ACC: Clint Sintim

Virginia motivated to avoid repeat of last season

August, 16, 2009
8/16/09
3:58
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Virginia coach Al Groh looked at his watch, sarcastically noting that it's 2009, not 2008, and that's what he wants to talk about.

You can't blame him.

Last year was a rough season for Virginia, as the Cavaliers dealt with the academic suspensions of two key players in quarterback Jameel Sewell and cornerback Chris Cook, there was no experienced quarterback to turn to in the season opener against USC, two players were arrested for trying to steal beer from a bar refrigerator, and a four-game losing streak capped the end of a miserable season that could have been salvaged but instead ended one win shy of a bowl bid.

"The 2008 team had to endure more things probably than any team that I've been associated with," Groh said. "And to remain strong in the face of all of that, they did that, and for that I have a great appreciation for what they did. It's like in boxing. The less amount of body punches they can take over the course of the fight, probably the better off you are and the fresher you are at the end. That team and those players took some body punches and they shook them off, but they still take their toll at certain points. Right now we've been free of those particular things."

And it's made a difference.

In fact, the entire program looks different -- literally. New linebackers, new receivers, a new offensive coordinator, and a newfound desire to win some football games. While Groh doesn't want to spend too much time dwelling on the past, it's served as an inspiration to his team this year.

Senior linebacker Denzel Burrell said he can still picture the disappointed looks on the faces of former linebackers Clint Sintim and John Phillips, and how heartbroken they were after Virginia Tech ended their season with a 17-14 loss.

"To me that's all motivation," he said. "We want to get out there and prove ourselves and prove everybody wrong. We want to make our fans happy, our coaches and ourselves."

Defensive end Nate Collins agreed.

"No one wants to have that season," he said. "No one wants to end the season without making a bowl game. That was a huge loss for us. I feel like everyone on our team realizes that. No one wants to be in that position again. No one wants to be home for a whole month in December when you're watching all these bowl games, teams you might have beat during the season, and you're like, 'We're better than them.' Everyone is buying in. we want to have a better season and I feel like we will have a better season this year."

The reality of the situation is that it's a work in progress, and nobody knows how Virginia will look until it takes the field on Sept. 5 against William & Mary. Outside expectations are low because of the high amount of transition the program is going through. Offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon said some players have learned his offense quicker than others, but the staff has yet to determine who its starting quarterback will be, let alone the wide receivers. Still, those within the program believe they have the pieces in place to improve upon last year's 5-7 season.

"We've got something to prove this year," said offensive tackle Will Barker. "I think we've got all of the right guys and the right system to do it."

At the very least, they've got the determination.

"What I like about the players so far is they have demonstrated a very strong resolution towards what they want to get accomplished," Groh said. "We see ourselves making a lot of progress in developing the mental strength that's necessary to have the resilience and positive energy and confidence to take on all the things that happen during the course of a season."

So far, Virginia is already ahead of where it was last year in that the Cavaliers are only answering questions about football -- not distracting off-field issues.

Virginia's Greer next in line at linebacker

August, 13, 2009
8/13/09
10:37
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

During his time at Solon High School in Ohio, Virginia linebacker Steve Greer wore No. 56 because former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor has always been one of his favorite players.

Now, Greer is playing for the man who once coached Taylor, Al Groh.

Groh was an assistant at North Carolina when he coached Taylor, and later coached Taylor with the Giants. That history played a huge role in luring Greer from Ohio to Charlottesville.

"That was pretty big for me, that he coached one of the best linebackers to ever play the game," said Greer, a redshirt freshman. "That was definitely a huge selling point, to have coach Groh, who I really believe is one of the best linebacker coaches in the game coaching me at linebacker. It's an honor. ... His knowledge almost seems endless. The stuff he says, it's something new every day and something that gets you better. It's fun to watch yourself improve."

When he came to Virginia, though, Greer was given the No. 53 jersey -- next in line to No. 54, inside linebacker Jon Copper, who was the team's leading tackler each of the past three seasons. After an impressive spring, Greer is now taking most of the reps with the first team in place of the graduated Copper, and is listed as the first-string linebacker on the preseason depth chart. This will be his first season playing in a college game.

Greer and Copper have been trading some text messages this summer, and Copper has been giving him tips and advice on how to stay healthy through camp. The two of them were trying to arrange a film study together, too.

