ACC: C.J. Wilson

ACC announces Players of the Week

October, 29, 2012
Here are the ACC's Players of the Week for Week 9, as announced by the league offices in Greensboro, N.C.

OFFENSIVE BACK: Tajh Boyd, Clemson, Jr., QB, 6-1, 225, Hampton, Va.

Boyd completed 27 of 38 passes for 428 yards and five touchdowns without an interception in Clemson’s 42-13 win over Wake Forest last Thursday night. He also had 16 carries for 27 yards, giving him 455 yards of total offense. The 428 yards passing were an all-time Clemson single-game record, while his 455 yards of total offense were second best. Boyd threw all five of his touchdown passes in the first half, including four in the second quarter when he took the Tigers to 28 points. That set a record for touchdown passes in a half as well. He tied the single-game touchdown record. His pass efficiency rating for the game was 208, also the best in school history given a minimum of 35 attempts.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina, Sr., OG, 6-3, 295, Wilmington, N.C.

Cooper played 85 snaps, posted 18 knockdown blocks and graded out at 90 percent as the Tar Heels recorded 570 yards of offense in a 43-35 victory over NC State. Carolina rushed for 212 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Cooper has not allowed a sack all season.

RECEIVER: Sammy Watkins, Clemson, So., 6-1, 200, Fort Myers, Fla.

Watkins had eight receptions for 202 yards and a touchdown in Clemson’s 42-13 victory over Wake Forest. Watkins touchdown was a 61-yard catch and run down the sidelines in the second period. He had 177 receiving yards in the first half when Clemson broke the game open. He had three catches of at least 50 yards in the game, also a first. The 202 receiving yards set a Clemson single game record, breaking the previous record of 197 yards by DeAndre Hopkins earlier this year at Boston College. Watkins also had four yards rushing to finish with 206 all-purpose yards.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Joe Vellano, Sr., Maryland, DE, 6-1, 285, Rexford, N.Y.

Vellano was part of a defensive line that allowed Boston College to rush for just 8 net yards on 27 attempts. The senior recorded five tackles, including 2.5 sacks to total minus-22 yards, and also forced a fumble that the Terrapins recovered. Vellano leads the ACC and is tied for ninth nationally with 1.75 tackles for loss per game. He’s played a big role on a defense that ranks fourth nationally against the run, having surrendered just 77.6 yards per game.

LINEBACKER: Christian Jones, Jr., Florida State, OLB, 6-4, 240, Winter Park, Fla.

Florida State set the tone from the start on defense vs. Duke, and Jones played a huge role in that performance. The second-year starter registered eight of his season-high 11 tackles in the first quarter and three of those were tackles for loss, which eclipsed his previous career-high of two. He finished the night with four tackles for loss, while eight of his 11 tackles were solo stops. Florida State’s defense, which leads the ACC in every major category and ranks second nationally in total defense, limited the Blue Devils to a season-low 232 total yards.

CO -DEFENSIVE BACK: Donald Darby, Fr., Florida State, 5-11, 176, CB, Oxon Hill, Md.

Continuing his season-long role as the first corner off the bench for the Seminoles, Darby was instrumental in another shutdown performance by the Florida State defense. He finished with four tackles (three solo stops) and provided solid coverage on a day when Duke’s passing game could not get going. Florida state limited Duke quarterbacks to 129 passing yards on a 16 of 37 performance and shut down Blue Devils’ receiving star Connor Vernon, who had three receptions for 12 yards. The Seminoles rank fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense (90.89) and sixth in passing defense (154.22 ypg).

CO -DEFENSIVE BACK: C.J. Wilson, Gr., NC State, 5-11, 185, Lincolnton, N.C.

Wilson played 59 snaps at UNC and made two of the biggest defensive plays of the game. He created two Tar Heel turnovers in the red zone, as he intercepted a pass in the end zone and stripped another ball out of the receiver’s hands at the NC State 10 and returned it to the 24. Wilson also tallied three tackles and broke up another pass in the contest.

SPECIALIST: Giovani Bernard, So., North Carolina, 5-10, 205, Davie, Fla.

Bernard had 304 all-purpose yards to lead North Carolina to a 43-25 victory over rival NC State. Bernard scored on a 74-yard punt return with 13 seconds to play to give the Tar Heels the victory and snap the Wolfpack’s five-game winning streak in the series. The punt return was Carolina's first for a score against NC State since 1986. It was Bernard’s second punt return touchdown of the season, tying the school record. Bernard finished with a game-high 135 rushing yards on 23 carries and two rushing touchdowns. He also had eight catches for a career-high 95 yards and led the Tar Heels in both rushing and receiving. He scored three touchdowns and has 15 for the season in seven games and has 29 touchdowns in 20 collegiate games. In the fourth quarter, Bernard had 89 yards rushing, a 19-yard reception and a 74-yard punt return for a total of 182 all-purpose yards in the final 15 minutes. Bernard has now rushed for 930 yards and 10 touchdowns, an ACC-leading average of 132.9 per game.

