ACC: Brad Jefferson

Georgia Tech spring wrap

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
9:30
AM ET
GEORGIA TECH

2010 overall record: 6-7

2010 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 6, defense 5

Top returners

WR Stephen Hill, AB Roddy Jones, AB Orwin Smith, G Omoregie Uzzi, DE Jason Peters, DT Logan Walls, OLB Steven Sylvester, ILB Julian Burnett, OG Will Jackson, DE Izaan Cross

Key losses

QB Joshua Nesbitt, RB Anthony Allen, C Sean Bedford, CB Dominique Reese, CB Mario Butler, ILB Brad Jefferson, S Jerrard Tarrant, PK Scott Blair

2011 Schedule

Sept. 1 Western Carolina

Sept. 10 at Middle Tennessee

Sept. 17 Kansas

Sept. 24 North Carolina

Oct. 1 at NC State

Oct. 8 Maryland

Oct. 15 at Virginia

Oct. 22 at Miami

Oct. 29 Clemson

Nov. 5 Open

Nov. 10 Virginia Tech

Nov. 19 at Duke

Nov. 26 Georgia

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Allen (1,316 yards)

Passing:Nesbitt (674 yds)

Receiving: Hill* (291 yds)

Tackles: Burnett (89)

Sacks: Jefferson (4)

Interceptions:Tarrant (3)

Spring answers

1. A new attitude. There were some disgruntled players on the roster last year, but that disenchantment has been replaced by charismatic leaders like Jason Peters and Roddy Jones. The sense of complacency has been replaced by a stronger work ethic, as the players now realize that ACC championships don’t come without offseason dedication.

2. An improved defense. The Jackets aren’t exactly going to pitch shutouts, but despite losing six starters, the defense had a good spring. The entire front seven had the advantage for most of the spring, all three starters return on the defensive line, and the linebackers showed progress. It was obvious the players are more comfortable in the second season of Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme.

3. A-back is a strength.Georgia Tech has at least six players who can play the position, including Jones, a senior leader, Orwin Smith, a big-play candidate, and Embry Peeples, who may be one of the best receivers on the team. The Jackets are also confident in B.J. Bostic, who impressed Johnson as a true freshman. Those four players combined to run for 1,283 yards last year, and Georgia Tech could get additional yardage from redshirt freshman Tony Zenon, who also had a good spring.

Fall questions

1. Will Tevin Washington keep his job?Washington still has the edge and is the starter heading into summer camp, but there are some lingering questions after his performance in the spring game. He threw three interceptions, lost two fumbles, was sacked three times and completed 10 of 26 passes. Backup Synjyn Days ran for 112 yards and led his team to a 21-7 win. Add to the mix a pair of true freshmen, including highly-touted Vad Lee, and it could make for an interesting August.

2. Will the offensive line be better?It’s not for a lack of experience -- Omoregie Uzzi was a second-team all-conference lineman last year, Phil Smith is a returning starting tackle and sophomore guard Will Jackson has nine career starts. It’s simply that the group didn’t play very well this spring and depth is a question. Jay Finch is expected to take over for Bedford at center, but Uzzi will be the leader of the line.

3. Special teams concerns. It was an area of emphasis for coach Paul Johnson this spring, as it should have been. The Jackets need to solidify their starting kicker and punter, and all three field goal attempts were missed in the spring game, though two were distances of 47 and 49 yards. Kicker Justin Moore, the lone scholarship kicker competing this spring, hasn’t distanced himself from the four walk-ons who played in the spring game. Punter isn’t as much of a concern, where Sean Poole had nine starts last year, but the return games also need improvement.

Al Groh and Mike London meet again

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
10:00
AM ET
When Georgia Tech and Virginia meet in Atlanta on Saturday, one team will have a distinct advantage -- at least according to Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh.

