ACC: North Carolina State Wolfpack
- This news is just peachy.
- Clemson has gone local for its latest commitments.
- The Tiger paw strikes again.
- Florida State is still basking in the glow of its championship.
- A big crowd of recruits is expected for the Georgia Tech spring game.
- Is Louisville still an undervalued collegiate athletics property?
- North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham stung some members of the athletic department with recent comments to Forbes Magazine.
- NC State defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen chats about the Wolfpack's progress during spring.
- Pitt is pulling its weight for a new strength coach.
- Setting the stage for the Syracuse spring game.
- Inexperience could be a factor on the UVa offensive line.
- A smaller defense is no big deal to Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
- Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson wants to see improvements in the pass game during the team's scrimmage tonight.
So when his quarterbacks started begging him to go live this spring, his first reaction was, ‘No way!’ He was in protection mode, the way he was as a Steelers assistant. But veterans Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette persisted, and he slowly relented -- only a few times, and with clear instructions to the defense.
His is a dilemma that many coaches across the league have faced this spring. Do you allow your quarterbacks to get hit in practice to help simulate game situations and foster competition, knowing you have increased their injury risk? Or do you never even broach the subject because the priority should always be to protect the quarterback?
Four ACC teams allowed their quarterbacks to go live at some point during spring practice, more than any other power-five league. Clemson did it for the first time under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, believing he would see more out of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Early enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson ended up getting hurt and missing the spring game.
Florida State allowed its younger quarterbacks to go live this spring. Coach Jimbo Fisher said he did the same last year, when Jameis Winston was a redshirt freshman competing to win the starting job.
“They’ve got to be able to feel things around them and react,” Fisher said. “They get in a false security blanket sometimes.”
Does that cause him extra worry?
“It’s no different than when we run the running backs, and I get nervous in the scrimmages when the backs are running and get tackled,” Fisher said. “Our guys know if they’ve got a kill shot, not to. There’s a certain limit of how we practice with each other. You know those shots that everyone wants to have? We won’t take those on each other even if we’re in a live scrimmage because it’s not productive to the organization. Tough to me is when you’re eyeball to eyeball, not when a guy’s exposed and you can do that.”
The coaches are not the only ones who wrestle with the idea. NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was not live this spring. But when he was competing for the starting job at Florida with Jeff Driskel back in 2012, both were allowed to go live early on in fall practice. The first day they were allowed to take hits, Driskel hurt his shoulder.
For a running quarterback such as Brissett, that helps. Same for the Duke quarterbacks. Georgia Tech has its quarterbacks live during practice for that reason.
Some coaches believe going live helps separate the competition. But Clemson was the only school with an open quarterback competition to allow its quarterbacks to go live during scrimmage situations. North Carolina, for example, has Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battling to win the starting job, but offensive coordinator Seth Littrell does not believe it is necessary to allow quarterbacks to get hit. “I’ve never done it,” he said.
Virginia Tech also is in the middle of an intense competition, but quarterbacks have been off limits so far this spring. Veteran Mark Leal would have no problem if the coaches changed their minds.
“Honestly, I'd like to be live,” he said. “I think the rest of the quarterbacks would, too, because it gives more of a game feel. If you're not live, sometimes the whistle gets blown early when you don't think you should have been sacked or the play gets messed up because when there's a rush around you, the first thing the coaches want to do is blow the whistle, rather than you continue to play or go through your reads and progressions and finish the play.”
Depth concerns often dictate what coaches do. Pitt only had two scholarship quarterbacks this spring, so there was no way they were going live. Virginia Tech only has three quarterbacks on the roster this spring.
Still, all the protections most coaches take are not enough to keep their quarterbacks injury-free. Miami quarterbacks were off limits this spring, but Ryan Williams tore his ACL during a scrimmage.
It was a noncontact injury.
- Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett is confident in quarterback Cole Stoudt. So is Tajh Boyd.
- Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden kicks off his booster tour today.
- Georgia Tech back Broderick Snoddy will be racking up the frequent flyer miles with track and football this week.
