What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 11, 2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

With Miami kicking off spring practice on Feb. 24, it's never too early to start thinking about spring football in the ACC. There are plenty of story lines heading into the 2009 season -- like backup quarterbacks and new coordinators.

Here are a few things to watch for each team in the ACC this spring:


Spring practice starts:
March 17
Spring game: April 25

What to watch

  • Replacing 325-pound defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace will be a large challenge -- literally. Damik Scafe could be a starter, but beyond him it's anybody's guess.
  • Quarterback Dominique Davis only has three games of experience over everyone else, so it's definitely not a given that it's his job to lose. Davis was thrown into the fire at the end of 2008, but former coach Jeff Jagodzinski and former offensive coordinator Steve Logan liked freshman Justin Tuggle, who redshirted this past season. Whether the new staff is as high on Tuggle remains to be seen.
  • Including former defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who was promoted to head coach, the Eagles will have six coaches in new positions this spring. With two new coordinators, a new offensive line coach, tight ends coach and a linebackers coach, this spring will be a chance for a few introductions.

Spring practice starts:
March 9
Spring game:
April 11

What to watch

  • The Cullen Harper era is over, and sophomore quarterback Kyle Parker will be given the opportunity to win the job from Willy Korn. Korn progressed from a shoulder injury during bowl practice, but isn't quite 100 percent yet. Michael Wade and Jon Richt (Georgia coach Mark Richt's son) will also be in the mix, and coach Dabo Swinney said he will use the spring and possibly summer to help determine his starter.
  • The offensive line, again. Due in large part to the number of injuries to starters and ever-fluctuation lineup, this unit was at the heart of the Tigers' offensive woes in the first half of the season. Four of the five starters from the final lineup that helped propel Clemson to a bowl game return, so the Tigers should be better up front.
  • Clemson will also have new coordinators this spring, and the offense will still have Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller. The question is whether they'll make better use of them. With the graduation of the top two receivers -- Tyler Grisham and Aaron Kelly -- the staff might have to.

Spring practice starts: March 2
Spring game: April 4

What to watch

  • The Noles will need a dependable running back to emerge after the graduation of leading rusher Antone Smith. The competition between Jermaine Thomas and Carlton Jones should be a good one, and Tavares Pressley could also factor in if he comes back from his knee injury.
  • FSU will enter the spring thin at linebacker, having lost two starters in Derek Nicholson and Toddrick Verdell. Look for Nigel Bradham and Nigel Carr to try to win starting jobs, in addition to Vince Williams.
  • There will be a lot of reworking in the secondary after the departure of starters Tony Carter, Myron Rolle and Darius McClure. There are plenty of options, and will probably be some movement, as a lot of the players have flip-flopped between corner and safety. D'Vontrey Richardson, formerly a backup quarterback, has said he wants to move to safety but many also think he will be taken in the first three rounds of the next MLB draft.

Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 25

What to watch

  • The Terps will have to replace three starters and five of their top offensive linemen from 2008. The most glaring position up for grabs is center, where all-conference lineman Edwin Williams has graduated. Justin Lewis, who redshirted last season, could get a look at guard along with Lamar Young. Tyler Bowen has shown promise, but he had a foot injury and didn't play last season. He and Stephen St. John are options at tackle.
  • Maryland will be looking to replace three starting linebackers, and Alex Wujciak is out for the spring with a knee injury. Adrian Moten and Demetrius Hartsfield are the most likely options at this point to earn starting roles. The entire defense will be under the direction of first-year coordinator Don Brown.
  • The decision of former backup quarterback Josh Portis to transfer leaves the Terps with no experience at backup behind Chris Turner. Jamarr Robinson's experience is limited to the punt block team. Beyond Robinson, nobody else has taken a snap. If it weren't for the latest recruiting class, Turner and Robinson would be Maryland's only two quarterbacks on scholarship.

Spring practice starts: March 20
Spring game: April 18

What to watch

  • Running back Toney Baker is back after missing most of the past two seasons with injuries. He reportedly looks like he's in great shape, but how he holds up physically will be important after the graduation of leading rusher Andre Brown.
  • There's another backup quarterback situation in Raleigh, as the Pack lost both of last season's reserves. And if any team needs backups, it's this one. NC State had to start three different quarterbacks because of injuries last year. There are high hopes for Mike Glennon, who redshirted last season.
  • NC State will have to replace two starters in the secondary in cornerback Jeremy Gray and J.C. Neal. Saf
    ety Clem Johnson, who missed time because of a jaw injury last year, has high hopes for a breakout season. They'll need him to be a leader back there.

Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 18

What to watch

  • The offensive line will get an instant upgrade with the return of Chris DeGeare, who missed last season for academic reasons. DeGeare is arguably the Deacs' top offensive lineman, and the only NFL-caliber player returning to the group. Overall, this position should transform one of the team's weakest areas into one of its strongest, as there are about 10 or 11 players who got significant snaps in 2008.
  • Run, run, run. Wake's No. 1 emphasis this spring will be on the running game, a chapter of the playbook that was lacking in 2008 until the end of the season. The Demon Deacons have momentum to build on after strong running performances in wins against Vanderbilt and Navy. Kevin Harrison, once a forgotten fullback who had an outstanding bowl game, has given the running game new life and could be No. 1 going into spring.
  • Defensive coordinator Brad Lambert will be looking for playmakers to help compensate for the graduation of some of the best defensive talent to come through the program. It's not like the Deacs are lacking experience on defense, but the players they graduated -- guys like Alphonso Smith and Aaron Curry -- were capable of game-changing plays.