“Clearly, the advantage is on the Virginia side,” said Groh, Virginia’s former coach for nine seasons. “I say that because one, I taught our defense that we are doing here to the head coach and to the secondary coach. They have all my play books and all my cut-ups. Those two coaches and the linebackers coach have sat through endless hours with me discussing defense, making game plans, and analyzing our performance. There is no dilemma or no secret analyzing how Al Groh thinks.”

There has, however, been a dilemma in executing his philosophy at Georgia Tech. Groh’s 3-4 defense hasn’t exactly been a road block to opponents. The scoring defense ranks No. 73 in the country, allowing 25.4 points per game. Part of that can be attributed to a learning curve of the new scheme, and also the fact that Groh hasn’t had time to recruit the personnel best suited for it. It’s too early to judge whether or not it will be a success for the Yellow Jackets, but the history on defense between Groh and first-year Virginia coach Mike London will make for an interesting subplot when Groh faces his former team and alma mater on Saturday.

Groh, a 1967 Virginia graduate, served as a Cavalier assistant coach from 1970-72. London spent six seasons coaching under Groh at Virginia as the defensive line coach, recruiting coordinator and eventually the defensive coordinator.

Awkward? Nah.

“It's not personally awkward,” London said. “I've been coaching college ball for a long time now. And I know that he knows this is the reality of the profession of the business. It's the storyline -- If you say the fact that we were both here at the same time, but to me, I've told the players -- this is a game where the University of Virginia is playing Georgia Tech, and it's our second conference game. And that's the way that we're going to approach it, and that's the way we look at it.”

It won’t be the first time this season that Virginia will face a 3-4 defense. VMI used it a little bit, and London had the defense running it during the bye week to help the offense prepare for it.

“But nothing is like playing a 3-4 team from a guy that knows the 3-4 defense,” London said. “That will be a challenge for sure, but it won't be the first time that we've seen the 3-4.”

As an assistant coach at Virginia, London was immersed in the 3-4 scheme when he coached the defensive linemen. He did the same with the Houston Texans under Dom Capers. One of the first changes London made at Virginia, though, was switching back to a 4-3. It has shown signs of promise, allowing just 17.75 points per game, but missed tackles were a problem against Florida State.

“I think running the 3-4, if you have the personnel to play it, it can be pretty good for you,” London said. “And having traveled around a little bit in recruiting and when I got to Richmond, and we looked at the personnel that we had already there, and they were already suited to the 4-3. A lot of times your young defensive linemen that are out there like to play on an edge. To get some good defensive linemen, they like to be the three technique or nine technique -- just guys that are playing on the edge.”

Groh said his knowledge of Virginia’s personnel will help his preparation, but it will do little for his players.

“Well, it helps me, but I don’t think Jason Peters or Brad Jefferson or Mario Butler or those guys, have an intimate grasp of the skills of those players. What’s more important is if our players had personnel recollection or history with their players.”

Instead, the history on Saturday is between Groh and London.

Around the ACC

September, 18, 2010
9/18/10
5:15
PM ET
Hey guys,

Sorry for the delay today, but I was making my way to the Clemson-Auburn game. I'm settled now in Jordan Hare Stadium. Here are a few thoughts on the early games:

Congrats to Virginia Tech. After falling behind 10-0 to East Carolina at home, the Hokies pulled it together and won, 49-27, avoiding an 0-3 start. Virginia Tech was depleted on defense, but it was a group effort in the second half as the Hokies outscored the Pirates 28-3. ECU helped the cause with 11 penalties for 100 yards and two turnovers. Bottom line: Virginia Tech deserves credit for not letting its poor start snowball into a disastrous season.

T.J. Yates can't do it all. Funny, it seems like yesterday I was writing that UNC's defense can't do it all. Now, the Tar Heels are struggling to get the stops without six starters thanks to NCAA investigations. In the end, Georgia Tech's maligned defense got the final word when Brad Jefferson tackled Johnny White on the Heels' final chance at a score in Tech's 30-24 win. Both teams turned the ball over, but Georgia Tech made fewer mistakes and controlled the clock. Bottom line: Another great effort by UNC that came up short, but both teams have work to do if they want to be relevant come November.

