ACC: Detrick Bonner

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.
VIRGINIA TECH

If you’re just joining us, this series is categorizing the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. We’re leaving out Florida State and Clemson because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders. The Hokies are up next.

SportsNation

What do you expect out of Virginia Tech in 2013?

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    68%
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    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,497)

Why they’re a contender: The defense could be the best in the ACC. Virginia Tech returns nine starters from a defense that ranked No. 18 in the country last year in total defense. All four defensive linemen return, including all-ACC defensive end James Gayle and run-stopper Derrick Hopkins. All-ACC and leading tackler Jack Tyler is back at linebacker, and all four defensive backs return, including Antone Exum, once he recovers from an injury. Kyle Fuller, Kyshoen Jarrett, Detrick Bonner and Corey Marshall are also headliners, and there are big expectations for true freshman Kendall Fuller. There are also plenty of young, talented players who redshirted last season and will earn their way into the rotation.

Why they’re a pretender: Offensive questions remain. Coach Frank Beamer made sweeping changes to his offensive staff, including the hire of first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, and receivers coach Aaron Moorehead. While most who paid attention to the Hokies last season would agree change was necessary, it’s a new playbook to learn, and the offensive line remains a concern. Virginia Tech still needs to establish a leader in the running game, still has to find physical, dependable receivers willing to block, and still needs to see improvement from quarterback Logan Thomas. Those things will take time, especially with new faces on the coaching staff.

Final verdict: Contender. Beamer is one of the best coaches in the ACC, as evidenced by eight straight seasons of 10 wins or more. The staff and players are determined to regroup and prove that last season’s disappointment was an anomaly. Thomas certainly didn’t come back to Virginia Tech to finish 6-6. The talent on defense will be enough to shoulder the team as the offense works out its kinks under Loeffler.

More in this series

ACC injury reports: Week 3

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
11:00
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Here are the injury reports from the schools who emailed them this week:

DUKE

PROBABLE
OUT
OUT FOR SEASON
FLORIDA STATE

OUT
OUT FOR THE SEASON
GEORGIA TECH

OUT
QUESTIONABLE
MARYLAND

OUT FOR THE SEASON
OUT
QUESTIONABLE
PROBABLE
VIRGINIA

Out
Doubtful
Questionable
  • Billy Schautz (lower extremity)
Probable
VIRGINIA TECH

Out for Season
Out
Probable

Better D in 2012: FSU or Virginia Tech?

June, 4, 2012
6/04/12
4:30
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College football guru Phil Steele picked the Noles to win it all in his preseason Top 40, and he's basing the majority of that prediction on Florida State's defense, which he holds in high regard.

Steele ranked Florida State's defensive line No. 1 in the country in his preseason magazine, and he's got the linebackers at No. 3, and the defensive backs at No. 7.

SportsNation

Which team will have the better defense in 2012?

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    47%
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    53%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,239)

One of the most exciting competitions to watch in the ACC this fall will be between Florida State and Virginia Tech's defenses. Both should be among the best in the country. We will find out which one is better when the two teams meet on Nov. 8 in Blacksburg. I have agreed with Steele, that FSU will have the best overall defense in the conference, but it's going to be close.

The Hokies' defense had a good spring, despite injuries that kept all three starting linebackers off the field. Starting mike linebacker Bruce Taylor was out along with starting backer Tariq Edwards. Starting whip linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow saw only very limited time while still nursing his foot injury. That meant more reps for Jack Tyler (mike), Chase Williams (backer), Alonzo Tweedy (whip) and newcomer Ronnie Vandyke (whip).

Also during the spring, Virginia Tech's defensive coaches switched the secondary around with cornerbacks Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett moving to the safety spots and safety Antone Exum moving to corner. Exum excelled and will now team with Kyle Fuller as the corners. Bonner was a natural at free safety and impressed the coaches this spring. Jarrett is still progressing but will take over at rover.

Steele ranked Virginia Tech's defensive line No. 8 in the country, the linebackers No. 16, and the defensive backs No. 18.

Florida State and Virginia Tech are likely to be the frontrunners to win their respective divisions this year and we could see a repeat of the 2010 ACC title game. If defense wins championships, which one will come out on top? Cast your vote now for who will have the best defense in the ACC.

Virginia Tech spring wrap

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
6:30
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2011 overall record: 11-3
2011 conference record: 7-1 (1st, Coastal)
Returning starters: Offense: 3; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Logan Thomas, WR Marcus Davis, C Andrew Miller, DE James Gayle, DE J.R. Collins, DT Derrick Hopkins, DT Antoine Hopkins, ILB Bruce Taylor, ILB Tariq Edwards, OLB Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, CB Kyle Fuller, S Antone Exum

Key losses
WR Danny Coale, WR Jarrett Boykin, TE Chris Drager, LT Andrew Lanier, RT Blake DeChristopher, RG Jaymes Brooks, LG Greg Nosal, RB David Wilson, CB Jayron Hosley, FS Eddie Whitley

2011 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: David Wilson (1,709 yards)
Passing: Logan Thomas* (3,013 yards)
Receiving: Danny Coale (904 yards)
Tackles: Antone Exum* (89)
Sacks: James Gayle* (7)
Interceptions: Jayron Hosley (3)

Spring answers

1. Logan Thomas: The ACC is loaded with talented quarterbacks in 2012, and Thomas is among the top returners. He accounted for 30 total touchdowns last season and threw for more than 3,000 yards. He is the unquestioned leader and centerpiece of the Hokies' offense, and a strong season could result in a handshake from Roger Goodell at Radio City next April.

