ACC: E.J. Wilson

UNC spring wrap

May, 7, 2010

2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 10, defense: 9, punter/kicker 2

Top returners

WR Greg Little, QB T.J. Yates, TB Shaun Draughn, TE Zack Pianalto, DE Robert Quinn, DT Marvin Austin, LB Quan Sturdivant, LB Bruce Carter, CB Kendrick Burney, S Deunta Williams, S Da’Norris Searcy, CB Charles Brown

Key losses

OT Kyle Jolly, DE E.J. Wilson, DT Cam Thomas

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Ryan Houston* (713 yards)

Passing: Yates* (2,136 yds)

Receiving: Little* (724 yds)

Tackles: Sturdivant* (79)

Sacks: Quinn* (11)

Interceptions: Williams* (6)

Spring answers

1. Offensive line potential. There were signs this spring that UNC fans can expect the offensive line to be better -– as long as everyone stays healthy. Center Jonathan Cooper started nine games as a freshman last year, guard Alan Pelc will be a three-year starter, Carl Gaskins has drawn rave reviews the past two years, and Travis Bond played well in his start against Pitt’s physical defensive line in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

2. Little leader. After the success he had last season cementing his position as the team’s top receiver, Greg Little took more ownership of an offense that needs it. His success carried over to spring drills, and it’s clear he’ll be the leader of a group that returns its top 13 receivers from a year ago.

3. Draughn back on top. He was injured in the ninth game and missed the rest of the season, but reasserted himself as the main man this spring with Houston out to concentrate on his academics. (Houston wasn’t suspended, he just needed some extra time to focus). Draughn appears to be the likely starter heading into the fall.

Fall questions

1. The Yates debate. It’s one of the biggest questions in the conference this season: Will rookie Bryn Renner unseat Yates as the starter? Coach Butch Davis has said that Renner will play against LSU, but how much and when is anybody’s guess. Odds are it would take a remarkable performance by Renner in summer camp or an injury to Yates for him to lose his job before the season opener.

2. Overall offensive improvement. How much better can the offense be? It has to be better than 108th in the country in total offense. The Tar Heels have got to run the ball better, no matter who the quarterback is. There are no longer three freshmen on the offensive line, and if everyone stays healthy, that leaves no more excuses.

3. Defensive line tweaks. Even one of the most talented defenses in the country has a few holes to fill, and it’s up front for the Tar Heels, were defensive end E.J. Wilson and tackle Cam Thomas have to be replaced. Tydreke Powell is the frontrunner to take over at tackle and Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo will continue to compete this summer. McAdoo had four sacks and an interception in the spring game, a performance that kept him in the conversation.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 21, 2010
A daily dose of ACC headlines for you.
  • Maryland kicker Nick Ferrara is living his life for both himself and his late best friend.
  • Former UNC defensive end E.J. Wilson never dreamed of playing in the NFL -- until now.
  • Georgia Tech's defensive line was a question heading into this spring, but so far the group has adjusted well to the new 3-4 scheme.
  • Virginia receivers coach Shawn Moore is the best quarterback the Cavaliers have.
  • A lack of consistent attention to detail could prove costly for FSU's Patrick Robinson.
  • Clemson coach Dabo Swinney talked about spring practices on Tuesday, and he's most excited about his linebackers.

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 15, 2010
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:


Spring practice starts: March 18

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• How linebacker Mark Herzlich progresses. Herzlich, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer last May, has been going through winter conditioning with his teammates, and he plans on participating in spring drills. How quickly he regains his form will be worth watching, as he and sophomore Luke Kuechly could give the Eagles one of the most formidable linebacking corps.

• The quarterback battle. After one season, Dave Shinskie has the most experience on the roster, but he’ll get some competition from Josh Bordner and Chase Rettig, two early enrollees. There were times last season when Shinskie looked like the future of the position and there were others when he looked like any other freshman.

• Defensive linemen. For the second straight year, BC is looking for some stability up front. The Eagles have to replace left tackle Austin Giles and defensive end Jim Ramella. They return Kaleb Ramsey, Giles’ backup, and Brad Newman, Ramella’s reserve, but some young faces are likely to be seen in the rotation.


Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Life without C.J. Spiller officially begins. The backs behind him had a pretty good year, so there’s no need for full panic mode. Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington actually combined for a higher yards per carry average (6.1 to 5.6 yards). Clemson will also be looking to replace Spiller’s lost kickoff return yardage. The Tigers had a 13-yard advantage in average starting field position, as their start was their own 37-yard line compared to opponents’ 24-yard line. Ellington is a candidate in the return game.

• Kyle Parker’s batting average. No, really. How well Parker does this spring with the baseball team will help determine whether he remains Clemson’s quarterback or turns to the MLB draft. He didn’t have a great 2009 season, but he was still the fastest player to 25 home runs in school history. It remains to be seen this spring if he’ll become a high enough draft choice to give up college football.

• Secondary shuffling. It seems like eons ago since Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor weren’t the Tigers’ starting corners, as Butler started 40 straight games and Chancellor started 42. Butler finished his career second in school history in interception return yards. Now it’s time for a new duo. Will Marcus Gilchrist move to corner, which he’s capable of doing? Might Rashard Hall move to safety with DeAndre McDaniel?


Spring practice starts: Feb. 14

Spring game: March 27

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Somebody has to take over for the graduated Thaddeus Lewis, but his backup – Sean Renfree – will miss the spring with a torn ACL. Redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder should be heavily in the mix to be the starter, pending Renfree’s recovery.

• Defensive line makeover. It’s wide open. Charlie Hatcher is entrenched at nose guard, but it’s really anyone’s game. The staff might move redshirt senior Wesley Oglesby, who played the majority of his career at defensive end, inside. Other options are defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento, a redshirt freshman, and Curtis Hazelton, who played sparingly last season.

• Johnny Williams’ move from wide receiver to cornerback. He had 31 catches in 2009 – the fourth-best on the team. Now they need his help in the defensive backfield. Duke will lose starter Leon Wright and his 10 career interceptions, and the pass defense, which allowed 215.75 yards per game, could use a boost.


Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Christian Ponder’s return from shoulder surgery. Ponder is expected to practice this spring, though it could be on a limited basis, at least early. He’s ahead of schedule, but the coaches won’t subject him to any risks now. Yes, E.J. Manuel is talented and played well at the end of the season, but make no mistake – Ponder is FSU’s starter and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.

• The defense under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. His secondary, in particular, will be interesting to watch, as will how quickly he can help the front seven generate a pass rush and plug the middle. Stoops has been a secondary coach, and the Noles lost three starters there. The fourth, Ochuko Jenije, could be pushed to retain his job.

• New faces, new opportunities. In addition to the fab freshmen who are coming in, FSU has a handful of unfamiliar players already on the roster who played sparingly or not at all. We'll see how they fit in this spring. RS-So DT Anthony McCloud and RS-So RB Debrale Smiley are both junior college transfers and former teammates. Physically, freshman linebacker Jeff Luc is already a man, but how quickly can he mature on the field? Two young wide receivers worth watching are Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead.


Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The defensive transformation. The Jackets will switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under first-year coordinator Al Groh. In addition to learning the new scheme, the staff has to figure out who goes where. Linebackers might play defensive end and vice versa, safeties might play outside linebacker. It’s anyone’s guess as to how this team lines up in the spring.

• The replacements. From Georgia Tech’s coaching staff to the new faces who will be tasked with filling in for the Fab Four -- Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett and Demaryius Thomas -- the Jackets will need some “Hello My Name Is” tags this spring.

• The offensive line. Three offensive linemen redshirted who could start, and Georgia Tech might need them to, especially if guard Joseph Gilbert decides to transfer to pursue his MBA. The Jackets lose two starters on the offensive line, and Gilbert, who graduates this spring, would be a third if he leaves. Center Sean Bedford and tackle Austin Barrick return as seniors.


Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. Chris Turner has graduated, leaving Jamarr Robinson the top option going into the spring, but he has limited experience. The staff liked what he did when Turner was injured, but Danny O’Brien, Miami (Ohio) transfer Clay Belton and C.J. Brown will all be given an opportunity. Look for O’Brien to start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart.

• Cornerback: Cameron Chism is the only returning starter in the secondary, but right now the staff has fewer concerns about the safeties. Maryland will have to find some bodies at corner, and Dexter McDougle, who redshirted as a true freshman last year, is one option. Michael Carter and Trenton Hughes, who was the third corner last year, are also among a handful of candidates.

• The offensive line. Losing Bruce Campbell to the NFL hurt, but the Terps also lost starter Phil Costa. Justin Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore, could inherit Campbell’s job. And there’s always Mr. Versatility -- Paul Pinegar. He has helped the Terps at both tackle spots and left guard, and this spring he’ll likely be given a shot at center.


Spring practice starts: Feb. 23

Spring game: March 27 (tentative)

What to watch:

• Tight end/offensive line: Jimmy Graham is gone, and the Canes don’t return any tight ends with any experience other than Richard Gordon, who was injured the majority of last season. Miami signed four tight ends in this recruiting class, but none of them were early enrollees. Miami has to replace three starters up front, including both tackles and the center.

• How the two young quarterbacks perform: The health of Jacory Harris was precious last year, as he had nobody behind him with any experience after the transfers of Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith. The depth has improved a bit with A.J. Highsmith, who played sparingly last year, and Stephen Morris, one of the early enrollees.

• Upgrade on the d-line? Progress up front began with the hire of Rick Petri as defensive line coach, and it’s up to Petri to help the Canes become better pass rushers. Miami will depend upon its two mainstays -- Allen Bailey and Josh Holmes. The right end position was a group effort last year, and Miami has to replace Joe Joseph and Eric Moncur.


Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback T.J. Yates. It’s his job to lose, and the coaching staff still has confidence in him, but Bryn Renner is waiting in the wings, and Braden Hanson will also be given an opportunity. The staff is looking for the offense to improve its passing efficiency and cut down on turnovers.

• The offensive line. It was a patchwork effort in 2009, thanks to injuries and inexperience, and will be a major key in how much UNC improves offensively this year. The Heels have to replace two starters, and Jonathan Cooper is likely to move from guard to center, and right guard Alan Pelc will miss spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery.

• Defensive line tweaks. There aren’t many questions on a defense that should be one of the best in the country, but somebody has to replace Cam Thomas and defensive end E.J. Wilson. Tydreke Powell is the frontrunner to take over at defensive tackle and Quinton Coples at defensive end. Both were backups last year at their respective positions.


Spring practice starts: March 9

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• Backup quarterback Mike Glennon. Russell Wilson is the starter, but he’s going to be playing baseball all spring. Keep an eye on his backup to see if Glennon can make it any more of a competition in Wilson’s absence.

• Chris Ward at punter. No, it’s not usually, the highlight of the spring, but in this case, it’s necessary. Ward is it -- he’s their only option right now, and it’s a position the Pack struggled with last year. Ward was expected to be the starter last season, but he was inconsistent. He’s definitely got the talent to be the guy.

• The recovery of linebacker Nate Irving. After being severely injured in a one-car crash last summer, Irving is hopeful he can go through spring drills. He has been lifting with the team and running with the sports medicine staff, but it’s still uncertain how limited his contact will be.


Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Marc Verica is the only one with any experience, and first-year offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor hasn’t been in Charlottesville long enough to evaluate any of the candidates. That’s what the spring is for, and true freshman Michael Strauss is the lone incoming quarterback on campus, so he’ll have a head start on the playbook. Of the four quarterbacks Virginia signed in this year’s class, Strauss is the only one listed as a true quarterback. The Cavs also have Ross Metheny, who redshirted last year, and Riko Smalls, who redshirted in ‘08 and was No. 2 on the depth chart when Verica was out with a concussion.

• Coaching transition. First-year coach Mike London has hired almost an entirely new staff, and they’ll bring changes in philosophy and scheme. London has said he wants to get the defense back to the traditional 4-3, and revert to the tradition of featuring the tight ends, offensive linemen and running backs.