- Former Louisville defensive tackle Roy Philon is hoping for an NFL shot. Louisville has reportedly signed a $40 million shoe and apparel deal to stay with adidas.
- Two Miami basketball players have turned to football.
- Russell Wilson spoke to NC State football players when he was in town for the spring game.
- Pitt begins the transition to the next phase in the offseason.
- Thumbs up or thumbs down on the new Syracuse uniforms? One fashion expert weighs in.
- Could Greyson Lambert be Virginia football's Joe Harris?
- Former Virginia Tech player Eddie Royal shares what 4/16/07 means to him.
- Freshman Hokies running back Marshawn Williams can pound the rock.
- The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a complaint to Clemson over the way Dabo Swinney has incorporated religion into the program.
- Former Duke quarterback Brandon Connette is visiting Fresno State.
- The New York Times examines the Tallahassee police department's investigation into sexual assault allegations against Jameis Winston.
- Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu has been busy meeting and greeting NFL coaches and team executives.
- What did we learn from the North Carolina and NC State spring games?
- Pitt cornerback Jahmahl Pardner has decided to leave the team.
- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer revealed the spring game format.
- Virginia Tech quarterback Brenden Motley has earned the opportunity to play with the first team, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler says.
- Athlon Sports ranks the ACC's quarterbacks headed into 2014.
- Cole Stoudt was the quarterback winner during the Clemson spring game.
- Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery is a man of many influences.
- Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has a lot on his plate this spring.
- Former Georgia Tech linebacker Brandon Watts has seen his draft stock rise since pro day.
- Louisville quarterback Will Gardner had himself a day.
- Miami's quarterbacks need some polishing after their spring game performances. Offensive lineman Hunter Knighton is a miracle man.
- North Carolina ended spring practice without a clear leader at quarterback.
- Plenty of stars showed up for the NC State spring game.
- Pitt running back Isaac Bennett needs shoulder surgery.
- The hottest name in the NFL draft is ... former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage?
- Syracuse's defense has been banged up this spring.
- Greyson Lambert made a convincing case as Virginia's quarterback.
- The Virginia Tech offense clicked during its weekend scrimmage, even without quarterback Mark Leal.
- Wake Forest's offense looked ragged in its first scrimmage.
Slowly, the weekly ritual evolved into an ideal bonding experience for a group that desperately needed to build a rapport on the fast track.
“We had a lot of extra time to go out and get some chemistry,” quarterback Jacoby Brissett said. “Any time we had an opportunity to sit and talk about the things we were learning — we got the time to get to know each other better away from the field, and that’s helped our chemistry on the field.”
Brissett and the first-team offense rolled up 34 points, and the junior quarterback, who transferred from Florida last year, completed throws of 36, 60 and 72 yards. He was particularly effective on third down, converting 13 of 18 tries, often shuffling in the pocket to create more time and find receivers downfield.
Early enrollee Bo Hines led all receivers, grabbing 10 passes for 132 yards, including a nifty 40-yard run after a catch on Brissett’s 60-yard completion. His star is clearly on the rise, coach Dave Doeren said, and after just a few months on campus — and a dozen or so breakfasts with Brissett — he looks right at home.
“Bo Hines is a reliable player,” Doeren said. “He’s the same guy every day — in the right place, catches the ball well with people around him, made some one-handed catches and has the ability to catch it and run. … We’ve had 15 practices and I don’t think we’ve had one where he didn’t make a play.”
Sophomores Jumichael Ramos and Marquez Valdes-Scantling had four catches each. Bryan Underwood, the lone veteran of the ensemble, caught three passes for 112 yards and two scores.
“[Brissett] is giving us a chance,” Underwood said. “It’s a good start, leaving spring with how we did today.”