ROOKIE: Stefon Diggs, Maryland, Fr., WR, 6-0, 185, Gaithersburg, Md.

Diggs turned in his most productive receiving game this season, setting career marks with 152 receiving yards and 11 catches. The freshman caught a career-long 66-yard touchdown pass, marking the fourth time in the last five games he’s had a catch of at least 50 yards. It was the third 100-yard receiving game of the season for Diggs and vaulted him into 16th place on Maryland’s single-season receiving yards list with 666. That ranks second all-time among freshmen, trailing only Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 694 in 2006.

Q&A with NCSU S Earl Wolff

October, 5, 2012
NC State’s secondary entered this season as a veteran group. It’s still a veteran group, but it hasn’t performed up to its potential yet this season. That will have to change on Saturday if the Wolfpack is going to have a chance to upset No. 3-ranked Florida State. I spoke with senior safety Earl Wolff earlier this week to get his take on the season so far. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

What’s happened to you guys? What’s going on?

Earl Wolff: We had a lot of breakdowns in our pass coverage that usually doesn’t happen. Things like that went wrong our freshmen year. We didn’t expect it to happen against Miami and it did. We watched film and we handled everything we needed to handle. We made adjustments and I feel like we’re ready to go this Saturday.

[+] EnlargeEarl Wolff
J Pat Carter/AP PhotoNC State's Earl Wolff tracks down Miami quarterback Stephen Morris in the two teams' Week 5 game.
Do you feel like you guys have fallen below your own expectations, considering what a veteran group the secondary is?

EW: Absolutely. 565 yards, that really hurt. Deep balls over our heads, things that don’t usually happen. We feel like we can be the best secondary in the nation, athletically and mentally. When it comes to experience, we’re one of the more experienced groups in the ACC, also. That 565 yards, it hurt us. I don’t want to say we needed it, but we’ll build off of that and try to be better this week. As a matter of fact I can promise you that won’t happen again.

I read you called a team meeting. How important was it for you guys to do that?

EW: Honestly it was very important. I feel like we should’ve done that last week, before the Miami game. Everybody’s heads weren’t where they needed to be. People had different things on their minds. I don’t know the exact number of penalties, but especially with coach O’Brien, we’re not used to that many penalties in a game. I just feel like guys, I don’t know if the heat was getting to them, I don’t know exactly what it was, but that team meeting we had, we didn’t name any individuals, we just talked about what we need to work on as a team. We talked about what we need to do to get better at our weaknesses. Mostly everything that happened was mentally. The staff was in there for part of the meeting and then they left. We just went in there and a couple of guys stood up and said what they had to say. I feel like it was a much-needed meeting and we’ll build off of that and get ready for this great game Saturday.

The No. 3 team in the country is coming to your house. How do you get better quickly enough to be ready for this game?

EW: Just preparation. I feel like a lot of people didn’t prepare the way they should have last week. As a matter of fact, we usually call meetings individually on Thursday, we call it ourselves, the players, and honestly, a lot of guys didn’t show up. I felt like in the game it showed. When we talked to everybody we said if you’re not all in then you can leave right now. A lot of guys have buckled down and they’re going to be all in. That’s exactly what we need this week. We’re going to play one of the best teams in the nation. Luckily we get to play them at home in front of our crowd. We’re going to get all this energy from our crowd. We’re going to need all the energy we have. We have to go all out to beat Florida State.

What do you feel like the attitude is right now? Do you feel like you guys can truly beat them?

EW: Honestly we do. A lot of people outside of here even some fans probably think we can’t. But I feel like as long as the coaches believe in us and we believe in ourselves, that’s really all that matters. For example, last year we played Clemson. A lot of people thought we were going to lose. They were ranked. We came in, we beat them, and it was our crowd. Our crowd gives us energy that we need. Luckily we played them at home. We get to feed off our crowd. We’re going to put up a fight for all four quarters.

Have you had to console David Amerson at all?

EW: Honestly, I did that during the game. Dave doesn’t talk a whole lot. He’s never been one who does a whole lot of talking. But sometimes you can just look at him and see there’s something wrong. At the game I could tell, I don’t know what’s going on, but this is not like him. I said something to him during the game and then basically afterwards, I was like, ‘Man, Dave, it’s not just you, brother, we all played bad. We can’t point the finger at you. If our pass coverage skills are on point, they don’t throw the ball like that. It’s not just you. Just stay up.' Dave said thank you. He’s a competitor. He’ll continue to compete, regardless of what happens. It won’t happen again.

