When DJ Durkin took over as Maryland football’s head coach, he gutted the team’s depth chart. This strategy opened the doors for competitions to occur all over the field during practice. There’s a competition at quarterback, which Perry Hills seems poised to win. There’s competition at running back, where Wes Brown’s suspension leaves several more players fighting for carries. All across the field, every member of the squad is fighting for a better role.
And the competitive culture carries over in a tangible form to the Terps’ practices, where it’s pretty much ubiquitous. From blocking drills to all variations of offense/defense reps, there’s always something at stake.
“Coach Durkin, his philosophy is just intense competition,” senior guard Michael Dunn said after practice Friday. “Everything we do is just competition.”
Friday was the team’s first summer practice in full pads, and the guys were doing Oklahoma drills. That’s football at its most gladiatorial—two guys running at one another, head-on, in the middle of a massive circle of teammates. The drill fits Durkin’s mantra pretty well.
At times, the players’ competitive nature is what keeps them going during practice. These things are smack in the middle of insanely hot August days, for about three hours each. Pretty much everyone is spent by the end. But that’s exactly what Durkin and company want.
“[The coaches] want to see who’s that guy that’s gonna be ready to go if you’re tired,” sophomore defensive end Melvin Keihn said. “When you’re tired at the end of the game, that’s what matters. Not at the beginning of the game, when everybody’s fresh.
“That’s one thing we really take to heart here. If you can compete now, if you can be able to finish while you’re tired after sprinting in the sun and all that, then when gameday comes, then it should be easy for you.”
To make sure they aren’t doing anything dangerous to the players, Maryland’s staff measures its players’ hydration levels with a urine test each morning.
"I've never really thought about so much of how your body will feel by what you put into it," Dunn told the Baltimore Sun. "I've kind of just did my thing, did my normal routine, went out to practice. But with such a heavy focus on keeping our bodies right, making sure we're in the best possible conditioning and shape that we can be in before these practices. These practices are intense, three hours or however long it is."
At the end of practice, when every player is completely zonked, every jersey is soaked all the way through, the Terps close with 11-on-11 scrimmages. All the offensive players are on one sideline; all the defenders gather on the other end. Airhorns will denote shifts from the ones to the twos to the threes, but there’s one common matchup. Offense versus defense; loser runs more sprints (Durkin is the judge).
“The competition period we have at the end of practice, that’s huge for us,” Dunn said. “Both sidelines got really into it. You want to win it, and I think it’s great. At the end of practice, we’re all dead tired, but it’s whoever’s willing to be mentally tough, fight through that pain of being tired, and get that win in competition so you don’t have to run at the end or do some sort of punishment, it’s a great feeling.”
Dunn and the offense took the victory Friday, although the defense has certainly been the better unit thus far. Those of you that (for whatever reason) remember the spring game won’t be surprised. It’s certainly a good thing that the offense is stepping up, because the last thing anyone wants in an everyday competition is lopsidedness.
“I like that we have a good back and forth,” Durkin said. “We challenge the guys. They lose a day, this defense, they have pride, so they’ll come out tomorrow wanting to get it back. That’s all part of our team making each other better.”