ACC: Boo Robinson

Wake Forest spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
Good (very early) morning to you, ACC fans. Today we're taking a look back at each school in the conference, and what we learned (and didn't) from spring ball. (Most teams still have far more questions than they do answers heading into summer camp, but we'll stick with three each.) We'll start at the end of the alphabet for a change (sorry, BC fans).

Here's your spring scouting report on the Demon Deacons:

2009 overall record: 5-7

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 6, defense: 7, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

WR Marshall Williams, WR Devon Brown, RB Josh Adams, G Joe Looney, C Russell Nenon, DE Tristan Dorty, DE Kyle Wilber, LB Matt Woodlief, SS Cyhl Quarles, P Shane Popham , CB Kenny Okoro

Key losses

OT Chris DeGeare, QB Riley Skinner, OG Jeff Griffin, OG Barrett McMillin, DT John Russell, DT Boo Robinson, CB Brandon Ghee

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Adams* (541 yards)

Passing: Skinner (3,160 yds)

Receiving: Williams* (867 yds)

Tackles: Dominique Midgett (79)

Sacks: Russell (4.5)

Interceptions: Okoro* (3)

Spring answers

1. Help for the quarterback. Wake Forest found some playmakers this spring who can help ease the transition for a new starting quarterback. Brown and Chris Givens can both take a handoff on a sweep, and the Deacs have two veterans in Adams and Brandon Pendergrass. Wake’s ground game should get a boost from both the running backs and wide receivers.

2. New quarterback, new offense. Without Skinner, the Deacs are making the transition to a more run-based option offense, and No. 1 on this list will help them do that. Regardless of who wins the quarterback job, he’ll likely bring an added dimension with his ability to run, and Skylar Jones demonstrated that this spring.

3. New staff assignments. Coach Jim Grobe reassigned some of his assistants to better take advantage of their strengths, and those transitions went well this spring. The biggest change was the move of Steve Russ, a former defensive coordinator at Syracuse, from tight ends and fullbacks to linebackers.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. Jones finished the spring atop the depth chart, but part of that decision was based on durability. Jones didn’t miss a day of practice this spring. Historically, that’s been a quality Grobe likes -- guys who can stay healthy in his system. But the staff thinks very highly of incoming freshman Tanner Price, who will be given every opportunity to win the job as well. Regardless of who starts the season opener, they’re all inexperienced.

2. Woe-line. Possibly a bigger concern than who the starting quarterback will be is how the offensive line will come together. The Deacs return Nenon at center, but he missed all of spring and added to the unit’s injury concerns. Wake is missing established tackles, and the group is trying to get back to running the ball the way it did before Skinner. The previous linemen were recruited to be run blockers, but the focused changed when they got a great passing quarterback.

3. Defensive jobs up for grabs. Wake Forest has a lot of young talent, making for some ongoing competition this summer at five or six positions. The interior defensive line, defensive end and linebacker are areas where there are two legitimate potential starters as opposed to two backups trying to earn promotions.

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 15, 2010
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:


Spring practice starts: March 18

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• How linebacker Mark Herzlich progresses. Herzlich, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer last May, has been going through winter conditioning with his teammates, and he plans on participating in spring drills. How quickly he regains his form will be worth watching, as he and sophomore Luke Kuechly could give the Eagles one of the most formidable linebacking corps.

• The quarterback battle. After one season, Dave Shinskie has the most experience on the roster, but he’ll get some competition from Josh Bordner and Chase Rettig, two early enrollees. There were times last season when Shinskie looked like the future of the position and there were others when he looked like any other freshman.

• Defensive linemen. For the second straight year, BC is looking for some stability up front. The Eagles have to replace left tackle Austin Giles and defensive end Jim Ramella. They return Kaleb Ramsey, Giles’ backup, and Brad Newman, Ramella’s reserve, but some young faces are likely to be seen in the rotation.


Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Life without C.J. Spiller officially begins. The backs behind him had a pretty good year, so there’s no need for full panic mode. Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington actually combined for a higher yards per carry average (6.1 to 5.6 yards). Clemson will also be looking to replace Spiller’s lost kickoff return yardage. The Tigers had a 13-yard advantage in average starting field position, as their start was their own 37-yard line compared to opponents’ 24-yard line. Ellington is a candidate in the return game.

• Kyle Parker’s batting average. No, really. How well Parker does this spring with the baseball team will help determine whether he remains Clemson’s quarterback or turns to the MLB draft. He didn’t have a great 2009 season, but he was still the fastest player to 25 home runs in school history. It remains to be seen this spring if he’ll become a high enough draft choice to give up college football.

• Secondary shuffling. It seems like eons ago since Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor weren’t the Tigers’ starting corners, as Butler started 40 straight games and Chancellor started 42. Butler finished his career second in school history in interception return yards. Now it’s time for a new duo. Will Marcus Gilchrist move to corner, which he’s capable of doing? Might Rashard Hall move to safety with DeAndre McDaniel?


Spring practice starts: Feb. 14

Spring game: March 27

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Somebody has to take over for the graduated Thaddeus Lewis, but his backup – Sean Renfree – will miss the spring with a torn ACL. Redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder should be heavily in the mix to be the starter, pending Renfree’s recovery.

• Defensive line makeover. It’s wide open. Charlie Hatcher is entrenched at nose guard, but it’s really anyone’s game. The staff might move redshirt senior Wesley Oglesby, who played the majority of his career at defensive end, inside. Other options are defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento, a redshirt freshman, and Curtis Hazelton, who played sparingly last season.

• Johnny Williams’ move from wide receiver to cornerback. He had 31 catches in 2009 – the fourth-best on the team. Now they need his help in the defensive backfield. Duke will lose starter Leon Wright and his 10 career interceptions, and the pass defense, which allowed 215.75 yards per game, could use a boost.


Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Christian Ponder’s return from shoulder surgery. Ponder is expected to practice this spring, though it could be on a limited basis, at least early. He’s ahead of schedule, but the coaches won’t subject him to any risks now. Yes, E.J. Manuel is talented and played well at the end of the season, but make no mistake – Ponder is FSU’s starter and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.

• The defense under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. His secondary, in particular, will be interesting to watch, as will how quickly he can help the front seven generate a pass rush and plug the middle. Stoops has been a secondary coach, and the Noles lost three starters there. The fourth, Ochuko Jenije, could be pushed to retain his job.

• New faces, new opportunities. In addition to the fab freshmen who are coming in, FSU has a handful of unfamiliar players already on the roster who played sparingly or not at all. We'll see how they fit in this spring. RS-So DT Anthony McCloud and RS-So RB Debrale Smiley are both junior college transfers and former teammates. Physically, freshman linebacker Jeff Luc is already a man, but how quickly can he mature on the field? Two young wide receivers worth watching are Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead.


Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The defensive transformation. The Jackets will switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under first-year coordinator Al Groh. In addition to learning the new scheme, the staff has to figure out who goes where. Linebackers might play defensive end and vice versa, safeties might play outside linebacker. It’s anyone’s guess as to how this team lines up in the spring.

• The replacements. From Georgia Tech’s coaching staff to the new faces who will be tasked with filling in for the Fab Four -- Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett and Demaryius Thomas -- the Jackets will need some “Hello My Name Is” tags this spring.

• The offensive line. Three offensive linemen redshirted who could start, and Georgia Tech might need them to, especially if guard Joseph Gilbert decides to transfer to pursue his MBA. The Jackets lose two starters on the offensive line, and Gilbert, who graduates this spring, would be a third if he leaves. Center Sean Bedford and tackle Austin Barrick return as seniors.


Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. Chris Turner has graduated, leaving Jamarr Robinson the top option going into the spring, but he has limited experience. The staff liked what he did when Turner was injured, but Danny O’Brien, Miami (Ohio) transfer Clay Belton and C.J. Brown will all be given an opportunity. Look for O’Brien to start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart.

• Cornerback: Cameron Chism is the only returning starter in the secondary, but right now the staff has fewer concerns about the safeties. Maryland will have to find some bodies at corner, and Dexter McDougle, who redshirted as a true freshman last year, is one option. Michael Carter and Trenton Hughes, who was the third corner last year, are also among a handful of candidates.

• The offensive line. Losing Bruce Campbell to the NFL hurt, but the Terps also lost starter Phil Costa. Justin Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore, could inherit Campbell’s job. And there’s always Mr. Versatility -- Paul Pinegar. He has helped the Terps at both tackle spots and left guard, and this spring he’ll likely be given a shot at center.


Spring practice starts: Feb. 23

Spring game: March 27 (tentative)

What to watch:

• Tight end/offensive line: Jimmy Graham is gone, and the Canes don’t return any tight ends with any experience other than Richard Gordon, who was injured the majority of last season. Miami signed four tight ends in this recruiting class, but none of them were early enrollees. Miami has to replace three starters up front, including both tackles and the center.

• How the two young quarterbacks perform: The health of Jacory Harris was precious last year, as he had nobody behind him with any experience after the transfers of Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith. The depth has improved a bit with A.J. Highsmith, who played sparingly last year, and Stephen Morris, one of the early enrollees.

• Upgrade on the d-line? Progress up front began with the hire of Rick Petri as defensive line coach, and it’s up to Petri to help the Canes become better pass rushers. Miami will depend upon its two mainstays -- Allen Bailey and Josh Holmes. The right end position was a group effort last year, and Miami has to replace Joe Joseph and Eric Moncur.


Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback T.J. Yates. It’s his job to lose, and the coaching staff still has confidence in him, but Bryn Renner is waiting in the wings, and Braden Hanson will also be given an opportunity. The staff is looking for the offense to improve its passing efficiency and cut down on turnovers.

• The offensive line. It was a patchwork effort in 2009, thanks to injuries and inexperience, and will be a major key in how much UNC improves offensively this year. The Heels have to replace two starters, and Jonathan Cooper is likely to move from guard to center, and right guard Alan Pelc will miss spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery.

• Defensive line tweaks. There aren’t many questions on a defense that should be one of the best in the country, but somebody has to replace Cam Thomas and defensive end E.J. Wilson. Tydreke Powell is the frontrunner to take over at defensive tackle and Quinton Coples at defensive end. Both were backups last year at their respective positions.


Spring practice starts: March 9

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• Backup quarterback Mike Glennon. Russell Wilson is the starter, but he’s going to be playing baseball all spring. Keep an eye on his backup to see if Glennon can make it any more of a competition in Wilson’s absence.

• Chris Ward at punter. No, it’s not usually, the highlight of the spring, but in this case, it’s necessary. Ward is it -- he’s their only option right now, and it’s a position the Pack struggled with last year. Ward was expected to be the starter last season, but he was inconsistent. He’s definitely got the talent to be the guy.

• The recovery of linebacker Nate Irving. After being severely injured in a one-car crash last summer, Irving is hopeful he can go through spring drills. He has been lifting with the team and running with the sports medicine staff, but it’s still uncertain how limited his contact will be.


Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Marc Verica is the only one with any experience, and first-year offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor hasn’t been in Charlottesville long enough to evaluate any of the candidates. That’s what the spring is for, and true freshman Michael Strauss is the lone incoming quarterback on campus, so he’ll have a head start on the playbook. Of the four quarterbacks Virginia signed in this year’s class, Strauss is the only one listed as a true quarterback. The Cavs also have Ross Metheny, who redshirted last year, and Riko Smalls, who redshirted in ‘08 and was No. 2 on the depth chart when Verica was out with a concussion.