It sounds like that meeting helped. Maybe it will be a turning point for you guys.

EW: Oh yeah, I feel like that meeting really was what we needed. We’ll probably call another one before the game on Saturday, just to make sure. We’ll probably call one Thursday, honestly. Make sure everybody gets their rest and just prepares right.

Where is the leadership coming from this year besides yourself?

EW: I don’t really do a whole lot of talking, but I feel like a lot of people aren’t talking. So, sometimes I have to speak up and say what I’ve got to say. In the secondary, it’s me, Brandan Bishop, C.J. Wilson throws his input in sometimes. He doesn’t say too much, either. Linebackers it’s really just Sterling [Lucas]. On the d-line, Darryl Cato-Bishop. He holds everyone on that d-line accountable. I really like that guy. Just leading. Offensively I would say it’s Mike Glennon. Mario Carter sometimes. But I feel like we still have to do a better job when it comes to that. Everybody’s still just not on board yet. We have a lot of young guys, and I feel like sometimes they’re in the mindset of, ‘Shoot, I have two more years, three more years, so if we don’t do it this year, than maybe next year.’ We’re trying to instill in their minds that it has to happen now. We need it now. Imagine if it was your senior year, how would you feel about it? That’s how I felt when I was playing. At first I was like, I have this year, and this year. Even though I always gave it my all. I remember Nate [Irving], Audie [Cole], all them boys, saying, it’s our senior year. We want to win this. We want you to help us win this. I’m just trying to instill that in their minds and help everybody buy in.”

C.J. Wilson suspended four games

September, 3, 2012
The NCAA has suspended NC State cornerback C.J. Wilson for four games, coach Tom O'Brien announced during his weekly news conference Monday.

Wilson had to take 12 credit hours in the spring and pass six, per NCAA rules. O'Brien said Wilson did not pass the required hours while dealing with family issues. But he also added that Wilson has already graduated, and passed 12 hours in the summer with a 3.5 GPA.

The Wolfpack could definitely use Wilson's help in the secondary. Though Wilson had lost his starting job in the spring, NC State showed some glaring weaknesses in the secondary in the opening loss to Tennessee, allowing 333 yards passing. Cornerback David Amerson gave up two long touchdown passes.

Wilson sat out the opener and will be back for Week 5 against Miami. He has 29 starts in three years.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 1

August, 30, 2012
With all 12 teams playing in Week 1, including two conference games, there will be plenty to watch in the ACC, from Friday through Labor Day. Here are 10 things to keep an eye on, in no particular order:

1. NC State’s secondary vs. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. The Pack will be without starting cornerback C.J. Wilson, who has an “eligibility issue,” according to coach Tom O’Brien, but All-American David Amerson returns to help the Pack against Bray. Despite missing five games last season with a fractured thumb, Bray threw for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns.

2. Clemson in the trenches. Much of the focus leading up to the Auburn game has been on how Clemson will survive without suspended leading receiver Sammy Watkins, but more important is how Clemson will fare up front, on both the offensive and defensive lines. Depth on the offensive line remains a concern, and overall, Clemson had to replace six starters up front from last season.

3. True freshmen in College Park and Chestnut Hill. Maryland and Miami both will be depending heavily on true freshmen in their season openers. The Terps will have true freshman Perry Hills starting at quarterback, are likely to use two freshman running backs and will use receiver Stefon Diggs in several roles. Miami has more than a dozen freshmen in its two-deep.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas, Jeremiah Attaochu
AP Photo/John BazemoreGeorgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu gets another chance to bring down Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas this weekend.
4. Special teams in Blacksburg. Georgia Tech’s group was abysmal last season, but the Jackets hired special-teams coach Dave Walkosky, the first special-teams coach Paul Johnson has hired during his tenure in Atlanta. The Hokies are trying to get Beamerball back, but questions in the kicking game persisted through summer camp.

5. Jeremiah Attaochu vs. Logan Thomas, Part 2. In this game last season, Attaochu was about to complete a third-down sack of Thomas but couldn’t bring the lumberjack down. Attaochu let his frustration and adrenaline get the better of him, and took a swing at Thomas, drawing a personal foul. The two have been friendly since, but getting pressure on Thomas will be key in this game.

6. Florida State’s offensive line. If there is one reason not to snooze on the Murray State game, this is it. The Seminoles showed a lot of progress up front this offseason, but they must continue it if FSU is going to live up to the expectations this season.