Maryland had a more respectable second half, but still ... Maybe it's not such a great idea this series got extended. Unless, of course, you're a West Virginia fan. The Terps lost, 31-17, but a 14-point third quarter at least made it a respectable game after an embarrassing first half. The Terps recruited West Virginia's TavonAustin, who had seven catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns, and it's not the first time they've been beaten by a former recruit (see: Steve Slaton). Probably won't be the last, either. Bottom line: This loss wasn't a surprise, but the Terps need to go 3-1 in the nonconference schedule to get to a bowl game.
The ACC has more 2011 pro prospects than any other conference in the Scouts Inc. top 150, and that's without any help from Duke or Wake Forest. North Carolina had the most with seven players in the top 150, and nine overall with draftable grades.

Todd McShay, the director of college scouting for Scouts Inc., gave a report on every ACC player who received a draftable grade from Scouts Inc. Here are a few things that stood out from the list:
  • Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt didn't make the cut. Running back Anthony Allen, cornerback Mario Butler and linebacker Brad Jefferson are the Jackets' top prospects. Nesbitt was hardly the only quarterback in the conference who wasn't listed.
  • Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor received a grade of 61, which means he's considered a middle-round draft choice. He needs to become a better passer, but will he have the chance to prove that this fall with such a talented group of running backs? The only other quarterback listed was Florida State's Christian Ponder, who is regarded as a second-round pick.
  • Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling is probably underrated by a lot of people, myself included. He received a grade of 93 (mid-to-high first round). Only Robert Quinn scored higher. (Miami defensive end Allen Bailey also scored 93).
  • Eleven of the 43 ACC players listed received grades of at least 90 or higher, which means a rare prospect projected to be a first-round draft pick.

Georgia Tech spring wrap

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
9:30
AM ET
GEORGIA TECH

2009 overall record: 11-3

2009 conference record: 7-1, ACC champions

Returning starters

Offense: 7, defense 8: punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

QB Josh Nesbitt, RB Anthony Allen, RB Roddy Jones, C Sean Bedford, WR Tyler Melton, WR Stephen Hill, LB Brad Jefferson, CB Mario Butler, S Dominique Reese, PK Scott Blair

Key losses

WR Demaryius Thomas, RB Jonathan Dwyer, OG Cord Howard, DE Derrick Morgan, LB Sedric Griffin, S Morgan Burnett

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Dwyer (1,395 yards)

Passing: Nesbitt* (1,701 yards)

Receiving: Thomas (1,154 yards)

Tackles: Jefferson* (95)

Sacks: Morgan (12.5)

Interceptions: Burnett (4)

Spring answers

1. Who’s No. 2. Tevin Washington earned the No. 2 quarterback job behind Josh Nesbitt, who was out this spring recovering from minor ankle surgery. Washington ran for three touchdowns and threw for another in the Jackets’ spring game. He made the most of Jaybo Shaw's transfer to Georgia Southern and beat David Sims and Jordan Luallen for the job.

2. Receiver by committee. Yes, Stephen Hill has the chance to be the program’s next elite receiver, but there were signs the passing game will have some more help this fall. Look for the Jackets to make an effort to throw more to the A-backs, or slot backs, this year.

3. Finding homes on defense. Georgia Tech won’t solve all of its defensive problems in one spring, but the transition to Al Groh’s 3-4 defense helped a few players who were in between positions find a spot. Anthony Egbuniwe, who was a defensive end last year, is now an outside linebacker. And Anthony Barnes, who was a nomad last year, seems to have found a home at the other outside linebacker spot. Jason Peters, who has bounced between defensive tackle and end, showed significant improvement at end this spring.

