see he is getting older in the mind. Last year you could tell he was real young and wasn’t really football smart. This year you can tell, and in the off-season he put in a bunch of work both in the film room and the weight room, and you can tell that on the field. He’s catching the ball, running good routes, he knows what he’s doing.”
Spoken like someone who knows.
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