"I learned how to be a successful college football player, being a student of the game and how to do everything the right way," Greer said of watching Copper. "I just want to help the team win."

Virginia's linebacking corps could use some help, as the Cavaliers have to replace Copper, Antonio Appleby and Clint Sintim -- the top three tacklers on the team. The trio was so good their backups rarely saw playing time simply because Groh didn't want to take them off the field.

"It's definitely tough not having a lot of game experience, but at the same time, when you're taking reps at practice every day, and doing that, you engage yourself in what you're doing," Greer said. "For the young guys, it's about getting in games, but besides that we have a lot of practice experience."

Groh said Greer also has the work ethic.

"Steven was one of those hard-working, very committed, high-motor players in high school and has been that ever since he got here, whether it was in his practice habits last year or the offseason program," Groh said. "He has stayed very consistent about how he goes about his business."

The only thing that's changed is his number, and this year, it will be called upon.

Scouting Virginia

August, 7, 2009
8/07/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Where to begin with this group? How about at the top, since that's where it all starts anyway? Some think Al Groh is on the hot seat, and believe a second straight losing season could -- or even should -- cost him his job. I beg to differ. Groh's contract isn't up until Dec. 31, 2011. If Virginia makes it to a bowl, considering how much turnover there was in both staff and personnel this offseason, it should be considered a heck of a coaching job in a transition year. If Virginia doesn't make it to a bowl game, how many people will really flinch?

The best thing this team has going for it is some experience at quarterback, which wasn't an option last year. Vic Hall, formerly a cornerback, enters summer camp as the first-string quarterback, but will continue to be pushed by 2007 starter Jameel Sewell and 2008 starter Marc Verica. There are definitely worse scenarios. And all of them will be working behind an offensive line that returns four starters -- another strength that was a concern a year ago.

There haven't been anything but positive reviews on the hire of first-year offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon, but only time will tell how long it will take the players to adjust to the spread offense. Only five starters return on offense and six on defense. The positions that took the biggest hits were receiver and linebacker, where both groups must replace three starters from a year ago. Let's get to that now:

1. Who will catch the ball? The three leading receivers from 2008 -- Maurice Covington, Cary Koch and Kevin Ogletree -- were ranked 1-4-5 in receptions last year and combined for 121 receptions. This spring didn't reveal an answer, but maybe the summer will. The front-runners are Jared Green, Dontrelle Inman, Kris Burd and Javaris Brown.

2. How do you replace such an impressive trio of linebackers? You don't. Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim ranked 1-2-3 in tackling and combined to start 123 games in their careers. Virginia's leading returning tackler, Hall, is now playing quarterback. Steve Greer, a redshirt freshman, caught Groh's attention this spring, and is listed on the preseason depth chart as a starting inside linebacker along with senior Darren Childs. Groh runs a 3-4 defense, and senior outside linebacker Denzel Burrell is back as a returning starter, so he'll be the leader and the face of the group. Senior Aaron Clark is listed as the starting outside linebacker.

3. Can tailback Mikell Simpson be the player he was in 2007? Quite frankly, he doesn't have much choice. Simpson is a player Groh will depend heavily upon, as there's not much other experience to turn to. But Simpson faded into the background last year after making a name for himself in 2007. That season, he rushed for 570 yards and caught 43 passes for 402 more. Last year, his rushing total fell to 262 yards and he caught just 15 passes. He was also injured in the ninth week against Miami and missed the remainder of the season. Simpson will be the X-factor for Virginia this year.

Ranking the ACC units: Linebackers

July, 22, 2009
7/22/09
5:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope and concern: Virginia

July, 1, 2009
7/01/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Biggest reason for hope -- Experience at quarterback

It seems like the one position the Cavaliers didn't lose a boatload of experience, and it's quite a turnaround from the situation they were in at this time last year, when none of the candidates had ever started a game. The return of former starter Jameel Sewell from academic troubles, the newfound experience of Marc Verica, and the athletic ability of Vic Hall will give first-year offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon plenty of options.