Fall questions

1. How much better can the defense be? Overall, the transition under Groh remains a question. Specifically, the biggest concern on the line is the nose tackle position. T.J. Barnes played there in the spring, and Ben Anderson missed all of spring recovering from a knee injury he suffered late last season. When Anderson comes back in August, he’ll compete with Barnes for that job. There were too many runs up the middle during the spring game to stop a team like Virginia Tech or Miami.

2. Nesbitt’s health. The ankle injury was minor -- he could have participated this spring had he wanted to -- but Nesbitt’s health will be a concern this year. There is still a big difference between Nesbitt and Washington, and Nesbitt has to stay healthy if the Jackets are going to defend their ACC crown.

3. Unsettled offensive line. There are a lot of new players working their way into the rotation, and competition will continue. Georgia Tech lost three starters, including the transfer of guard Joseph Gilbert. The second team was composed entirely of freshmen in the Jackets’ spring game.
Clemson wasn't the only ACC team to hold a scrimmage over the weekend.

FLORIDA STATE

Florida State held its final scrimmage before Saturday's spring game, and it turned into the Greg Reid show. Reid recorded four interceptions, including one that he returned 35 yards for a touchdown against the second-team offense. The sophomore cornerback picked off Clint Trickett and Will Secord in a matter of minutes.

"His instincts are incredible," Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder said. "He goes and makes plays and he loves the game of the football. ... He's everything you want in a football player."

Ponder also stepped up, completing 7 of 11 pass attempts for 188 yards while leading the first-team offense to a pair of scores. His 34-yard pass to Lonnie Pryor helped set up the first-team offense's only touchdown, a 1-yard Chris Thompson run. Secord led a seven-play scoring drive against the first-team defense and completed 2 of 7 passes.

Wide receiver Bert Reed recorded three receptions for 105 yards, and the run game got production from Pryor, Thompson, Ty Jones (5 carries, 33 yards) and Jermaine Thomas (3 carries, 21 yards).

"Lonnie Pryor, consistently day in and day out in everything he does ... is a really good football player," head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "There is no doubt, head and shoulders right now, he is the best pure football player. I think Chris Thompson did some things, I saw [Jermaine Thomas] do some things. I saw [Ty Jones] make a couple runs. ... Lonnie is Mr. Consistent, day in and day out."

GEORGIA TECH

The Yellow Jackets held their first spring scrimmage, highlighted by the run game and big plays from the secondary.

Quarterback Tevin Washington, who is competing for the backup job behind injured starter Josh Nesbitt, had runs of 55 yards and 40 yards and rushed for two touchdowns, but he struggled a bit in the passing game and threw an interception. Redshirt freshman David Sims tossed two interceptions.
“We missed reads and overall, we didn’t do a good job of passing the ball,” Washington told the Macon Telegraph. “I overshot some receivers a couple of times. Other than that, we’ve just got to settle down and get comfortable in the pocket. It’ll progress as the spring goes on."

The Georgia Tech offense recorded four touchdowns but had several procedure penalties and fumbles on the center-quarterback exchange.

Safeties Jemea Thomas and Mario Edwards and linebacker B.J. Machen recorded the interceptions. Other defensive standouts included end Jason Peters and linebackers Brad Jefferson and Brandon Watts.

ACC announces players of the week

October, 5, 2009
10/05/09
1:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


Here's the weekly release from the ACC office in Greensboro on the players of the week:

OFFENSIVE BACK: Riley Skinner, Wake Forest, QB, Sr., 6-1, 210, Jacksonville, Fla. (The Bolles School)

Wake Forest senior quarterback Riley Skinner earned ACC Offensive Back of the Week accolades for the second time this season (Sept. 14) after completing 31-of-45 passes for 361 yards -- the second-best passing performance in the league in 2009 -- and three touchdowns in a 30-24 win against NC State. In the process, Skinner became Wake Forest’s all-time leader in touchdown passes (45) and total yards (8,041). Additionally, Skinner’s 45 attempts and 361 yards were both career-highs.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Jason Fox, Miami, OT, Sr., 6-7, 314, Fort Worth, Texas (North Crowley)

Miami senior offensive tackle Jason Fox helped anchor an offensive front that paved the way for senior running back Javarris James’ 150 rushing yards against the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense in a 21-20 win against eighth-ranked Oklahoma. Aided by Fox’s performance at the tackle position, the 17th-ranked Hurricanes piled on 342 yards of total offense. Fox graded out at 99 percent for the game and added three pancake blocks, while not allowing a sack.