• Running back. The Cavs will have the help up front, but they need to replace their four leading rushers in Mikell Simpson, Rashawn Jackson, Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell. The staff will look at true freshman Kevin Parks, but also have Torrey Mack and Dominique Wallace, who had just seemed to be coming on at Southern Miss when he was injured and missed the rest of the season.


Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• Revamped defensive line. The Hokies have to replace three of four starters up front. The only defensive ends with significant playing time are Chris Drager, who the staff wanted to move back to tight end, and Steven Friday. Redshirt freshmen will be given a chance – Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins – but they’ve never played. Isaiah Hamlette is the only other end who’s played and that was a skinny minute. At defensive tackle, Antoine Hopkins will be the frontrunner to replace Cordarrow Thompson.

• Darren Evans’ comeback. Evans, the team’s leading rusher in 2008, is working his way back from a season-ending ACL injury, and one of the biggest questions in Blacksburg is how the staff will divide the carries in such a talented backfield that includes Ryan Williams. With two returning 1,000-yard rushers, will David Wilson decide to redshirt? The spring will help him in that decision.

• The evolution of Tyrod Taylor. He’s going to be a senior, and with so many questions on defense heading into the season, the offense will be leading the way. This should be a breakout year for Taylor, who by now should have mastered the offense and should consistently be a passing threat to compliment his running abilities.


Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. It’s the most glaring hole the Deacs have to fill this spring, as they’re tasked with replacing the winningest quarterback in school history, Riley Skinner, and his backup, Ryan McManus. Redshirt sophomores Ted Stachitas and Skylar Jones, and sophomore Brendan Cross, will compete with rookie Tanner Price for the top spot.

• Offensive line. The Deacs will take a huge hit here, as seven players in the two-deep depth chart were redshirt seniors, including all four tackles. Three starters have to be replaced.

• The interior defensive line. Nose guard Boo Robinson and John Russell have graduated, and Russell’s backup, Michael Lockett, was also a redshirt senior. The Deacs are in good shape at the ends, but will need some help inside.

Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Virginia Tech Hokies, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, North Carolina Tar Heels, Clemson Tigers, Florida State Seminoles, North Carolina State Wolfpack, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Cavaliers, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Coastal Division, Atlantic Division, Miami Hurricanes, Wesley Oglesby, Alan Pelc, Russell Wilson, Darren Evans, Christian Ponder, Ochuko Jenije, Chris Drager, Cam Thomas, Demaryius THomas, Justin Gilbert, Isaiah Hamlette, Marc Verica, Rashawn Jackson, A.J. Highsmith, Boo Robinson, Torrey Mack, Trenton Hughes, Quinton Coples, Chris turner, Phil Costa, Cannon Smith, Jamarr Robinson, Al Groh, Mike Glennon, Tyrod Taylor, David Wilson, Jimmy Graham, Cameron Chism, Jamie Harper, CHris Chancellor, Michael Carter, Ryan McManus, Joseph Gilbert, Brad Newman, Antoine Hopkins, Sean Renfree, Dave Shinskie, Cordarrow Thompson, Richard Gordon, Mikell Simpson, Austin Barrick, Johnny Williams, Morgan Burnett, E.J. Wilson, Paul Pinegar, Tydreke Powell, Bryn Renner, Jacory Harris, Riley Skinner, Joe Joseph, Skylar Jones, Derrick Morgan, T.J. Yates, Braden Hanson, Sean Bedford, Jonathan Dwyer, C.J. Brown, John Russell, Jameel Sewell, Allen Bailey, Mike London, Nate Irving, Rodney Smith, Marcus Gilchrist, Mark Herzlich, Taylor Cook, Willie Haulstead, Andre Ellington, Josh Holmes, Thaddeus Lewis, E.J. Manuel, Leon Wright, Crezdon Butler, Ryan Williams, C.J. Spiller, Kaleb Ramsey, Vic Hall, James Gayle, Eric Moncur, Jonathan Cooper, Bruce Campbell, Ted Stachitas, Jim Ramella, Danny O'Brien, Luke Kuechly, Sean Schroeder, Tyrel Wilson, Dominique Wallace, Austin Giles, Jeff Luc, Mark Stoops, Brendan Cross, Stephen Morris, Rick Petri, Bill Lazor, Chase Rettig, Michael Strauss, Tanner Price, Anthony McCloud, Debrale Smiley, Josh Bordner, Kyle Paker, Rahsard Hall, DeAndrew McDaniel, Charlie Hatcher, Sydney Sarmiento, Chris Hazelton, Clay Belton, Dexter McDougle, Chris Ward, Ross Metheny, Roko Smalls, Kevin Parks, Duan Perez-Means, J.R. Collins, Michael Lockett

More postseason rosters announced

January, 20, 2010
The Under Armour Senior Bowl hasn't released its final roster yet, but it did announce that Virginia cornerback Chris Cook and running back Rashawn Jackson have both officially accepted invitations to play in the Jan. 30th game.

Also announced was the Texas vs. The Nation all-star roster, a senior bowl which will be played Feb. 6 at the Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas.

2010 Nation Roster

Preston Parker, WR/RT, North Alabama/Florida State

Sam Shields, CB, Miami

Brent Bowden, P, Virginia Tech

Dedrick Epps, TE, Miami

Toney Baker, RB, NC State

Cory Jackson, FB, Maryland

Kyle Jolly, OT, North Carolina

Will Barker, OL, Virginia

E.J. Wilson, DE, North Carolina

Travis Ivey, DT, Maryland

2010 Texas Roster

Thaddeus Lewis, QB, Duke

A.J. Cooley, RB, Shorter College/Georgia Tech

All-ACC bowl team

January, 12, 2010
Bowl season deserves more than just helmet stickers. It deserves its own team. Regardless of whether they won or lost, these ACC players had an impact this postseason. Here is your 2009 All-ACC bowl team:

[+] EnlargeRyan Williams
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIRyan Williams ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Offense and Special Teams

QB: E.J. Manuel, Florida State: The Gator Bowl MVP completed 17 of 24 passes for 189 yards, had 73 rushing yards on 14 carries and one touchdown with zero turnovers. He led the Noles to 415 total yards in their 33-21 win over No. 18 West Virginia.

