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2011 ACC Spring Preview
Virginia Tech RB David Wilson
Virginia Tech RB David Wilson
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 19, 2011


The big questions, the top position battles, the early buzz, and the attitudes for every ACC team going into spring practices.


2011 ACC Spring Preview

Click for each team's spring preview
Atlantic Boston Coll | Clemson | Florida St | Maryland | NC St | Wake Forest
Coastal Duke | Georgia Tech | Miami | North Carolina | Virginia | Virginia Tech

2011 ACC Spring Preview 
- 2011 ACC Schedules & Game-By-Game Picks
- 2011 ACC Spring Buzz   
- 2011 ACC Spring Attitudes 
- 2011 ACC Big Spring Questions  
- 2011 ACC Positions To Watch  
- ACC Spring Rankings 

2011 ACC Pre-Spring Preview
- Why Every Team Should Be Excited
- Why Every Team Should Be Grouchy
- What Every Team Needs To Work On
   
Boston College
Spring Practice Begins: March 15 Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... Head coach Frank Spaziani hopes that patience pays off in his search for a new offensive coordinator. He took more than a month to replace the retired Gary Tranquill, prying Kevin Rogers out of the NFL in the middle of February. His extensive resume includes a recent five-year stay with the Minnesota Vikings and ACC experience while at Virginia Tech. He’ll be inheriting one of the nation’s worst offenses, a unit that ranked 109th in 2010 and had all kinds of issues reaching the end zone.

The big spring question is ... How much of an impact can Rogers have on young QB Chase Rettig in just 15 practices? The program is cautiously optimistic that it’ll be profound. The coach worked with some high-profile pupils, like Brett Favre, through the years and will be looking to impart his wisdom on the Eagle starter. Rettig went through the usual growing pains in his first year on campus, throwing six touchdowns and nine interceptions in nine games. As he grows, so grows the Boston College offense.

The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. Throughout the years, whenever Boston College has been successful, it’s had superior line play. However, that was not the case in 2010, especially when the Eagles had problems with pass protection. Three starters have graduated from that group, namely next-level LT Anthony Castonzo. The foundation will be built around Emmett Cleary, Nathan Richman, and Mark Spinney, but that trio is going to need support. Opportunities abound for John Wetzel and Ian White, who were wide-eyed underclassmen a year ago.

Spring attitude... After using a slew of inexperienced players on offense, yet still making it to a 12th straight bowl game, Boston College enters 2011 optimistic. There’s a stalwart on both sides of the ball, RB Montel Harris and LB Luke Kuechly, and a staff that’s entering its third year together. Obviously, the key for the upcoming season will be to get more from an offense that’s been stuck in neutral since Matt Ryan graduated. There are some skill players to build around, including WR Colin Larmond, who’s expected back from a season-long injury.

Clemson
Spring Practice Begins: March 4 Game: April 9


The early spring buzz ... This is a huge spring for coordinator Chad Morris, his first with the program. The Tigers are in dire need of an offensive identity, and Morris was lured from Tulsa to put an immediate jolt into the attack. In his system, the quarterback must be mobile, which won’t be a problem now that Tajh Boyd is taking over as the starter. While he flourished with the Golden Hurricane, there’s concern about his resume. Prior to last fall, his entire career was spent at the prep level. Clemson is looking for reassurance that it hired the next Gus Malzahn and not the next Todd Dodge.

The big spring question is ... Is Boyd ready to become the guy under center and start fulfilling his enormous high school hype? Now that Kyle Parker is devoted to a career in baseball, it’s Boyd’s job, with no concerns about looking over his shoulder. He has a big arm and enough athletic ability to make opposing coordinators wince. What he lacks is experience, especially in the offense. Above all else, the Tigers want to use the month to get him better acclimated to the nuances of Morris’ system and more comfortable at being the leader of the offense.

The most important position to watch is ... the secondary. Clemson never seems to have much trouble developing defensive backs, which it hopes will continue to be the case this fall. Three of last year’s starters are gone, including first team All-ACC S DeAndre McDaniel. The other safety, Rashard Hall, will represent an important building block. Fortunately, he’ll be surrounded by a nice mix of veterans. Senior Coty Sensabaugh and junior Xavier Brewer are first in line at cornerback, and junior Jonathan Meeks has the upper hand at McDaniel’s old strong safety spot.

