ACC: Aaron Curry

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
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Tough loss for the Canes and Coach L ...
It’s time to reload in the ACC. Here’s a look at the position needs for each team in the Atlantic Division for the 2011 signing class:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Offensive linemen: Six players on the final two-deep roster for 2010 were either juniors or seniors, and the Eagles will have to find replacements for Anthony Castonzo, Rich Lapham and Thomas Claiborne. There were two juniors at center in 2011, and the recruiting overall at this position hasn’t been as strong in recent years.

Defensive linemen: The Eagles have been thin at the position to begin with since the departures of Ron Brace and B.J. Raji. The interior line should be a priority, as tackle Damik Scafe will graduate, and Kaleb Ramsey will be a senior. Defensive end Brad Newman will also graduate.

CLEMSON

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Bowers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesReplacing Da'Quan Bowers is a top priority for Clemson.
Defensive line: The early departure of defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and the loss of Jarvis Jenkins makes this group a priority. Seven of the eight players up front on the final two-deep roster were either juniors or seniors.

Quarterback: Prior to the early enrollees, Clemson only had one scholarship quarterback on the roster -- projected starter Tajh Boyd. The depth needs to be rebuilt after the loss of starter Kyle Parker and transfer of backup Willy Korn.

Running back: The early departure of Jamie Harper to the NFL left a hole in the Tigers’ lineup. It’s not completely empty, as Andre Ellington remains the best back on the roster and Roderick McDowell was a redshirt freshman backup to Harper.

FLORIDA STATE

Offensive lineman – The departures of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon will leave gaping holes up front, and A.J. Ganguzza and Antwane Greenlee aren’t expected to return. Overall, the staff is looking for bigger, better players. With the exception of right guard, this was a veteran group.

Running back: Despite the current depth, the coaching staff still wanted to sign about three more running backs in this class.

Wide receiver: This would be the third priority for the staff. Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling will both be seniors, but the team has lacked some dynamic playmakers at the position.

Linebacker: The Noles lost two starters from last year’s Atlantic Division championship team, and there are several young players on the rise like Jeff Luc and Telvin Smith, but the staff wants more numbers at the position.

Safety: The Noles need an upgrade at this position.

Defensive line: This is a matter of mostly building depth and size and continuing to get better.

MARYLAND

Kicker/ Punter: Nick Ferrara has the ability to do both, but he also struggled at both in 2010. Travis Baltz was a four-year starter at punter who has to be replaced. The kicking game should be a top priority in this class, and a concern if Ferrara doesn’t become more consistent.

Wide receiver: The early departure of standout Torrey Smith to the NFL leaves quarterback Danny O'Brien without a favorite target. Seven of the nine receivers listed on the most current depth chart for 2010 were either juniors or seniors.

Running back: The Terps have to replace starter Da’Rel Scott, and Davin Meggett will be a senior. There is some talent behind Meggett in D.J. Adams, but the position could use more depth.

Secondary: Six of the top 10 players in the secondary were either juniors or seniors in 2010, including safety Antwine Perez, who will graduate. Kenny Tate and Cameron Chism will both be seniors, and the corner position is the biggest need.

Defensive end: Defensive coordinator Don Brown would like to bring in at least one player who can really bring some speed off the edge.

NC STATE

Kickers: The Wolfpack lost their starting punter and place-kicker, easily making kickers the biggest need in this recruiting class.

Defensive linemen: With the exception of sophomore Brian Slay, the entire 2010 line was comprised of juniors and seniors. The Pack have to replace two starters, and two returning starters, Jeff Rieskamp and J.R. Sweezy, will be seniors.

Linebackers: This was another veteran group for NC State, with five of the six players on the two-deep either juniors or seniors. Nate Irving’s graduation will be a big hit and Audie Cole will be a senior.

Quarterback: If Russell Wilson leaves early, the position will be even thinner, but backup Mike Glennon will be a junior, so the staff needs to build more depth.

WAKE FOREST

Offensive linemen: The Deacs will have four redshirt juniors returning up front, and have to replace redshirt senior center Russell Nenon. The staff is looking to increase the depth and talent up front.

Linebackers: The position hasn’t been the same since the 2008 class (Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux). They were both drafted and two of the fastest players the program has ever seen. The staff needs to bring in more talent and speed here.

