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Maryland 2018: Players to Watch

Maryland’s motto this year: Cover all the stars with bubble wrap.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Man, Maryland was supposed to be fun last year.

The Terrapins looked to build off a first-year bowl berth with D.J. Durkin. They had a quarterback named “Piggy.” They took Texas’ No. 21 ranked S&P defense to the woodshed in their own backyard.

Good times. After a rash of injuries, Durkin was forced to play third-string quarterback Max Bortenschlager (not to be confused with Goldschlager) and even fourth-stringer (!!) Ryan Brand. The team literally limped to a 4-8 finish.

The stars from the opener look to rebound in 2018.

Quarterback— Tyrrell “Piggy” Pigrome and Kasim Hill

The win in Austin recalibrated Maryland’s expectation, particularly toward the quarterbacks.

Pigrome, an incoming junior, completed 9-of-12 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 11 times for 64 yards and two more scores, but departed late with a torn ACL. Returning sophomore backup Hill entered and went 3-for-3 for 44 yards to ice the Longhorns.

Hill likewise tore an ACL and the offense dwindled as the depth chart got thinner. After averaging 57 points per game under the pair, the Terrapins managed less than 18 points per contest the rest of the way.

Pro Football Focus assigned season ending grades of 79 and 78 to Pigrome and Hill, respectively. Anything above an 80 is considered “very good,” as most of this year’s NFL Draft picks settled in that range. Translation: Maryland’s quarterbacks performed at an elite level in the first two games.

The offense is in good hands with either.

Running back — Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson

Another duo.

Two years ago, Harrison and Johnson combined for 1.637 yards on 8.2 yards a pop. Without a quarterback or an experienced offensive line, those numbers fell to a still solid 1,497 on 5.5 a carry.

It’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. Both stand under 6-foot and both demonstrate a quick burst through the hole — as demonstrated by their touchdowns in the Texas game — and excellent sideline-to-sideline mobility. Michigan is hoping they can replace Mike McCray with someone better equipped to chase them.

The Terrapins gashed the Wolverines for 180 yards in College Park last fall. Without a functional quarterback, mind you. Watch out for these two.

Wide receiver — Taivon Jacobs

With no moore D.J. Moore (see what I did, there?), Jacobs returns as the No. 1 receiver. He solidly put together 47 catches for 553 yards (11.8 YPC) and five touchdowns.

He knows how to take a top off the safety, as seen here against Northwestern’s senior duo of Kyle Queiro and Godwin Igwebuike.

And here against Ohio State in 2015.

Between Stefon Diggs and Moore, Maryland can boast some recent success in developing wideouts. Jacobs is possibly the next one in line.

Offensive tackles— Damian Prince and Derwin Gray

A third duo!

The two senior tackles lead the way on a line that returns everyone.

Both graded above 80 on Pro Football Focus, and impressively only allowed one sack against the Gary-Winovich front last year.

As SB Nation partner Testudo Times states, “Gray and Prince were both on the NFL radar before deciding to return for their senior seasons.”

With burgeoning skill at quarterback, running back and receiver, the line can put all the pieces together to form a truly dangerous attack.

Rush linebackerJesse Aniebonam

To quote my blurb from the “Enemy’s Best Shot” series:

“You may not remember Aniebonam, who sat all but one game last year with a fractured ankle. If he returns healthy in 2018, whoever Michigan starts at tackle better be ready by Oct. 6.

“In 2016, he harassed quarterbacks, forcing 30 hurries and leading the Terrapins with nine sacks and 14 TFL’s.

“He demonstrates constant motor, as his highlights feature him running down plays the rest of the moribund Maryland defense feigned to stop.”

Without him, Maryland’s defense featured only two players with more than 1.5 sacks in 2017. His presence is vital on an incredibly inexperienced defense.