Spring attitude... After sinking to below .500 in 2010, Clemson has no intentions of rebuilding; the program expects to retool on the fly and get right back into the Coastal Division hunt. Even with defections, the defense should be fine. It usually is. The offense is a different story, which is why Morris’ arrival has been treated with top billing. The key to the season will be unleashing Boyd in order to maximum the talents of RB Andre Ellington, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and TE Dwayne Allen. If Boyd sputters, it’ll be felt throughout the rest of the program.

Duke
Spring Practice Begins: February 16 Game: March 26


The early spring buzz ... Blue Devil WR Donovan Varner already looks as if he plans to treat his final year of eligibility as a salary run season. Ranked in the top 10 in school history in most statistical categories, he has 146 career catches for 1,947 yards and 10 touchdowns. Yet, there’s been no resting on his laurels. The senior began spring camp in the best shape of his life, adding the muscle in the offseason needed to beat jams at the line of scrimmage and make plays in traffic. One of Duke’s best offensive weapon looks as if he’ll be even better in 2011.

The big spring question is ... Can anyone play defense? This is a perennial issue around Durham, which continues to haunt the program. The Blue Devils can often stay in games with their offense, but too often, the D is Southern Conference caliber. Five starters have graduated and no all-stars return from a unit that ranked last in the ACC in most categories. NG Charlie Hatcher and S Matt Daniels provide a veteran presence, and LB Kelby Brown flashed the moves of a future star in his rookie year. Unfortunately, he’s still recovering from a knee injury and won’t participate in spring drills.

The most important position to watch is ... the defensive line. If the defense is going to have any hope for respectability in 2011, it’s going to need more pressure at the point of attack. Last year’s team averaged one sack a game, which left a leaky secondary exposed. Ends Patrick Egboh and Wesley Oglesby are gone, which opens the door for Justin Foxx, Kenny Anunike, and others to earn more reps when the season begins. On the inside Sydney Sarmiento has an exciting future for a line that’s hungry for more production.

Spring attitude... It’s Year No. 4 for David Cutcliffe and it’s time for the coach to start delivering more results. The Blue Devils regressed in 2010, winning just a pair of games against FBS opponents and never threatening for that long-awaited bowl-eligibility. At a school that already doesn’t genuflect to the football team, Duke has to do something to generate a little interest in the program. The offense, specifically the passing game, has potential, but reaching goals will hinge on the development of a feeble defense.

Florida State
Spring Practice Begins: March 21 Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... In order to replace standout C Ryan McMahon, the Seminoles are going to promote from within. At least that’s the plan. The staff is going to shift senior David Spurlock inside from right guard and give him the time he needs to win the job. An athletic 6-4, 300-pounder, he’s been in the lineup since the middle of his rookie year in 2008. The key will be his snaps and his ability to become the leader of the group. If the move becomes permanent, it’ll mean that the ‘Noles will have a pair of new guards since All-American Rodney Hudson has graduated.

The big spring question is ... Is QB E.J. Manuel ready to lead the offense? Christian Ponder is gone, so the job is unequivocally his this fall. At 6-4 and 235 pounds, with a huge arm, he looks as if he came right out of central casting. However, he still has to prove that he can lead the team, make good decisions, and begin fulfilling the enormous expectations that accompanied his arrival in 2008. While no one doubts that he has all the tools for success, the folks around Tallahassee hope he can maximize that talent as soon as possible.

The most important position to watch is ... wide receiver. How long has it been since the Seminoles boasted one of the nation’s—or even the conference’s—best receiver corps? Too long. Besides protection, Manuel’s best friend will be a more reliable set of hands. Last year’s group was inconsistent, dropping too many passes and generally not making the quarterback’s life any easier. The good news is that everyone who caught at least 10 passes is back. However, all of the receivers, from WR Bert Reed to TE Beau Reliford, need to become more accountable.