Wake reversing its trend of winning close games

October, 13, 2010
10/13/10
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Something has changed at Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons were 17-8 in games decided by four points or less from 2001 to early November 2008. Since then, Wake is 0-9, according to research by Patrick Stevens of D1Scourse.com.

Wake's 28-27 loss to Navy this past Saturday was its ninth straight loss by four points or less.

So what gives?

I asked coach Jim Grobe about it on today's ACC teleconference.

"Obviously we're not making plays late," Grobe said. "Whenever you win, our best teams have been teams that found a way in the fourth quarter to make plays when it counted. We just have not been doing that. One of our problems is, every team we've lost these close games to is a good team. We haven't played one team that we were better than and went out and just messed it up. It's been a deal where all of the teams this is happening with are bowl teams that are good programs. The No. 1 thing is we're not making plays in the fourth quarter, the other thing is we're playing really good teams."

There's one more factor that coincides with his answer, and that's the lack of a player who's willing and able to make clutch plays. Against Georgia Tech, that player was Joshua Nesbitt. Against Navy, it was Ricky Dobbs. For Wake Forest, it used to be Riley Skinner, or Alphonso Smith, or Aaron Curry.

If Wake doesn't have that type of player on its current roster, it needs to recruit one -- quickly -- to help reverse this trend.

Quiet third quarter for Wake's Jones

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
6:02
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Wake Forest linebacker Jonathan Jones, who had the unenviable task of making his first start in the same spot once filled by Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry, had a respectable first half, leading the Deacs with seven tackles, but he didn't make one in the third quarter.

Still, it's not good when a guy in your secondary -- the last line of defense -- is leading the team in tackles. Good thing for the Deacs Brandon Ghee is back there.

Overall, Wake's defense has allowed too many big plays today, but credit must be given to outstanding Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin. He's rushed nine times for 29 yards and completed 14 of 19 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. One of the biggest differences is in the yards per play. Baylor is averaging 7.2 while Wake averages 4.4.

Don't underestimate Wake's defense

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
2:30
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. –- Yes, the Wake Forest defense has some questions to answer, but don’t count the Deacs out because they lost some of their best players in school history.

After all, how many programs have a Butkus Award winner on their roster, along with an Alphonso Smith?

What Wake Forest has is a group of redshirt juniors and seniors up front who are disciplined players and know the system? Their biggest question mark might be in the secondary, where they had to replace three of four starters, save for redshirt senior Brandon Ghee.

But this is where Jim Grobe’s redshirting philosophy pays off. Look at the new linebackers –- there is not a freshman or a sophomore in the starting lineup. Jonathan Jones, who is taking over for Aaron Curry, is a redshirt senior. Matt Woodlief in the middle is a redshirt junior, as is weakside linebacker Hunter Haynes. It’s not like these guys are taking their first collegiate snaps.

There’s no question Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin is a special player, and one who will test each unit on Wake’s defense, but if the Demon Deacons play the kind of disciplined football Grobe usually demands, and if they rely on their strength up front, there’s no reason Wake Forest can’t come up with another win over the Big 12.

Keys to the conference

September, 2, 2009
9/02/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


Each team has one area, one phase of the game, one position group -- something -- that will help determine how its season unfolds. Here's a look at the keys to the season for each team in the ACC:


BOSTON COLLEGE
-- The Eagles need to find a dependable leader at quarterback, somebody capable of managing the game without losing it for them. The rest of the pieces are in place on offense for the Eagles to have a respectable season, but they need to find their identity.


CLEMSON
-- Considering much of the same talent returns from the team that received so much hype a year ago, it's up to the new staff to do what their predecessors couldn't, and contend for the Atlantic Division title. How first-year offensive coordinator Billy Napier and coach Dabo Swinney fare on the sidelines will be key.


DUKE
-- Pave the way for quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and Re'quan Boyette. The Blue Devils have two standout players on offense, but they need the supporting cast. It should be a receiver-by-committee effort to replace Eron Riley, and if three new starters on the offensive line can give Lewis and Boyette the timing they need, the Blue Devils should surprise some people.