CO-DEFENSIVE LINEMAN

Brad Jefferson, Georgia Tech, ILB, Jr., 6-2, 236, Wrightsville, Ga. (Johnson County)

Georgia Tech junior inside linebacker Brad Jefferson tied a career-high with eight tackles, including seven solo stops and one for a loss, in a 42-31 win against Mississippi State. Jefferson also forced two Bulldog fumbles. Despite an injury-plagued season in 2008, Jefferson is second among Yellow Jackets with 27 tackles this season and is tied for the team-lead in tackles for loss (2.5), pass breakups (two), and forced fumbles (two).

Matt Conrath, Virginia, So., DE, 6-7, 270, Oak Lawn, Ill. (St. Rita)

Virginia sophomore defensive end Matt Conrath spearheaded a Cavalier defense that allowed only 175 total yards in a 16-3 win against North Carolina. Conrath helped the defensive front hold the Tar Heels rushing attack to just 39 yards, the fewest allowed by Virginia since giving up 19 to Richmond last season. Conrath recorded four tackles and knocked down three passes at the line of scrimmage, and helped the defense limit the Tar Heels to just nine first downs, the fewest allowed by Virginia since 2007.

DEFENSIVE BACK: Cody Grimm, Virginia Tech, OLB, Sr., 5-11, 202, Fairfax, Va. (Oakton)

Virginia Tech outside linebacker Cody Grimm registered a game and career-high 14 tackles in a 34-26 win against Duke. Among his 14 hits were two tackles for loss (six yards) and a forced fumble. Grimm helped the Hokie defense hold the Blue Devils to just 38 rushing yards on 31 attempts (1.2 yards per rush). Grimm leads the team in nearly all defensive categories with 45 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles, and is tied for the team-high with three pass breakups.

CO-SPECIALIST

Nick Ferarra, Maryland, P/PK, Fr., 6-1, 195, Hicksville, N.Y. (St. Anthony’s)

Maryland freshman placekicker Nick Ferarra handled all three phases of the kicking game in a 24-21 win against Clemson. Ferarra punted eight times and averaged 43.2 yards per punt with a long of 61 -- the third highest mark in the league this season -- and landed three kicks inside Clemson’s 20-yard line. The true freshman was also perfect in his place-kicking duties as he converted all three of his point-after-touchdown tries and connected on a season-long 43-yard field goal that put the Terrapins on the board early in the second quarter.

Robert Randolph, Virginia, PK, So., 5-10, 160, Naples, Fla. (Naples)

Virginia sophomore placekicker Robert Randolph set a career-high by converting all three of his field goal attempts in a 16-3 win against North Carolina, a game that did not see a touchdown scored until the 5:49 mark of the fourth quarter. Randolph made a 36-yarder to give the Cavaliers a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter, then extended their lead to 6-0 on the last play of the first half with a 38-yarder. After North Carolina cut the lead in half at 6-3, Randolph again extended Virginia’s lead to six points with a career-long 43-yard field goal.

ROOKIE -- Demetrius Hartsfield, Maryland, OLB, Fr., 6-2, 230, Raleigh, N.C. (Southeast Regional)

Maryland freshman outside linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield is the first defensive player this season to take ACC Rookie of the Week honors after registering a team and career-high 10 tackles, eight solo stops, 2.5 tackles for loss -- including one sack -- and one clutch play in a 24-21 win against Clemson. As Maryland clung to a 24-21 lead with Clemson on the Terps’ 28-yard line with less than one minute remaining in the game, Hartsfield sacked Tiger quarterback Kyle Parker, forced a fumble in the process, then recovered the loose ball to seal the win for Maryland.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

When Georgia Tech's starting linebackers began working out together again this summer, Brad Jefferson compared it to "reuniting with an old friend."