Spring attitude... After delivering a smashing debut as the head coach, Jimbo Fisher is hoping to live up to the hype. Florida State is hot again after winning 10 games, destroying rivals Miami and Florida, and amassing an outstanding recruiting class. Unlike the tail end of the Bobby Bowden era, the ‘Noles will enter a year expected to win the ACC and compete on the fringe of the national title chase. There are the usual holes that need to be filled, but nothing that can’t be addressed in the offseason. The key will be to make the transition to Manuel behind center a smooth one.

Georgia Tech
Spring Practice Begins: March 28 Game: April 23


The early spring buzz ... Despite a lack of depth at the position, head coach Paul Johnson is contemplating moving QB David Sims to B-back to fill a pressing need in that area. Now that Anthony Allen is off to the NFL, the Yellow Jackets are seeking a feature runner, which some feel could be filled by the sophomore. Oh, he’s not giving up on catching frontrunner Tevin Washington behind center, but his athleticism will be tough to keep off the field. An all-around terrific athlete, he goes 6-0 and more than 200 pounds, and can get upfield in a hurry.

The big spring question is ... Is Washington ready to lead the offense? This is a Paul Johnson production so the quarterback is instrumental to the overall success of the team. He got his feet wet when Josh Nesbitt was injured last fall, rushing for 514 yards and four scores and throwing for another pair of touchdowns. However, being the guy from Day 1 comes with an entirely new set of responsibilities and expectations. Assuming he can hold off redshirt freshman Synjyn Days, Washington will be one of the keys to Tech’s ability to rebound in 2011.

The most important position to watch is ... the offensive line. This has been a suspect area for Georgia Tech for the past couple of seasons, too often failing to hold up at the point of attack. The situation is further muddled by the graduations of all-star C Sean Bedford and T Austin Barrick, and the early departure to the NFL of Nick Claytor. G Omoregie Uzzi is a good one and T Phil Smith and G Will Jackson have starting experience. Around that trio, others, like inexperienced Jay Finch and Tyler Kidney, will be asked to assume much bigger roles.

Spring attitude... After making it look easy in his first two seasons on the Flats, winning 20 games and an ACC crown, Johnson wants to get the Ramblin’ Wreck back on the rails. The Yellow Jackets slipped to 6-7 a year ago, losing five of their final six, with the lone win coming versus Duke. With no designs on rebuilding, the coach hopes to get right back in the Coastal Division race, aided by a manageable schedule. Doing so will require the new backfield to come up big now that Nesbitt and Allen have graduated.

Maryland
Spring Practice Begins: March 29 Game: April 30


The early spring buzz ... The Terrapins have a permanent defensive coordinator … finally. Randy Edsall promoted Todd Bradford and hired Keith Dudzinski to coach inside linebackers after Don Brown’s sudden and ironic departure to Connecticut, Edsall’s former employer. Penn State’s Larry Johnson and former Miami head coach Randy Shannon turned down the opportunity, leaving Maryland with a limited number of options. Bradford was the coordinator at Southern Miss the last three years, while Dudzinski held the same position at Massachusetts for the past seven seasons, five under Brown.

The big spring question is ... How long will it take Edsall to quiet critics who felt his hiring was, at best, a mild upgrade from Ralph Friedgen? Well, one spring certainly isn’t the timetable, but that doesn’t mean the new staff won’t be able to begin putting its stamp on the Terrapin program. In fact, that’ll be the objective in April. Edsall’s had a knack for coaching up his kids in Storrs, which is also what he hopes to do in College Park. He’ll be busy on both sides of the ball, as Maryland returns just two all-stars, S Kenny Tate and DT Joe Vellano.

The most important position to watch is ... wide receiver. Yeah, the linebackers have also been gutted, but the receivers are particularly thin. Adrian Cannon graduated and Torrey Smith left early, leaving little-used Quintin McCree and Kevin Dorsey as the top two returning pass-catchers. Although TE Matt Furstenberg is a reliable option in the passing, the Terrapins need more hands and field-stretchers in order to further the development of QB Danny O’Brien. The franchise in Maryland, he debuted as a rookie with 22 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions.

Spring attitude... Edsall’s challenge will be to keep the momentum going and begin instilling his philosophy into the Terrapin players he inherited. Maryland isn’t expected to compete for an Atlantic Division title, but after going 9-4 in the Fridge’s final year, anything less than the postseason will go down as a rough start. While there’s not a lot of can’t-miss talent, the defense has potential and O’Brien is the type of young passer a program can build around. In an inevitable transition year, the new staff is hoping to make it as smooth as possible.