FLORIDA STATE
-- The offensive line should be the best in the conference and could be one of the best in the country, even though there's still not a senior in the lineup. With so many questions on defense, this unit will be the anchor and help the offense ease the burden of a defense in transition.


GEORGIA TECH
-- If the Jackets make a seamless transition on the defensive line, where they lost three NFL-bound starters, there's no reason Georgia Tech shouldn't be atop the Coastal Division standings again. With 19 starters returning, the only pieces that are missing are up front.


MARYLAND
-- The Terps will fare as well as their offensive line, and it's a group that has 27 career starts up front. They lost five of their top seven linemen from a year ago, and the success of veteran quarterback Chris Turner and running back Da'Rel Scott will hinge upon the blocking and protection they get up front.


MIAMI
-- Starting off strong and keeping Jacory Harris unscathed in the process will keep the Canes in the running to win the Coastal Division. Following the transfer of both backup quarterbacks, Miami can't afford to lose Harris, nor can it afford to lose its first four games.


NORTH CAROLINA
-- Finding receivers and a cohesiveness on the offensive line would make Carolina a complete team. The Heels have a championship-caliber defense to work with, but replacing their top four receivers from a year ago could take some time.


NC STATE
-- Staying healthy has been one of the Pack's biggest obstacles, if not the biggest, and before the season even started they lost their best player in linebacker Nate Irving. Cornerback DeAndre Morgan will miss the opener with an ankle injury. NC State is a better football team, but nobody will know it if key players continue to go down.


VIRGINIA
-- Find playmakers, starting with the old Mikell Simpson. It's cliche, yes, but the Cavaliers lost their top five pass catchers from a year ago, their leading rusher and their top three linebackers. Gregg Brandon's spread offense will only be as effective as the players who execute it, and if Simpson returns to his 2007 form, he could be an X factor for this team.


VIRGINIA TECH
-- Keeping Tyrod Taylor healthy is the only way the Hokies will challenge for their fourth ACC title since joining the conference. None of his backups have any collegiate experience, and Taylor's backups were needed a year ago. While some fans might not exactly miss Sean Glennon, he did win them an ACC title.


WAKE FOREST
-- Find stability on defense. The Deacs can survive without the likes of Alphonso Smith and Aaron Curry because they've still got solid veteran players. If everyone knows their role, plays assignment football and doesn't try to do too much, Wake will win with a group effort.

Baylor QB to challenge all facets of Wake's D

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
2:45
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


The Wake Forest defense has done its homework. In addition to their routine study of game film, some of the Deacs looked up Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin on the internet.
James Lang-US PRESSWIRE
The Wake Forest defense knows it will have its hands full with Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin.

They know he goes by RG3. They read he might be the fastest quarterback in FBS history. (He’s also a world-class hurdler.) And they know the dual-threat quarterback will present a legitimate early challenge to a group that graduated seven starters on defense, including some of the most talented players to ever come through the program.

Wake Forest traveled to Baylor last year for the season opener and won, 41-13. Griffin came off the bench and made his collegiate debut in the second quarter, and remained the starter for the rest of the season. As an 18-year-old true freshman, Griffin was the youngest starting quarterback in the country, and he quickly matured into one of the best. With Griffin now more seasoned, and the entire team entering its second season under coach Art Briles, nobody in Winston-Salem is expecting an easy opener, especially considering the question marks that loom on defense.

Wake Forest is confident in its defensive line, but this year’s Baylor team will keep every unit on the Deacs’ defense honest, including a completely rebuilt linebacking corps, and a secondary that had to replace three starters.

“They present a lot of problems because they’re so athletic,” said Wake Forest defensive coordinator Brad Lambert. “It all starts at quarterback. … We played them last year, so that helps us, obviously, but we caught Robert at a good time. Last year was his first college game. He’s got 12 games under his belt now, so he’s going to be a different player coming in here than he was last year when he came in the game. We’ve had to focus on that a lot. I don’t know that you can ever stop him. You try and slow him down a little bit, keep him under control and avoid those big plays. That’s going to be the challenge for us.”

Griffin accounted for two-thirds of his team’s touchdowns last year (a school-record 28 of 46). He scored 13 rushing and 15 passing with just three interceptions. He set an FBS record 209 passes without an interception to start his career, and didn’t throw a pick until the ninth game of the season. Add on his 843 rushing yards, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much Griffin can’t do.