Biggest reason for concern -- It's a tie: Linebackers and wide receivers

Both of these positions were hit equally as hard, as three veteran linebackers and the top four receivers have to be replaced. The graduation of linebackers Clint Sintim, Antonio Appleby and Jon Copper will literally change the face of Al Groh's defense, and considering how good they were, Groh was understandably reluctant to take them off the field in order to get their backups much playing time. Receivers Jared Green and Kris Burd both had good springs, but they combined for 19 catches last year and will be facing much higher expectations. Groh said he is still waiting for a dependable go-to player to emerge.

SOS in the ACC

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

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009
5/07/09
9:10
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia Cavaliers
2008 overall record: 5-7

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 5, defense: 6, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

C Jack Shields, QB Marc Verica, QB Jameel Sewell, CB/QB Vic Hall, CB Ras-I Dowling, T Will Barker, TB Mikell Simpson

Key losses

WR Maurice Covington, WR Kevin Ogletree, WR Cary Koch, T Eugene Monroe, TB Cedric Peerman, TE John Phillips, OLB Antonio Appleby, ILB Jon Copper, OLB Clint Sintim

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Cedric Peerman (774 yards)
Passing: Marc Verica* (2,037 yards)
Receiving: Kevin Ogletree (723 yards)
Tackles: Jon Copper (101)
Sacks: Clint Sintim (11)
Interceptions: Ras-I Dowling* (3)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule

Sept. 5 William & Mary
Sept. 12 TCU
Sept. 19 at Southern Miss
Oct. 3 at North Carolina
Oct. 10 Indiana
Oct. 17 at Maryland
Oct. 24 Georgia Tech
Oct. 31 Duke
Nov. 7 at Miami
Nov. 14 Boston College
Nov. 21 at Clemson
Nov. 28 Virginia Tech

1. Quarterback, not cornerback. Yes, Vic Hall really is playing offense. Al Groh has committed to getting Hall involved on the offensive side of things, whether it's at quarterback or other situational plays and opportunities. That's where he spent the entire spring -- not in the defensive meetings.

2. In good hands. With the departure of the top four receivers, one of the questions this spring was who would step up. The players felt like Kris Byrd and Javaris Brown answered that question, and they're also confident in sophomore Jared Green.

3. Buzz about Brandon. Make no mistake -- the offense isn't where it needs to be yet. But there is an excitement about Gregg Brandon's scheme, and it was well-received by the players. It's no-huddle, and they're trying to get the plays in fast to keep the defenses on their heels. Just remember -- nobody thought Georgia Tech's offense would flourish in its first season, either.

Fall questions

1. Ah, quarterback. The emphasis this spring was not to determine who the starter was, but to let all of them get enough reps so the coaches could start to judge who could best manage the team in the new offense. Just because Hall and Sewell are versatile athletes doesn't mean the other candidates won't be involved in the offense in some capacity.

2. Looking for linebackers. It's not easy replacing veterans like Antonio Appleby, Clint Sintim and Jon Copper. There's not a lot of playing experience to choose from, and it will take some time for the young players to grow into those spots. The staff was pleased with Darren Childs, Steve Greer, Aaron Taliaferro, Cam Johnson, and Darnell Carter.

3. Kicking game. Yannick Reyering couldn't get through spring practice because of knee problems and is no longer with the team. The staff is looking for someone to take over that position. Robert Randolph and sophomore Chris Hinkebein were effective in the spring scrimmage, but neither has won the job.

Friday Mailblog

April, 24, 2009
4/24/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Dustin in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: HD I was just wondering after watching the FSU spring game, and looking ahead to the tough schedule with key games against Miami, BYU and Florida, how many victories do you think Florida State will accumulate this season?

Heather Dinich: I wasn't there for the spring game. I see at least seven wins on the schedule, but there are tricky games there. For instance, at Wake Forest. No need to remind FSU fans how that series has gone recently. BYU has a good offense, but the defense is notoriously slow. FSU's speed should have the edge, especially if they watch the TCU film from last year. Boston College gave FSU trouble last year. If there's one game the Noles will want redemption in, it should be Georgia Tech. Nobody likes to lose like that. Speaking of the Noles' schedule ...


Will in Orlando writes: I read where you said FSU would beat Florida. Where does this come from? Florida is returing every starter on D. Is ponder that good.

HD: I would love to know where that came from, Will, because I certainly don't remember writing that, and I don't think FSU will beat Florida.