It’s worth noting, of course, that the offensive fireworks came against an overmatched second-team defense that featured few veterans, and the road back from last year’s struggles — NC State finished 11th in the ACC in yards per attempt and had more interceptions than TD throws — will be a long one. Doeren was also quick to point out Brissett’s struggles running the ball — he was sacked five times behind a line missing three starters — and his one interception. But just as last year’s struggles in the spring game portended a woeful regular season, the hope is that this year’s success will be equally prophetic.
Whether this year’s results are also a sign of things to come likely depends largely on how much more Brissett and his receivers continue to bond during the summer. But Doeren is encouraged by where things stand, and a year after NC State dealt with a massive quarterback dilemma, it soothes a lot of nerves to simply know Brissett is in charge, and there's a ringleader for the remainder of the offseason.
“I can focus my attention on certain things, and it’s his job to stay hungry, keep the chip on his shoulder and know he has to do his job the right way,” Doeren said. “I don’t have to worry about who it is, but he still has to handle his end of the responsibility. He will, and he knows that.”
RALEIGH, N.C. -- If he’s being honest, the question makes Jacoby Brissett a bit uncomfortable. He hears it routinely -- from friends, from fans, from media eager to make him the headliner in NC State’s revitalization project -- and after three years waiting to be anointed the starter, he should be thrilled.
Still, every time someone asks Brissett what it feels like now that he’s the man -- the starting quarterback and offensive ring leader -- he feels compelled to downplay the significance of it all.
“I’m not big into that stuff,” Brissett said. “I’m like, ‘You don’t have to say that.’ I’m competing to remain the starter -- competing with myself, the guys around me, the other guys in the conference. You have a national championship quarterback in this conference, so I have a lot of catching up to do.”
It’s no surprise Brissett feels like he’s playing from behind. Three years ago, he got a taste of life as the starting quarterback at Florida. That door closed quickly though, and after a year on the bench in 2012, he transferred to NC State. NCAA rules forced Brissett to redshirt, so he spent last year again waiting on the sideline for his chance.
When a 3-9 campaign marked by offensive struggles concluded in December, NC State coach Dave Doeren officially put an end to Brissett’s wait, tabbing him as the Wolfpack’s starter for 2014. But Doeren’s decision wasn’t about finally giving Brissett his chance. It was an acknowledgement of everything the quarterback had done while he was waiting for it.
“The way he plays is part of it,” Doeren said, “but the way he interacts and leads is a big part of it.”
“Brissett came to NC State just a month after Doeren arrived. He’d been frustrated by his back-up role at Florida, and he needed a fresh start. A highly touted recruit out of high school, Brissett was again a hot commodity, but NC State -- and Doeren -- felt right.
I'm not big into that stuff. I'm like, 'You don't have to say that.' I'm competing to remain the starter -- competing with myself, the guys around me, the other guys in the conference. You have a national championship quarterback in this conference, so I have a lot of catching up to do.” -- NC State QB Jacoby Brissett on the hype about him being the starting QB
“I was actually looking at West Virginia, but every time I was there, the coach kept saying something about [former quarterback] Geno [Smith],” Brissett said. “I’m like, I’m not Geno. I won’t be Geno. I just wanted to be Jacoby, and I feel like this is a place I can be Jacoby.”
That comfort level didn’t manifest overnight, however.
With just two quarterbacks on the roster last spring, Brissett got plenty of early work with the first-team offense, wowing coaches and teammates, but he was reluctant to take a leadership role. No matter how well he performed, his script for 2013 was already written. It was someone else’s team, and he didn’t want to muddy the waters.
When spring ended, however, it was clear to Doeren that he’d found his quarterback of the future. He called Brissett into his office and gave his quarterback a clear mandate.
“The guys need to know it will become your offense by how you practice, how you act, how you are in the locker room,” Doeren told him. “You can’t just be a ghost.”
Brissett offered assurances that wouldn’t happen, but even Doeren was surprised by how thoroughly he grabbed the reins.
Over the summer, Brissett helped organize practices. In the weight room and film room, he was a fixture. Once the season began, Brissett took his role on the scout team seriously, often frustrating NC State’s first-team defense in the process. It was clear the Wolfpack had a budding star.
