When Maryland’s first depth chart in 2015 had Perry Hills in a three-way tie at starting quarterback, it was kind of shocking. But he outperformed his competition in camp and earned his spot as Maryland’s starting quarterback before the Terps’ season-opener against Richmond.
Coming into 2016, he’s in a quarterback competition again, and early results suggest he could enter this year’s opener in a familiar position.
With fellow redshirt senior Caleb Rowe sidelined due to an unspecified injury, Hills took the majority of the first-team reps in Friday’s practice, which was open to members of the media. Also participating at quarterback were true freshmen Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager and redshirt freshman Gage Shaffer.
Maryland head coach DJ Durkin was very measured in his comments to reporters after practice, as he should be. He declined to give any hints as to who has stood out so far at quarterback. After all, the team’s only been practicing for five days.
“All these guys are doing really well. It’s up-and-down, but we’re at where we were when we started,” he said. “We’re only five days in, and there’s been no real changes there. We’re going to keep repping guys and keep getting them opportunities, and the more 11-on-11 and scrimmage-type reps they get, the better opinion we’re able to form.”
But players on both sides of the ball have noticed Hills’ improvement.
“Perry looks good. I definitely have confidence in anybody the coaches put out there, but Perry’s been the guy taking the No. 1 reps so far, and he looks really good,” safety Josh Woods said. “He’s making good decisions, definitely an improvement.”
Maryland quarterbacks threw an FBS-leading 29 interceptions thrown, and Hills contributed 13 of those. That kind of season almost certainly won’t happen again, but Hills has been working to make sure 2015 is a distant memory.
“He’s improved tremendously, you can just tell by watching,” said offensive tackle Michael Dunn. “He’s throwing the ball so much better, and that’s because of how hard he worked over summer, and he’s running really well. I’m excited for what he might do.”
Hills looked like Maryland’s best quarterback during spring practice, where he also received the lion’s share of reps.
Hills would makes sense as the Terps’ quarterback. He’s a runner who can take a beating, and looks like the best dual-threat Maryland has at the position. Tyrrell Pigrome looks to be a speedy runner who could fit smoothly in Maryland’s new offense, but he’s only a freshman. Hills broke a 75-yard run last year against Ohio State, getting tackled at the Buckeyes’ three-yard line before running it in on the very next play.
He kept the ball on many read-option plays in Friday’s practice, including once at the end when he made a beeline for the pylon and scored a touchdown in 11-on-11s, igniting some emphatic celebrations from the sidelines.
Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell described his offense as “built around the run game, minimizing mental issues for the quarterback, putting those guys in a position to be successful through repetition,” to BTN on Thursday.
“What we do offensively is not going to put as much mental pressure on these guys,” Bell added. “They’re going to be able to go out, execute, and at the end of the day, if they’re just able to take care of the football, move the line of scrimmage, get everybody going and put the ball in the right place, we’ll be alright.”
That kind of offense seems to fit Hills as well as any would. Still, less than a week of practice has gone by. A lot could change between now and Sept. 3, when the Terps open their season against Howard at Maryland Stadium. Just because Hills is taking first-team reps in practice now doesn’t mean he’ll be starting three weeks later.
Not to mention the fact that Rowe, Maryland’s other redshirt senior and probably Hills’ biggest competition, is on the mend and has yet to play during this first week of practice. Rowe doesn’t have quite the legs that Hills does, but did average more than seven yards per carry on 20 rushes last season.
But if the season started tomorrow, Hills looks like he’d be under center for the Terps.