Donny in Coconut Grove, Fla., writes: Hey HD, I picked up your blog a couple months back and am very grateful for it--thanks! My question is this: so far your stated opinion of Miami is that next year's going to be a crapshoot, could go either way. As someone who reads both the Miami recruiting sites and fan blogs, the general consensus is that there has been marked improvement since last year. Besides the built in optimism for the home team, how do you account for the disparity between your feelings and those of the Miami fans/people inside the program?

HD: Thanks for reading, Donny. I also agree there was improvement this spring and there is a ton of talent on Miami's roster. Those within the program have to be optimistic. They certainly can't head into that schedule with their confidence wavering, and the players and coaches I've talked to have all said they're ready to rock. Not even they know, though, how the young players will respond to a new offense and new defense when the lights come on.


John in Blacksburg writes: Looking over VT's schedule for the last 7 years, the Hokies have *averaged* only one loss at home a year. If this plays true for next season, which team do you think will pull it off and why? (North Carolina on a Thursday Night and NC state in November are two scenarios that traditionally VT is exceptionally good, so I might have to disagree if you pick either of those.)

HD: First, a disclaimer: those were his astericks, not mine. Second, I love it when readers disagree with my answer before I even answer. I don't think UNC is going to win in Blacksburg on a Thursday night. If NC State is playing for something at the end of the season like I think it might be, that could be the game. Duke almost beat VT with its backup quarterback last year in Blacksburg, so nothing is impossible. So I think it would be either Miami or NC State.


Tommy in Richmond writes: HD, I know that the qb situation at UVA is up for grabs between mainly Hall and Sewell. What other position is the biggest question for them this offseason?

HD: That's a tough question because they lost so much. I'd say their losses at linebacker were huge. Clint Sintim, Antonio Appleby and Jon Copper will all be sorely missed. The linebackers and receivers are probably the biggest questions marks. For the first time in the Al Groh era, they don't have a proven tight end, but that position isn't as much of a pass catcher as it was in the previous offense.


Michael in North Cackalacky writes: HD, has there been any mention at Wake of moving Skylar Jones to receiver or something? If he ends up losing out on the backup job I can't imagine keeping an athlete with his speed on the sideline for another entire season.

HD: Not that I've heard, and considering they already lost one backup quarterback, I'd be really surprised if they intentionally moved another.

Five spring story lines in the ACC

March, 5, 2009
3/05/09
9:06
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Good morning, ACC fans. Amazingly, we survived February with no college football. March is when 10 of the 12 schools begin spring practice, with Miami having already started, and Virginia Tech waiting until April 1. We've taken a look at what to watch for each team during spring football, but there are a few overriding themes to keep an eye on throughout the entire conference this spring. We've touched on some of these in individual posts, but here it is wrapped up with a little spring bow:

1. New coordinators -- Boston College, Clemson, Miami and Virginia all have them, on both sides of the ball. BC should have a smooth transition on defense, because coach Frank Spaziani was previously defensive coordinator and promoted linebackers coach Bill McGovern. But how involved Spaziani will be remains a question. The Eagles will have to get used to first-year offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, and could have a new starting quarterback. Clemson's offense will be interesting to watch unfold under Billy Napier, who was promoted from recruiting coordinator. Jacoby Ford said he thinks they're going to let loose a little bit, but the Tigers have the benefit of familiar faces on that side of the ball. The biggest question marks are at Miami and Virginia, where there are some serious expectations for improvement.

2. Backup quarterbacks -- The importance of these guys just can't be underestimated, and Virginia Tech could attest to that last season when their top two quarterbacks were both injured at Florida State. This spring, it will be an area of big competition at almost every school, particularly Miami, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Duke. Backups either transferred or quit at Miami, Maryland and Wake Forest.

3. Third-year coaches -- Butch Davis, Tom O'Brien and Randy Shannon. The progress watch has begun. All of these coaches took an important step last year and won more games than they did in their first season, but the next step -- contending for their division titles -- is more difficult. Both Davis and Shannon, at some point last year, were in the mix to win the Coastal Division. O'Brien has a little bit further to go, but the team's success at the end of the season was something to build on.

4. Running backs and wide receivers -- For different reasons, these are the two positions to keep an eye on offensively in the ACC. Many of the league's top receivers from a year ago are gone, but the talent at running back runs deep at a lot of schools.

