ACC: Deondre Singleton

Duke lost All-ACC cornerback Ross Cockrell from its secondary, but the Blue Devils are poised to be even better this season thanks to a philosophical shift on the recruiting trail.

After the 2012 season ended, the Duke coaching staff sat down to discuss ways to make the program better. Defensive backs coach Derek Jones wanted to start recruiting a more complete and versatile player, capable of playing both cornerback and safety. That way it would be harder for opponents to find weaknesses in the secondary.

The change paid off immediately. Duke signed Breon Borders, Bryon Fields and Deondre Singleton in the class of 2013. All three came in after lettering in multiple sports in high school. Singleton was rated as both a cornerback and safety; Fields was listed as an athlete.

[+] EnlargeDeVon Edwards
Lance King/Getty ImagesDeVon Edwards started eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2013 and had two interception returns for a touchdown against NC State.
All three played as true freshmen. Add into the mix DeVon Edwards, who switched from cornerback to safety as a redshirt freshman, and Duke had an unprecedented youth movement in the secondary.

“I had never played that many true freshmen, and when I did it, I was very nervous,” Jones says with a chuckle. “I went into the season without a lot of depth. We only had Ross Cockrell who had starting experience.

“First game of the season, I told Ross I’m going put [Borders and Fields] in at corner on the third series of the game. We’re not going to tell them. I’m just going to throw them out there. I put them out there, and they both performed with the same confidence they practiced with. Once they got out there and got their teeth cut, that meant something to them.”

Borders and Fields both played in all 14 games last season, taking the second- and third-most snaps among all Duke cornerbacks. Borders broke the school freshman record for interceptions with four. They are the new starting cornerbacks for 2014.

Edwards started eight games last season and against NC State became the second player in NCAA history to score on interception returns on back-to-back plays. He returns to the starting lineup along with Singleton and junior safety Jeremy Cash, expected to be a preseason All-ACC selection after racking up 121 tackles and four interceptions last season while playing the most snaps of any Blue Devil.

Duke has no seniors among its most experienced defensive backs, so this is a group that can build on the steps it began taking last year.

“We had some success last year but the biggest thing is not to be satisfied,” Fields said in a recent interview. “One of the things that makes us successful as a group is the way we compete with each other. When we go into workouts and practices, we’re competing, jawing back and forth during every drill. Even off the field, we compete and that all makes us closer. That trust level we built is what makes our ceiling so high. We have the skill level, but that’s not what separates us.”

The closeness was built once they arrived on campus. Nobody knew each other in high school, but they all quickly became friends, including players who ended up redshirting last season such as Quay Mann and Evrett Edwards. Mann also has moved positions, switching from cornerback to safety.

Evrett Edwards, meanwhile, was the highest-rated defensive back recruit in the 2013 class and impressed in the spring game in March, tying for the team lead with eight tackles while adding a sack.

“We’re together everywhere we go off the field,” DeVon Edwards said recently. “If you’re not with the whole group, you’re with one person in the group. So our bond is real strong even away from football and that puts trust in our relationships on the field, allows us to get on each other.”

Bonding as young players helped, too, because they shared similar experiences together.

“I’d say it was just a stroke of luck that we all got together,” Fields said. “We all have similar personalities, we’re all competitive and that can be attributed to recruiting. Even Coach Jones has that dog-eat-dog mentality and that’s been translated down to us. We have a desire to be the best we can be.”
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.

Next up: The secondary

Best of the best: Florida State

Where do we begin? FSU's defensive backs may be the best in the nation. Start with safety Jalen Ramsey, who started as a true freshman last season, earned freshman All-America honors and should step right into the role all-everything DB Lamarcus Joyner filled last season. Both Ramsey and corner P.J. Williams shined this spring, and they were recognized as such by sharing the team's Hinesman Award (spring standout), along with Jameis Winston. Ronald Darby has the potential to become a shutdown corner, Tyler Hunter has made a strong comeback from neck surgery that forced him out of the final 11 games of last season and Nate Andrews is looking to build off a standout rookie campaign that saw him lead the Seminoles in interceptions, with four.