After all, the trio hadn't been on the field together in a game situation since the season opener against Jacksonville State last year because they were all hurt at different times. (And because four times Georgia Tech started in a nickel package, with two linebackers.)

The three starters who opened the 2008 season together -- Jefferson, Kyle Jackson, and Anthony Barnes -- never started together again as a unit. Jefferson and Barnes were both hurt in the opener against Jacksonville State, and Sedric Griffin was so good he never came out. Because of the numerous injuries last year, the Jackets played one true freshman, Steven Sylvester, and nearly played another in B.J. Machen.

"When people talk about our linebackers, they've never really seen us play yet," Jefferson said. "That's why they're kind of talking down, like our linebacking corps didn't really show up last year. That was kind of the reason why. Folks don't know that."

Now they might have to wait even longer for a true evaluation of the Jackets' starters after the recent news that Jackson could be out for the summer with a foot injury. Jackson, a versatile player who can play inside our out, is meeting with a specialist today, but so far, doctors haven't been able to determine exactly what's wrong with his foot. He's been in a walking boot for months now, and the staff hopes to learn more about the injury by next week.

It's still a deep group, as there are about eight athletic players to work with. In addition to Jefferson, who is likely to start at inside linebacker, the Jackets can also count on Griffin and Barnes. Their responsibilities were going to increase anyway because of the inexperience in front of them on the defensive line.

"The linebackers, we're going to have to contribute a lot," said Jefferson, who missed four games in 2008 with a dislocated wrist. "Last year we had a good D-line, and I think we have a good upcoming D-line, but they haven't had as many reps. I've gotta pick up all the slack; that's how I feel as a player. I've got to take that responsibility."

And he's got to stay healthy in the process.

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.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 16, 2009
7/16/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

As expected, FSU fullback Marcus Sims has decided to transfer to North Florida State. Er, uh, I mean North Alabama. With all due respect to Sims, this isn't a huge loss for the Noles' offense.

Speaking of North Alabama, it was a family reunion the other day, and Clemson beat writer Paul Strelow caught up with former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. He's working "nowhere" right now with a lot of money in his pocket. Not a bad gig.

Virginia Tech wide receiver Zach Luckett has gotten a second chance -- this time as a walk-on linebacker. 

Speaking of the Hokies, two charges were dropped against former Virginia Tech tailback Jahre Cheeseman and a third was amended. He's now on probation for a year.

Former Georgia Tech recruit-turned Alabama receiver is now looking at coming back to the ACC because he wants more playing time.

More of the Jackets:

Need a haircut? Ask linebacker Brad Jefferson.

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has more patience than I do.

And, as reader Pick6Pedro mentioned, BC signed another top-notch quarterback. Let's see if this one sticks around.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Much of the attention Georgia Tech has received this preseason has been focused on Jonathan Dwyer and the Jackets' stable of running backs. If they're going to contend for the Coastal Division title, though, the defense will have to hold its weight, too, and the Jackets have to replace three of four starters up front. I caught up with defensive coordinator Dave Wommack to check in on the defense heading into summer camp.

 
  Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI
  Entering 2009, Dave Wommack has some holes to fill on his defensive line.

Are you changing anything? I've heard some rumblings about maybe a different scheme this year.

DW: We may change up some things a little bit, but I think it may be based [more] on personnel than it will anything else. We'll see when we get into two-a-days, but there's not going to be any drastic changes.

Are there things you saw in the spring on the defensive line that give you concerns that are forcing you to tinker with it?

