At the end of the Maryland football team’s fall camp practices this week, defensive lineman Roman Braglio has come to expect the same thing: a competition.
After about three hours of working out in about 90-degree heat Wednesday, the Terps lined up for an 11-on-11 drill. With offensive and defensive players standing on opposing sidelines, their cheers and banter reached a crescendo when the defense broke out into a “Seven Nation Army” chant, some of the players bouncing up and down.
They stopped the chant as they flooded the field to celebrate a final stop against the offense. It was the kind of competitive spirit coach DJ Durkin wants to instill in his first preseason at the helm of the Terps program.
“At the end of practice when everyone’s dead tired, we compete to see who can get the best of each other,” Braglio said. “It’s fun. You’ve got to have fun out there when you’re doing it, and that’s what we did today.”
Braglio took pride in the defense besting the offense in the last two days of practice, but Durkin said the clashes aren’t limited to the two sides of the ball. Players are vying for starting positions and playing time each day.
While the first-year coach said the depth chart has stayed the same since spring practices ended, the evaluation of players won’t be finished until the team starts to install a game plan for the season opener Sept. 3 against Howard.
Plus, the Terps have added players via transfer and integrated this year’s freshmen class.
“A coach can sit there and say all he wants, but really, the biggest thing that changes a room is competition because when a guy that can really play comes into a room, it raises the bar for everyone in there,” Durkin said. “If I’m a guy fighting to keep my job, I’ve got to practice harder, play better to do it.”
Defensive back J.C. Jackson is one of the additions. Durkin said the junior college transfer has been cleared to practice with the team while the program finalizes “administrative” details.
Jackson redshirted his freshman season at Florida in 2014 but was arrested the following offseason on charges related to an armed robbery. He was acquitted last November and chose to reunite with Durkin, who ran the Gators’ defense in Jackson’s rookie year.
Jackson took snaps Wednesday with the first-team defense. Cornerback Will Likely, also a Florida native, is the lone player from last season to return in the secondary.
Durkin also highlighted another transfer in senior running back Trey Edmunds.
With running back Wes Brown serving a three-game suspension to start the season — a continuation of his indefinite suspension for violating the student-athlete code of conduct last November — Edmunds has become one of the Terps’ options.
Running back Ty Johnson also returns for his sophomore season, while freshmen Jake Funk and Lorenzo Harrison have joined the mix.
“We’ve got really good depth at that spot, and there’s really good competition, so we’ll play multiple guys, for sure,” Durkin said. “It’s a good problem.”
Quarterback Perry Hills took the reigns of the starting offense Wednesday as the team held quarterback Caleb Rowe out with an injury. Durkin expected Rowe to return to the action within a few days.
As Rowe did work on the sideline, Hills led the team’s high-tempo attack that new offensive coordinator Walt Bell’s brought in. After each play, coaches yelled for the players to run on and off the field. Durkin’s booming voice rang across the Varsity Team House practice fields.
He hollered “Let’s go!” during a contact drill with linebackers and running backs, calling for faster reps. In one rushing formation, he wasn’t pleased with the defense’s communication, so he blew his whistle and screamed for the players to get on the same page.
It was a nod to the competitive atmosphere he’s instilled this preseason.
“Coach Durkin jokes around [that] we’re going to practice at the roughest times of day so we can be the most ready for the season as we possibly can be,” offensive lineman Brendan Moore said. “It all helps us to run and execute when we’re tired.”