Next up: Virginia Tech

If FSU's secondary is the best in the nation, Virginia Tech's probably isn't far behind. The Hokies return all four starters from a unit that ranked No. 8 nationally in passing defense last season. Corners Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson were thrust into immediate meaningful action in 2013 because of injuries and neither disappointed, tallying a combined 11 interceptions. Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner added two picks apiece, with Jarrett serving as the team's leading returning tackler this fall as well (71 in 2013). Injuries limited several key pieces of the secondary this spring, but if it's any consolation, that could prove valuable long-term for the next-in-line at DBU. It's how Fuller and Facyson were able to thrive so early, after all.

Possible sleeper: Duke

The departure of Ross Cockrell will be tough to fill, but the Blue Devils have a ton of talented and experience playmakers returning. And there could be more opportunities coming their way, thanks to the fact that they have a very green defensive line. Safety Jeremy Cash had four of the secondary's 16 interceptions last year (the team had 18 total), but his biggest impact may be up front, where he tallied 9.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles, in addition to tallying 121 tackles in 2013. Corner DeVon Edwards came on strong down the stretch and finished with three picks, and safety Deondre Singleton added one pick and two forced fumbles as well. Corner Breon Borders, meanwhile, holds the distinction of picking off the Heisman winner Winston twice last season as a freshman, and he is looking to build off a four-interception rookie campaign.

Problem for a contender: Louisville

It's all on the corners now. Replacing safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor is a huge task for Todd Grantham in his first season as Louisville's defensive coordinator, and he at least benefits from a pair of returning starters at corner in Terrell Floyd and Charles Gaines. Still, there could be a pair of redshirt freshmen starting at safety (Charles Williams and Richard Benjamin), though Gerod Holliman and Michael Johnson might figure into the mix.

Second-year stars: Duke

May, 5, 2014
May 5
The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference -- the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

See our previous projections HERE.

[+] EnlargeBreon Borders
Charles Mitchell/Icon SMIAs a freshman last season, Breon Borders had four interceptions for the Blue Devils.
Next up: Duke

Class recap: It’s never easy for David Cutcliffe to reel in a haul of hot prospects, but the 2013 class yielded some talent that contributed early, including safety Deondre Singleton, who worked his way into the starting lineup midseason and finished sixth on the team with 62 tackles. Receiver Johnell Barnes earned a start against Virginia Tech and finished sixth on the team with 15 catches, too.

Second-year star: CB Breon Borders (6-foot, 175 pounds)

Recruiting stock: The Statesville, N.C. product earned a three-star ranking coming out of high school, with ESPN ranking Borders as the No. 108 cornerback in the class.

2013 in review: Borders impressed coaches last fall, earning immediate playing time and notching an interception in Duke’s opener. Playing behind second-team All-ACC corner Ross Cockrell, Borders still managed 26 tackles, four picks and eight pass breakups.

2014 potential: Borders didn’t start a game in 2013, but he still tied for the team lead -- and was fifth in the ACC -- in interceptions. So, what can he do with significantly more snaps in 2014? The Blue Devils will find out after both starting corners -- Cockrell and Garett Patterson -- graduated. Borders has added some bulk to go with his long frame, making him an even tougher matchup for receivers, and while he’s still refining his technique, the playing time he earned last season should provide a strong foundation for his sophomore campaign.

Also watch for: Opposite Borders at corner, Bryon Fields is in position to take over the other starting job -- meaning the Class of 2013 will be responsible for three-fourths of Duke’s secondary. Linebacker Chris Holmes moved from safety to WLB this spring and is in line for reps behind starter David Helton.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
Taking questions for the mailbag. Send them along here.

ACC notable signings on NSD: Coastal

February, 15, 2013
Everyone has a story to tell. It’s simply impossible to highlight all of them on national signing day. After a quick scan of every recruit’s bio in the Coastal Division, there were plenty of notables to revisit -- a Hokie who wants to be a heart surgeon, a Blue Devil whose dad is on the staff at ACC newcomer Syracuse, Yellow Jackets whose pedigree includes the NBA and NFL.

The list goes on, check it out ...