Miami
Spring Practice Begins: March 5 Game: April 16

The early spring buzz ... First-year head coach Al Golden used his initial depth chart to send a message to his Hurricanes—work ethic will go a long way to determining the pecking order. Surprises dotted the two-deep, rewarding those players who have given the most effort over the last couple of months. No move turned more heads than presumed third-string QB Spencer Whipple being listed above favorites Stephen Morris and Jacory Harris. While it’s a long way between now and Labor Day, one thing that’s clear is that Golden’s system is a meritocracy that’ll reward those players that work the hardest on the practice field and in the film room.

The big spring question is ... So who will get the ball from Golden when the team travels to Maryland on Sept. 5? There will be competition at just about every position, but none will garner more attention and headlines than the one at quarterback. Golden doesn’t figure to be in a rush to anoint his first starter, though 15 practices and a spring game is enough time for someone to impress the staff and grab an early lead. Regardless of the first depth chart, Whipple is still viewed as a longshot, with Morris a slight favorite. The new staff is particular about protecting the ball and winning the turnover margin, which will be an issue for the error-prone Harris.

The most important position to watch is ... cornerback. The ‘Canes have lost three good ones to the NFL, Brandon Harris, DeMarcus Van Dyke, and Ryan Hill, leaving a gaping void in the secondary. While there are all kinds of young talent at safety, the cornerbacks are going to be green and a little ripe for the picking in the early. All of that depth at safety has enabled the staff to shift to corner, where he’s already in the lead for a starting assignment. Junior Brandon McGee, a backup in 2010, is another defender who’ll be counted on heavily to pick up the slack in pass defense.

Spring attitude... Just how much difference does a new coach make? Miami is about to find out, as Golden begins his first season as the successor to Randy Shannon. His no-nonsense approach has already begun to reverberate throughout the locker room, and anyone not toeing the line will pay the price in the form of reduced playing time. Regardless of who’s on the sidelines, the Hurricanes have enough talent to win the ACC, which is exactly where they’ll be aiming. There are the typical holes and the quarterback situation needs to get resolved, but Golden will have a shot to bust out of the gates in his debut.

North Carolina
Spring Practice Begins: March 16 Game: April 9


The early spring buzz ... A need for more help up front on defense means January enrollee Sylvester Williams could have a shot to play immediately. A transfer from Coffeyville (Kans.) Community College, he only played one season of high school football and has a high ceiling once he gets around better coaches and facilities. North of 300 pounds and uncommonly athletic for an interior lineman, he’ll fit right in at Carolina, which continues to produce next-level defensive linemen. The decision to keep all-star Quinton Coples on the outside made the signing of Williams even more important for the Tar Heels.

The big spring question is ... Is Bryn Renner ready to lead the offense? The golden boy of the 2009 recruiting class, he spent his first two seasons in Chapel Hill learning behind veteran T.J. Yates. Purely in terms of expectations, he might be the most heralded quarterback to ever sign with the Tar Heels. Now it’s time to begin living up to the hype. A year after making three cameos and throwing just a pair of passes, he figures to quickly ascend to the top of the depth chart without too much of a challenge.

The most important position to watch is ... running back. How long has it been since Carolina has had a true workhorse to carry the load on the ground? Heck, it’s been 13 years since the program had a 1,000-yard rusher. Johnny White, Shaun Draughn, and Anthony Elzy are gone, meaning there isn’t a back on the roster who carried the ball more than five times in 2010. Devon Ramsay is the veteran, having been reinstated by the NCAA, but he’s more of a fullback than an every-down runner. Now that he’s returned from an ACL tear, the ceiling is high for last year’s mega-recruit Giovanni Bernard.

Spring attitude... More than anything else, Carolina is craving a quiet offseason after last year’s high-profile suspensions and off-field headaches. The silver lining of 2010 was that a lot of young players saw action about a year earlier than expected, good news for the 2011 squad. The defense will continue to be the catalyst in Chapel Hill, especially the front seven, leaving the offense as the perennial point of emphasis. Renner’s development is going to make the most headlines and draw the most attention throughout the year.