• Coaching transition. First-year coach Mike London has hired almost an entirely new staff, and they’ll bring changes in philosophy and scheme. London has said he wants to get the defense back to the traditional 4-3, and revert to the tradition of featuring the tight ends, offensive linemen and running backs.

• Running back. The Cavs will have the help up front, but they need to replace their four leading rushers in Mikell Simpson, Rashawn Jackson, Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell. The staff will look at true freshman Kevin Parks, but also have Torrey Mack and Dominique Wallace, who had just seemed to be coming on at Southern Miss when he was injured and missed the rest of the season.


Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• Revamped defensive line. The Hokies have to replace three of four starters up front. The only defensive ends with significant playing time are Chris Drager, who the staff wanted to move back to tight end, and Steven Friday. Redshirt freshmen will be given a chance – Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins – but they’ve never played. Isaiah Hamlette is the only other end who’s played and that was a skinny minute. At defensive tackle, Antoine Hopkins will be the frontrunner to replace Cordarrow Thompson.

• Darren Evans’ comeback. Evans, the team’s leading rusher in 2008, is working his way back from a season-ending ACL injury, and one of the biggest questions in Blacksburg is how the staff will divide the carries in such a talented backfield that includes Ryan Williams. With two returning 1,000-yard rushers, will David Wilson decide to redshirt? The spring will help him in that decision.

• The evolution of Tyrod Taylor. He’s going to be a senior, and with so many questions on defense heading into the season, the offense will be leading the way. This should be a breakout year for Taylor, who by now should have mastered the offense and should consistently be a passing threat to compliment his running abilities.


Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. It’s the most glaring hole the Deacs have to fill this spring, as they’re tasked with replacing the winningest quarterback in school history, Riley Skinner, and his backup, Ryan McManus. Redshirt sophomores Ted Stachitas and Skylar Jones, and sophomore Brendan Cross, will compete with rookie Tanner Price for the top spot.

• Offensive line. The Deacs will take a huge hit here, as seven players in the two-deep depth chart were redshirt seniors, including all four tackles. Three starters have to be replaced.

• The interior defensive line. Nose guard Boo Robinson and John Russell have graduated, and Russell’s backup, Michael Lockett, was also a redshirt senior. The Deacs are in good shape at the ends, but will need some help inside.

Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Virginia Tech Hokies, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, North Carolina Tar Heels, Clemson Tigers, Florida State Seminoles, North Carolina State Wolfpack, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Cavaliers, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Coastal Division, Atlantic Division, Miami Hurricanes, Wesley Oglesby, Russell Wilson, Darren Evans, Christian Ponder, Ochuko Jenije, Chris Drager, Cam Thomas, Demaryius THomas, Justin Gilbert, Isaiah Hamlette, Marc Verica, Rashawn Jackson, A.J. Highsmith, Boo Robinson, Torrey Mack, Trenton Hughes, Quinton Coples, Chris turner, Phil Costa, Cannon Smith, Jamarr Robinson, Mike Glennon, Tyrod Taylor, David Wilson, Jimmy Graham, Cameron Chism, Jamie Harper, CHris Chancellor, Michael Carter, Ryan McManus, Joseph Gilbert, Brad Newman, Antoine Hopkins, Sean Renfree, Dave Shinskie, Cordarrow Thompson, Richard Gordon, Mikell Simpson, Austin Barrick, Johnny Williams, Morgan Burnett, E.J. Wilson, Paul Pinegar, Tydreke Powell, Bryn Renner, Jacory Harris, Riley Skinner, Joe Joseph, Skylar Jones, Derrick Morgan, T.J. Yates, Braden Hanson, Sean Bedford, Jonathan Dwyer, C.J. Brown, John Russell, Jameel Sewell, Allen Bailey, Mike London, Nate Irving, Rodney Smith, Marcus Gilchrist, Mark Herzlich, Taylor Cook, Willie Haulstead, Andre Ellington, Josh Holmes, Thaddeus Lewis, E.J. Manuel, Leon Wright, Crezdon Butler, Ryan Williams, C.J. Spiller, Kaleb Ramsey, James Gayle, Eric Moncur, Jonathan Cooper, Bruce Campbell, Ted Stachitas, Jim Ramella, Danny O'Brien, Luke Kuechly, Sean Schroeder, Tyrel Wilson, Dominique Wallace, Austin Giles, Mark Stoops, Brendan Cross, Stephen Morris, Rick Petri, Bill Lazor, Chase Rettig, Michael Strauss, Tanner Price, Anthony McCloud, Debrale Smiley, Josh Bordner, Kyle Paker, Rahsard Hall, DeAndrew McDaniel, Charlie Hatcher, Sydney Sarmiento, Chris Hazelton, Clay Belton, Dexter McDougle, Chris Ward, Ross Metheny, Roko Smalls, Kevin Parks, Duan Perez-Means, J.R. Collins, Michael Lockett

Wake defense confident in talent up front

August, 26, 2009
Posted by's Heather Dinich

Wake Forest defensive coordinator Brad Lambert has been tasked with reconstructing a defense that lost three of four starters in the secondary, the entire linebacking corps, and a pair of All-Americans. Only four starters return on defense from last year's 8-5 team, but with the season opener against Baylor now less than two weeks away, Lambert has reason to be confident -- his defensive line.

The leaders up front -- defensive tackle John Russell, nose guard Boo Robinson and defensive end Kyle Wilbur -- have been very active this summer making plays, and have set the tone for a defense that lost several players with true game-changing abilities.