“The other quarterbacks didn’t really look anyone off,” NC State safety Hakim Jones said. “With Jacoby, you never know what to expect from him. He seemed a lot more advanced.”
Then there was the famed road trip to Tallahassee, which is everyone’s favorite evidence of Brissett’s command of the team.
NC State had a road date with Florida State last October, but because he was a first-year transfer, Brissett couldn’t travel with the team. So he hopped in his car, made the 600-mile drive alone, and arrived -- complete with speeding ticket in Tallahassee -- in time for the game. Teammates were shocked to see him, but the image of Brissett still rallying his troops after NC State fell behind 42-0 at halftime is what stuck.
“Since he cared and he’s not even playing, it let us know it’s a serious matter, and we had to step it up,” receiver Bryan Underwood said.
For all Brissett’s emotion from the sideline, NC State’s offense was a mess throughout much of last season. Starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, an athletic runner, broke his foot in the opener. His backup, Pete Thomas, was a pure pocket passer, and Doeren was forced to adjust his game plan on the fly. The result was an enigmatic approach, and the Wolfpack never fully gelled around either QB.
This season, things are different, Doeren said. Brissett isn’t the dual-threat nightmare Doeren had in Jordan Lynch at Northern Illinois, but he can make plays with his legs. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he’s a physical threat with an arm to match. NC State’s receiving corps is young, but Brissett has already established a standard he expects the group to meet. Even before Doeren made it official, the Wolfpack knew Brissett was in charge.
“His skill set is obviously good, and we all know that,” Underwood said. “But outside of throwing the ball and learning the plays, he’s that guy that we can say, he’s going to get us into shape.”
Underwood said he sees aspects of former Wolfpack QBs Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon -- both now starting in the NFL -- in Brissett, and that’s just the beginning of the praise for NC State’s new starter.
Fans get their first chance to see him in action Saturday when NC State holds its annual spring game, and the expectations are high. Brissett understands that, too. The wait was long, but it also served as the perfect preparation for what’s ahead.
“When you’re starting, it’s about making sure that everybody around knows why you’re quarterback,” Brissett said, “and make sure you’re being an example to look up to.”
For all of these teams -- including Florida State -- the quarterbacks will be among the most-watched players on the field. In Tallahassee, fans will get a chance to see the Heisman Trophy winner, returning starter Jameis Winston. At every other school, there is an ongoing storyline and competition with the quarterbacks. We’re giving you one additional thing to keep an eye on that might not be so obvious.
Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!
When: 4 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU) and on WatchESPN
Where: Death Valley
One thing to watch: The true freshman wide receivers. Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester were all highly touted recruits who enrolled early to help Clemson try to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (a combined 2,292 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013).
When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and on WatchESPN
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium
One thing to watch: The wide receivers. They haven’t exactly earned high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher, who called the receivers out last week for not getting open and making catches. Rashad Greene is the most experienced option as the Noles try to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but the staff also needs to see more from players like Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.
When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday
Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
One thing to watch: The safeties. Louisville lost Hakeem Smith, who started 51 straight games, and projected first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor. Jermaine Reve, Gerod Holliman and Chucky Williams are the leading candidates for those spots, but Reve is out for the spring with an injury. Reve and Holliman are the only players with game experience.
When: 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)
Where: Sun Life Stadium
One thing to watch: Defense, defense, defense. It’s been an area of concern, but the defense showed signs of progress this spring. The Canes return eight starters and 16 players from the two-deep depth chart. Denzel Perryman is now playing middle linebacker, and Dallas Crawford moved to safety to give that position a boost. Those within the program have said repeatedly that the defense has made strides since last season, and overall it was a good spring for the defense. We’ll see if they can punctuate it in the spring game.
When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)
Where: Kenan Stadium
One thing to watch: True freshman running back Elijah Hood. The four-star recruit was rated the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2014 by ESPN.com and No. 80 overall in the ESPN 300. The early enrollee has had such a good spring that he could see some immediate playing time, even though the Tar Heels are deep at the position.