7. ACC vs. SEC. The ACC hasn't had a winning record against the SEC since it went 5-4 in 2003. The ACC could help itself change that this weekend with a 2-0 start against the SEC with victories by NC State and Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff.

8. North Carolina’s tempo. We finally get to see the “Fed Spread” in Chapel Hill, as UNC will unveil its new up-tempo spread offense under first-year coach Larry Fedora. How many more plays will the Tar Heels be able to run, and how well will they execute them? Bottom line: How fast can this team score? Time of possession could be deceiving.

9. Duke’s backups. The Blue Devils will be missing about a dozen injured scholarship players against Florida International, including receiver Blair Holliday, tight end Braxton Deaver, defensive tackle Jamal Bruce, safety Jordon Byas and linebacker Kelby Brown.

10. Virginia’s revamped secondary. UVa has no seniors in its secondary after having three senior starters last season. Only three other schools (Florida State, LSU and North Texas) have a senior-less secondary. More specifically, there are no upper-classmen at the cornerback position. Sophomore Demetrious Nicholson is now the elder statesman of the group.

Week 1 in the ACC

August, 28, 2012
Here’s a quick look at what’s on tap in the ACC in Week 1:


Tennessee vs. NC State (in Atlanta), 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU: The Wolfpack will be without starting cornerback C.J. Wilson, but Tennessee will be missing all-SEC receiver Da’Rick Rogers, who transferred to Tennessee Tech. These teams haven't played each other in 73 years.


Elon at North Carolina, 12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network: First-year coach Larry Fedora will unveil his up-tempo spread offense with quarterback Bryn Renner, and the defense will also have a new look under assistants Vic Koenning and Dan Disch. It’s one of five games against in-state opponents for UNC.

William & Mary at Maryland, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN 3: Maryland will have an entirely new look with two new coordinators following a 2-10 season, but the spotlight will be on true freshman quarterback Perry Hills, who will start in place of injured starter C.J. Brown.

Richmond at Virginia, 3 p.m. ET, RSN: Quarterback Michael Rocco held onto the starting job despite competition from Alabama transfer Phillip Sims this summer. There is plenty of familiarity between these programs, as UVa coach Mike London is a Richmond grad and former head coach. He had a 24-5 record in two seasons with the Spiders (2008 and 2009), including the FCS National Title in 2008. Richmond coach Danny Rocco, in his first season with the Spiders, is the uncle of the Hoos’ quarterback.

Miami at Boston College, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2: Both programs desperately need to start the season with a win. Boston College has won the last two meetings, including a 24-17 win at Miami in last season’s regular-season finale. BC’s offense will have a new look under first-year coordinator Doug Martin, and Miami quarterback Stephen Morris will take over the offense in his first season as full-time starter.

Murray State at No. 7 Florida State, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN3: ACC fans are waiting to turn the page, but this will give the Noles’ new-look offensive line a tune-up. This should be a glorified practice run for Florida State, as this year’s team has combined to start 420 collegiate games.

Liberty at Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3: The Deacs get four of their first five games at home and have to take advantage of that. They’ve got 13 starters back from last year’s team, which came within a field goal of winning the Atlantic Division.

FIU at Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN3: The Blue Devils managed to beat FIU on the road last year, but this is going to be a tough game again. FIU was the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference this year, and it received points in the USA Today Coaches preseason poll for the first time in school history. FIU is coming off back-to-back bowl games.

Auburn vs. No. 14 Clemson (in Atlanta), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: The defending ACC champs could help further distance themselves from that disappointing showing in the Orange Bowl with a win over an SEC team. They’ll have to do it without suspended receiver Sammy Watkins, who will miss the first two games.


Georgia Tech at No. 16 Virginia Tech, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN: The winner of this game has gone on to win the Coastal Division in each of the past seven seasons. The Hokies’ defense will be their strength while a young backfield and offensive line is introduced. Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington ran for three touchdowns against the Hokies last year.
The news that NC State will be without cornerback C.J. Wilson for the opener against Tennessee does not worry coach Tom O'Brien much.

That's because Dontae Johnson had already won the starting job. While Wilson is held out of the game with an NCAA eligibility issue, the Wolfpack will rely on Johnson, a player who is set to make his first career start at cornerback. That most likely means he will get picked on early with All-American cornerback David Amerson on the other side of the field.

"We made the move last spring," O'Brien said Tuesday during a media call for the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game against Tennessee on Friday night. "Dontae started the spring game at corner for us. This was something that had nothing to do with C.J. and everything to do with Dontae Johnson for us. He finished up spring practice at corner and continued to have a good camp."