NC State
Spring Practice Begins: March 17 Game: April 16

The early spring buzz ... Although nothing has been made official quite yet, the Wolfpack is preparing as if last season was the final one for star QB Russell Wilson. While most schools lose prized players to the NFL, State is taking a backseat to Major League Baseball and specifically the Colorado Rockies, who drafted Wilson last June. Head coach Tom O’Brien will always leave the door often, but the program will begin spring drills assuming that the time has finally arrived for fourth-year junior Mike Glennon to get his opportunity to lead the offense.

The big spring question is ... What can Pack fans and the rest of the ACC expect from Glennon? After signing in 2008 as one of the nation’s most decorated recruits, he’s had to sit patiently and watch Wilson pile up the numbers and the accolades. However, a lack of experience, just 52 career passing attempts, does not mean he’ll need a year to adapt to a promotion. He’s been around the system long enough and has the requisite physical skills to have a breakout debut as the starter, assuming Wilson doesn’t return. A 6-6, 225-pounder, he can make all the throws and has the intangible qualities to be a team leader.

The most important position to watch is ... the receivers. If Glennon is going to fulfill his potential in 2011, he’ll need a lot of help from his supporting cast. Unfortunately, last year’s top four receivers, including all-star WR Owen Spencer and TE George Bryan, have run out of eligibility. The tattered corps will be built around senior T.J. Graham, who caught 25 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns last fall. Steven Howard and Jay Smith are also veteran options, but some of the kids, like Quintin Payton, will get a chance to assume a much bigger role.

Spring attitude... After finally breaking through under O’Brien, the Wolfpack hopes to maintain that momentum in 2011. Even if the program doesn’t have the services of Wilson, it feels as if the offense will continue to move the ball effectively and put points on the board. The concern, as is often the case in Raleigh, rests with the defense. While there were clear signs of improvement last year, the secondary remained spotty and the graduation of LB Nate Irving leaves a gaping void that’ll be tough to fill.

Virginia
Spring Practice Begins: March 16 Game: April 2


The early spring buzz ... The Cavaliers’ struggles on the field in 2010 couldn’t dampen what took place in February. Second-year head coach Mike London cleaned up on the recruiting trail, piecing together one of the ACC’s top classes. After going 4-8 and missing out on the postseason for a third straight year, Virginia got a much-needed infusion of talent and boost in momentum. Although the program and the kids still need to deliver on the field, the Top 25 class addresses all kinds of needs and gives fans something to get excited about heading into 2011.

The big spring question is ... Who earns the start at quarterback now that Marc Verica has graduated? The long and arduous search for a productive passer continues in Charlottesville, with no immediate end in sight. It’s a four-man race involving underclassmen Michael Rocco, Ross Metheny, Mike Strauss, and Miles Gooch. Metheny and Rocco saw limited action last fall, combining for four touchdowns and three picks, and have a slight edge on the field. However, it won’t be so substantial that either Strauss or Gooch can’t close the gap. Whoever gets the nod probably won’t learn it until sometime in August.

The most important position to watch is ... the running backs. Keith Payne, last season’s breakout star, has graduated, forcing the Cavs to search for a successor in the running game. Fortunately, the cupboard isn’t bare, which should make for heated competition right up until the spring game. Perry Jones ran for 646 yards in a reserve role, and the young kids are itching for an opportunity to get touches. Kevin Parks, in particular, isn’t very big, but has playmaking ability and a knack for providing a jolt of energy to an offense.

Spring attitude... London’s first season was predictably rocky, losing his final four games and finishing in the ACC cellar. It’s cliché, but from here, the only way is up. The Cavaliers don’t have a lot of all-league talent, but they do have a growing number of quality young playmakers itching to make a mark on the program. Even if the coach can lead this team back to .500 and a middling bowl game, it’ll qualify as a big step forward and a nice encore to the signing day success.