"Our guys up front are really playing well, and you'd just die and go to heaven to have a guy like John Russell and Boo Robinson inside anchoring," Lambert said. "Those guys have played a lot of football, they're really active, they're good players, they're great kids. They study hard, they do all those things we talked about with Aaron (Curry), and Alphonso (Smith) and that crowd last year. So that's where your confidence is, and you need to be good up front. It doesn't matter if it's offense or defense, you need to win the line of scrimmage and so I feel real good about the guys up front right now."

He should, as this could be one of the best defensive lines in the ACC and will be a key component in the Deacons' chances at being the ACC darkhorse this year. Wilbur, a redshirt sophomore, was the youngest starter on the defense last year when he took over the top against Miami and started each of the final seven games. He finished fourth on the team with three sacks and has drawn the praise of the coaching staff this summer.

Robinson, a junior, has 11.5 career sacks and 25 career starts to build off of. Russell, a fifth-year senior poised to be one of the best defensive tackles in the conference, didn't become a full-time starter until last year. He finished second on the team with four sacks and third with seven tackles for loss.

"They created a lot of havoc for us, and that's where we're hanging our hat," Lambert said. "They've done that all camp, and they're our guys right now."

Nine ACC players named to Bronko Nagurski watch list

August, 18, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

The ACC was well-represented with nine players and more than half its schools on the list of 62 candidates for the Bronko Nagurski Award, given to the nation's best defensive player.

Players may be added or removed during the season. After the first four games of the season, the FWAA will revise the list and at that time school sports information directors may submit names for players not on the list to the FWAA and their conference's FWAA All-America Committee representative.

Each week during the 2009 season, the FWAA will choose a Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week. If the selected player is not on the watch list, he automatically will be added. The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Nov. 18 or 19. For the entire release, click here.

Here are the ACC's representatives:

  • Morgan Burnett, safety, Georgia Tech
  • Kam Chancellor, safety, Virginia Tech
  • Ras-I Dowling, cornerback, Virginia
  • Vince Oghobaase, defensive tackle, Duke
  • Boo Robinson, nose guard, Wake Forest
  • Quan Sturdivant, linebacker, North Carolina
  • Deunta Williams, safety, North Carolina
  • Alex Wujciak, linebacker, Maryland
  • Willie Young, defensive end, NC State

Outland Trophy watch list revealed

August, 11, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Duke defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase, Virginia Tech guard Sergio Render, Wake Forest noseguard Boo Robinson and Boston College center Matt Tennant were named to the Outland Trophy preseason watch list. 

Every Division I Bowl subdivision conference, along with Notre Dame, had at least one player on the annual list, which includes only interior linemen on both sides of the ball. Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody is the only player on the list who was on the FWAA's 2008 All-America team.

You can find the entire release here.

Those are great reps for the ACC, but I would have put Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon on the list. They're definitely two of the best offensive linemen in the country, and I'm not just saying that because I'm at FSU today.

Scouting Wake Forest

August, 7, 2009

Posted by'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.

Expectations up and down at Wake Forest

August, 3, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

  Mark Goldman/Icon SMI
  Success under Jim Grobe has helped raise expectations for Wake Forest.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Despite the mounting success under Jim Grobe, the Wake Forest football program is still making "firsts." Last year marked the first time in school history that Wake earned three straight bowl invitations. It also marked the first time the Demon Deacons have won eight or more games in three consecutive seasons.

And yet somehow, eight wins was a disappointment in Winston-Salem.

Consider the bar raised.

"I like feeling dissatisfied after an eight-win season," said defensive tackle John Russell. "It keeps us motivated to work to something better. We knew we could have done some fantastic things, even though we did some good things. It's right there for the taking. We just need this team to come together and do it this season."

It's not going to be easy. The expectations have been tempered for Wake Forest this season in large part because of the mass exodus of some of the most talented defensive players to ever come through the program. Alphonso Smith is the all-time ACC career leader in pass interceptions (21), and Aaron Curry left his mark as the ACC career leader in pass interceptions for touchdowns by a linebacker (3). The Deacs lost their top five leading tacklers.

"I think we like to be challenged," Russell said. "Last year to a degree was a disappointment in some cases because we were this close to making it happen. Our coaches always talk about two or three plays that separate a football game from winning and losing it. You look back at the times we kind of stubbed our toe and missed a tackle, or made a bad throw, or dropped a ball, or did something stupid on defense where we weren't where we were supposed to be. That says, 'Hey, we had great players, but it takes even more than that.' It takes that sense of pushing through the adversity and coming together as a team at times when it's really tough."

Only four starters -- Russell, nose tackle Boo Robinson, defensive end Kyle Wilbur, and cornerback Brandon Ghee -- return. (All of them, though, will be worthy of All-Conference consideration.) Seven of the 10 starters who graduated from last year's team were on defense. The Deacs were picked by the media in Greensboro to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division, but still received seven first-place votes.

"We probably like that a little bit," quarterback Riley Skinner said of the low expectations. "That's when we've always been our best, being the underdog, and people have always expected lil' ole' Wake Forest is going to be a cakewalk, and that's fine with us because then we can kind of sneak up on them. ... It doesn't bother us. We've always kind of been in that role and we've been able to be pretty successful these last three years. So it doesn't bother us one bit."

Even though the Deacs are flying under the radar this fall, there are plenty of reasons they could catch their Atlantic Division opponents off-guard. The offense returns nine starters and has a loaded backfield and an improved offensive line. Plus, this is the kind of year Jim Grobe's redshirting philosophy pays off, as there are still 15 fifth-year seniors on the roster, most of which have seen some starting experience. Two of them -- Robinson and Russell -- are on the defensive line, which should be one of the team's strengths this fall.