RB: Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech: Williams ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Tennessee. He finished the season with 1,655 rushing yards and broke Kevin Jones' single-season school record (1,647).

RB: Jermaine Thomas, Florida State: He had 121 yards rushing on 25 carries and two touchdowns. He also had one catch for nine yards and posted his fourth 100-yard game of the season. He led FSU back from a 14-3 first quarter deficit against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.

WR: Rich Gunnell, Boston College: Gunnell finished with six catches for 130 yards, breaking Pete Mitchell's school record for yards receiving with 2,659 in his career. His 61-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter closed the gap to 14-13 against USC in the Emerald Bowl.

WR: Greg Little, UNC: He finished with seven catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Pitt in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

WR: Jarrett Boykin, Virginia Tech: His 64-yard reception to the Tennessee 3 in the final seconds of the first half was a major turning point in the game. The Vols had already begun to head to the locker room, but officials determined there were still two seconds left on the clock. The play led to Matt Waldron’s 21-yard field goal and a 17-14 halftime lead. Boykin finished with four catches for 120 yards.

TE: Jimmy Graham, Miami: He had three catches for 30 receiving yards against Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl and became the seventh Hurricane to record at least 200 receiving yards this season. Graham closed out his only season with the Canes with 15 catches for 213 yards and five touchdowns.

OL: Ed Wang, Virginia Tech: In his final performance, Wang paved the way for a career-day for Williams, and helped the Hokies rack up 438 total yards of offense.

OL: Sergio Render, Virginia Tech: Like Wang, Render was impressive in his final performance as a Hokie, and helped Virginia Tech use a balanced offense and gave quarterback Tyrod Taylor the time he needed to make plays.

OL: Rodney Hudson, Florida State: The All-American returned to the lineup after missing two games with knee sprain and helped FSU rack up 415 total yards, 37 minutes time of possession and he did not allow a sack.

OL: Andrew Datko, Florida State: He teamed with Hudson on the left side (where two of three rushing touchdowns came) and kept a WVU team averaging 2.6 sacks per game without one.

OL: Dalton Freeman, Clemson: He graded out at 80 percent with seven knockdowns. Freeman was key to Clemson averaging 5.5 yards per rush and a Clemson bowl record 6.8 yards per play against Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.

K: Dustin Hopkins, Florida State: He tied a school bowl record converting 4 of 5 field goal attempts and scoring a season-high 15 points on a windy day. His 42-yarder at the end of the first half pulled FSU within 14-13.

P: Chandler Anderson, Georgia Tech: He had a career-high seven punts with an average of 49.1 yards and a long of 59 yards. Three of his punts were downed inside the 20 and only one was returned.

Spc: C.J. Spiller, Clemson: Spiller finished his career with 172 all-purpose yards (68 rushing, 57 receiving), giving him an ACC record 2,670 for the season and 7,588 for his career. He finished his career in second place in FBS history in all-purpose yards.


DL: John Graves, Virginia Tech: He sacked Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton in the second quarter for the first sack of his career. He also recovered a fumble, forced a fumble and finished with three solo tackles.

DL: E.J. Wilson, North Carolina: He forced two first-half fumbles and posted five on the season after registering just one over his first three years at Carolina. He finished with five tackles and one sack for a loss of eight yards.

DL: Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech: Morgan's individual stats weren't all that impressive for his final game as a Jacket, but the Tech defense (surprise!) kept the Yellow Jackets in the game, allowing just seven points after the first quarter. Morgan did have three tackles and a half-tackle for loss, but he was double- and triple-teamed all night.

LB: Cody Grimm, Virginia Tech: The defensive MVP of the Chick-fil-A Bowl finished with seven tackles, including three tackles for loss and one sack.

LB: Luke Kuechly, Boston College: He had 16 tackles (6 solos, 10 assists), and 0.5 TFL in the Emerald Bowl.

LB: Darryl Sharpton, Miami: He recorded a career-high 15 tackles (10 solo, five assists). It marked the third straight game that Sharpton recorded double-digit tackles.

LB: Kavell Conner, Clemson: He had 15 tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble, which was the key play of the game. The fumble came with Clemson leading 14-13 and it set up Spiller’s touchdown to put the Tigers ahead 21-13.

CB: Rashad Carmichael, Virginia Tech: He intercepted Crompton’s pass in the first quarter and returned it to the Tennessee 44, setting up the Hokies’ first score of the game. The interception marked the sixth of the season for Carmichael, a team-high.

CB: Jerrard Tarrant, Georgia Tech: He returned an interception for a touchdown -- Tech's first points of the game against Iowa in the Orange Bowl -- and Tarrant's fourth non-offensive touchdown of the season. He also forced a fumble, broke up a pass and had six solo tackles.

S: Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech: He had a team-high eight tackles, all of them solo tackles, and he forced a fumble.

S: DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson: He had 15 tackles, including two tackles for loss. He was a big reason Kentucky had just 277 yards total offense and just one touchdown, their second lowest figure of the year in terms of points in the 21-13 Clemson win.

Thursday night injury reports

October, 28, 2009
Posted by's Heather Dinich

Here are the injury reports for Thursday night's game between Virginia Tech and North Carolina:


  • AJ Blue TB/QB Knee
  • Carl Gaskins OT Knee
  • Matt Merletti S Knee
  • Trevor Stuart DS Knee
  • Jamal Womble TB Wrist
  • Jonathan Cooper OG Ankle
  • Lowell Dyer C Shoulder
  • Linwan Euwall LB Ankle
  • Kyle Jolly OT Ankle
  • Zack Pianalto TE Concussion
  • Devon Ramsay RB Knee
  • E.J. Wilson DE Thigh

Out for Season
  • John Graves (ankle)

UNC on cutting edge of body temperature technology

September, 4, 2009

Posted by’s Heather Dinich

As an exercise and sports science major, North Carolina defensive end E.J. Wilson is well aware of the experimentation needed to advance science in sports, and his appreciation for it led him to be among the first to volunteer to try the Tar Heels’ latest cutting-edge technology.