Virginia Tech
Spring Practice Begins: March 30 Game: April 23

The early spring buzz ... Not content with the status quo or simply winning ACC crowns, Frank Beamer shook up his coaching staff in February. Even after winning the conference for a fourth time in seven years, the coach refused to sit still, adding son Shane as running backs coach and associate head coach, and former Hokie Cornell Brown as linebackers coach. The younger Beamer is leaving South Carolina for Blacksburg, where his ability to recruit will be on display. While Bryan Stinespring will remain as the offensive coordinator, he’s relinquishing play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain.

The big spring question is ... So who is Logan Thomas and what can be expected from him in 2011? In all likelihood, Thomas is the heir apparent to Tyrod Taylor behind center, which is going to be a tough act to follow. Thomas won’t be nearly the playmaker outside the pocket that Taylor was, but at 6-6 and 240 pounds, has the size and arm to stretch defenses vertically. He has limited experience and the next few months to flatten the learning curve and adjust to being one of the focal points of the offense.

The most important position to watch is ... special teams. Rarely a problem in Blacksburg, the Hokies will have to replace both an All-ACC punter and kicker this fall. Brian Saunders and Chris Hazley are gone, opening up the competition in the spring and the summer. If the end of last season counts for anything, a couple of Pennsylvania natives, Scott Demler and Justin Myer, respectively, will have an edge of filling the openings. Beamer, however, likes competition and wants to be sure these two areas are solidified before the opener.

Spring attitude... It’s a new season, but the goals are the same in Hokie-land—win an ACC championship and, with a break or two, stay on the fringe of national title contention. Although the backfield is being retooled, there’s a ton of returning talent on both sides of the ball. And RB David Wilson just might make folks forget about Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Winning ten games for an eighth consecutive year will hinge on the maturation of Thomas, who’ll need to limit his mistakes and keep defenses from stacking the line on the backs.

Wake Forest
Spring Practice Begins: March 15 Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... The Demon Deacons lost their defensive coordinator at a most inopportune time of the year, just two weeks before the start of spring. Brad Lambert accepted the job to become Charlotte’s first head coach, leaving Jim Grobe scrambling for a successor. Although there are plenty of coaches who’d like to work for Grobe, the timing is such that he’d probably be well-advised to simply promote from within. It also helps that three current assistants, Steve Russ, Tim Billings, and Brian Knorr, have prior experience as a defensive coordinator.

The big spring question is ... Can Wake Forest get an exemption and somehow earn more than the usual 15 practices? Obviously, that’d be a violation of NCAA rules, but the program needs as much work as it can possibly get after ranking 108th in total offense, 101st in total defense, and struggling mightily on special teams. There’s no area that’s safe on this squad, especially since so many young players were employed a year ago. The Deacon staff will have to make the most of the time it’s been afforded before reconvening again in August.

The most important position to watch is ... quarterback. Life after Riley Skinner was even harder than most expected, as the Deacons produced just nine touchdown passes all year. Of course, that’s liable to happen when your starting quarterback, Tanner Price, is just a rookie. He had all kinds of problems, but displayed some of the athleticism that the program likes and now has a season of experience to call upon. If he fails to show progress, the staff might look in the direction of one of last year’s holdovers or even true freshman Kevin Sousa.

Spring attitude... Back-to-back losing seasons, a rarity for Grobe, have the Deacons eager to rebound and climb back to .500 in 2011. After using so many younger players a year ago, there’s hope that the roster will feature better depth and more experience this fall. All but a single starter is back on defense, and skill position openings on offense are something that can be addressed during the offseason. Fair or not, the fate of this year’s team could rest with the quarterbacks, which piles pressure on Price to evolve from a rough debut in Winston-Salem.

Click for each team's spring preview
Atlantic Boston Coll | Clemson | Florida St | Maryland | NC St | Wake Forest
Coastal Duke | Georgia Tech | Miami | North Carolina | Virginia | Virginia Tech

2011 ACC Spring Preview 
- 2011 ACC Schedules & Game-By-Game Picks
- 2011 ACC Spring Buzz   
- 2011 ACC Spring Attitudes 
- 2011 ACC Big Spring Questions  
- 2011 ACC Positions To Watch  
- ACC Spring Rankings 

2011 ACC Pre-Spring Preview
- Why Every Team Should Be Excited
- Why Every Team Should Be Grouchy
- What Every Team Needs To Work On