ACC: Bra'lon Cherry

Position that needs improvement: N.C. State

January, 28, 2015
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Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

Position to improve: Wide receiver

Why it was a problem: Take a look at the final ACC stats, under receptions/game and receiving yards/game. You will find players from 3-9 Syracuse and 3-9 Wake Forest. But you will not find anybody listed from 8-5 N.C. State. The Wolfpack simply did not have a go-to guy in their group in 2014. Their leading receiver was a true freshman -- Bo Hines, with 616 yards and just one touchdown catch. Only three other schools had their top leading receiver finish with fewer yards: Boston College (a running team), Wake Forest (a team that was offensively challenged) and Virginia (not known for its passing offense). While it is true N.C. State likes to use its tight ends and backs in the pass game, there is no doubt the Wolfpack need a wide receiver to emerge in 2015.

How it can be fixed: Another year with quarterback Jacoby Brissett under center will help. One big area N.C. State hopes to improve is its deep passing game, which was virtually nonexistent a year ago. Brissett struggled to throw the long ball with accuracy; and the Wolfpack are in need of a dynamic receiver who can stretch the field. Coach Dave Doeren is also hopeful the addition of receivers coach George McDonald will help a young group returning as well. "He has a really good way about him of teaching the game," Doeren said recently. "With a young receiver corps, we need somebody who can take every detail of the position and get them to do it where they’re excited about playing the position and doing it the way we want to get it done."

Early 2015 outlook: Bo Hines decided to transfer to Yale after the season. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, third among the wide receivers, also is gone. So among the top three returners in receiving yards, only one is a wide receiver: Bra'Lon Cherry, with 27 catches for 354 yards. More will be expected of tight end David J. Grinnage. But among receivers, Cherry, Johnathan Alston, Maurice Trowell and Stephen Louis will be expected to increase their production. Also watch for true freshman Nyheim Hines, on the ESPN 300. Though he is listed as a running back, he could be a good choice to fill Bo Hines' spot at receiver. There are no seniors in the group of players mentioned above.

Second-year stars: NC State

May, 13, 2014
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The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference — the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

See our previous projections here.

Next up: NC State

Class recap: Dave Doeren’s first signing class didn’t stand out in the rankings — No. 66 by ESPN’s math — but he did get some early contributions, even if it was as much out of necessity as ability. Matt Dayes played in all 12 games and scored four times. Jack Tocho started seven games at corner, finishing with 25 tackles and two picks. Monty Nelson started five games at defensive tackle and was second on the team with 8.5 sacks. Meanwhile, a bevy of freshmen receivers saw action, with mixed results.

Second-year star: WR Jumichael Ramos (6-foot-3, 197 pounds)

[+] EnlargeJumichael Ramos
AP Photo/Karl B DeBlakerJumichael Ramos showed his potential late in the 2013 season with a 109-yard game against Boston College.
Recruiting stock: A three-star prospect out of Georgia, Ramos wasn’t even among NC State’s top signees at receiver (he was No. 191 overall at the position, according to ESPN), but he did bring both size and speed and showed increased development late in his high school career.

2013 in review: The Wolfpack’s offense was a mess throughout 2013, with rotating quarterbacks and offensive styles and, of course, a plethora of erratic receivers. But while several of the other first-year pass-catchers flashed early before disappearing down the stretch (either because of injury or inconsistency), Ramos consistently improved as the year progressed. He caught at least one pass in 10 of 12 games, and he finished the season with 11 receptions and three TDs in his final three contests, including a five-catch, 109-yard performance against Boston College. He finished the season with 24 receptions for 352 yards.

2014 potential: Projecting Ramos to be the breakout receiver among a horde of unproven talent is based largely off his strong finish to last season. The spring game was a showcase for an established veteran (Bryan Underwood) and an early enrollee (Bo Hines), while Ramos and fellow sophomore Marquez Valdes-Scantling played smaller parts. Still, the addition of Jacoby Brissett to stabilize the QB situation is good news for all of NC State’s receivers, and Ramos’ combination of speed and size should make him an inviting target. He’s got some stiff competition — in terms of both quantity and quality — throughout fall camp, but Doeren is looking for weapons in the passing game and Ramos has been the one young receiver who has shown he can be a weapon on game day.

Also watch for: Take your pick from the rest of the group of receivers. Valdes-Scantling needs maturity and consistency, and Johnathan Alston and Bra’Lon Cherry need to stay healthy to continue their development. Alston might have the biggest upside of the group. Keep an eye on Dayes getting a bigger role in the running game this season, while top signee Sean Paul shouldn’t be relegated to just special teams, as he was in 2013.
NC State offensive coordinator Matt Canada and coach Dave Doeren both noticed the same wide receiver this spring: Bo Hines.

Hines, a true freshman from Charlotte, N.C., who enrolled early, was the Pack’s most consistent receiver this spring, bringing a bit of separation to a crowded group filled with youth and inexperience. Nine of the 12 receivers on the spring roster are either freshmen or sophomores. Senior Bryan Underwood was NC State’s second-leading receiver last year, but the Pack has to replace two starters from 2013, and the competition remains wide open heading into the summer.

[+] EnlargeBryan Underwood, Terrence Brooks
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCTSenior Bryan Underwood is NC State's leading returning receiver with 32 catches in 2013.
“Now you look for the guys who are going to come up and make plays consistently and in games,” Canada said. “It’s just a matter of where things go. There’s a lot of guys out there, we just have to sort it out a little bit. We had some of that sort itself out through the spring, but not enough to declare one way or another who’s going to do what, but we’ll move in that direction as we get into camp. We’ll have a better handle on what we’re going to do.”

Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong, is one of the top sophomore candidates, along with Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman, and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Ramos finished third on the team last year with 24 catches for 352 yards and three touchdowns.