Well, technically, he had to swallow it.

The bigger-than-an-Advil CorTemp pills are ingestible thermometers that helped the UNC coaches and athletic trainers monitor the players’ core body temperature this summer, and in turn schedule breaks accordingly. The experiment was designed to help the players avoid serious heat-related illnesses and help the staff distinguish the difference between heat problems and concussions.

Here’s how it works: Each athlete swallows one pill about four to five hours before practice or a game, and the pill makes its way through the small intestine and the digestive tract. (No worries, it’s like ma’s meatloaf, it only stays in your system for a day.) Eighteen players were monitored this summer, and almost every position and body type was tested.

Two athletic trainers walked around with handheld monitors (Wilson described them as “big graphing calculators,”) and every few minutes put it up to the players’ abdomens or backs so it could read their core body temperature. During the breaks the players were monitored every minute. The study was done twice during training camp and they’ll do it a few more times during the regular season.

“It was fascinating,” Wilson said. “As a little kid I watched "The Magic School Bus" a lot, and it was kind of like having a little Magic School Bus floating around in there. What they told me was I was hydrating well, but during practice I was drinking more water than Gatorade. As I was going through practice, it seemed like I was hydrated, but my muscles were getting dehydrated, so I had to drink a lot more Gatorade. It actually really helped. It made me feel a lot better during practice. It was actually a very successful experiment in my opinion.”

It was only the latest advance in a long grant-funded concussion study at UNC. For the past decade, UNC has been doing research on concussions and mild-traumatic brain injuries. About 60 players have accelerometers in their helmets, little gadgets that measure G-forces and impact. Every hit is measured and recorded by a computer in a trunk on the sideline. The sensors also have the ability to measure body temperature, but they were looking for some confirmation that those devices were accurate, so they decided to try the CorTemp pills.

“We’re always looking at the practice schedule in terms of the different periods we have during practice, how to structure practice, when to do certain periods, and probably most importantly, when to take breaks,” said Scott Trulock, the head athletic trainer for football. “We’ve always had to guess what’s the ideal time period to take a break? This was a way we could put some science to that.”

Each pill cost about $40, but the project is funded through the grant that became possible because of Kevin Guskiewicz, chair of UNC’s department of exercise and sports science.

Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees. Trulock said a dangerous core body temperature would be around 104. An ideal body temperature from a competing standpoint would be 100 to 101 -- breaking a sweat but not exhausted and laboring. When the Tar Heels were done with their “flex and stretch” part of practice, the players were at their ideal temperature. As practice went on, they’d hover around 102 and 103, and that’s when they’d take a break. About seven or eight minutes into the break was when they got back down to the ideal temperature.

“It was an interesting study to see exactly how quickly core temperature went up, and how quickly it did go down,” said UNC coach Butch Davis. “We talked a little bit about did we need more breaks, did the breaks need to be longer? It was interesting to see that typically we would take a five-minute break and everyone would be able to take their helmets off, get in front of the fans, get out of the sun.

"If we were practicing in the afternoon, and it was 97 degrees was a five-minute break maybe as good as a three-minute break, or did instantly in three minutes the core temperature drop significantly enough a kid could’ve potentially gone back into practice or a game? So there’s still things they’re still studying on it, but I thought it was very interesting and I hope people do recognize our sports medicine program is on the cutting edge of things like that.”

Trulock said the experiment is likely to continue this fall.

“It’s like anything else with science, when you answer one question, you raise two more,” he said. “We got some valuable information to help us get an idea of what we’re looking for. It’s definitely a program we’re very proud of. Our goal is to make the game safer, and science is helpful in terms of helping us understand how [concussions] occur, when they occur, how to prevent them, and this tool has really helped us gather a lot of information and make us better able to make decisions on returning athletes and identifying [concussions] when they happen.”

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 4, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Summer camp is officially underway in the ACC, and it started with NC State and Georgia Tech: 

  • Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson was mostly pleased with the Jackets' first practice, but the quarterbacks reportedly looked a little shaky. One player who couldn't have been happier to be on the field was cornerback Jerrard Tarrant, who was suspended last year.
  • Not only did NC State's practice get cut short yesterday, but so did its secondary.
  • Clemson starts practice today, and there are five storylines worth watching, namely the quarterback competition.
  • The amount of change Miami offensive lineman Jason Fox has seen during his college career is amazing, but he's been the one constant in the program.
  • Fox isn't the only consistent linemen in the ACC. FSU's Rodney Hudson loves football, and he gets it.
  • UNC defensive end E.J. Wilson says the Tar Heels can contend for the ACC title this year.
  • Former BC defensive tackle Ron Brace is feeling right at home with the Patriots.
  • The Virginian-Pilot just launched a recruiting site covering "757" talent. It includes free analysis, stats and video on the top-20 prospects in the Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake areas.

ACC in need of a national contender for respect

July, 27, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- During a group photo shoot for the players on Sunday at the ACC Football Kickoff, Clemson bandit end Ricky Sapp asked Virginia Tech tight end Greg Boone what it felt like to wear his ACC championship ring -- the third one. Boone's bling was impossible to miss.

"He said it felt good," Sapp said, almost wistfully.

Clemson, the team that at this time a year ago was expected to be a formidable opponent for Alabama and cruise through the ACC to make some noise on the national level, has officially switched places with the Hokies, who now bear the brunt of the league's expectations.

Clemson, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Georgia Tech -- quite frankly, nobody around here seems to care much who it is, just as long as somebody in the ACC is a legitimate national title contender. It's exactly what this conference needs to give its reputation a boost.

An NCAA-record 10 ACC teams were bowl eligible in a crazy, competitive and unpredictable 2008 season, and the conference took a step forward in polishing its image. There is still plenty of progress yet to be made, though, said ACC commissioner John Swofford, who added the ACC has "unlimited potential."

"I think if you really step back and take a look at the conferences a year ago, top to bottom, we may well have been the deepest conference in the country a year ago," Swofford said. "What we didn't have is a team or two involved in the national championship race down the stretch. I think that has a lot to do with how a conference is perceived competitively, maybe more than it should. But the fact of the matter is it does have a lot to do with that."