When: 1 p.m. on Saturday
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium
One thing to watch: More young wide receivers. NC State has to replace Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, both starters from last year. The talent pool to choose from includes a host of sophomores and freshmen, including two early enrollees. The leading sophomore candidates are: Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman; and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix.
When: 1 p.m. on Saturday
Where: Scott Stadium
One thing to watch: Improved wide receivers. This is a group coach Mike London has praised this spring, for both its height and athleticism, as the staff has moved toward a longer, leaner look. London recently singled out Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins -- all listed at 6-foot-3 -- as players who have excelled this spring. Unfortunately, fans won’t be able to see starter Jake McGee, the Hoos’ star tight end who moved to receiver this spring, as he’ll be sidelined with a hamstring injury.
PITT (No spring game)
When: From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Pitt will host its “Pitt Football Field Pass”
Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex
One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.
- BC Interruption's A.J. Black offers his thoughts on BC's spring game.
- Former Clemson stars are assisting in a new fundraising effort, Mandrallius Robinson writes in the Greenville News.
- Count Jameis Winston as a fan of the new FSU logo.
- Bobby Petrino's changes are off the field this time, Jeff Greer writes in the (Louisville) Courier-Journal.
- The (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel's Christy Cabrera Chirinos looks at what's next for Miami after Ryan Williams' injury.
- NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett talks with the Orlando Sentinel's Matt Murschel.
- Pitt running back James Conner calls the pain in his sprained left knee a minor setback, Jerry DiPaola writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- The (Syracuse) Post-Standard's Nate Mink looks at what to expect from the tight end position in Year 2 of George McDonald's offense.
Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.
Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).
Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.
Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.
Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.
Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.
North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.
NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.
Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.
Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.
Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.
Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.
Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.
That should give both teams and edge when it comes to defending their respective division crowns. How much of an edge? Depends on the viewpoint. Relying on returning quarterback data alone to predict how a team will do often fails to look at the big picture.
Go back to last season. Duke and Florida State went into 2013 having to replace veterans at quarterback — EJ Manuel had 31 career starts for the Noles, while Sean Renfree had 35 career starts for the Blue Devils. Questions about experience at quarterback followed both teams into the season. Indeed, Clemson was picked to finish ahead of Florida State thanks in large part to returning starter Tajh Boyd, going into his third season behind center.
Those questions, however, were quickly answered as both Duke and Florida State went on to play for the ACC championship. Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina -- all picked to finish ahead of Duke -- returned multi-year starters at quarterback but that was not enough to win the division. Boyd did not help Clemson win an ACC title, but the Tigers did make a BCS game and won 11 contests. Tanner Price, one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the ACC last season, could not help Wake Forest get back to a bowl game.
Still, returning a starting quarterback is almost always preferable. Not every redshirt freshman is going to win the Heisman the way Winston did in Year 1 as a starter. Boone, who had his share of ups and downs early last season as he transitioned to a starting role, has now been on both sides.
“You’re obviously going to have some growing pains with quarterbacks who haven’t played many snaps, young quarterbacks going into their first year as a starter,” Boone said recently. “I just feel like that’s something we’re capable of avoiding, that’s something that should be to our advantage, having the knowledge of different teams in our league, just knowing tendencies of what team plays what kind of defense, just having that knowledge going into next year. I feel like it’s good to if you have one, but we have two who have been there. It’s a good feeling. It lets our offensive coordinator be at ease because we have the ability to fix a lot of play calls that have been called, if something happens. I feel that knowledge is a huge winning edge for us, compared to guys who may not know the system as well.”
Returning career starts at quarterback:
Florida State: 14
Boston College: 6*
North Carolina: 5
NC State: 3*
Georgia Tech: 0
Virginia Tech: 0
Wake Forest: 0
*-QBs at these schools made their starts while playing for other programs.