  • Gabe Brandner, OT: His mother played tennis at West Virginia; His father lettered two seasons (1974-75) as an offensive tackle under Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden at West Virginia, helping the Mountaineers to a two-year record of 13-10, including a 13-10 win over NC State in the 1975 Peach Bowl.
  • Phillip Carter, S: His cousin, Darnell Jackson, lettered four seasons (2005-06-07-08) in basketball at Kansas, helped the Jayhawks to the 2008 NCAA championship and was selected in the second round of the 2008 NBA draft by the Miami Heat. He also played with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings. His cousin, Adam Jennings, lettered four seasons (2002-03-04-05) in football at Fresno State University, helped the Bulldogs to 35 wins and four bowl game appearances. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL draft by the Falcons and also played with the Lions and Giants.
  • T.J. Douglas, ATH: His cousin, Jammi German, lettered three seasons (1994-95-96) as a wide receiver at Miami, and was selected in the third round of the 1998 NFL draft by the Falcons and also played with the Browns. His cousin, Melvin German, plays football at FAU. Another cousin, Joel German, plays football at Western Kentucky University.
  • Evrett Edwards, CB: His father played football at Southern University, and his uncle, Benny Guilbeaux, lettered four seasons (1995-96-97-98) as a safety at Notre Dame. Guilbeaux led the team in interceptions as both a sophomore and junior while helping the Fighting Irish to a four-year record of 33-15 with three bowl game appearances.
  • Jake Kite, S: His father, Christopher, was a defensive back and wide receiver at Virginia from 1984-87, helping the Cavaliers to a four-year record of 25-19-2 with Peach Bowl and All American Bowl victories following the 1984 and 1987 seasons, respectively.
  • Deondre Singleton, S: His father, Cedric, lettered three seasons (1989-90-91) in football at Louisiana Tech, helping the Bulldogs to a three-year record of 21-8-4 including an appearance in the 1990 Independence Bowl.
  • Ryan Smith, WR: His dad, DeAndre, is the running backs coach at Syracuse.
  • Chris Griffin, OL: His uncle, Eddie Metcalf, played football at Florida A&M.
  • Donovan Wilson, AB: His father, Kenny, played basketball at Davidson and later with the Denver Nuggets in the NBA.
  • Kevin Robbins Jr. DL/LB: His father, Kevin Sr., played football at Michigan State and four years in the NFL from 1989 to 1993 with the Browns, Falcons and Rams.
  • Ray Lewis III, ATH: He is the son of former Miami Hurricanes and Baltimore Ravens great and two-time Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis.
  • Kevin Olsen, QB: He is the brother of former Miami Hurricane and current Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen.
  • Jordan Fieulleteau, WR: He scored 25 touchdowns as a senior and 24 as a junior -- the most touchdown catches in the nation in past two seasons.
  • Jeremiah Taleni, DL: He became "the first Pitt football scholarship signee out of Hawaii in memory," according to the school's site. His recruitment originated with defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield's relationship with the staff at Kailua High School, located on the island's East Coast.
  • George Adeosun, OL: A native of Nigeria, Adeosun didn’t start playing football until he got to high school. He started his junior season on the junior varsity team and an injury forced him to make his varsity debut blocking ESPN’s No. 2 recruit and Auburn signee Carl Lawson. Holding his own, he remained on varsity for the remainder of his career.
  • Zack Jones, WR: He is the brother of former UVa captain Perry Jones.
  • Andre Levrone Jr., WR: His brother, Jonathan, served a tour in Iraq as a tanker in the U.S. Army. His father, Andre Sr., played linebacker for his base team while serving in the Marine Corp. His cousin, Kevin Levrone, is a IFBB Hall of Fame body builder, four-time first-runner-up to Mr. Olympia.
  • Jack McDonald, OL: His uncle, Cliff McDonald, played offensive tackle at New Hampshire and held the New England Heavyweight boxing title. His cousin, Cliff McDonald, Jr., played football at Dartmouth.
  • Eric Tetlow, OL: His father, Peter, who was born and raised in Australia, was a world-class swimmer, won national championships and qualified for the Olympics before coming to the United States to swim at Harvard. His father was ranked as high as seventh in the world in the 1,500-meter freestyle.
  • Kyle Chung, OL: His father, Eugene, was an All-American offensive lineman at Virginia Tech and an NFL player who now coaches in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Andrew Motu'apuaka, LB: He was born in Auckland, New Zealand. His parents, Siaosi and Manu Motu'apuaka, are from Tonga, and went to school in New Zealand. His family migrated to the U.S. and his father joined the U.S. Army.
  • Kendall Fuller, CB: He has three older brothers, all of whom played or play football for Tech -- Vincent, Corey and Kyle.
  • Brandon Facyson, DB: His mother and stepfather (Karen Riggins-Taylor and Frederick Facyson) are currently principals in Dubai. His contemplated major is pre-med, with a goal of becoming a heart surgeon.