"Now everybody is getting on us, like 'You guys better stop somebody,'" Russell said. "I think that's just a testament to the kind of guys we've had who were younger guys who stepped in last year and had to help build our confidence in our offense a little bit. Now they're in that role, they've been there, they've done that, there's talent, there's experience, and there are some guys who can really help do some things. It's just a matter of it all coming together on Saturdays."

Ranking the ACC units: Defensive lines

July, 20, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

1. Clemson -- The Tigers return three starters up front, and first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's pressure defense is the perfect fit for guys like Da'Quan Bowers and Ricky Sapp. Sapp was having a good season last year before he tore his ACL at Virginia and missed the rest of the season. Defensive end Kevin Alexander is a returning starter who had 34 tackles last year, and nose guard Jarvis Jenkins tied Sapp for the team lead with 10 tackles for loss. Opposing quarterbacks won't have time to think against this bunch.

2. Miami -- Anyone watching the Virginia Tech game last year saw what this group is capable of, and of the nine linemen who started at least one game for Miami last year, seven are back. Allen Bailey has moved from end to tackle, but he sometimes played there in third-down situations. He led the team with five sacks. Marcus Robinson is a solid pass rusher, Marcus Forston could also be an impact and Eric Moncur is entering his sixth season and if he plays like he did in 2007 (11.5 tackles for loss) could really give this line a boost.

3. Virginia Tech -- Depth is the only question mark here, as Jason Worilds, John Graves, Cordarrow Thompson and Nekos Brown are more than capable of continuing Bud Foster's tradition of nationally ranked defenses. Nobody is questioning Worilds' toughness, that's for sure, and Graves and Thompson both started every game last year. They're still looking for another defensive end, though, and will keep an eye on what Chris Drager adds to the position after moving from tight end.

4. North Carolina -- Not only do all four starters return, but the depth is the best it's been in recent years. Last year, defensive end Robert Quinn became a starter in the second game of the season, and defensive tackle Cam Thomas had one of his his best season at UNC. Marvin Austin and E.J. Wilson played well, and should be even better this year. Reserves Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo had solid rookie seasons and will push Wilson and Quinn for playing time this year. Aleric Mullins and Tydreke Powell are interchangeable with Austin and Thomas as starters at tackle.

5. Florida State -- The end position is reason for concern, as the Noles have to replace both Everette Brown and Neefy Moffett, who were first and second, respectively, on the team in sacks. Markus White will be tasked with filling the shoes of Brown, but he had a good transition season from junior college last year to build off of. Kevin McNeil, who had four sacks last year, is the favorite to replace Moffett. The interior should be solid with the return of Budd Thacker, Kendrick Stewart, Moses McCray and Justin Mincey.

6. NC State -- Defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash and end Willie Young have combined for 46 starts and should be two of the best linemen in the conference. The other two players penciled in as starters -- Shea McKeen and Leroy Burgess -- were both junior college transfers who earned starting time last year. Backup tackles will be a concern, but Markus Kuhn could wind up playing a bit of both until the staff decides where he can help the most.

7. Wake Forest -- Tackles John Russell and Boo Robinson will highlight a defense that recently bid farewell to some of the best seniors to come through the program. It should be one of the Deacs' most experienced groups in recent years, which is important considering the new faces behind them at linebacker. Defensive end Kyle Wilbur showed a lot of promise as a redshirt freshman with three sacks in only seven starts, and Tristan Dorty played in 10 games as a redshirt defensive end last year.

8. Virginia -- It's one of the few units on this team that didn't get a complete makeover, as seven of the top eight linemen return. Sophomore Matt Conrath, who had 35 tackles and four sacks last year, returns at end. There's a lot of experience next to him at nose tackle, where senior Nate Collins and sophomore Nick Jenkins split time last season. Collins' 35 tackles are the top among the returning linemen, while Jenkins finished with 25. Junior John-Kevin Dolce proved himself in the pass rush package with five sacks among his nine total tackles last year.

9. Boston College -- Replacing tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace is obviously one of the biggest concerns for this team, but they've got several options. Damik Scafe, Nick Rossi and Brendan Deska were each second-stringers at the tackle position and are the early favorites to replace the NFL draft picks. The Eagles also signed a pair of defensive tackles in the offseason, including highly touted recruit Dillon Quinn, who could make an immediate impact. Austin Giles replaced the injured Alex Albright last year for 12 starts, and Jim Ramella started all 14 games at the other end position.

10. Georgia Tech -- The Yellow Jackets have to replace three of four starters up front, and until they prove they found dependable replacements, they're going to be stuck down here. The lone returning starter is junior end Derrick Morgan, and there's no doubt about his capabilities, but the Jackets will sorely miss the three starters who combined for 100 career starts and 100 tackles for loss. Ben Anderson, Robert Hall and T.J. Barnes are all candidates to start.

11. Duke -- The Blue Devils took a step forward last year and should improve again with the return of tackle Vince Oghobaase and end Ayanga Okpokwuruk, who started five games and had 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. They combined for 9.5 sacks last year. Oghobaase ranks second in the ACC in both career tackles for loss (29.0) and quarterback sacks (11.5). They'll need new starters at nose guard and right end.

12. Maryland -- The Terps have to fill a void left by Jeremy Navarre and Trey Covington, and so far it looks like that will be up to Derek Drummond, Dion Armstrong, Travis Ivey and Jared Harrell, though Armstrong was dealing with some academic issues. The arrival of De'Onte Arnett, Zachariah Kerr, and Cody Blue this past spring should help with the depth.

Counting down the ACC's top 30 players: Also considered

June, 26, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Agree or disagree with it, the ACC's top 30 Players for 2009 was a fun project, and I hope you enjoyed it. I might do another one at the end of the season to give these players a chance to prove me wrong -- or right.