“He can definitely challenge all aspects of our defense,” defensive end Kyle Wilbur said. “He can throw the ball, as everyone can see. I just read something talking about him being the fastest quarterback to ever play college football, so it’s going to be a big challenge for us.

“I don’t think you can just contain one person. They’re starting to call Robert Griffin RG3 now. If we just surround him, then the wide receivers will have a breakout day on us, or the running backs will have a breakout day. I think we have to come with a balance and shut down everything.”

Linebacker Jonathan Jones, who has the daunting task of taking over for Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry, agreed.

“This is definitely, definitely an early test,” said Jones. “In one sense it’s a blessing we get to play them in the first game so we’ve had a little longer to prepare for them. They do a lot of things, throw a lot of things at you, and with Robert Griffin being the dual threat that he is, you have to have everybody have all eyes on him. Everybody has to be focused and in tune. This is not a game that’s going to be won by the front, or won by the defensive backs. We need a collective team effort on defense to try to contain this offense.”

And without the star-studded defensive cast of last year, it will likely take a collective team effort all season.

Deacs head into scrimmage with players emerging

August, 20, 2009
8/20/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

As Wake Forest heads into its afternoon scrimmage Thursday, it does so with several key issues still lingering before the Sept. 5 Baylor game. If the Demon Deacons get consistency at the following positions, there's no reason they shouldn't be a dark-horse candidate in the Atlantic Division. I got a chance to speak with coach Jim Grobe on Thursday morning and he helped break down which players are starting to emerge at some of the key spots.

BACKUP QUARTERBACK

Like almost everyone else in the ACC, the Deacs don't have any experience behind their starter, and keeping Riley Skinner healthy this fall will be critical. Following the season-ending injury to receiver Terence Davis, backup quarterback candidate Skylar Jones moved to receiver to help that group. Ryan McManus, a former walk-on who has earned a scholarship, is the backup right now.

"The only thing with any of our kids, we've never seen them in live fire against another football team," Grobe said. "They get comfortable going against each other. They know who the defensive guys are. With no fans in the stands, nobody really watching them play, you start getting an idea who you think might be the quarterback, but more than any other position, a quarterback position you've just got to have something special about you."

The third-string quarterback right now is Ted Stachitas, who had shoulder surgery his senior year in high school and a second surgery on it once he got to Wake Forest. He went for about an entire year without throwing a football and looked like it when he made his first throws last spring.

"This fall he's been good," Grobe said. "His arm's healthy, his shoulder feels good now. I wouldn't say he's back to where it used to be, but we liked him in high school as a thrower and a runner and he's starting to throw the ball better and he's pain free. So now he's smiling once in a while."

If they needed to, Grobe would bring Jones back to quarterback. That would give them a different offensive look, though, and the Deacs would add more option to their offense.

One thing is clear: Grobe isn't thinking like NC State coach Tom O'Brien, or Duke coach David Cutcliffe in that he is intent on ushering in the next Wake Forest starting quarterback with playing time this fall.

"He's pretty much it and everybody knows it," Grobe said of Sinner. "It's not a deal where anybody is hopeful of taking snaps away from Riley. He's our guy."

SECONDARY

The upcoming players to watch are on the defense, starting with Mike Williams at corner. He and Josh Bush are splitting reps at the one corner. Brandon Ghee has locked down the other. Grobe will likely play more than one corner and more than one safety, so Kenny Okoro will get some snaps. Bush has also been playing some safety, as the staff isn't necessarily as comfortable at safety, where Alex Fry and Cyhl Quarles are listed as the starters on the preseason depth chart. Junior Petit-Jean can be a good safety, but he'll have an occasional "mental bust."

LINEBACKER

Matt Woodlief and Hunter Haynes are the two players the staff feels most confident in, as they both got significant snaps last year despite being behind a trio of outstanding veterans. One player who has been a pleasant surprise this camp was Jonathan Jones, who is slated to take over for Aaron Curry. At the beginning of August, Jones hadn't showed the durability or consistency the staff was looking for. He started as a wide receiver, moved to the secondary and kept getting bigger, so they moved him again to linebacker.

