ACC: 2012 offseason spotlight

Offseason spotlight: Wake Forest

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
9:00
AM ET
Our offseason spotlight series concludes today with Wake Forest. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons -- starting this spring.

Spotlight: Offensive line

2011 summary: The Deacs were an average group up front last year, and they gave up too many sacks (35). Still, it was a talented, veteran lineup led by guard Joe Looney, who was Wake Forest's highest-rated offensive lineman in 2011. Looney graded out at 86 percent for the season and led the team with 79.5 knockdown blocks. Center Garrick Williams made progress in his first season as a starter, but he was also helped by the fact he was surrounded by three redshirt seniors and one senior in Looney.

The skinny: Williams is the lone returning starter, while the rest of the depth chart remains a question. Depth isn’t a problem, but experience is. Ramon Booi moved from the defensive line to the offensive line, where he’s more likely to see playing time. Guard Antonio Ford and tackle Daniel Blitch both have a lot of potential, and tackle Steven Chase has seen some meaningful reps.

Offseason spotlight: Virginia Tech

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
2:00
PM ET
Our offseason spotlight series resumes today with Virginia Tech. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons — starting this spring.

Spotlight: Running backs

2011 summary: Heading into the season, the Hokies had to replace two standout running backs who left school early for the NFL in Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. It didn’t take long for the program’s next star to emerge. The Hokies were led by ACC Player of the Year David Wilson, who was No. 8 in the country in rushing with 122.07 yards per game. He finished the season with 1,709 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He and backup Josh Oglesby carried the nation’s No. 28 rushing offense. Wilson was held without a rushing touchdown and under 100 yards in two of the games that mattered most, though — the ACC championship loss to Clemson and the Sugar Bowl loss to Michigan.

The skinny: Wilson’s decision to leave early for the NFL wasn’t a surprise, but it was a big hit to the position group’s depth and experience. True freshman J.C. Coleman, an early enrollee, and redshirt freshman Michael Holmes will be the top two options this spring after Tony Gregory had surgery on his knee. Gregory was the No. 3 running back on the depth chart and would have been a top candidate for the No. 1 spot. The staff really likes Holmes, though, and has recruited well at the position. Three more true freshmen will join the team in the fall, and there are a few walk-ons, but the truth is, this is a wide open competition that begins this spring with Coleman and Holmes in the lead.

Offseason spotlight: Virginia

February, 17, 2012
2/17/12
5:00
PM ET
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with Virginia. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons -- starting this spring.

Spotlight: Secondary

2011 summary: This was a senior-laden group led by CB Chase Minnifield, SS Rodney McLeod, and FS Corey Mosley. They took true freshman Demetrious Nicholson under their wings as he made an immediate impact in a starting role. Virginia’s pass efficiency defense was No. 32 in the country last year and the pass defense ranked No. 45, allowing 212.23 yards per game. Nicholson and McLeod were two of the team’s top five tacklers, and McLeod led the team with four interceptions.

The skinny: This position group will be filled with players who didn’t get a lot of meaningful snaps last year or redshirted. With his 13 starts, Nicholson is now the elder statesman in the secondary. This spring, the staff will most likely turn to Anthony Harris, Brandon Phelps, Rijo Walker, Kameron Mack, and Drequan Hoskey. Phelps, Mack and Harris all played as true freshmen last year on special teams and occasionally in the secondary, including against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Overall, it’s a wide open competition and spring practice will be a good chance for these young players to assert themselves in the pecking order.

Offseason spotlight: NC State

February, 16, 2012
2/16/12
10:30
AM ET
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with NC State. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons — starting this spring.

Spotlight: Linebackers

2011 summary: This was a bright spot for a defense that was ravaged with injuries, as Audie Cole and Terrell Manning were two of the best in the ACC – and Manning injured his knee in the third game of the season and missed two more games. Cole finished 2011 with a team-high 132 total tackles. He also had 14 tackles for loss, six sacks, eight quarterback hurries and two pass breakups. He had seven double-digit tackle games. Manning made plays all over the field and had a huge role in helping the team to a bowl game. During the last five games of the regular season, Manning averaged nine tackles per game, had 11 total tackles for loss, five sacks, caused two fumbles and recovered three and intercepted two passes.

The skinny: D.J. Green is the only returning starter. He was having a great year before he injured his knee and wound up starting seven games. The coaching staff is still unsure of whether he’ll be back for spring practices. He’s expected to, but the staff might not want to push him. There are a lot of young players who will be competing for playing time, like Brandon Pittman and Michael Peek, both sophomores. Dontae Johnson has some starting experience at linebacker, but he’s more of a safety and played a crossover role last year.

Offseason spotlight: North Carolina

February, 15, 2012
2/15/12
3:30
PM ET
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with North Carolina. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons -- starting this spring.

Spotlight: Receivers.

