ACC: Demarre Kitt

From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Up today: Wide receivers

Best of the best: Louisville

The move to the ACC figures to be one littered with transitional speed bumps, but coach Bobby Petrino does enter the league with an unmatched group of receivers. Senior DeVante Parker is arguably the conference’s top receiver and could be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft. He hauled in 55 passes in 2013, but with leading receiver Damian Copeland bypassing sixth year of eligibility, Parker’s numbers figure to increase. He could break the 1,000-yard barrier in 2014. The Cardinals return four of their top five leading receivers from last season when factoring in tight end Gerald Christian. Eli Rogers was effective as the No. 3 receiver last season, and at 5-foot-10, he provides an ideal complement to the 6-3 Parker.

Next: Miami

The Hurricanes have one of the conference’s emerging stars at any position in sophomore Stacy Coley. As a freshman, Coley caught seven touchdown passes, which led Miami. The 6-1, 185-pound receiver was one of Miami’s prized recruits from the 2013 class, as he was the fourth-ranked receiver in the country. Similar to Louisville, the Hurricanes lose their leading receiver from a season ago but return five of their top six from 2013. Clive Walford is one of the better tight ends, and the Hurricanes are hoping Beau Sandland lives up to his junior-college billing. In his first season, Sandland rarely made an impact, but he was ranked 15th nationally among juco recruits in 2013.

Sleeper: North Carolina

Marquise Williams helped turn around the Tar Heels’ season in 2013 and will likely be the starter entering the season, but he no longer has the luxury of throwing it up to tight end Eric Ebron, a top-10 pick in May’s NFL draft. However, the Heels do return several talented playmakers who could cause headaches for conference defensive coordinators. Junior Quinshad Davis is an underrated receiver, tallying 48 catches for 730 yards last season. He also had a team-high 10 touchdowns. Behind Davis is Ryan Switzer, who mostly made a name for himself as a returner. But it’s important to note that Switzer hauled in 32 passes. Bug Howard and T.J. Thorpe also return, which means the Heels bring back four of their top five receivers.

Problem for a contender: Clemson

There will be no replacing a talent like Sammy Watkins no matter how well the Tigers have recruited the position. Watkins was considered the best player in the draft by some teams and was brilliant in the Orange Bowl. Clemson is also breaking in a new quarterback, which means it could take some time for the passing game to develop the type of consistency it will need to break through a defensive secondary of Florida State’s caliber. Second-leading receiver Martavis Bryant is also off to the NFL. As mentioned earlier, however, the Tigers have recruited extremely well at the position and it would not be a total shock if by season’s end this turned into one of the conference’s best groups. Charone Peake was a five-star recruit in 2011, but last fall he tore a knee ligament after two games. Germone Hopper, Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester, Artavis Scott, Trevion Thompson and Mike Williams were all blue-chip recruits, too.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney put out his summer depth chart Tuesday without many huge surprises, but there are some interesting tidbits to note:
  • Let's start with some of the offensive positions with the biggest question marks. With Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant gone, Clemson now has Mike Williams and Charone Peake penciled in as starters, alongside veteran Adam Humphries. Early enrollee freshmen Demarre Kitt, Artavis Scott and Kyrin Priester are all listed on the two-deep.
  • At running back, D.J. Howard is listed as the starter, but expect Zac Brooks, C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman all to get extended playing time this season. The Tigers could feature much more of a running back-by-committee approach.
  • Right tackle is the only offensive position without a clear-cut starter listed. Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony are competing for that starting job.
  • As expected, Cole Stoudt is listed as the starting quarterback. Freshman Deshaun Watson is the backup.
  • On defense, it's no surprise to see two young players atop the cornerback spot. Redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander had a terrific spring. He is listed as a starter, along with Cordrea Tankersley. Seniors Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins are listed as the backups. Alexander is the only freshman starter on offense or defense.
  • The biggest holes to fill are at linebacker, where Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey are gone. Tony Steward is listed ahead of Ben Boulware for the weakside spot Shuey played, while T.J. Burrell, Travis Blanks, Korrin Wiggins and Dorian O'Daniel are listed at strongside/nickel back.
  • Tavaris Barnes is pushing Corey Crawford for a starting defensive end spot. They are listed with "or" next to their names. The tackle spot opposite Grady Jarrett also remains unsettled, with a three-way competition ongoing among Josh Watson, DeShawn Williams and D.J. Reader. No matter who enters the starting lineup, defensive line is the most experienced position on the entire team. All nine players on the two-deep are lettermen who have played at least 200 snaps in their careers, playing in a combined 266 games with 91 starts.

Clemson spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Clemson Tigers:

1. Cole Stoudt is the starting QB. What began as an intriguing three-way competition to replace record-setter Tajh Boyd was whittled down to Stoudt after Chad Kelly was dismissed from the team following the Tigers’ spring game. Early enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson had a very impressive spring, but he ended practice with a minor collarbone injury.

2. Clemson’s defensive line is as good as advertised. Granted it was only two-hand touch on the quarterback, but the defense still had 14 sacks and 11 of them were by the front four in the Tigers’ spring game. There’s a rotation of 10 players for those four positions, giving Clemson one of the deepest lines in the ACC if not the country.

3. Safety is the right fit for T.J. Green. Green was recruited to Clemson as a safety, but he switched to wide receiver last year where he played sparingly, mostly on special teams, as a true freshman. This spring, the staff moved him back to his natural position and he flourished, leading the Orange team with eight tackles in the spring game.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who will replace Sammy Watkins? It’s still one of the biggest questions in the ACC as Clemson has lots of depth, but none of the players separated themselves this spring as the go-to receiver. Adam Humphries, Germone Hopper, Charone Peake and Mike Williams are the most experienced options, but the staff is also very excited about newcomers Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott.