"He's been pretty physical this August," Grobe said. "He's made quite a few plays. The other day in the scrimmage he probably had as many bonus points as any of the other defensive players. He's just come on a little bit. I think he sees it as his turn. That's been fun."

"The thing we don't have is, we don't have any Aaron Curry in that group," Grobe said. "Of course not too many people have an Aaron Curry. We don't have one of those kind of guys right now, but we do have a bunch of guys like Stan Arnoux and Chantz McClinic, guys we had last year. We've got a lot of good solid players who aren't flashy, maybe not quite the big-play guy Aaron Curry was, but they're good football players, and we've got a handful of guys fighting for spots. Even though we don't have the marquee guy, we've probably got as good a depth as we've ever had at linebacker."

RECEIVER

Grobe wasn't happy with this group last year, and the loss of Davis to a torn ACL earlier this week didn't help, as Davis had a good scrimmage and was starting to come on. Marshall Williams has been the leader of the group, and Grobe has been impressed with his work ethic and toughness.

Another player who's fallen off the radar since playing as a true freshman but has made an impact this spring is Jordan Williams. Devon Brown, who had a bad back last year and wore a brace in all of the games, wasn't as effective because he was hurt last year but has started to contribute more this summer. He and Chris Givens have been playing the slot positions.
Another player who's been in the background that might come to the forefront is Danny Dembry.

"A lot of these guys are OK with being on the back burner," Grobe said. "They're OK with sitting back there on simmer for a while. As they get older, they start seeing their career disappear. Danny's one of those guys that wants to play now. It's important to him, and he's stepped up."

Skylar Jones is one of the faster players on the football team, and could also contribute immediately as long as he learns the position quickly.

KICKER/PUNTER

"I hate to say anything," Grobe said with a laugh. "As soon as I say something good, they'll come out today at the scrimmage and kick like goats."

So far, though, so good.

Cline Beam, a former soccer player, came out in the spring and kicked a bit with the team, and looked average but clearly had a strong leg. He worked all summer, though, and has become a contender this August.

"He has a chance to be our kicker if we started tomorrow," Grobe said. "He's that close. He's got a really good leg. He's kicking off good, he's hitting some long field goals for us, so he looks good."

Freshman Jimmy Newman also shows a lot of promise and is competing with Beam for the kicking duties.

Grobe wants to get back to the days of having a kicker and a punter, instead of depending on one player -- like Sam Swank -- to pull double duty. Their situation this year will likely allow them to do that, with Shane Popham handling the punting. Grobe said he'll take anothe
r week or so to make a final decision.

Scouting Wake Forest

August, 7, 2009
8/07/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Anyone who has counted out Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe in the past should have learned by now that the man can work some magic.

The offense, though, won't need any of that.

It's the defense that's under reconstruction. Defensive coordinator Brad Lambert will spend this summer searching for the players who can replace a pair of All-Americans, the entire linebacking corps and three of four starters in the secondary. Not many teams got hit as hard by the NFL Draft as Wake Forest did (now there's a sentence you once probably never thought you'd read). It's true, though - The Deacs lost Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux and safety Chip Vaughn to the NFL. This is the kind of year when Grobe's redshirting pays off, as there are still numerous upperclassmen for Lambert to lean on. The strength of the entire team might be the defensive line, where seniors John Russell and Boo Robinson return.

For the first time in years, though, roles have reversed and Wake's offense will be helping out the defense. Only two starters are gone from the offense, but they were both receivers in D.J. Boldin and Chip Brinkman. Marshall Williams and Devon Brown topped the preseason depth chart as their replacements. Williams is the top returning receiver from a year ago, as he started two games and made 26 catches for 390 yards.

Aside from the return of veteran quarterback Riley Skinner, possibly the best news for Wake is that seven players return to the offensive line who have starting experience. The biggest difference there will be the return of Chris DeGeare, who missed last year for academic reasons.

Another thing that will help is that Grobe has decided on his offensive philosophy. Last year, he said he put too much on Skinner, and then went too run-heavy at Miami. This year, he's looking for a little more balance, and Wake has the speed and talent to make that happen.

Of course, everyone's got issues:

1. Who will plug the holes in the secondary? Cornerbacks Josh Bush and Kenny Okoro both looked impressive this spring while competing for Alphonso Smith's old position. They got a lot of reps with injured starter Brandon Ghee out and began to establish themselves as capable replacements. Ghee will be back this summer, though, and is going to be the leader of that group.