There were tons of other players across the conference who were considered. Virginia Tech fans are wondering why quarterback Tyrod Taylor's name isn't on the list. Well, Taylor still has a lot to prove. He's got what it takes in the potential category -- the receivers and offensive linemen should be better this fall, and so should Taylor. But he comes up short in the past performance category, despite his 13-2 record as a starter.

His performance against Duke -- supposedly lowly Duke -- stuck with me when comprising this list. Taylor completed 2 of 5 passes for 15 yards and two interceptions at home against the Blue Devils. If that's a top-30 player, then I left out a lot of athletes. If it weren't for Macho Harris, the Hokies would have lost that game. It takes more than just quick feet to win football games, and Taylor's performance in losses to Boston College and Miami last year are evidence of that. He scored two rushing touchdowns against the Canes, and got his third career 100-yard rushing game against the Eagles, but he completed just 12 of 17 passes for 90 yards and an interception.

Taylor is a quarterback whose name doesn't appear among the ACC's leaders in passing efficiency or passing yards per game, but young receivers had a lot to do with that and he was able to compensate some with his feet. He was the No. 9 rusher in the conference with 61.5 yards per game, but two touchdowns and seven interceptions didn't cut it for this list.

Maybe next year.

In addition to Taylor, here are the other players who were considered (in no particular order):

Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia
Matt Tennant, OL, Boston College
Kendric Burney, DB, North Carolina
Deunta Williams, S, North Carolina
Marvin Austin, DL, North Carolina
Ricky Sapp, DL, Clemson,
T.J. Yates, QB, North Carolina,
Boo Robinson, DL, Wake Forest
Brandon Ghee, DB, Wake Forest,
Jason Fox, OL, Miami
Orlando Franklin, OL, Miami
Graig Cooper, RB, Miami
Travis Benjamin, WR, Miami
Bruce Campbell, OL, Maryland
Alex Wujciak, LB, Maryland
Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Roddy Jones, RB, Georgia Tech
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech
Alan-Michael Cash, DL, NC State
Ted Larsen, C, NC State
Allen Bailey, DL, Miami
Ryan McMahon, OL, Florida State
Andrew Datko, OL, Florida State
Markus White, DL, Florida State
Patrick Robinson, DB, Florida State
Jermaine Thomas, RB, Florida State
Mark Herzlich, LB, Boston College
Vincent Rey, LB, Duke

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

June, 10, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

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


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.

Wake Forest spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2008 overall record: 8-5

2008 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 9, defense: 4, kicker/punter 1

Top returners

QB Riley Skinner, TE Ben Wooster, LT Joe Birdsong, C Russell Nenon, RT Jeff Griffin, RB Brandon Pendergrass, DT John Russell, NT Boo Robinson, CB Brandon Ghee, P Shane Popham, TB Kevin Harris, TB Josh Adams.

Key losses

DE Matt Robinson, LB Aaron Curry, LB Stanley Arnoux, LB Chantz McClinic, CB Alphonso Smith, FS Chip Vaughn, PK Sam Swank, WR D.J. Boldin, WR Chip Brinkman, SS Kevin Patterson

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Brandon Bendergrass* (528 yards)
Passing: Riley Skinner* (2,347 yards)
Receiving: D.J. Boldin (848 yards)
Tackles: Aaron Curry (105)
Sacks: Boo Robinson* (5)
Interceptions: Kevin Patterson (4)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sept. 5 Baylor
Sept. 12 Stanford
Sept. 19 Elon
Sept. 26 at Boston College
Oct. 3 NC State
Oct. 10 Maryland
Oct. 17 at Clemson
Oct. 24 at Navy
Oct. 31 Miami
Nov. 7 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 14 Florida State
Nov. 28 at Duke

1. Stepping up 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.

2. Strength in numbers. Seven players with starting experience return to the offensive line and they have combined for 95 career starts. Russell Nenon, who moved to center after Trey Bailey broke his ankle last year, has solidified the position, and Jeff Griffin, who had been a starting tackle, is now comfortable at right guard. It will help tremendously to have Chris DeGeare back at left tackle, and Barrett McMillin returns at guard.

3. Better depth and speed at receiver. The Deacons have to replace D.J. Boldin, but they've got more options and more speed to do it this year. Chris Givens and Terence Davis, both redshirts last year, impressed the staff this spring. They'll team with Devon Brown, Marshall Williams and Jordan Williams.

Fall questions

1. Another loaded backfield. Like several other teams in the ACC, Wake has three capable tailbacks, and the staff will have to figure out how to distribute the carries. Josh Adams, Brandon Pendergrass and Kevin Harris each had a 100-yard game last year.

2. Healing power. Brandon Ghee sprained his knee on the first day of spring practice and did not return, and Boo Robinson has had some disc problems and didn't participate in any spring drills. Their absence didn't help a defense trying to replace seven starters. Aaron Curry is the kind of player who can't be "replaced," but four candidates will continue to try this fall.

3. Looking for No. 2. Backup quarterback Ryan McManus earned a slight lead as the No. 2 behind Riley Skinner -- so slight you might even call it a three-way tie -- but the coaches aren't ready to put it in ink yet. Skylar Jones and Ted Stachitas will continue to push McManus this fall.

Keys for Maryland and Wake Forest's Atlantic Division runs

March, 24, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Maryland and Wake Forest both start practice today, and they both happen to be in the Atlantic Division, which will be wide open. (Florida State should have a bit of an edge, but hey, everyone's got issues). Here are three keys to Wake and Maryland surprising some people and making a run for the division title this fall:

If Maryland is going to have a chance ...

1. The Terps need to find a dependable replacement for center Edwin Williams. He might have been the most consistent player on offense last year. Maurice Hampton and Danny Edwards will compete for the job, though moving right guard Phil Costa there might be the most likely scenario. The running game should be a strength, but only if the offensive line comes together quickly. The Terps need to replace three starters there.