Swofford said that once teams are involved in the national championship race and win certain games outside the conference, "then I think that our league will receive the kind of respect it deserves."

The Hokies are the front-runners to win the Coastal Division title, and should be a preseason top-10 team, but it's not as if they're strangers to the top of the BCS standings. Boone remembers what was lost in 2007 when the Hokies were humiliated 48-7 at LSU. That season, the Tigers bumped Virginia Tech to No. 3 in the final BCS standings.

Can Virginia Tech be the team the conference can depend on?

"We have been that team," Boone said, "we just didn't win the games we should have."

Of course, Virginia Tech isn't the only team with the hope -- or the potential -- to make a splash on the national stage. In fact, the Hokies are going to have a difficult time getting through their conference schedule unscathed, let alone the lone nonconference schedule in the league that doesn't include an FCS team. It's the parity in the ACC, the players say, that makes title talk so difficult.

"I think that's why the ACC is so competitive -- because everybody wants to take that role and become that leader of the pack," said Miami offensive tackle Jason Fox. "I think we're really close. [The freshmen] have had a year under their belt, we have a great senior class, great senior leadership, and we've got two great coordinators. ... We're getting all the pieces together."

It's a rebuilding challenge both Miami and Florida State are facing simultaneously, and many say it's the resurrection of those two programs alone that can make the difference.

"For the ACC to really be a top-tier conference, there needs to be some people fighting for that national championship and being top five," said FSU quarterback Christian Ponder. "But the problem is, the ACC is so competitive and the ACC is also known for great defenses, so it's hard to really get up there. But I think we're close. There's a bunch of good teams this year that are getting better, getting up to that top tier, so we'll see. Florida State has a lot of potential. Virginia Tech should be ranked high up there. There's a lot of potential in the conference."

The question is when that potential will be realized.

North Carolina coach Butch Davis has told his players that they should want to play "when the blimp is in the sky," meaning it's a nationally televised game that holds postseason consequences. UNC defensive end E.J. Wilson said the Tar Heels are building the program into a national contender, but in order for the league to be taken seriously, they've got to have some company.

"I do agree with that because you have the Pac-10, who has USC, which is competing for a national championship almost every year, then you have the SEC, and they have four or five teams every year that's competing for it," said Wilson. "So in order for us to get talked about in the same respect with those conferences and be mentioned in the same breath with those, we have to have a few teams -- not just one team -- consistently every year competing for the national championship. We need to get more teams that can actually be successfully on the national level and not just around here."

Ranking the ACC units: Defensive lines

July, 20, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

1. Clemson -- The Tigers return three starters up front, and first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's pressure defense is the perfect fit for guys like Da'Quan Bowers and Ricky Sapp. Sapp was having a good season last year before he tore his ACL at Virginia and missed the rest of the season. Defensive end Kevin Alexander is a returning starter who had 34 tackles last year, and nose guard Jarvis Jenkins tied Sapp for the team lead with 10 tackles for loss. Opposing quarterbacks won't have time to think against this bunch.

2. Miami -- Anyone watching the Virginia Tech game last year saw what this group is capable of, and of the nine linemen who started at least one game for Miami last year, seven are back. Allen Bailey has moved from end to tackle, but he sometimes played there in third-down situations. He led the team with five sacks. Marcus Robinson is a solid pass rusher, Marcus Forston could also be an impact and Eric Moncur is entering his sixth season and if he plays like he did in 2007 (11.5 tackles for loss) could really give this line a boost.

3. Virginia Tech -- Depth is the only question mark here, as Jason Worilds, John Graves, Cordarrow Thompson and Nekos Brown are more than capable of continuing Bud Foster's tradition of nationally ranked defenses. Nobody is questioning Worilds' toughness, that's for sure, and Graves and Thompson both started every game last year. They're still looking for another defensive end, though, and will keep an eye on what Chris Drager adds to the position after moving from tight end.

4. North Carolina -- Not only do all four starters return, but the depth is the best it's been in recent years. Last year, defensive end Robert Quinn became a starter in the second game of the season, and defensive tackle Cam Thomas had one of his his best season at UNC. Marvin Austin and E.J. Wilson played well, and should be even better this year. Reserves Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo had solid rookie seasons and will push Wilson and Quinn for playing time this year. Aleric Mullins and Tydreke Powell are interchangeable with Austin and Thomas as starters at tackle.

5. Florida State -- The end position is reason for concern, as the Noles have to replace both Everette Brown and Neefy Moffett, who were first and second, respectively, on the team in sacks. Markus White will be tasked with filling the shoes of Brown, but he had a good transition season from junior college last year to build off of. Kevin McNeil, who had four sacks last year, is the favorite to replace Moffett. The interior should be solid with the return of Budd Thacker, Kendrick Stewart, Moses McCray and Justin Mincey.

6. NC State -- Defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash and end Willie Young have combined for 46 starts and should be two of the best linemen in the conference. The other two players penciled in as starters -- Shea McKeen and Leroy Burgess -- were both junior college transfers who earned starting time last year. Backup tackles will be a concern, but Markus Kuhn could wind up playing a bit of both until the staff decides where he can help the most.

7. Wake Forest -- Tackles John Russell and Boo Robinson will highlight a defense that recently bid farewell to some of the best seniors to come through the program. It should be one of the Deacs' most experienced groups in recent years, which is important considering the new faces behind them at linebacker. Defensive end Kyle Wilbur showed a lot of promise as a redshirt freshman with three sacks in only seven starts, and Tristan Dorty played in 10 games as a redshirt defensive end last year.

8. Virginia -- It's one of the few units on this team that didn't get a complete makeover, as seven of the top eight linemen return. Sophomore Matt Conrath, who had 35 tackles and four sacks last year, returns at end. There's a lot of experience next to him at nose tackle, where senior Nate Collins and sophomore Nick Jenkins split time last season. Collins' 35 tackles are the top among the returning linemen, while Jenkins finished with 25. Junior John-Kevin Dolce proved himself in the pass rush package with five sacks among his nine total tackles last year.

