D.J. Durkin Has Maryland Trending Upwards (Opinion)

Courtesy of The Washington Post

When D.J. Durkin was hired to be the next head coach of Maryland football back in December, he had a lot of work to do. After a promising Big Ten debut, the Terps stumbled to a 3-9 finish, with their only conference win coming against Rutgers. It was a much different situation than Durkin was in as Michigan’s defensive coordinator.

Last season, Durkin watched the Terps fail miserably against his defense. They gained just 105 yards on offense and lost 28-0. It was obvious that there was a huge talent gap between Maryland and the top teams in the Big Ten.

But in his short time here, Durkin seems to have this program headed in the right direction. Despite losing commitments from top recruits quarterback Dwayne Haskins and Keandre Jones, Durkin bounced back and got commitments from four star offensive linemen Terrance Davis and Richard Merritt.

These were great signings not just because they came late in the signing period (National Signing Day was February 3, and Durkin was hired just two months earlier), but because he dipped into the rich talent pool in the DMV area. Maryland has two of the best high school teams in the country in DeMatha and Gilman, and both produce numerous division one prospects. From 2012-2015, when former coach Randy Edsall was involved in building the whole recruiting class, only 2 players from those classes were from Gilman. This number sounds small, but is a lot bigger than the ZERO that committed from Dematha.

His first DeMatha recruits, Tino Ellis, DJ Turner, and Lorenzo Harrison, would have arrived this season. It took Durkin just one month to get his first, as Davis is from DeMatha. Although there were many factors leading to Edsall’s firing, failing to recruit enough local talent was certainly one of them.

But Durkin, the 2012 Rivals.com National Recruiter of the Year, was just getting started. On Friday, Cam Spence, a four star defensive end from IMG Academy who previously attended Gilman, verbally committed. The next day Kasim Hill, a four star quarterback from St. John’s College, who also previously attended Gilman, verbally committed as well. To top it off, Maryland got a commit from three star athlete Ayinde Eley of Good Counsel, another local football power.

It was a big weekend for Durkin and his staff, as the commitments built the foundation for the 2017 recruiting class. But it also showed he knew the talent available in his backyard, something Edsall figured out too late.

But besides recruiting, his changes have extended into spring practice. According to the Washington Post, players thought this year’s practices had a lot more energy than last year. In an interview for Comcast SportsNet, sophomore wide receiver D.J. Moore said seeing Durkin with so much energy in the morning makes the players more energized. This is a lot different than under Edsall, who was a strict disciplinarian and didn’t generate a lot of energy around the program.

Even though Durkin has this team headed in the right direction, he has his work cut out for him this season. Maryland won just three games last year and still has a lot of questions to solve before their season opener against Howard on Sept. 3. Maryland lost their top two pass rushers in Yannick Ngakoue and Quinton Jefferson, and Will Likely is the only returning starter in the secondary. The quarterback position is up in the air once again, as Caleb Rowe and Perry Hills are battling for the starting job after the two struggled mightily last season.

The good news is Maryland has an easier schedule in 2016 than they did in 2015. They have the third easiest schedule of power 5 conference schools, including games against Florida International, Central Florida (who didn’t win a game in 2015), and fellow conference bottom feeder Purdue. Maryland should be projected to eclipse their three-win total from a season ago.

Although this season might not be pretty, Durkin has this program on the rise. Maryland may not be a contender now, but two or three years from now that will be a different story.