COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Maryland's first-year coach DJ Durkin insists last year's numbers won't influence his selection of the team's starting quarterback.
Then again, it's tough to ignore 29 interceptions and eight fumbles from the most important player on the field.
"There's the obvious thing: We did a poor job of taking care of the ball last season," Durkin said Tuesday at his first media day with the Terrapins. "We definitely make reference to that and talk about how that's got to be corrected."Perry Hills, Caleb Rowe, redshirt freshman Gage Shaffer and freshman Tyrell Pigrome are vying to start the Sept. 3 opener against Howard. The one who best displays the ability to avoid turnovers will likely get the job.
"We talk a lot about protecting the football, having great ball security," Durkin said. "That's a guy that has the ball in his hands every snap, so he has to be a great decision-maker."
The Terrapins went 3-9 last year, primarily because of a minus-18 turnover differential. The main offenders were Hills (13 interceptions, five fumbles) and Rowe (15 INTs, three fumbles)."It was the hardest year I've been through," said Rowe, a fifth-year senior. "I've got to learn from my mistakes. But the past is the past."
Fortunately for Hills and Rowe, Durkin feels the same way.
"Absolutely clean slate," Durkin said. "It's totally different how they're being coached right now, it's a totally different the scheme they're in, it's a totally different mindset. We're not going to judge them or form an opinion on what they've done in the past."
Rowe has been unable to practice since June because of an undisclosed injury. He hopes to return this week and be part of the fray.Bring it on, said Hills, who started eight games last year.
"Even if you're the starter, fourth string, whatever, there has to be a competition," Hills said. 'If there isn't, you're either going to get complacent or just say, 'I'm the fourth guy, whatever, I'm just going to sit here and relax.' Everyone has to be pushing each other to get better. That's how you get a real good team."
Durkin plans to employ a fast-paced offense that relies on a quarterback who's adept at both running and throwing the football. Hills ran for 535 yards last year — which gives him an edge over Rowe in that aspect of the game — but Pigrome might get playing time because of his elusiveness in the open field.
The 2015 Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year, Pigrome ran for 1,349 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior and threw only four interceptions.
"I'm not the type of person to turn the ball over," the freshman Pigrome said, "but it's a new level so you never know what will happen."
Rowe threw only 10 interceptions in his first three seasons at Maryland before stumbling in 2015.
"Throughout my career, in high school and college, I never really turned the ball over that much," he said. "It's something you go through and learn from it."
That's how Hills looks at it, too.
"The problem with the picks was sometimes just forcing the ball, trying to make something happen," he said. "Not playing very smart."
That can't happen if the Terrapins are to compete in the Big Ten. The message is clear.
"In practice, coaches do a real good job of focusing on the right reads and quarterback decisions," Hills said. "The No. 1 key to winning a game is protecting the ball and winning the turnover battle."
This article was written by David Ginsburg from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.