Boston College: +5
Virginia Tech: +1
North Carolina: -1
Clemson: No change
Wake Forest: -1
Florida State: +2
Georgia Tech: No change
NC State: -4
Indeed, both freshmen safeties have impressed teammates so far. McCain is instinctive, according to senior Jarvis Byrd, looking like a ball hawk in coverage. In that scrimmage, McCain picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown, but at just 175 pounds, he needs to add some bulk. Pratt, on the other hand, is a charging bull in the secondary. At 6-foot-3, nearly 200 pounds, he plays like a linebacker -- a throwback to his high school days when he spent significant time in the box, playing the run -- and still needs refinement in coverage. But when he hits, he hits hard.
“They’re running with the twos because they have to,” safety Hakim Jones said. “We only have four safeties.”
This is the landscape in Raleigh for the nine early enrollees at NC State -- seven scholarship freshmen, along with long snapper Robert Brunstetter and preferred walk-on Ty Linton, a former North Carolina commitment who has played professional baseball for the past four years. There is opportunity at every turn, the result of a disproportionately young roster, but it is also a trial by fire.
“You go through this whole recruiting process and it seems like it should take a long time, but then you get here and it’s fast,” said Bo Hines, one of two freshman wide receivers enrolled for the spring. “Everything is moving.”
By coach Dave Doeren’s math, 71 percent of NC State’s roster this year will be freshmen or sophomores. Many saw action last year as the Wolfpack struggled to fill out a depth chart amid myriad injuries en route to a disastrous 3-9 season in which they didn’t win a game in conference play. The new arrivals, meanwhile, are getting a healthy dose of snaps on the practice field with an eye toward playing time this fall.
It’s a challenge, Doeren admits, but it’s also an investment in the viability of a crucial freshmen class this fall.
“[Many of] those guys are playing with the ones at times out there,” Doeren said. “Just imagine the learning curve for them in August when the other freshmen are coming in. It helps a lot.”
And this spring isn’t simply a chance for the freshmen to dip their toes in the pool and test the waters of life in the ACC. It’s a blank slate, with a chance for them to etch their names into permanent jobs when the Wolfpack open the 2014 season.
“Since Day 1, since we went into the first meeting, [Doeren] said nobody had a guaranteed spot,” Pratt said. “I’m pushing hard to earn my spot.”
Perhaps as important, Doeren said, is the veterans are now pushing harder to keep their spots.
With such a thin roster a year ago, Doeren had little choice but to hand playing time over to unproven players. The results were mixed. Some blossomed, like receiver Jumichael Ramos, who caught 11 passes and scored three times in the final three games of his freshman campaign last year. Some struggled, including a defensive line that featured a trio of freshmen and sophomores who earned regular playing time, but finished 103rd nationally in run defense. Others, like receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (12 catches for 174 yards in his first two games, 10 catches for 107 the rest of the way) did a little of both.
“All of that was to be expected, Doeren said. What concerned the second-year coach was that, after winning playing time by default in 2013, complacency could set in this season. The nine new faces this spring can go a long way toward alleviating those concerns.
[Many of] those guys are playing with the ones at times out there. Just imagine the learning curve for them in August when the other freshmen are coming in. It helps a lot.” -- NC State coach Dave Doeren on early enrollees
“The freshmen are coming to me, asking how to run a route and what the concepts are or just asking how we felt when we came in as freshmen and what we did to play,” Ramos said. “I do feel older. I don’t feel like a freshman anymore.”
Still, Doeren is aware of the reality. Most of the time, it’s 18-year old freshmen asking 19-year old veterans for advice, and that’s not an ideal recipe for success. That makes NC State’s real veterans -- the handful of juniors and seniors like Byrd and Jones -- an immensely valuable asset this spring.
It’s a role they’ve been happy to take on, receiver Bryan Underwood said. Last year, he was a mentor for Ramos and Valdes-Scantling. Now, he’s finding more room under his wing for the new arrivals.
Jones busies himself each night hosting his new protégés in the secondary, too. Pratt and McCain are fixtures in his room, the playbook spread open throughout the evening.
“We came to them with open arms and just -- welcome to the team,” Jones said.