Johnson is a converted safety who made two starts last season as a linebacker when the Wolfpack opened in a 4-2-5 set. The 6-foot-3, 196-pound junior has much better size than Wilson (5-11, 187 pounds) though he lacks in starting experience and game experience at cornerback.

Wilson has started 29 games in his career but after losing his starting job in the spring, O'Brien made it clear the senior would have to win it back. Now the Wolfpack have to wait to get Wilson back onto the field.

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 28, 2012
See you in Blacksburg?
2011 overall record: 8-5

2011 conference record: 4-4 (4th, Atlantic)

Returning starters

Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

LT R.J. Mattes, LG Duran Christophe, RG Zach Allen, C Camden Wentz, QB Mike Glennon, RB James Washington, WR Tobais Palmer, DE Brian Slay, DE Art Norman, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, CB C.J. Wilson, CB David Amerson, S Brandan Bishop, S Earl Wolff

Key losses

WR T.J. Graham, WR Jay Smith, TE George Bryan, RT Mikel Overgaard, DT Markus Kuhn, LB Terrell Manning, LB Audie Cole, LB D.J. Green

2011 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: James Washington* (897 yards)
Passing: Mike Glennon* (3,054 yards)
Receiving: T.J. Graham (757 yards)
Tackles: Audie Cole (108)
Sacks: Audie Cole/Terrell Manning/Art Norman*/Darryl Cato-Bishop* (5.5)
Interceptions: David Amerson* (13)

Spring answers

1. Good luck passing against these DBs. All four starters are back, headed by the record-setting David Amerson, whose 13 picks last season were the most in ACC history. Amerson added another in the spring game. Playing keep-away won't be so easy for opposing quarterbacks, who also have to worry about corner C.J. Wilson, who has returned all three of his career picks for scores.

2. Mike Glennon ready to improve. It wasn't always easy playing in the shadow of Russell Wilson, but Glennon had a strong finish to the 2011 season and had the benefit (or is it horror?) of facing his own secondary this spring. Look for him to build off his 3,000-yard debut season.

3. Glennon's targets should be fine. Despite the loss of T.J. Graham, the Wolfpack figure to be OK at wide receiver. Tobais Palmer had five touchdowns last season and should lead a group that, like Glennon, had its work cut out for it this spring going up against a talented secondary.

Fall questions

1. How will the LBs fare? Graduations, early draft departures and suspensions have hurt the unit. Dontae Johnson is the only returner with extensive playing time, but that came at free safety, a position he left behind this spring. Fifth-year senior Sterling Lucas figures to enter camp as the starter in the middle.

2. How will Rodman Noel transition? The athletic Noel has moved from safety to outside linebacker, and a strong jump from him could provide a big boost to the young unit. Look for him to be used all over the field in a hybrid-like role for the Wolfpack.

3. Can Mustafa Greene emerge? Legal problems and injuries have hurt the running back, who would be returning to play behind an experienced offensive line if he can work his way back into playing time. Greene totaled 869 yards and six touchdowns during his true freshman campaign of 2010.
With national signing day quickly approaching, we’re going to take a look at the recruiting needs of each school in the ACC, starting with the Atlantic Division. These needs are based on current rosters and anticipated departures in the near future. Here’s a look at who has what holes to fill in the 2012 class:


Linemen: The depth here continues to be a priority on both sides. The decision of defensive end Max Holloway to declare early for the NFL draft was an unexpected loss, and tackle Dillon Quinn will be a senior. Offensively, the Eagles will have to replace two veterans and leaders in center Mark Spinney and guard Nate Richman.

Linebackers: All-American Luke Kuechly’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft was expected, but the staff is looking for about two or three more linebackers in this class.

Receivers: This was a young group to begin with, as Alex Amidon and Bobby Swigert were both true sophomores, but the staff could use one or two more in this class.


Linemen: The Tigers will lose three starters on the defensive line and three more on the offensive line from the 2011 ACC championship team. Center Dalton Freeman is a returning starter, but he will be a senior. Six players on the final two-deep depth chart on the offensive line were either seniors or graduate students in 2011, and four on the defensive line two-deep must be replaced.

Running back: Andre Ellington is entering his senior year, and while Mike Bellamy is back in school and in the good graces of coach Dabo Swinney, the future of the position is uncertain. Rod McDowell played well in the bowl game, and D.J. Howard has been a backup.

Defensive backs: The Tigers could start three seniors in the secondary in 2012: Xavier Brewer, Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks.

Kickers: The Tigers will lose punter Dawson Zimmerman, opening up an opportunity for a true freshman to play immediately.