Spring practice starts:
March 18
Spring game: April 18

What to watch

  • Following the graduation of leading receiver Eron Riley, Duke coach David Cutcliffe will need a receiver to emerge as quarterback Thaddeus Lewis' favorite target. Leading candidates include junior Austin Kelly, who battled injuries in 2008 but still caught 13 passes, and sophomore Johnny Williams, who was second on team with 30 catches for 327 yards.
  • In addition to losing their top receiver, the Blue Devils will also have to replace the ACC's leading tackler in middle linebacker Michael Tauiliili. Vincent Rey might be moved from the outside, but the loss of dismissed linebacker Trent Mackey hurts the depth there. He would have been a contender, but Damian Thornton will also get a shot.
  • In keeping with the quarterback trend, Duke will likely be looking for a backup quarterback. Cutcliffe is expected to move Zack Asack. Keep an eye on Sean Renfree, a highly touted recruit who redshirted this past season.

Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 18

What to watch

  • The most obvious, glaring hole is on the defensive line, where Derrick Morgan is the lone returning starter. There are plenty of options at defensive end, and junior Ben Anderson and redshirt freshman T.J. Barnes appear to be frontrunners at tackle.
  • Quite frankly, the offensive line wasn't very good last year, so even though most of the starters return, that doesn't guarantee anything. Paul Johnson redshirted three good players and recruited five true offensive linemen. Starting center Dan Voss had shoulder surgery and will miss the spring. Like his teammates, whether Voss keeps the starting job remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see how this lineup takes shape.
  • It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff decides to use utilize Anthony Allen, the transfer from Louisville, and Jonathan Dwyer. Odds are Johnson tries to get both of them on the field at the same time, which means one or both will have to see time at the a-back or slot back position.

Spring practice starts: Feb. 24
Spring game: March 28

What to watch

  • How quickly the players pick up yet another new offense and defense will go a long way in determining how quickly they start winning football games. Jacory Harris has experience, but this will be his first season as a full-time starter.
  • The transfer of quarterback Robert Marve might have helped the overall team chemistry, but it didn't help the depth at the position. Miami will have to develop a dependable backup quarterback in either Cannon Smith or Taylor Cook.
  • With only four interceptions last year, the secondary was an area that struggled, and it's going to be young after the loss of Anthony Reddick and Bruce Johnson.

Spring practice starts: March 2
Spring game: March 28

What to watch

  • The special teams unit has to find somebody who can return kicks. UNC went from the top of world with Brandon Tate to not being able to catch a punt. They were one of the best teams in the country though the first six games and then that aspect of their game disappeared when Tate was injured. Butch Davis tried several options, none of which seemed to be a long-term solution.
  • Defensively, UNC returns nine starters, so the biggest concern is replacing Mark Paschal at middle linebacker. One option could be the move of Quan Sturdivant from the outside, but then his position needs to be replaced. Another option is Da'Norris Searcy, who played safety last year but started as fifth defensive back against West Virginia and had 10 tackles. He might also be the one to replace Trimane Goddard at safety, though.
  • The biggest question mark for UNC is at wide receiver, where the Heels lost everyone but Greg Little, a former running back who switched halfway through the season. UNC has to replace the production of Tate, Brooks Foster and Hakeem Nicks, whom combined for 114 receptions, 1,932 yards and 17 of the 21 receiving touchdowns.


Spring practice starts:
March 20
Spring game: April 18

What to watch

  • The Cavaliers are looking for playmakers on offense at wide receiver and running back. They lost their two leading receivers and their leading rusher. Fans should be excited about new offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon, but what good is a new system if you don't have the players to execute it?
  • How will the quarterback -- whoever it will be -- react to the new offense? If Jameel Sewell wins his job back, he'll have to adjust from the system he learned under former offensive coordinator Mike Groh into the spread offense Brandon plans to implement.
  • It's hard to remember a time when the linebacker trio of Antonio Appleby, Clint Sintim and Jon Copper weren't in the lineup, as they were three-year starters who probably took 98 percent of the snaps and now need to be replaced. Aaron Clark, who started the first game and hurt his knee, will be back. Darren Childs started a few games last season when Appleby was injured. There are a handful of other players who will compete there.

Spring practice starts:
April 1
Spring game: April 25

What to watch

  • It's time to reload again on defense, which is what the Hokies do best. The position of priority this spring is at linebacker, where Brett Warren and Purnell Sturdivant have graduated. Barquell Rivers started for the injured Warren in the Orange Bowl and made a goal-line stop. He should be one of the frontrunners. The other spots are wide open and the staff might move some players around from the secondary. Returning linebackers Cam Martin and Cody Grimm provide some depth and experience.
  • Add the Hokies to the list of teams in need of a backup quarterback. Coach Frank Beamer has said he's confident there are plenty of options already on the roster behind Tyrod Taylor. Two of Virginia Tech's most recent signees -- Logan Thomas and Antone Exum -- are possible options. Tight end Greg Boone will also get some snaps at quarterback this spring.
  • Somebody has to try to replace Victor "Macho" Harris at corner. It's possible the staff could move Stephan Virgil to the other side like they did when Brandon Flowers left, or they could just let a few players battle it out for that spot. Rashad Carmichael started against East Carolina when Harris was injured, so he is an option.

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