That’s exactly what Doeren was hoping for, but it’s hardly the end of his concerns.
Pratt and Hines and the rest of the new arrivals are still wide-eyed and overmatched more often than not. It’s a learning experience, and for now at least, most of the lessons will be tough ones.
But that’s the other advantage of this big class of early enrollees for NC State. Even after the toughest workouts, the miserable have plenty of company.
“Having those guys around,” Hines said, “we’re all going through the same thing.”
- There will be changes on Pitt’s O-line, but the end result could be a big improvement, writes the Post-Gazette.
- When I spoke with FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox in February, he said the school would at least break even on the ACC championship game thanks to an adjusted ticket policy. Turns out, that was a bit optimistic, as Warchant discovered in the school’s financial records.
- Jameis Winston was involved when Florida State’s baseball team got into a brawl with rival Florida on Tuesday, writes the Orlando Sentinel.
- Jabari Hunt-Days is getting a look at rush end for Georgia Tech this spring, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Dave Clawson is hoping the weather in Winston-Salem for the first day of spring practice won’t be a sign of things to come, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.
- Two former North Carolina players are speaking out about alleged academic fraud, writes the Charlotte Observer.
- Miami will unveil new uniforms at its spring game, writes the Sun-Sentinel.
- NC State plans to honor two of its all-time greats at its spring football game, writes the News & Observer.
- If Syracuse is looking for a hard-nosed, between-the-tackles runner, it might have found one in fullback Adonis Ameen-Moore, writes The Post-Standard.
- The Roanoke Times has a sneak peak at what an indoor practice facility at Virginia Tech might look like.
- Virginia Tech is a step closer toward building an indoor practice facility, writes The Roanoke Times.
- Wake Forest opens spring practice today, which means plenty of work for new coach Dave Clawson, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.
- Cornerback Dontae Johnson showed off his size at NC State’s pro day on Monday, writes the Raleigh News and Observer.
- Sad news on former Miami QB Jim Kelly’s battle with cancer, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
- Syracuse wide receiver Quinta Funderburk has impressed his coaches thus far, writes The Post-Standard.
- The Tallahassee Democrat wonders what the Florida State backfield rotation will look like in 2014.
- Georgia Tech is opening spring practice with Justin Thomas atop the QB depth chart, writes USA Today.
- Defensive linemen are raving about the offseason performance of Georgia Tech B-back Travis Custis, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Former Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater goes under the microscope with Jon Gruden, writes The Louisville Courier-Journal.
- Athlon Sports looks at college football coaches on the hot seat and finds a couple in the ACC.
- If you like Miami football and "good beats," then check out the new feature by Matt Porter and The Palm Beach Post.
- Taylor Gadbois and Danny Isidora want to be the anchor of Miami's offensive line, the Miami Herald's Manny Navarro writes.
- Duke dismissed redshirt cornerback Michael Westray from the team.
- With Orange Bowl berths in two of the last three seasons, Dabo Swinney now must sustain the winning culture at Clemson, Kerry Capps of the Anderson (S.C.) Independent Mail writes.
- Paul Johnson knows the offense failed Georgia Tech in 2013, Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes.
- Whether at DE or DT, Mario Edwards Jr. knows he has to take his game to the next level, the Tallahassee Democrat's Corey Clark writes.
- James Conner broke Tony Dorsett's bowl rushing record last December, but there is still a chance Conner again will play both ways, Sam Werner writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Demetrious Nicholson is back practicing with Virginia after missing the final half of 2013, Andrew Ramspacher writes in the Daily Progress.
- North Carolina is closing in on the spring game with just 10 practices left, Aaron Dodson writes in The Daily Tar Heel. Two of those practices will be off UNC's campus, the first being March 28 at a Charlotte high school.
- Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis puts NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett in the spotlight.
- Three running backs return for Syracuse, but Nate Mink of the Syracuse Post-Standard writes that fifth-year senior Prince-Tyson Gulley could be the primary ball carrier.