Pick and choose: The Noles have built up enough depth that they can now be selective. Instead of building a class heavy on offensive linemen, Florida State can now pick and choose the best at each position. The Noles need at least one running back, one or two quarterbacks, a few offensive tackles, a linebacker to help replace Nigel Bradham and a safety or two.

Kickers: The Noles have big shoes to fill with the graduation of punter Shawn Powell, and kicker Dustin Hopkins is entering his final season.


Running back: This is a position where a true freshman could see some playing time this year. Justus Pickett returns, along with Brandon Ross, who redshirted last year.

Quarterback: The Terps ended the 2011 season with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster in Danny O’Brien and C.J. Brown. Both will be juniors and nobody is behind them.

Cornerback. Maryland has to replace Trenton Hughes and Cameron Chism at cornerback, leaving Dexter McDougle the only one with any significant playing time.


Defensive line: The staff already has about six linemen committed and ends were a particular focus. Half of the linemen in the two-deep depth chart for the Belk Bowl were either juniors or seniors.

Secondary: This should be a strength for NC State in 2012, but the staff needs to prepare for the future here. Cornerback C.J. Wilson will be a senior, along with safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop.

Quarterback: Mike Glennon is already listed as a graduate student, and his backup, Tyler Brosius, redshirted this past season. The position is thin and the future uncertain behind Glennon.


Offensive line: The Deacs will lose four starters up front, but coach Jim Grobe has only played one true freshman there in 11 years. He has several redshirt freshmen and sophomores who are expected to fill in, but the staff wants to continue to build the depth at the position.

Tight end: Wake Forest will graduate its top two tight ends and will turn to two redshirt sophomores in Neil Basford and Johnny Garcia who have yet to catch a pass. It’s possible this could be a spot where an exceptional freshman could see playing time.

Defensive backs: The Deacs have to replace starting free safety Josh Bush and starting strong safety Cyhl Quarles. Cornerback Kenny Okoro will be a redshirt senior.

Ranking the ACC's cornerbacks

June, 30, 2011
I have been ranking 10 players at each position. On the ACC’s pre-spring all-star checklist, only five cornerbacks from a total of four different programs are listed. There's a reason for that.

1. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech: He led the nation in interceptions last season with nine in 13 games and ranked fifth nationally in passes defended with 17. He was second in the ACC and 19th nationally in punt returns.

2. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State: He was named the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year after a freshman season in which he ranked 16th nationally in passes defended with four interceptions and 12 breakups. He also had 58 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries.

3. Greg Reid, Florida State: He finished 10th in the nation in passes defended with three interceptions and 14 deflections. He also had 65 tackles, three forced fumbles and finished fourth in the ACC in punt returns.

4. Chase Minnifield, Virginia: He started all 12 games last season and finished second in the ACC and No. 7 nationally with six INTs. He also had 48 tackles and broke up four passes despite being slowed the final four games of the season with an ankle injury.

5. Donnie Fletcher, Boston College: He started all 13 games last season and finished fourth in the ACC in interceptions with five. He also had 56 tackles and three pass breakups.

6. Charles Brown, North Carolina: On paper, UNC has to replace its entire secondary, but Brown has 22 career starts before sitting out last season. He has 151 career tackles, six interceptions and 193 return yards.

7. Cameron Chism, Maryland: The senior had a breakout season last year with 70 tackles (43 solo), four TFLs and eight pass deflections. He also forced one fumble, recovered another and blocked a kick.

8. C.J. Wilson, NC State: He had 46 tackles last season, two interceptions and six pass breakups. He has 19 career starts, and both of his interceptions last season were returned for touchdowns.

9. Ross Cockrell, Duke: He is a returning starter and finished last season with 60 tackles and 10 passes defended. He was only a freshman but he tied for eighth in the ACC in passes defended with 10 in 12 games.

10: Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech: He had 38 tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception last season as a reserve.
As advertised ...

1. Florida State: The Noles have one of the best cornerback duos in the country in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. They combined for 33 passes defended last season, the most of any pair of cornerbacks in the nation. Mike Harris had 41 tackles and four picks as a reserve.

[+] EnlargeGreg Reid
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireFlorida State cornerback Greg Reid is also one of the ACC's top return men.
2. Virginia Tech: Jayron Hosley is one of the top boundary corners in the country, and the Hokies also have Kyle Fuller, who had six deflections last season, and Cris Hill (two deflections) at field corner.

3. Maryland: The Terps return both starters in Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes, who combined for 36 career starts. Chism is a strong cover corner who had 70 tackles and eight deflections last season. Hughes had nine pass deflections.

