Friday, May 7, 2010
What we learned this spring
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
Just because we're not in season doesn't mean there aren't a few lessons to be learned across the ACC. Here's a look at what spring practices revealed throughout the conference:
A.J. Highsmith is next in line if Jacory Harris is injured again.
1. Veteran quarterbacks must stay healthy, as the lack of experience behind them was revealed: With starters Josh Nesbitt, Sean Renfree and Jacory Harris sidelined with injuries, competition at backup quarterback was a theme throughout the conference this spring. Fans got a glimpse of their programs' futures, but with the exception of NC State and North Carolina, there wasn't exactly overwhelming confidence in the No. 2s. Only Georgia Tech solidified its backup situation, as Tevin Washington won the job behind Nesbitt, but a significant gap still remains between them. A.J. Highsmith appeared to be the front-runner at Miami, and Logan Thomas seemed to edge Ju-Ju Clayton at Virginia Tech, but competition will continue this summer.
2. Miami could have the deepest backfield in the ACC: Last season this award went to Georgia Tech. This season it could go to Virginia Tech. But Miami -- even without injured starter Graig Cooper -- proved this spring it should be in the running -- literally. The Canes have plenty of options in Lamar Miller, Storm Johnson, Damien Berry and Mike James.
3. Plenty of defensive questions remain: Florida State, Virginia, Duke and Georgia Tech began their transitions under new coordinators, but with players still figuring out their new roles, it will take more time to adjust to the schemes and evaluate their progress. NC State found some young talent it liked up front to help replace four starting defensive linemen, but is also in transition with first-year linebackers coach Jon Tenuta. Virginia Tech was pleased with its defense this spring, despite having to replace six starters, but only the Boise State opener will reveal how far the Hokies have come.
4. The stars of 2008 are eager to shine again: NC State linebacker Nate Irving, who was injured last summer in a severe car accident; BC linebacker Mark Herzlich, who was diagnosed with cancer last May; and Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans, who tore his ACL last summer, all returned to practices this spring. Irving and Herzlich approached their returns more gingerly than Evans, though, and it's still unclear how much of an impact they'll have this fall. Evans will be sharing carries with Ryan Williams, Irving played in only half the spring game, and nobody knows whether Herzlich can reclaim his 2008 Defensive Player of the Year title.
5. Players aren't the only ones coaches must recruit: First-year coaches Mike London and Jimbo Fisher spent much of this spring networking with their state high school coaches and trying to work their way into the good graces of the fans. It was easier for London, as he wasn't tasked with replacing one of college football's winningest and friendliest coaches. Fisher nixed the golf in favor of the office on his spring booster tour and there was a reluctance among some of the older fans to embrace Fisher's businesslike approach.