2. Can the Demon Deacons really compete for the Atlantic Division title? Definitely. In fact, because Wake has so much talent returning on offense, it wouldn't surprise me if they had one of the most productive offenses in the conference along with Georgia Tech. Obviously the key is how the defense comes together, but it all starts up front, and Wake's defensive line should be one of the best in the ACC.

3. How long will it take the linebackers to come together? First let's figure out who they are. Jonathan Jones, Matt Woodlief and Hunter Haynes are the players listed at the top of the preseason depth chart, but combined they've started two career games. Realistically, this is a wide-open contest.

Preseason predictions: Wake Forest

July, 24, 2009
7/24/09
4:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WAKE FOREST

1. The Demon Deacons will have one of the best offenses in the ACC.
There's no reason they shouldn't, really. Even though they graduated receiver D.J. Boldin, Wake Forest found more depth and speed at the position this spring. And quarterback Riley Skinner is a proven veteran who will be working with a much improved offensive line. Last year it was hindered by injuries and inexperience. This year, with the return of Chris DeGeare from an academic suspension, the entire offense should flow more smoothly and they'll have what they need to line up and run the ball.

2. Wake Forest will be the most prepared team to play Georgia Tech this season.
Call it a hunch. Or look at Jim Grobe's experience at Air Force coaching against that kind of offense. Add in the fact Grobe beat Navy in the bowl game (after falling in a trap game against the Middies during the regular season), and the fact that the Deacs play Navy two weeks before they travel to Georgia Tech, and you've got the recipe for an upset in Atlanta on Nov. 7.

3. The Deacs will continue their takeaway tradition.
Interceptions, stripping the ball -- they're tactics the coaching staff preaches at every practice. Wake Forest had 37 takeaways last year, the most in the FBS and its third straight season of over 30. This team wins the turnover battle, and in turn wins football games. Even with the loss of standout cornerback Alphonso Smith, and linebacker Aaron Curry, Wake will still find a way to get to the ball and force quarterbacks into mistakes. They've got to find playmakers, but Wake still has six fifth-year seniors on defense, so they know the rules -- get the ball.

Ranking the ACC units: Linebackers

July, 22, 2009
7/22/09
5:03
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

This would be an entirely different list if the top two linebackers in the league -- Mark Herzlich and Nate Irving -- weren't sidelined right now. There are still a lot of standout linebackers in the conference, but this season just won't be the same without those two guys, not that Irving's return has been completely ruled out yet. Having spoken with NC State defensive coordinator Mike Archer Wednesday, though, it's simply a miracle that Irving is even alive. In looking at the rest of the conference, it's tough to find teams that are deep at this position. It's a question mark for a lot of teams, and there's a lot of inexperience.

Here's a shot at ranking the best linebacking corps in the ACC:

1. Miami -- Sean Spence was one of the hardest hitters in the conference as a true freshman and will only be better this year, but the key to this group will probably be the return of a healthy Colin McCarthy, who injured his shoulder in the first half of the season last year. Darryl Sharpton, Arthur Brown and Jordan Futch still have something to prove.

2. North Carolina -- Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter started every game last year, and there are high expectations for sophomore Zach Brown. Sturdivant led the nation with 87 solo tackles last year and ranked third in the ACC in total tackles per game. This is one of the deepest groups the Tar Heels have had recently, but they are lacking some experience.

3. Virginia Tech -- Cam Martin and Cody Grimm combined to play all but nine plays at the whip linebacker spot, but they've got to replace Purnell Sturdivant and Brett Warren. Barquell Rivers proved he's up to the task when he filled in in the Orange Bowl, and Jake Johnson will have an increased role, too. There's a lot of potential in this group.

4. Clemson -- The Tigers return two starters plus a third player with starting experience. Kavell Connor started all 13 games last year and was the team's top tackler with 125. Brandon Maye had an impressive season as a redshirt freshman, and finished with 87 tackles. Scotty Cooper was a part-time starter at strongside linebacker.