4. NC State: Both starters return in C.J. Wilson and David Amerson. Wilson had 46 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups, and Amerson had 57 tackles. Justin Byers and Gary Grant also have experience.

5. North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost some remarkable talent in their secondary, including cornerback Kendric Burney, but there is a lot of depth at the position. Jabari Price started four games last season, Charles Brown has 22 career starts but sat out last season, and Mywan Jackson and Tre Boston both have at least four starts each.

6. Boston College: The Eagles will miss DeLeon Gause, but Donnie Fletcher has 17 career starts, 56 tackles last season, and led the team with five picks. C.J. Jones played in 12 games as a backup last season with 16 tackles. Dominique Williams also saw some time and had four tackles, and true freshman Al Louis-Jean, who was the No. 9 cornerback in the nation as ranked by ESPN Recruiting, enrolled early.

7. Clemson: It’s a young group, as the Tigers had to replace Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell. Xavier Brewer had 10 starts with 50 tackles and two interceptions last season, Coty Sensabaugh had 31 tackles in three starts, and senior Mansa Joseph will also be competing for playing time with sophomore Martin Jenkins.

8. Virginia: The Cavaliers return both starters in Chase Minnifield and Devin Wallace, but Wallace was suspended and missed spring ball and is still suspended. Wallace had 38 tackles and six breakups last season. Chris Broadnax, Rijo Walker, Drequan Hoskey and Pablo Alvarez will all compete for playing time.

9. Miami: The Hurricanes have to replace both starters in Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill. Jo-Jo Nicholas moved to corner and Brandon McGee, who was the nickel back last season, will compete along with Lee Chambers, Keion Payne, Nathan Gholston and true freshman Thomas Finnie, who had a great spring.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets had to replace their entire secondary, including cornerbacks Mario Butler and Dominique Reese. They’ve still got several cornerbacks with experience in Rashaad Reid, who started 14 games in 2008 and 2009, Rod Sweeting (38 tackles, seven pass breakups, one interception), Louis Young (10 tackles), and Michael Peterson (six tackles, one pass breakup).

11. Wake Forest: The Deacs have a deep enough secondary that they can live without the experience of cornerback Kevin Johnson, who started five games last season but will sit out this season while academically ineligible. Josh Bush had 33 tackles and four pass breakups last season, Kenny Okoro is a rising star, A.J. Marshall has three starts and Dominique Tate returns after missing last season while on academic suspension.

12. Duke: Ross Cockrell is a returning starter and finished last season with 60 tackles and 10 passes defended. He was only a freshman but he tied for eighth in the ACC with passes defended with 10 in 12 games. Johnny Williams had four pass breakups last season.

Spring changes at NC State

March, 10, 2011
NC State starts spring practices a week from today, and there are some notable changes on the Wolfpack's spring "organizational chart." (Coach Tom O'Brien refuses to call it a depth chart). NC State returns 12 starters (eight on defense), and it's the deepest, healthiest and most experienced team O'Brien has had to work with since arriving in Raleigh. That depth has allowed O'Brien and his staff to finally put players in the positions they're best suited for -- not the ones he needs bodies at. One of the biggest changes, though, will be at quarterback, where Mike Glennon is unofficially officially taking over.

No, there hasn't been any definitive answer from Russell Wilson as to whether he will play his final season of football or turn his attention completely to a professional baseball career, but O'Brien and everyone else within the program is moving on as if Wilson is not coming back. He is not counted among the returning starters. In addition to the quarterback change, here are the other most noticeable differences in the spring, well, let's just agree to call it a chart:
  • The biggest move is that of redshirt sophomore Dean Haynes from halfback to safety. Two weeks before the 2010 season opener, Haynes was moved from defense to the offense, where he started eight games at halfback.
  • Sophomore safety D.J. Green will move to the field linebacker spot.
  • Veteran linebacker Audie Cole will move to the middle, which was vacated by Nate Irving.
  • In the secondary, the returning starters at cornerback will flip positions, with C.J. Wilson manning the boundary and David Amerson moving to the field.
  • Everett Proctor will move from defensive back to wide receiver.
“All of these changes should make us a stronger defensive football team,” O'Brien said, according to the school's website. “We like to bring versatile people in -- guys who can play multiple positions. Then as we grow as a football team and they grow as individual players, we can decide what each individual’s best position is and how he can best help the team.

"Last season we had to move Haynes to running back because there was no other choice and he did a great job for us. But hopefully those days are over and we can continue to put people in positions that they are best suited for.”