9. Boston College -- Replacing tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace is obviously one of the biggest concerns for this team, but they've got several options. Damik Scafe, Nick Rossi and Brendan Deska were each second-stringers at the tackle position and are the early favorites to replace the NFL draft picks. The Eagles also signed a pair of defensive tackles in the offseason, including highly touted recruit Dillon Quinn, who could make an immediate impact. Austin Giles replaced the injured Alex Albright last year for 12 starts, and Jim Ramella started all 14 games at the other end position.

10. Georgia Tech -- The Yellow Jackets have to replace three of four starters up front, and until they prove they found dependable replacements, they're going to be stuck down here. The lone returning starter is junior end Derrick Morgan, and there's no doubt about his capabilities, but the Jackets will sorely miss the three starters who combined for 100 career starts and 100 tackles for loss. Ben Anderson, Robert Hall and T.J. Barnes are all candidates to start.

11. Duke -- The Blue Devils took a step forward last year and should improve again with the return of tackle Vince Oghobaase and end Ayanga Okpokwuruk, who started five games and had 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. They combined for 9.5 sacks last year. Oghobaase ranks second in the ACC in both career tackles for loss (29.0) and quarterback sacks (11.5). They'll need new starters at nose guard and right end.

12. Maryland -- The Terps have to fill a void left by Jeremy Navarre and Trey Covington, and so far it looks like that will be up to Derek Drummond, Dion Armstrong, Travis Ivey and Jared Harrell, though Armstrong was dealing with some academic issues. The arrival of De'Onte Arnett, Zachariah Kerr, and Cody Blue this past spring should help with the depth.

Players attending ACC Football Kickoff announced

July, 15, 2009
Posted by's Heather Dinich

The ACC just announced the 24 athletes who have been chosen by its 12 league schools to attend the 2009 ACC Football Kickoff, July 26-27 at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C.

I'll be attending this event, and these are the players I'll be able to talk to there:

Wake Forest: Riley Skinner, Quarterback, Senior, Jacksonville, Fla.
John Russell, Defensive Tackle, Senior, Jacksonville, Fla.

Virginia Tech: Greg Boone, Tight End, Senior, Chesapeake, Va.
Kam Chancellor, Free Safety, Senior, Norfolk, Va.

Virginia: Will Barker, Tackle, Senior, Bryn Mawr, Pa.
Vic Hall, Quarterback, Senior, Gretna, Va.

NC State: Jamelle Eugene, Halfback, Senior, Naples, Fla.
Willie Young, Defensive End, Senior, Riviera Beach, Fla.

North Carolina: T.J. Yates, Quarterback, Junior, Marietta, Ga.
E.J. Wilson, Defensive End, Senior, Emporia, Va.

Miami: Jason Fox, Offensive Tackle, Senior, Ft. Worth, Texas
Randy Phillips, Safety, Senior, Belle Glade, Fla.

Maryland: Chris Turner, Quarterback, Senior, Simi Valley, Calif.
Nolan Carroll, Cornerback, Senior, Green Cove Springs, Fla.

Georgia Tech: Jonathan Dwyer, B-Back, Junior, Marietta, Ga.
Derrick Morgan, Defensive End, Junior, Coatesville, Pa.

Florida State: Christian Ponder, Quarterback, Junior, Colleyville, Tex.
Dekoda Watson, Linebacker, Senior, Aiken, S.C.

Duke: Thaddeus Lewis, Quarterback, Senior, Opa-Locka, Fla.
Vince Oghobaase, Defensive Tackle, Senior, Houston, Tex.

Clemson: C. J. Spiller, Running Back, Senior, Lake Butler, Fla.
Ricky Sapp, Defensive End, Senior, Bamberg, S.C.

Boston College: Matt Tennant, Senior, Center, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Jim Ramella, Senior, Defensive End, Westlake, Ohio.

Hope and Concern: North Carolina

June, 29, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Biggest reason for hope -- Defensive front-seven

The Tar Heels return all four starters on the defensive line and have excellent depth, so defensive line coach John Blake should be excited. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin, now a junior, is one of those recruits who lived up to the hype and he tied with E.J. Wilson for the most tackles (38) by a Carolina defensive lineman. Robert Quinn became a starter in the second game of the season, and massive defensive tackle Cam Thomas (6 foot 3, 330), finished the season with 34 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Those guys, combined with standout linebackers Bruce Carter, Quan Sturdivant and Zach Brown, should give UNC one of the best defensive fronts in the ACC.

Biggest reason for concern -- Wide receivers

This one is a no-brainer. UNC has to rebuild its entire receiving corps, as the Tar Heels lost players that accounted for 17 of their 21 receiving touchdowns in 2008. The only player who returns with any significant playing experience is Greg Little, who moved from running back midway through the season and had just 11 catches. Little is now the veteran of the group, and is one of the most talented athletes on the roster. He'll have to help usher Dwight Jones, Todd Harrelson, Joshua Adams and Rashad Mason along. The inexperience here will force everyone to be even more precise with the timing of patterns and routes, and the yards-after-catch stat is likely to decrease until the comfort zone increases. It will also test quarterback T.J. Yates' accuracy, as he'll need to hit these young players in the numbers.

Fully loaded in the ACC

May, 28, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

There are some teams in the ACC that are stacked at a particular position or positions -- meaning there's not just depth there, but depth and legitimate all-conference talent. Here's a quick look at who in the conference is simply loaded:

UNC front seven: All four starters return on the defensive line, and there is outstanding depth both there and in the secondary. On the line, tackle Cam Thompson is coming off his best season at UNC, tackle Marvin Austin and end E.J. Wilson both started the majority of games last season, and Robert Quinn had 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

Linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant both started every game last season, and the position is the deepest it's been in recent years. Carter led the team with 11 tackles for loss and Sturdivant led the nation with 87 solo tackles.

Georgia Tech running backs: Jonathan Dwyer, Roddy Jones, Anthony Allen, Marcus Wright -- so many players, only one football.