“All three of them played and had some catches, but obviously as they step up here now, they have a chance to maybe separate themselves from what they did with a few catches here and there, and becoming a more consistent receiver,” Canada said. “I think that’s where having a quarterback and getting some timing down will certainly allow that to occur.”

Freshman Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix. Doeren said Underwood finished the spring strong. He is the fastest receiver on the roster, but he still needs to be more consistent. Underwood had 32 catches last year for 382 yards and a touchdown.

“He was really coming on last year when he hurt his collarbone and so missed a lot of practice and development there, and he needs to have a good summer physically to put himself in the right place,” Doeren said. “You'd like him to play the way he can and the way he was early in the year last year.

“And then Marquez Valdes and Jumichael Ramos are guys that were two true freshmen that played a lot for us a year ago that need to play better, I guess, than I thought they would in the spring. I thought Valdes had a really good finish, started a little slow, and Ramos was the opposite. So just need to get a consistent performance. A lot of times when a guy plays as a true freshman he gets a big head, and that's the one thing those guys can't do. There's good players coming in, and we've got a couple other freshmen that will be here that we'll add to the depth and competition. But those two guys need to have tremendous summers for us.”

ACC spring games preview

April, 10, 2014
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Seven ACC teams will play their spring games this weekend, and eight will officially close spring practices in the coming days, as Pitt has opted to have a more fan-friendly event instead of an actual spring game on Sunday before closing practice on Tuesday.

For all of these teams -- including Florida State -- the quarterbacks will be among the most-watched players on the field. In Tallahassee, fans will get a chance to see the Heisman Trophy winner, returning starter Jameis Winston. At every other school, there is an ongoing storyline and competition with the quarterbacks. We’re giving you one additional thing to keep an eye on that might not be so obvious.

Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!

CLEMSON

When: 4 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU) and on WatchESPN

Where: Death Valley

One thing to watch: The true freshman wide receivers. Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester were all highly touted recruits who enrolled early to help Clemson try to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (a combined 2,292 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013).

FLORIDA STATE

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and on WatchESPN

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium

One thing to watch: The wide receivers. They haven’t exactly earned high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher, who called the receivers out last week for not getting open and making catches. Rashad Greene is the most experienced option as the Noles try to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but the staff also needs to see more from players like Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.

LOUISVILLE

When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday

Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

One thing to watch: The safeties. Louisville lost Hakeem Smith, who started 51 straight games, and projected first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor. Jermaine Reve, Gerod Holliman and Chucky Williams are the leading candidates for those spots, but Reve is out for the spring with an injury. Reve and Holliman are the only players with game experience.

MIAMI

When: 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Sun Life Stadium

One thing to watch: Defense, defense, defense. It’s been an area of concern, but the defense showed signs of progress this spring. The Canes return eight starters and 16 players from the two-deep depth chart. Denzel Perryman is now playing middle linebacker, and Dallas Crawford moved to safety to give that position a boost. Those within the program have said repeatedly that the defense has made strides since last season, and overall it was a good spring for the defense. We’ll see if they can punctuate it in the spring game.

NORTH CAROLINA

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Kenan Stadium

One thing to watch: True freshman running back Elijah Hood. The four-star recruit was rated the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2014 by ESPN.com and No. 80 overall in the ESPN 300. The early enrollee has had such a good spring that he could see some immediate playing time, even though the Tar Heels are deep at the position.

NC STATE

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium

One thing to watch: More young wide receivers. NC State has to replace Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, both starters from last year. The talent pool to choose from includes a host of sophomores and freshmen, including two early enrollees. The leading sophomore candidates are: Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman; and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix.

VIRGINIA

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Scott Stadium

One thing to watch: Improved wide receivers. This is a group coach Mike London has praised this spring, for both its height and athleticism, as the staff has moved toward a longer, leaner look. London recently singled out Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins -- all listed at 6-foot-3 -- as players who have excelled this spring. Unfortunately, fans won’t be able to see starter Jake McGee, the Hoos’ star tight end who moved to receiver this spring, as he’ll be sidelined with a hamstring injury.

PITT (No spring game)

When: From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Pitt will host its “Pitt Football Field Pass”

Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex

One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.
NC State coach Dave Doeren will not have all his freshmen on campus until this summer, but he already expects several incoming receivers and running backs to play in 2013.

Depth concerns and a shift in offensively philosophy mean Doeren needs more bodies at each position.

Start at receiver. There is experience and talent at the top of the depth chart. Though NC State loses all-purpose man Tobais Palmer, it also returns Quintin Payton (tops in receiving yards with 798); Bryan Underwood (10 touchdowns, 620 yards), and Rashard Smith (315 yards, five touchdowns).

Behind them, there are major questions. So you understand why the Wolfpack signed six receivers in February. One of them, Bra'lon Cherry, is already enrolled and will benefit from spring practice. Johnathan Alston, who arrives in the summer, was the second-highest rated prospect in the entire NC State class.

"We’ll have some young receivers playing, there’s no doubt," Doeren said in a recent phone interview.

Then at running back, there is little in the way of depth behind Shadrach Thornton and Tony Creecy, the team's top two rushers a year ago. NC State signed three running backs, and they all arrive in the summer as well -- Josh Mercer, Dakwa Nichols and Matt Dayes.

"Thornton and Creecy are both good, tough runners and they’re both skilled receivers out of the backfield. They’ll be great in this offense," Doeren said. "The bigger concern is the lack of people behind them. We signed three in this class, and all three will be in camp getting reps. I wouldn’t be surprised to see two of the three play, just because of what we do. There will be times when there’s two or sometimes three tailbacks in the game. We need all those guys to be ready."

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