5. Georgia Tech -- Even with Kyle Jackson possibly out for the whole summer with an injured right foot, the Yellow Jackets till have plenty of depth with Sedric Griffin, Brad Jefferson, Anthony Barnes and Steven Sylvester. Barnes and Jefferson are both finally healthy after injury-plagued seasons and there should be good competition for starting jobs. This group can't afford anymore injuries though.

6. Florida State -- With the graduation of Derek Nicholson and Toddrick Verdell, the Noles lose their top two tacklers. Dekoda Watson will be back from elbow surgery this spring, but it's a young group counting on sophomores like Nigel Bradham and Nigel Carr. Junior Kendall Smith is the only other upperclassman on the two-deep roster.

7. Maryland -- Alex Wujciak could be a star at this position for the Terps, and he'll definitely need to be a leader there this fall. Maryland lost four linebackers who combined to play 144 games and 54 starts. Adrian Moten is one of the few experienced faces in the group, and he earned his first start last year in the Humanitarian Bowl.

8. Duke -- The Blue Devils have to replace the ACC's leading tackler in Michael Tauiliili, but they've still got Vincent Rey, who made 109 tackles last year. The problem is, Rey is the only experienced linebacker they've got. Competition remains among Damian Thornton, Abraham Kromah, and Adam Banks.

9. NC State -- It's not clear when Nate Irving will return, but for as long as he's out, the Wolfpack will be missing their best player on both sides of the ball. The Pack still have senior Ray Michel, who is a returning starter in the middle, and Dwayne Maddox started in place of Irving when he was out last year. But this is an entirely different group -- and defense -- without Irving.

10. Boston College -- The Eagles' linebacking corps took a huge hit when Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with cancer, and they still don't know when Mike McLaughlin will be cleared to play from a torn Achilles. BC has a reputation for its defense, so odds are this group will be OK, but there are too many unknowns right now.

11. Wake Forest -- All three starters from last year are gone, and the Demon Deacons have big shoes to fill after the departure of Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry. It's going to have to be a group effort, but there's still some athleticism and depth to work with. Matt Woodlief and Hunter Haynes are the most experienced players retuning.

12. Virginia -- The Cavaliers graduated the veteran group of Jon Copper, Clint Sintim and Antonio Appleby, and because they were so good, their backups didn't see much playing time. This group is the feature in Al Groh's 3-4 defense, and it's going to have a whole new look. There were good reports about Steve Greer this spring, and Groh said Greer tried to mimic his game after Copper, which is reason for hope.

Hope and concern: Wake Forest

July, 3, 2009
7/03/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Biggest reason for hope -- Quarterback Riley Skinner

The supporting cast is there. The wide receiving corps is faster and deeper. The running backs go three-deep. The offensive line should be noticeably better than it was in 2008, especially with the return of Chris DeGeare. Everything is in place for Skinner to end his career at Wake Forest with fireworks. He's already the winningest quarterback in school history, but he's chasing several records, and has the ability to help the Demon Deacons sneak into the Atlantic Division race in a year when little is expected of them.

Biggest reason for concern -- Unproven defense

Wake Forest lost seven starters on defense, including some of the best defenders ever to come through Winston-Salem in Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith. Those players helped Wake earn a reputation for forcing turnovers, and while there is still talent on the roster, defensive coordinator Brad Lambert will be on the lookout for aggressive playmakers who strip the ball, recover fumbles and pressure quarterbacks into mistakes.

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 12, 2009
6/12/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Happy Friday, ACC fans. Here are a few links to hold you over 'til Monday: 

  • Jacobbi McDaniel, one of the most touted football players in the Seminoles' incoming recruiting class, is putting Major League Baseball on hold and coming back to play football -- unless, of course, he gets offered $1.5 million from the Brewers. Can't blame him. Teammate D'Vontrey Richardson, though, told reporters on Thursday he is more than likely on his way out.
  • NC State players thought they were pretty special until they met these guys, injured and ill Marines. Kudos to NC State coach Tom O'Brien for giving his players this kind of experience, and giving back to our troops.
  • Former Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry has already exceeded the Seattle Seahawks' expectations. No big surprise there.
  • How do Miami fans feel about Lamar Miller? Tom Luginbill, of ESPN.com's Scouts Inc., says Miller and Mike James might be just as talented as one of the running back recruits that got away.
  • Clemson picked up its first commitment for the 2011 class.