2011 Summary: Dwight Jones was one of the best receivers in the ACC and led UNC with 85 catches for 1,196 yards and 12 touchdowns. Erik Highsmith, who returns for his senior season, was second on the team with 51 catches for 726 yards and five touchdowns. UNC had the No. 1 passing efficiency in the ACC under first-year starting quarterback Bryn Renner, and he and Jones had one of the best connections in the league. UNC ran the ball more than it passed last year.

The skinny: There will be many more opportunities for the receivers in Larry Fedora’s first season, as his offense will use three or four at the same time. North Carolina has to replace its top pass catcher from a year ago in Jones, but the Tar Heels have recruited well at the position. T.J. Thorpe led the league in kickoff return yardage, and he’s likely to get a lot more looks in this system. Jheranie Boyd can stretch the field and has been pretty explosive at times, but he can really flourish in this offense. Reggie Wilkins and Sean Tapley are sophomores who will also be given more opportunities.

Offseason spotlight: Miami

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
5:00
PM ET
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with Miami. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons -- starting this spring.

Spotlight: Quarterback Stephen Morris.

2011 summary: He played in five games last season and started one -- the season opener against Maryland, when starter Jacory Harris was suspended because of an ongoing NCAA investigation. Morris threw for a season-high 195 yards in his start against Maryland. For the season, he completed 26 of 37 pass attempts for 283 yards and two interceptions. He also scored one rushing touchdown.

The skinny: Morris has been in the shadows now for two seasons, but he made a name for himself in 2010 when he started the final four games of the regular season in place of the injured Harris. Will he use this offseason to take control of the offense and emerge as the undisputed starter, or will Ryan Williams, Gray Crow or Preston Dewey unseat him? All of them will be practicing this spring. For now, it’s Morris’ job to lose, but the coaching staff has yet to see what the competition can do. Miami has to replace eight starters on offense. It needs an answer and a leader at quarterback -- quickly.

Offseason spotlight: Maryland

February, 13, 2012
2/13/12
2:00
PM ET
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with Maryland. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons -- starting this spring.

MARYLAND

Spotlight: Wide receivers.

2011 summary: This was a group that had too many drops to count, and two suspended players in Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree. While switching between quarterbacks Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown, Maryland had one of the worst passing offenses in the ACC. Kevin Dorsey was excellent through the first quarter of the season, but struggled, was injured, and his production dropped off after missing two games. He led the team with 573 yards and three touchdowns on 45 catches. Kerry Boykins had 37 catches for 430 yards.

The skinny: Hello, Stefon Diggs. This is the anticipated position for Maryland’s top recruit, who will join the team this summer. Tony Logan has graduated and Adrian Coxson, a redshirt freshman, has transferred to Stony Brook. Outside of Dorsey and Boykins, the rest of the receiving corps owns a combined 13 receptions for 102 yards. The Terps still have Marcus Leak, who caught eight passes for 61 yards and a score against Florida State, but he was then held without a catch against BC and didn’t play in the final four games. Devin Burns, a sophomore, is a former quarterback who has one catch for 17 yards. Tyrek Cheeseboro, who suffered a torn ACL on special teams last season, also returns. Regardless of who Maryland's quarterback is for 2012, the Terps will need their receivers to help him out more.

Offseason spotlight: Georgia Tech

February, 10, 2012
2/10/12
12:00
PM ET
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with Georgia Tech. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons -- starting this spring.

Spotlight: Defensive tackle T.J. Barnes, 6-foot-7, 347 pounds, senior

2011 summary: He played in all 13 games last year as a backup and finished with 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and one sack. He’s the biggest player on the Jackets’ roster, and he had his best game against Clemson with 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and two tackles. He proved he can give Georgia Tech’s pass rush a boost, but he’s got to do it more consistently.

The skinny:Barnes has been the backup to Logan Walls the past few years, but now he has to demonstrate he can play every down and not just play 15 snaps a game. Coach Paul Johnson has said he’s looking for more from the defense in the third season under coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme, but they have to replace two starters up front and will need more from Barnes. Barnes has only started three career games, none of which were last year. Football is in Barnes’ family, as his father, Terry Jones, played at Auburn, and his brother, Beau Reliford, played at Florida State.

Offseason spotlight: Florida State

February, 9, 2012
2/09/12
10:30
AM ET
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with Florida State. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons -- starting this spring.

Spotlight: Offensive line.

2011 Summary: Florida State’s woes up front began at this time last year, when several players were injured during the spring and the group never truly gained any cohesiveness or continuity, as injuries remained an issue through the entire season. The players who lined up for the season opener had only practiced together for about a week, and by the time FSU hosted Virginia on Nov. 19, the Noles had used six different starting lineups. No single group was in the same position for more than three straight games, and true freshman tackle Bobby Hart was thrown into the starting lineup at 17 years old. Four freshmen were in the starting lineup against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl, and that’s where the Seminoles will start off this spring.