2. Chris Turner is going to have to play like a senior. No more inconsistent play. Beating ranked teams is great, but it won't get you far if you can't beat Middle Tennessee, too. He's clearly capable of it. Turner is 6-1 against ranked opponents over the past two seasons and completed 63.5 percent of his passes in those games for nine touchdowns and only two interceptions. He'll have several young, talented receivers to throw it to. His experience alone should give the Terps an edge, as there are only three other senior quarterbacks in the league (Riley Skinner, Jameel Sewell and Thaddeus Lewis).

3. Improve significantly on defense. The Terps ranked 10th in the ACC in total defense, ninth in scoring defense, 10th in passing defense, and ninth in rushing defense. First-year coordinator Don Brown has his hands full, but as a previous head coach he knows what needs to be done. First, he'll have to replace seven starters.

If Wake Forest is going to have a chance ...

1. The Deacs need to find somebody to catch the ball. Wake has to replace starters D.J. Boldin and Chip Brinkman, who combined for 40 career starts. Sure, the Deacs have to develop a better running game, but there were hints of that at the end of the season, especially in the EagleBank Bowl, and there is depth at the position, and the offensive line will be better. Receiver is a bigger question mark.

2. Playmakers need to emerge on defense. Seven starters are gone, the most notable being linebacker Aaron Curry and cornerback Alphonso Smith. The defensive line, led by tackles John Russell and Boo Robinson, will have to be the leaders, along with cornerback Brandon Ghee.

3. They must find a replacement for punter/placekicker Sam Swank. The good news is that they have already been tested without Swank, as he was injured last year and missed six games. That gave Shane Popham valuable experience. He made 7 of 12 field goal attempts and averaged 39.2 yards on 54 punts.

Around the ACC: Halftime thoughts

November, 8, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich


Florida State and Clemson are providing the most entertainment so far, as it has gone back and forth the entire half. The Noles' defense has been a major factor, as they're getting a lot of pressure on the Clemson quarterbacks, mainly Cullen Harper. Much of that can be attributed to the efforts of Everette Brown, Markus White and Neefy Moffett. The ends are winning the battle against the tackles with their speed, and that's not something Clemson will find in the locker room at the break. Offensively, running back Jermaine Thomas is making great use of his speed as well.


Wake Forest is living up to its reputation as a scoring defense while looking much better on offense. Meanwhile, Virginia looked like it regressed in the first half. The Cavaliers seem much more like the team we saw at the start of the season than the one that went on a four-game winning streak. Boo Robinson is having a heck of a game for the Demon Deacons, and stealing the spotlight from Clint Sintim. Virginia tailback Cedric Peerman lost a fumble for the second straight game. Very uncharacteristic of Peerman. And for the first time in weeks, Marc Verica does not look comfortable.


NC State, as I have said repeatedly, is not to be written off this season. With Russell Wilson in at quarterback, they can be a good football team if the defense lives up to its part of the bargain, and that's exactly what the Pack is doing against Duke. They also got some help on a kickoff return for a touchdown, but NC State is averaging 7.1 yards per play. Odds are this game gets closer in the second half.

ACC's Players of the Week

November, 3, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

From the league office, as voted on by members of the media ... There's one I disagree with. Cooper Taylor, making his first start at safety for Georgia Tech, had a team-high 10 tackles, his first career interception and was the one who caused the game-saving fumble against Atlantic Division-leading FSU. That true freshman deserved the Rookie of the Week honor.

OFFENSIVE BACK -- C.J. Spiller, Clemson, Running Back, 5-11, 190, Jr., Lake Butler, Fla.
Spiller had 242 all-purpose yards to lead the way in Clemson's 27-21 win over Boston College. The junior had six receptions out of the backfield for 105 yards, a Clemson record for reception yards by a running back in a single game. Spiller also had 8 carries for 55 yards, a 64-yard kickoff return that changed the momentum of the game in the fourth period and led to Clemson's winning touchdown. He also added an 18-yard punt return. His 242 all-purpose running yards were the 11th most in Clemson history and the fourth most by a Clemson player in the 21st century.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN -- Thomas Austin, Clemson, OG/C, 6-3, 295, Jr. Camden, S.C.
Austin graded 82 percent with five knockdowns and did not allow a sack in playing two different positions in Clemson's win over Boston College. Austin had started the first seven games at center, he moved to left guard for the Boston College game. Austin played all 69 snaps, 60 at guard and nine at center in the victory. Clemson running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller both combined to average 5 yards a rush on 21 carries, and the Tigers had three different drives of at least 70 yards in claiming the victory, the program's first against Boston College in 50 years.

CO-DEFENSIVE LINEMAN -- Boo Robinson, Wake Forest, DL, 6-2, 325, R-Jr., Monroe, La.
Robinson led all of Wake's defensive linemen with nine tackles including two solos and seven assists in the Deacon's 33-30 overtime win over Duke. Robinson also recorded a tackle for loss of one yard. Wake's defensive front held the Blue Devils to 112 yards rushing in the win.

Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech, DE, 6-7, 260, Sr., Selma, Ala.
Johnson sacked Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder for a loss of 10 yards and forced a fumble in the process in Georgia Tech's 31-28 win over 16th ranked Florida State. The Yellow Jackets recovered the fumble and went on to score a touchdown on the next possession. He also added a solo tackles in the game. Johnson's effort put him in the top 10 in the ACC in sacks and tackles-for-loss.