DW: [He laughed]. Just inexperience. When you lose three guys to the draft, it's just a matter of inexperience. I think we've got some good, young guys that are coming up. They just haven't played very much. That's the biggest thing, but no, that's not why we're changing. It's really our experience is more in the secondary, maybe get more five DBs on the field more than anything else.

Yeah, tell me about that group a little bit. You have a lot of guys coming back, especially with Morgan Burnett.

DW: It kind of flips. Now your most-experienced players are guys that have played one year. I'm looking forward to the secondary. I think it will be a strength for us with Morgan leading the way.

What more can he do? What are you expecting from him this year?

DW: Really that's the thing that concerns me as much as anything, because Morgan wants to make every play. It's really, Morgan, stay within the framework of your defense. Don't let your eyes get you in trouble. The play is going to come your way. You're a featured stop for us on defense, so don't try to do more than what you need to do because the defense will break down. So I don't think it's so much asking him to do more, just really do what you've done. Don't try to do too much.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech linebacker Brad Jefferson laughed out loud when asked how eager he is to play a full season of football after a dislocated wrist kept him out of four games in 2008.

"I'm looking forward to it so much I can't even explain it in words, I'm so excited about it," he said. "It was really hard for me sitting out that long, watching my teammates go battle other teams, but things happen that you just have to deal with. I couldn't do anything but sit on the sideline and support my team until I came back."

The coaching staff is probably equally as excited to have Jefferson back on the field. Both he and Anthony Barnes were injured in the season opener last year and never quite returned to 100 percent. Barnes went on to miss the next two games with a shoulder injury and ended the season with a broken bone in his leg at Georgia.

This spring, their return gave a boost to a much deeper linebacking corps. Cedric Griffin is the only senior of the bunch and was the most consistent linebacker last year. He was somewhat of a surprise, as he came on after Jefferson and Barnes were hurt in the season opener. Griffin made his first career start against Boston College, and now he's one of only six scholarship seniors on the roster.

Kyle Jackson started 2008 at outside linebacker and then moved inside after Jefferson was hurt. He remained the starter there through the ninth game and came off the bench against North Carolina. Steven Sylvester played as a true freshman last season as a backup at outside linebacker in 12 games. B.J. Machen and Malcolm Munroe give the staff seven players they feel comfortable with.

Because it's the second year in coordinator Dave Wommack's defense, there is a greater sense of comfort with the playbook and the defense is expected to have a lot of different looks. (Some of that might be to help compensate for loss of three starters on the defensive line). The staff added the hybrid defensive back/linebacker position in an effort to get the best players on the field, and the strength is in the secondary and with the linebackers.

"The defense changed a little bit for the LBs because we used to go a lot of man, now we're in a lot of zone," Jefferson said. "This spring as a defense we did very well. We've got a lot of spots to fill, and every guy that has a spot to fill is stepping up."

Potential playmakers in the ACC

February, 27, 2009
2/27/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

In addition to the newcomers to watch this spring, there will also be a few players who hinted at their potential last year, but could be on the verge of a breakout season in '09. Here are a few players who might emerge from the shadows this year in the ACC:

UNC safety Da'Norris Searcy -- He had 10 tackles against West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and is slated to be the starter in place of graduated All-American Trimane Goddard. Searcy spent some time at linebacker and on special teams last year. He finished the season with 25 tackles, including two sacks, three pass breakups and three passes defended.

NC State running back Toney Baker -- Remember him? Think back to '06. Baker had over 1,200 yards heading into his junior season and suffered a season-ending knee injury and missed the rest of the season. A second surgery kept him out for 2008. Baker was cleared to return last fall, is reportedly in amazing shape and "about to have a fit to get back on the field," according to sports information director Annabelle Myers. With Andre Brown gone, Baker's progress will be a huge key to the Pack's success.

Wake Forest running back Kevin Harris -- In just the third start of his career and his first since October 2006, Harris turned in one of the most memorable performances of the inaugural EagleBank Bowl. Harris rushed for a career-high 24 carries and 136 yards. It came as a complete surprise and sparked the start of much-needed improvement in the Deacs' running game. His senior season could be his best.