Counting down the ACC's top 30 players: No. 26

June, 10, 2009
6/10/09
3:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

26. John Russell, DT, Wake Forest, 6-4, 280

 Russell

Why he's here: Every practice and every play is like fourth-and-1 to this guy. The fifth-year senior will be a veteran leader up front for the Demon Deacons, and he's got the potential for a breakout season considering the mass exodus on his side of the ball. Russell started all 13 games at defensive tackle last year. Boo Robinson will get a lot of attention this season, and deservedly so, but he was out this spring with an injury and those within the program have been equally, if not more, impressed by Russell.

As a coach's son, football has been Russell's whole life. He's a lot like Aaron Curry in regards to his work ethic, study of the game and knowledge of the game. He's a little undersized, but very athletic and uses it to his advantage. He's very quick and a great pass-rusher.

Russell finished 2008 with 38 tackles (17 solo), seven tackles for loss, and was second on the team with four sacks. I watched Russell specifically for a few plays with my binoculars against Clemson last year (I had heard he was ready to rock in that game), and he manhandled the Tigers' O-line. He led the defense with two sacks in that game. Russell also had one pass breakup and two forced fumbles on the season. Look out for No. 51 in '09.

SOS in the ACC

May, 26, 2009
5/26/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Each team is going to need a little bit of help this fall (some more than others). Here's a look at where everyone in the ACC needs the most help heading into summer camp:

BOSTON COLLEGE -- Quarterback. It's easily the biggest question mark in Chestnut Hill, and it will also be one of Frank Spaziani's first major decisions as head coach. Regardless of whom he picks -- Dominique Davis, Codi Boek or Justin Tuggle -- experience will be at a minimum.

CLEMSON -- Wide receivers. Somebody needs to help Jacoby Ford, and Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham are no longer around to do it. Xavier Dye didn't quite have the consistency he'd hoped for this spring. Marquan Jones and Terrence Ashe could also be factors.

DUKE -- Offensive line. The Blue Devils lost three starters there and moved a fourth (Kyle Hill from left guard to left tackle), so it will have an entirely new look. The one player back in his original position is center Bryan Morgan.

FLORIDA STATE -- Receivers. FSU is waiting until the legal process unfolds to determine the length of Rod Owens' suspension, and it's uncertain how quickly Taiwan Easterling will be cleared to play after an injury to his Achilles. Bert Reed, Louis Givens and Jarmon Fortson will be heavily depended upon.

GEORGIA TECH -- Linemen. The Yellow Jackets have to replace three of four starters on the defensive line, and injuries to Cord Howard, Dan Voss and Nick Claytor slowed the progress on the offensive line this spring.

MARYLAND -- Offensive line. The Terps lost three starters and will have four players in new positions. Phil Costa should be the leader of an otherwise inexperienced group.

MIAMI -- Linebacker depth. There were a few position changes, and Colin McCarthy missed the spring. Sean Spence is proven, but depth remains a concern.

NORTH CAROLINA -- Receivers. This group had to be completely rebuilt, as UNC lost players who accounted for 17 of 21 receiving touchdowns last year. Greg Little had a good spring and should be the leader now, and freshman Joshua Adams benefitted from enrolling early.

NC STATE -- Safety. This is coach Tom O'Brien's biggest concern, and the Pack need Javon Walker, who tore his ACL and missed the spring, back and healthy. Clem Johnson played well last year despite being hindered by several injuries. O'Brien is looking for more from Jimmaul Simmons and Justin Byers.

VIRGINIA -- Linebackers. The backups to Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim rarely played, as Al Groh wanted to keep his best players on the field. Darren Childs, Steve Greer, Aaron Taliaferro, Cam Johnson, and Darnell Carter will have to grow up quickly.

VIRGINIA TECH -- Kicker. For the third straight year, Frank Beamer is in search of a new kicker, this time to replace Dustin Keys. Matt Waldron was the leading candidate out of the spring, but the competition is wide open.

WAKE FOREST -- Linebackers. Gone are Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux and Chantz McClinic. Introducing Gelo Orange. Yes, that's his name. Orange, along with Hunter Haynes, Jonathan Jones and a host of others have some big shoes to fill.

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