The skinny: The good news is that David Spurlock, who missed more than five games with a knee injury, is back in the mix. The most pressing question is who will replace the two talented tackles in Zebrie Sanders and Andrew Datko. Hart, Austin Barron, Josue Matias and Tre' Jackson were the starters for the bowl game, and matured rapidly from one half to the next. If the Noles are going to get more out of their offense, particularly the running game, they’re going to have to get more out of their young linemen.

Offseason spotlight: Duke

February, 8, 2012
2/08/12
10:30
AM ET
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with Duke. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons -- starting this spring.

Spotlight: Defensive back Lee Butler, 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, rising redshirt senior.

2011 summary: Butler played in the first four games of the year before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury against Tulane. Prior to the injury, he had four total tackles along with one interception return of 76 yards for a touchdown against Stanford. Butler also was Duke’s leading punt return specialist, taking back seven kicks for a 9.4 yards per return average. Butler’s injury left a playmaking void in Duke’s secondary, and the Blue Devils went on to finish tied for 11th in the ACC with just six interceptions and were last in the conference in pass efficiency defense.

The skinny: Butler has 113 career tackles, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups in 38 career games. He’s a versatile defensive back who has played cornerback and safety for Duke and gives defensive coordinator Jim Knowles the luxury of inserting him at either spot in 2012. Butler, who also is a threat in the return game with 35 career punt returns for an 8.6 yards per return average, has resumed full-speed workouts this offseason. He’s also a two-time academic all-ACC selection.

More in this series:

Offseason spotlight: Clemson

February, 7, 2012
2/07/12
3:30
PM ET
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with Clemson. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons — starting this spring.

Spotlight: Offensive line.

2011 summary: The senior-laden group comprised of Phillip Price, Brandon Thomas, Dalton Freeman, Antoine McClain and Landon Walker fared remarkably well with a new offensive line coach, a new offensive coordinator, a first-year starting quarterback, and a new system. The Tigers paved the way for the nation’s No. 24 scoring offense at 33.57 points per game. They were integral in blocking for a 1,000-yard rusher (Andre Ellington), 1,000-yard receiver (Sammy Watkins) and 3,000-yard passer (Tajh Boyd).

The skinny: You can argue the defensive line needs an equally big offseason, but consider this: At this time in 2008, coming off of the 2007 season, Clemson ranked in the top 25 and had James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Cullen Harper and Aaron Kelly — all of whom were returning from fantastic seasons. The Tigers were a top-10 preseason pick, but had to replace four starters on the offensive line. Clemson finished 7-6 and midway through the season, Tommy Bowden was fired. Even with all of those outstanding skill position players returning, Clemson couldn’t get it done up front, and it was a major factor in the team’s implosion that year. This spring, the Tigers have to replace three starters up front, as Freeman and Thompson are the only two returning starters. The staff moved Tyler Shatley from defensive tackle to offensive guard. He’s a 6-foot-3, 295-pound redshirt junior who is a quick athlete and could play a role in 2012.

More in this series:

Offseason spotlight: Boston College

February, 6, 2012
2/06/12
5:00
PM ET
In following the lead of my SEC colleagues Chris Low and Edward Aschoff, we’re going to start an “offseason spotlight” series for each school in the ACC. There will be a slight difference here, though. I’m going to broaden the scope to include individual players, position groups and coaches. It could be a player who is recovering from an injury, a first-year coach or coordinator, or a group of players who really need to show improvement for 2012.

Regardless, the common denominator is that all of them will need to have big offseasons — starting this spring. We’ll go in alphabetical order, starting today with Boston College:

Spotlight: Doug Martin, first-year offensive coordinator.

2011 summary: Turnover at the coordinator position was again a story line, as Kevin Rogers, who was in his first season, took a leave of absence for health reasons in early September and never returned to the team. Tight ends coach Dave Brock was named acting offensive coordinator and coached the quarterbacks. It was another dismal season for the BC offense, which lost its leading rusher, Montel Harris, for the majority of the season to a knee injury, and finished No. 82 in the country in rushing offense, No. 100 in passing offense, and No. 112 in both scoring offense and total offense.

The skinny: Martin will be the Eagles’ fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons, as BC has replaced Steve Logan (2008), Gary Tranquill (2009-10), and Rogers and Brock (2011). Martin was a former head coach and offensive coordinator for seven seasons (2004-10) at Kent State, and came to BC after one season as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at New Mexico State. The Aggies ranked No. 25 among FBS teams in passing offense last year, averaging 273 yards per game, and they averaged 398 yards of total offense per game. If BC is going be a player again in the Atlantic Division race, it must improve offensively. Martin will have eight returning starters to work with, but he must get more out of quarterback Chase Rettig.

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