FSU running back Carlton "Ty" Jones -- He scored his first collegiate touchdown in the Champs Sports Bowl and might even be better than fellow freshman Jermaine Thomas. Jones had four carries for a career-high 55 yards in the bowl game, and set a career-high for the longest rush for scrimmage with a 31-yard run. With the departure of Antone Smith, the Noles enter the spring looking for a dependable go-to back.

Georgia Tech's linebackers -- Both Brad Jefferson and Anthony Barnes played sparingly behind current NFL linebackers Philip Wheeler (Colts) and Gary Guyton (Patriots) as freshmen, and both started the opener last year. Jefferson and Barnes were both also injured in the season opener, missed a game or two, and were never really 100 percent last season. Both should be healthy this year, and could finally emerge from the shadows of their NFL predecessors.

Georgia Tech's Christmas wish list

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
1:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech's sports information office got creative and asked a few of the players where they were spending the holiday and what they hope to find under the tree. Some of them are funny, so I thought I'd share it:

Georgia Tech Wish List
PlayerWhere They're GoingGift They Hope to Get
Roddy Jones Birmingham, Ala. Playstation 3
Nick Claytor Toledo, Ohio A car
A.J. Smith Tampa, Fla. A job
Cord Howard Phenix City, Ala. Hunting equipment
Josh Nesbitt College Park, Ga. Some new all-black clothes
Morgan Burnett Wrightsville, Ga. The complete Ninja Turtles set
Jonathan Dwyer Maple Hill, N.C. Boosters (Very large inner quad
muscles like Brad Jefferson has)
Anthony Egbuniwe Greenville, S.C. Some new 23-inch rims for my car
Brad Jefferson Green County, Ga. The Gladiator action figure and a Gameboy Color
Richard Watson Tallahassee, Fla. A real vacation
Kyle Jackson McDonough, Ga. A 32-gig iPod touch
Darryl Richard Destrehan, La. Sleep

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech sophomore safety Morgan Burnett was one of the top high school players in the nation, and could have followed his brother's footsteps straight to Georgia, where Cap Burnett was a safety and linebacker from 1998-2002.

 
 Paul Abell/Getty Images
 Morgan Burnett's six interceptions are the most in the country.

Instead, he was lured to rival Georgia Tech by a group of friends he considers as close as brothers.

"I felt comfortable around Georgia Tech and felt it was somewhere I wanted to spend my college career at," Burnett said. "Plus, I had people like my roommates -- Joshua Nesbitt, Brad Jefferson and Demaryius Thomas -- they made the decision easy. Those guys are like brothers to me, too."

It has turned out to be a good decision for all of them, as Burnett leads the nation in interceptions with six and has more interceptions in one season than any Yellow Jacket since 1991. Last year was a just a foreshadowing of his potential, as Burnett led Tech in interceptions with three, despite starting just one game.

"He has really done a great job," coach Paul Johnson said. "On the interception Saturday, he was actually in man coverage on another player. When that player blocked, I don't think the quarterback saw him and he made the play on the ball. He adjusts to the ball and he has great ball skills, but like I said, he loves to play the game."

He grew up playing it with his brother, and still talks to him after every game.

"I look up to my brother a lot," Burnett said. "We might have friendly arguments at times, but when he was in college I supported him very well and now that I'm in college he supports me very well."

Burnett said he didn't realize he led the nation in interceptions until a few people mentioned it to him at practice on Monday. He attributed his success to the Yellow Jackets' veteran defensive line.

"We can't get interceptions down there unless the d-line gets the push up front," Burnett said. "Those guys, that whole front four, those guys force the quarterback to roll out of the pocket and just throw the ball in the air, what we call hand grenades, and I go get 'em. That's an awesome d-line, and I'm glad they're on our team."

They'd probably say the same thing about him.

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