NC State's 'D' looking to continue progress

September, 16, 2010
Instead of depending on the athleticism of standout quarterback Russell Wilson, NC State found itself in an unfamiliar situation last Saturday against UCF – the defense was winning the game for the Pack.

With under a minute to play and UCF trailing by a touchdown, the Knights were on NC State’s 31-yard line when quarterback Jeff Godfrey completed a 20-yard pass. Safety Brandan Bishop put his helmet on the ball to force a fumble and linebacker Terrell Manning recovered at the 10-yard line.

It’s those kinds of game-changing plays that have been missing for NC State, and the kind that could be the difference in whether or not the Pack is an Atlantic Division contender and bowl team this year. NC State coach Tom O’Brien and defensive coordinator Mike Archer both agreed that the defense is still a work in progress with much bigger tests ahead, starting tonight against Cincinnati, but the Pack enters the game holding opponents to just 14 points and 90.5 rushing yards per game. It’s a noticeable difference from last year, when NC State finished 11th in the ACC, allowing 31.2 points per game.

Can it keep it up?

“I think it’s too early to tell,” Archer said. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re encouraged by the fact that for two games we’ve made improvement and last week we had to win it. We had to pull it out at the end. Our kids are older, they’re wiser, they’re a little stronger, but we have a little ways to go.”

The defense is still extremely young, particularly in the secondary, where three of the four starters are either true or redshirt sophomores, and three of their backs are true freshmen. That bodes well for the future, but boundary corner is still a concern, especially with Cincinnati’s quarterback-receiver combo of Zach Collaros and Armon Binns, who are capable of stretching the field.

Granted, it’s only played two games, but the Pack is leading the ACC in total defense (248.5 yards per game), and also leads the league in turnover margin. NC State has created six takeaways and hasn’t lost the ball once.

Last year, the defense intercepted a total of eight passes in 12 games. Against UCF, it had three, including C.J. Wilson’s return for a touchdown. NC State forced five turnovers in that game.

The question is whether or not the Pack can keep it up.

“I think we've made improvement,” O’Brien said. “Whether it's significant or not, I'm not going to buy in for a while. We've only played two games, so there is a lot of football left to play. We'll be severely challenged with Collaros here on Thursday night.

“Each week, I think, will present a different challenge to our defense,” O’Brien said. “We're certainly not going to think that we're a finished product by any stretch of the imagination.”

Checking in on NC State

August, 23, 2010
A few quick hits to update you on summer camp in Raleigh:
  • There's still no word on who will start at running back for the Wolfpack when it opens the season against Western Carolina. Curtis Underwood and James Washington are the frontrunners, but coach Tom O'Brien isn't ready to say yet who's got the edge. Nor will he reveal if either one of them are injured.
  • Linebacker Nate Irving has adjusted well to his move to the middle, but he was held out of the first two scrimmages just for precautionary reasons.
  • Keep an eye on Terrell Manning at weakside linebacker. He has a lot of potential and showed flashes of it last season in limited playing time. He started against Duke and Florida State, and had eight tackles and forced a fumble against the Seminoles.
  • The secondary hasn't gotten any older this summer. The starting lineup could consist of three sophomores and a junior walk-on, if O'Brien goes with corners C.J. Wilson, Jordan Monk and safeties Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff.

ACC's early darkhorse pick

May, 6, 2010
There's always the potential for a surprise contender, a late-season push by an unheralded opponent (see: Duke, 2009).

The ACC race is so wide open this fall it wouldn't be a true surprise if any of the following teams won the conference title: Clemson, Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami or North Carolina.

So who would be a surprise, that darkhorse who creeps up on everyone?

My early pick is the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Here are three reasons why:

1. It's about time. Coach Tom O'Brien is due. He's entering his fourth season and hasn't been able to catch a break. Injuries or other setbacks prevented O'Brien from showing what he can do when he's got everything in place. O'Brien is a better coach than his 2-6 ACC record last year indicates, and wins over Pitt and UNC are proof. If everyone on this team can stay healthy and out of trouble, the Pack should be back in the postseason.

2. Russell Wilson should still be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He completed 59.3 percent of his passes last year for 3,027 yards and a league-leading 31 touchdown passes. He finished 15th nationally in pass efficiency with a 147.77 rating. He also finished 19th nationally in total offense.

3. The defense will be better. Linebacker should be a strong position, especially with the return of Nate Irving, who had 80 tackles and four interceptions in 2008, and Audie Cole, who was NC State's leading tackler a year ago with 73. They'll be under the guidance of former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, who was hired to coach the linebackers. The secondary was young and ever-changing last year but should be better with the return of two starters in C.J. Wilson and Brandan Bishop. Four other defensive backs started last year.