DEFENSIVE BACK -- Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest, CB, 5-9, 190, R-Sr., Pahokee, Fla.
Smith had two interceptions, a blocked punt and a pair of tackles in Wake Forest's 33-30 overtime win over Duke. Smith's first interception of the day came with 12:44 remaining in the third quarter and led to a touchdown that gave Wake Forest a 19-7 lead. His second interception came in overtime and sealed the Deacon win. Smith's blocked punt came with 1:59 to play in the first quarter and went out of the end zone for a safety to give Wake Forest a 9-7 lead. Smith is now second all-time in the ACC in career interceptions with 19, one shy of the league record.

SPECIALIST -- Shane Popham, Wake Forest, PK, 5-11, 192, R-Fr., Crestview Hills, Ky.
Popham, a redshirt freshman, booted a career-high three field goals and scored 11 points in Wake Forest's 33-30 win over Duke. Popham hit from 24 and 44 yards in regulation and added a 28-yarder in overtime to provide Wake Forest's winning points. Popham was a perfect 3-for-3 on the day in field goal attempts after going 3-for-8 in field goal attempts in three games since replacing the injured Sam Swank.

ROOKIE -- Jacory Harris, Miami, Quarterback, 6-4, 185, Fr., Miami, Fla.
Harris rallied the Hurricanes on the road at Virginia throwing two touchdowns -- a game-tying TD in the final minutes of regulation and the go-head score in overtime as Miami defeated the Cavaliers, 24-17, in overtime. He completed 12-of-21 passes (57.1 percent) for 160 yards and two touchdowns. It was the second time in three weeks that Harris rallied the Hurricanes on the road in helping push their winning streak to four games. A Miami quarterback has captured the Rookie of the Week Award in each of the past three weeks with Harris winning it twice and Robert Marve taking the award last week.

ACC position rankings: Defensive line

July, 17, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

1. Georgia Tech: This veteran defense should help take some heat off the offense while it figures itself out. Senior tackles Vance Walker and Darryl Richard, along with defensive end Michael Johnson are legitimate NFL draft picks and should have their best seasons yet under first-year coordinator Dave Wommack.

2. Clemson: Three of the four starters return, including seniors Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson, and junior Ricky Sapp, who had 10 tackles for loss, five sacks and 22 quarterback pressures as a sophomore when he started all 13 games. And don't forget freshman Da'Quan Bowers, who will work his way into the rotation at defensive end with Kevin Alexander as they try to fill the void left by Phillip Merling.

3. Boston College: The Eagles had the No. 1 rushing defense in 2007 (75.5 yards per game), and that was without academically ineligible B.J. Raji and injured end Alex Albright, who had 8.5 sacks despite missing the last few games with a broken left forearm. Now they're back, along with senior tackle Ron Brace.

4. Florida State: Defensive end Everette Brown is the leader of this group and could be one of the best in the ACC. He led the team in sacks last year, when he was in a part-time role, and led all linemen in tackles and tackles for loss. Benjamin Lampkin converted from linebacker to end in the Music City Bowl. Budd Thacker started eight games last season and missed four because of an injury. Paul Griffin didn't start a game last year, but had 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

5. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have to replace their top end in Jeremy Thompson, and fifth-year senior Anthony Davis, his backup, will inherit the job. Matt Robinson missed 2006 with a broken kneecap and then suffered a high ankle sprain last season and missed the three games. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility and will play as a grad student. Their strength will be inside with returning starter Boo Robinson at nose guard. John Russell is simmering with potential. Ted Randolph moved from tight end to defensive tackle midseason last year.

6. Virginia Tech: Only three ends with playing experience and one tackle return. Redshirt senior Orion Martin is the only returning lineman who started every game last season. Redshirt sophomore Jason Worilds should be No. 1 at the other end spot heading into fall and Nekos Brown and Steven Friday are competing for the backup spots. Demetrius Taylor has moved inside to tackle and will compete with John Graves, Cordarrow Thompson and a few others.

7. Duke: Junior tackle Vince Oghobaase is the real deal. He had 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season. He's one of four returning starters, along with defensive ends Greg Akinbiyi and Wesley Oglesby, and defensive tackle Ayanga Okpokowuruk.

8. Miami: Hurricane fans have good reason to be excited about freshman Marcus Forston, but there's little that's certain about this line. Allen Bailey's move here from linebacker should help, but this offseason he's been slowed by a pectoral injury. Eric Moncur has struggled to stay healthy, along with Courtney Harris. Senior left tackle Antonio Dixon, Joe Joseph and Dwayne Hendricks are competing with Forston for the tackle spots.

9. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace two of the league's best linemen in tackle Kentwan Balmer and end Hilee Taylor. There are plenty of options at tackle, where Aleric Mullins is a returning starter, but Taylor's absence will be felt. Darrius Massenburg broke his wrist and didn't participate this spring, Darius Powell is more of a third-down guy, and Vince Jacobs is a converted tight end.

10. Maryland: Jeremy Navarre is the veteran of this group, having started a team-high 35 games, and should move from end to tackle. Mack Frost is expected to take Navarre's end position, but he missed this spring because of knee surgery. Trey Covington has plenty of experience at the Terps' LEO position, which is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. More is expected of nose tackle Travis Ivey, who played sparingly last year mostly in goal-line situations. Walk-on Bemi Otulaja passed him on the depth chart this spring.

11. NC State: Defensive end Willie Young and tackle Alan-Michael Cash are two certainties in an otherwise questionable line. While the move of Ted Larsen and John Bedics helped out the offensive line, it hurt the depth on defense. Markus Kuhn is a viable option at defensive end, and Antoine Holmes could help at tackle.

12. Virginia: With Chris Long and the lone answer to his departure, Jeffrey Fitzgerald, no longer on the team, the Cavaliers have a serious hole to fill, and there's not much experience at end to choose from. Alex Field played sparingly in every game and Sean Gottschalk played in nine.