2. Who will be Clemson’s go-to running back? Much like the receivers, this was a very balanced group, as evidenced by the spring game stats. D.J. Howard (59 yards), Wayne Gallman (61 yards), Kurt Fleming (55 yards) and Zac Brooks (50 yards) had fairly even performances. Brooks is the leading returning rusher after gaining 246 yards on 48 carries last season, but it’s anyone’s game this summer.

3. Who will be starting right tackle? It was a concern for Dabo Swinney entering the spring and remains one heading into the summer. Isaiah Battle will be starting left tackle, but right tackle is up for grabs. It’s possible Swinney could move Kalon Davis, who started seven games at guard last year. Shaq Anthony or one of the younger players might also earn the job.

One way-too-early prediction

Clemson will lose its sixth straight game to rival South Carolina. Clemson will have the edge on defense, but if the Tigers couldn’t beat South Carolina with an all-star cast that included Watkins and Boyd, then it’s going to take more than defensive end Vic Beasley to beat the Gamecocks without them.

ACC spring games preview

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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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.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has holes to fill throughout his entire offense this spring. The incoming recruiting class should bring some relief.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNDeshaun Watson will get a chance at Clemson's starting QB job.
The Tigers could potentially rely on at least five true freshmen at skill positions when the season opens at Georgia. Not only is highly touted quarterback Deshaun Watson in the mix for the starting job, Kyrin Priester, Demarre Kitt and Artavis Scott will compete for playing time at receiver; and Jae'lon Oglesby, Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller will compete for playing time at running back.

Watson, Priester, Kitt and Scott are already enrolled and will participate in spring practice, so that gives them an extra opportunity to earn playing time and perhaps a starting job. Not only does Clemson have to replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback, starting receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant are gone, along with 1,000-yard rusher Roderick McDowell. That is a lot of production that has to be replaced in a short period of time.

Morris had plenty to say about each position group during a signing day show on the Clemson Web Site last week. Here is a little bit of insight, with a month to go before spring practice opens.

On the receivers: Morris touched on the veterans returning, noting that Charone Peake will not participate in full-contact drills while continuing to rehab a knee injury. The hope is for Peake to be full-go when fall practice opens in August. Germone Hopper will be expected to take on a much bigger role. "It's time for him to separate himself." As for top returning receiver Adam Humphries, "We expect Adam to be a guy we can move all over the field and be that guy we're really dependent on."

Priester will be expected to back up Mike Williams initially and challenge at the position Bryant and DeAndre Hopkins played. Morris described Kitt and Scott as "dynamic" and said they are both going to be battling to play. "The great thing about this profession, a fresh start's always a year away. To watch the battle at the receiver position is going to be a lot of fun, like quarterback."

On the quarterbacks: Morris described Watson as a "game changer." He will compete with veteran backup Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly for the starting job. "We have a great battle ahead of us this spring. ... That's why they call it coaching. We'll see how it goes, may the best man win."

On the running backs: Despite losing McDowell, Morris says Clemson will have the best depth at the position since he arrived. Zac Brooks is healthy and the Tigers are expecting big contributions from him, along with D.J. Howard. They also anticipate the debut of two redshirt freshmen: Tyshon Dye, iffy for spring with various injuries, and Wayne Gallman. Morris said Gallman is "probably as dynamic and electric a back as I've seen. He can turn speed to power so fast. There's a lot of great things going on with our backs."
Under coach Dabo Swinney, Clemson has finally rid itself of the underachievers label that haunted the program for much of the last decade. The program has turned the corner, and the Tigers are putting together the kind of recruiting classes to continually compete for ACC championships. Now Swinney can pitch an Orange Bowl win to recruits in 2014 and beyond, too.

Best ACC recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

The best head coaches are often called the closer when it comes to sealing the deal with recruits. Whether on a visit or a trip to a prospect’s home, the head coach is called upon to secure the signature.

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ACC's 2014 impact freshmen 

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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Fans always want to know who is next. Coaches need to know who is next. The top programs reload instead of rebuild. Ideally, a coaching staff can move down the depth chart and replace a graduated senior without much of a drop in production. With several coaches forgoing redshirting and instead playing true freshmen extensively, those replacement players are often first-year players now.

Here are Class of 2014 prospects in the ACC who could be the next household name on your favorite team.


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Best ACC classes by position 

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
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Florida State has the top class among ACC schools right now, but that is taking the Seminoles’ entire 23-recruit class into account. The Noles don’t have the best class at every position, as some of Florida State’s top rivals are looking stronger at certain positions. Here’s a look at which ACC school has the best class by position:

Quarterback
Strongest class: Clemson
The Tigers just don’t have the No. 1 quarterback in the conference but the top quarterback in the entire country. Clemson has an argument for the best QB class in the nation with Deshaun Watson (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville) in the fold. Heisman candidate Tajh Boyd will be gone after this season, so Watson could even come in and make a major impact as a freshman in 2014. Watson, who has been committed for more than a year, has also helped the Tigers reel in the conference’s strongest class at another position.

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ACC Official Visit: Canes add a QB

May, 15, 2013
5/15/13
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In this episode of the ACC Official Visit, we talk a potential QB controversy for the Miami Hurricanes, a strong start for the Louisville Cardinals and wide receiver Demarre Kitt sets a date. Will an ACC team be his final destination?

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