2. Defensive line: This unit has the potential to be the best in the conference, as it will play eight or nine men on a regular basis and be the foundation for a defense among the best in the ACC. This group led the conference in sacks a year ago and has looked every bit as capable this spring of doing that again in 2012.

3. Security: The Hokies were faced with a similar position last season, only the exact opposite: Loads of offensive talent came back and the defense had some uncertainties. Virginia Tech still reached the ACC title game and a BCS bowl, extending its nation-best streak of 10 or more wins to an eighth straight season. Entering his 26th season and first as the longest-tenured FBS coach, Frank Beamer has an established track record and knows how to get the most out of his pieces. The hard part right now is finding them on offense.

Fall questions

1. Who will replace David Wilson? Wilson is off with the Giants, a first-round draft pick following a campaign in which he ran for more yards than any running back in Virginia Tech history. Michael Holmes figures to be the No. 1 back entering preseason camp, with J.C. Coleman pushing him for time. The Hokies welcome three new backs this fall, along with Tony Gregory, who missed spring while recovering from knee surgery.

2. Who will protect the newcomer? Holmes or any of his fellow backfield mates won't have the chance to accomplish anything replicating Wilson's production if they don't get the chance. The Hokies return just one starting offensive lineman from last season and will have to adjust quickly if the offense wants to resemble last year's.

3. Secondary help. Second-team all-ACC corner Kyle Fuller is back, along with leading tackle Antone Exum. Sophomore Detrick Bonner has moved from cornerback to free safety, sophomore Kyshoen Jarrett is now at safety and Exum is now at corner. Secondary coach Torrian Gray likes to build versatility, but he will have his hands full trying to replace Eddie Whitley (graduation) and cornerback Jayron Hosley (draft).

CB Hosley out for Hokies

December, 3, 2011
12/03/11
8:37
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley is out of the game with a stinger, and his status for the rest of the game is "unknown," according to a tweet from the school's sports information director. Clemson is not a team you want to face without your best corner, especially in a game of this magnitude. Redshirt freshman Detrick Bonner has played, as has true freshman Kyshoen Jarrett.

Virginia Tech spring wrap

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
6:30
AM ET
2010 overall record: 11-3

2010 conference record: 8-0

Returning starters

Offense: 6, defense: 6, kicker/punter: 0

Top returners

SE Danny Coale, FL Jarrett Boykin, RT Blake DeChristopher, DT Antoine Hopkins, LB Bruce Taylor, CB Jayron Hosley, FS Eddie Whitley

Key losses

QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Darren Evans, RB Ryan Williams, C Beau Warren, TE Andre Smith, DT John Graves, CB Rashad Carmichael, ROV Davon Morgan, PK Chris Hazley

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Evans (854 yards)

Passing: Tyrod Taylor (2,743 yds)

Receiving: Boykin* (847 yds)

Tackles: Bruce Taylor (91)

Sacks: Steven Friday (8.5)

Interceptions: Hosley* (9)

Spring answers

1. A new Fab Four: Virginia Tech’s defensive line is oozing with talent and potential -- the kind that can resurrect the Hokies’ defense to the standard Bud Foster and fans are used to. All four projected starters are underclassmen, and redshirt sophomores J.R. Collins and James Gayle had a phenomenal spring. Derrick Hopkins couldn’t be blocked, and he, Collins and Gayle took their games to another level this spring.

2. Logan Thomas is ready. The first-year starting quarterback erased any lingering doubts about his ability to take over the offense and replace the winningest quarterback in school history. He’ll have some growing pains, but he’s got veteran receivers, four senior offensive linemen in front of him and an exceptional running back who can catch the ball out of the backfield in David Wilson.

3. Linebacker Tariq Edwards has replaced Lyndell Gibson. Edwards could have a breakout season, thanks in part to Gibson’s decision to transfer prior to spring practices. Foster has compared Edwards to Xavier Adibi as far as his size and speed. The redshirt sophomore is about 6-foot-2, runs well and is athletic.

Fall questions

1. Who’s the No. 2 QB? It’s still unsettled, as coach Frank Beamer praised redshirt freshman Mark Leal this spring, and Ricardo Young will increase the competition this summer when he returns from a foot injury he suffered during one of the scrimmages that caused him to miss the rest of the spring. Ju-Ju Clayton was the front-runner for the job entering the spring, but it could turn into a three-player battle this summer.

2. Defensive depth. The staff is excited about its starting lineup, but the lack of experience behind it remains a concern, particularly at linebacker where injuries depleted the group, and in the secondary, where Detrick Bonner and Theron Norman haven’t played a collegiate snap yet.

3. Kicking game. Will Danny Coale really be the Hokies’ starting receiver AND punter? He will if none of the other candidates beat him out for the job this summer. If Coale wins the job -- and it’s a very real possibility -- the logistics also remain a question. Will he warm up with the punters or run routes as a receiver? Will he run routes in his punting shoe? Beamer would prefer if Scott Demler and Ethan Keyserling win the job so it’s not an issue, but Beamer will go with the senior who has game experience if he’s the best choice. Cody Journell enters the summer as the No. 1 place-kicker, but it’s not a lock.

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