5. The next defensive superstar -- Who is it going to be? Macho Harris is gone at Virginia Tech, as is the ACC's leading tackler, Michael Tauiliili of Duke. Everette Brown, Trimane Goddard, Michael Hamlin, Clint Sintim, Jon Copper, Aaron Curry, Alphonso Smith -- a lot of big names on defense have to be replaced. The ACC's Defensive Player of the Year returns in Mark Herzlich, but who will challenge him for that title this year?

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 11, 2009
2/11/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

With Miami kicking off spring practice on Feb. 24, it's never too early to start thinking about spring football in the ACC. There are plenty of story lines heading into the 2009 season -- like backup quarterbacks and new coordinators.

Here are a few things to watch for each team in the ACC this spring:

ATLANTIC DIVISION

BOSTON COLLEGE
Spring practice starts:
March 17
Spring game: April 25

What to watch

  • Replacing 325-pound defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace will be a large challenge -- literally. Damik Scafe could be a starter, but beyond him it's anybody's guess.
  • Quarterback Dominique Davis only has three games of experience over everyone else, so it's definitely not a given that it's his job to lose. Davis was thrown into the fire at the end of 2008, but former coach Jeff Jagodzinski and former offensive coordinator Steve Logan liked freshman Justin Tuggle, who redshirted this past season. Whether the new staff is as high on Tuggle remains to be seen.
  • Including former defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who was promoted to head coach, the Eagles will have six coaches in new positions this spring. With two new coordinators, a new offensive line coach, tight ends coach and a linebackers coach, this spring will be a chance for a few introductions.

(Read full post)

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ACC and the NFL combine

February, 3, 2009
2/03/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The official invitation list for the NFL scouting combine is out, and there are plenty of ACC players who will participate in the four-day job interview in Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24. Just because a player didn't make the list doesn't mean he won't be drafted, but here are the ACC players by school who were invited to the combine:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Kevin Akins, cornerback/linebacker

Ron Brace, defensive tackle

B.J. Raji, defensive tackle

CLEMSON

Chris Clemons, safety

James Davis, running back

Michael Hamlin, safety

Cullen Harper, quarterback

Aaron Kelly, receiver

Dorell Scott, defensive tackle

FLORIDA STATE

Everette Brown, defensive end

Graham Gano, punter/placekicker

GEORGIA TECH

Andrew Gardner, offensive tackle

Michael Johnson, defensive end

Darryl Richard, defensive tackle

Vance Walker, defensive tackle

Jahi Word-Daniels, cornerback

MARYLAND

Kevin Barnes, cornerback

Moise Fokou, outside linebacker

Dan Gronkowski, tight end

Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver

Jaimie Thomas, offensive guard

Edwin Williams, center

MIAMI

Bruce Johnson, cornerback

NORTH CAROLINA

Brooks Foster, wide receiver

Hakeem Nicks, wide recevier

Richard Quinn, tight end

Garrett Reynolds, offensive tackle

Brandon Tate, wide receiver

NC STATE

Andre Brown, running back

Anthony Hill, tight end

VIRGINIA

Eugene Monroe, offensive tackle

Kevin Ogletree, wide receiver

Cedric Peerman, tailback

John Phillips, tight end

Clint Sintim, linebacker

VIRGINIA TECH

Victor "Macho" Harris, cornerback

Orion Martin, defensive end

WAKE FOREST

Stanley Arnoux, linebacker

Aaron Curry, linebacker

Alphonso Smith, cornerback

Sam Swank, punter/placekicker

Chip Vaughn, safety

Weekend rewind: Senior Bowl

January, 26, 2009
1/26/09
2:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

For those of you who missed the Under Armour Senior Bowl this past weekend, here's a quick look at how some of the ACC players fared:

Virginia tailback Cedric Peerman: Led the North team with five carries for 34 yards, and had a fumble

NC State running back Andre Brown: 10 carries, 31 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run; caught two passes for 41 yards. Led South team with 72 all-purpose yards.

Clemson running back James Davis: Nine carries, 32 yards

Florida State running back Antone Smith: Two carries, 7 yards

Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper: Completed 2 of 5 passes for 44 yards (one was 32 yards long) and made one tackle

FSU receiver Greg Carr: Caught one pass for 9 yards

Virginia linebacker Clint Sintim: Five unassisted, one assisted tackle (fourth on the North team). Had one tackle for a loss of 2 yards.

Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace: Two assisted tackles

Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji: One unassisted tackle

Clemson safety Michael Hamlin: Four unassisted, one assisted tackle

Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn: Two tackles

Virginia Tech corner back Victor "Macho" Harris: One punt return for 10 yards

Peerman, Brown, Raji, Harris, Vaughn and Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith were all starters.

Best of luck to these guys and the other ACC seniors in this year's class, whether their next step is on the field or off.

Virginia's recruiting needs

January, 15, 2009
1/15/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia is having more success in the Tidewater area than in the past and some of that has been attributed to head defensive coach Bob Pruett, who used to be a high school coach in Virginia and is entering his second season on Al Groh's staff. Regardless of where they come from, the Cavaliers will need to bring in some wide receivers and linebackers in this class.

With recent hires of offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon and receivers coach Latrell Scott, Virginia will need some receivers for the spread offense the Cavaliers will implement in 2009.

The staff isn't really looking for anyone who will play immediately, but with the new offense, the departure of wide receiver Kevin Ogletree for the NFL draft and starter Maurice Covington graduated, freshmen receivers will have a chance to get on the field if they're capable.

The staff recently took an interest in receiver Bobby Smith (Richmond, Va.), and has three commitments from receivers. The other glaring holes on offense will be left by the graduation of tailback Cedric Peerman, tight end John Phillips and left tackle Eugene Monroe.

Virginia will also have to re-stock the linebacker position, where three of the four starters will have graduated and the fourth starter -- Denzel Burell -- will be a senior. Virginia will sorely miss starting linebackers Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim.

ACC will have 18 in Under Armour Senior Bowl

January, 12, 2009
1/12/09
4:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

I just received the final list of ACC players who will participate in the Under Armour Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala., and the newest release includes four players from Virginia. It's only fitting that more than half of these bowl-bound players are defenders.

Here is the final list:

Boston College: defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace

Clemson: Cullen Harper, quarterback; James Davis, running back; Michael Hamlin, safety

Georgia Tech: Vance Walker, defensive tackle; Michael Johnson, defensive end

North Carolina: Brooks Foster, wide receiver

North Carolina St.: Anthony Hill, tight end; Andre Brown, running back

Virginia: Eugene Monroe, left tackle; Cedric Peerman, running back; John Phillips, tight end; Clint Sintim, linebacker

Virginia Tech: Macho Harris, corner

Wake Forest: Aaron Curry, linebacker; Alphonso Smith, cornerback; Chip Vaughn, safety

Virginia season review

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Overview: The Cavaliers managed to morph from a downright bad football team into one capable of winning the ACC title before finishing the season the way they started -- poorly. A tumultuous offseason that included the loss of starting quarterback Jameel Sewell to academic troubles contributed to a second 5-7 record in three seasons for embattled coach Al Groh. Virginia was 1-3 in September, 4-0 in October, and 0-4 in November. Part of the problem was up front, where Virginia had three first-time starters on the offensive line tasked with protecting a new quarterback.

Not only did Virginia lose Sewell, but it also lost his backup, Peter Lalich, who transferred after his own off-field troubles became a distraction. Turnovers were costly throughout the entire season, and Marc Verica's 16 interceptions were the most by an ACC quarterback and the second-most during a single season in school history. The Cavaliers ended the season on an all-too familiar note -- with a loss to rival Virginia Tech -- and offensive coordinator Mike Groh was not retained by his father.

Offensive MVP: Tight end John Phillips. He was the ACC's leading receiver among tight ends with 48 catches for 384 yards. Phillips led the Cavaliers in receptions in four games this season, and caught seven against Miami. His ability to block, though, is what makes him a complete player.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Clint Sintim. He was one of the most dominating rush linebackers in the ACC, and had a streak of five games with a sack. Nearly a quarter of his tackles were behind the line of scrimmage and nobody on the team came close to his 24 quarterback pressures.

Turning point: The 24-17 home loss to Miami halted the four-game winning streak and proved to be costly in the Coastal Division standings. It snowballed into a four-game losing streak.

What's next: Groh needs to make a few hires and finish recruiting -- two critical jobs for a coach who is already on the hot seat for next season. The fact that athletic director Craig Littlepage didn't extend Groh's contract this season is evidence of that. Establishing an identity on offense will help, and that will start with a new coordinator.

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