Georgia Tech secondary: Morgan Burnett, Rashaad Reid, Mario Butler, Dominique Reese, and Cooper Taylor all have experience, and the group also welcomes back Jerrard Tarrant from a suspension.

Virginia Tech running backs: Darren Evans and Ryan Williams are all the Hokies will need, but they've also got Josh Oglesby and Kenny Lewis Jr. as players they can count on.

Boston College secondary: The Eagles return DeLeon Gause, Wes Davis and Roderick Rollins, who have combined for 32 career starts. This should be the best group BC has had in a while.

Clemson defensive line: The Tigers return three starters across the front, and coach Dabo Swinney has said this unit could be the strength of the entire team. Ricky Sapp is the leader, senior Kevin Alexander is a returning starter, and there are really three starters returning for the two defensive end positions, including DaQuan Bowers, who started six games last year and finished with 47 tackles, the most among the linemen.

Miami wide receivers: Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson, Thearon Collier, LaRon Byrd, Kendal Thompkins, Tommy Streeter ... the Hurricanes could field a team that consists entirely of receivers.

Florida State offensive line: The Noles are oozing with talent here. Tackle Andrew Datko, guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon combined to start all but one game last season. What was the youngest offensive line in the FBS last season could be one of the best this year. For the first time since 2004, all five starters return.

Wake Forest offensive line: The Demon Deacons return eight offensive linemen with a total of 118 career starts among them. Jeff Griffin and Joe Birdsong are Wake's returning starters at tackle while Barrett McMillin and Joe Looney each started at guard in 2008. Russell Nenon, who started the season at guard, moved to center at midseason following an injury to Trey Bailey. Bailey returns after fully healing from a broken ankle. The Deacons also welcome back Chris DeGeare who missed the 2008 season while getting his academics in order.

North Carolina spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009
Posted by's Heather Dinich

North Carolina Tar Heels

2008 overall record: 8-5

2008 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters: Offense: 6, defense: 9, kicker/punter 1

Top returners: QB T.J. Yates, TB Shaun Draughn, OT Kyle Jolly, DE E.J. Wilson, S Deunta Williams, CB Kendric Burney, LB Bruce Carter, LB Quan Sturdivant, DT Marvin Austin, DE Robert Quinn

Key losses: S Trimane Goddard, WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Brooks Foster, WR Brandon Tate, OT Garrett Reynolds, LB Mark Paschal, P Terrance Brown

2008 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Shaun Draughn* (866 yards)
Passing: Cam Sexton (1,261 yards)
Receiving: Hakeem Nicks (1,222 yards)
Quan Sturdivant* (122)
Bruce Carter* (5)
Trimane Goddard (7)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 The Citadel
Sept. 12 at Connecticut
Sept. 19 East Carolina
Sept. 26 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 3 Virginia
Oct. 10 Georgia Southern
Oct. 22 Florida State
Oct. 29 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 7 Duke
Nov. 14 Miami
Nov. 21 at Boston College
Nov. 28 at NC State

Spring answers

1. Strong up the middle. Sturdivant, who led the nation last year with 87 unassisted tackles, proved this spring he's capable of replacing Mark Paschal as starting middle linebacker. He moved from the outside to the middle, and that opened up a spot for sophomore Zach Brown.

2. New faces in the secodary. The departure of safety Trimane Goddard was a concern, but Da'Norris Searcy and Melvin Williams gave the staff confidence they can fill that role. Williams, a transfer from Coffeyville Community College, played primarily on special teams and as a reserve safety last year. Searcy continued the success he left off with in the Meineke Car Care Bowl as a fifth defensive back.

3. Best depth under Davis. As he enters his third season, Butch Davis has built the depth to the best it's been in recent years (with the exception of the offensive line). Even with the questions at receiver (see below) there will still be about eight players for the staff to choose from come fall.

Fall questions

1. Offensive line. The Heels still need to find some answers, specifically on right side. UNC has to replace three-year starters Garrett Reynolds and Calvin Darity. One thing that will help was the staff's decision to redshirt guard Jonathan Cooper, who was a quick, valuable member of the scout team last year and had a good spring.

2. Wide receiver. Considering UNC's leading career receiver is fullback Bobby Rome (31 receptions), the Tar Heels need somebody to catch the ball. That's a question we might not know the answer to until a few weeks into the season. Greg Little, Joshua Adams and Dwight Jones were the leading candidates this spring.

3. Not so special teams. The competition will continue this summer between Casey Barth and Jay Wooten. The bigger concern, though, is punter, where walk-on Grant Schallock was the winner by default this spring. C.J. Feagles will give him some competition this summer, but whoever wins, it will be his first collegiate kicks.

UNC defense, running game, can help compensate for loss of receivers

March, 16, 2009

Posted by's Heather Dinich

North Carolina coach Butch Davis took a major step in bringing the program back to relevance last year after he led the Tar Heels to an 8-5 record, their most wins since 2001. He managed to double UNC's win total from 2007, and he did it without standout receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate and starting quarterback T.J. Yates, who were injured for most of the season.

Last season was proof that Davis can win even when short-handed, and considering he has to replace his top three receivers, that's exactly how he'll begin the 2009 season.

The Tar Heels will be starting from scratch at wide receiver as they return to spring practice today, but lost in the shuffle of how much work they have to do in the passing game is how much potential they have in the running game and on defense. Those two factors should help carry the Heels until some of the younger receivers develop.

Nobody in the ACC returns more starters on defense (nine) than North Carolina, and the Tar Heels made a habit of scoring non-offensive touchdowns in 2008 with six. Six of the starting front seven return, including defensive ends E.J. Wilson and Robert Quinn, defensive tackles Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas, and linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter. Carter made a name for himself last season when he blocked four consecutive punts during a two-game span, and he was one of four players who returned an interception for a touchdown last year. UNC held its opponents to just 21.15 points per game last year.

Only six starters return on offense, but three of them -- tackle Kyle Jolly, guard Alan Pelc and center Lowell Dyer -- are on the offensive line. UNC's running game wasn't particularly impressive last year, nor was it consistent, but it should be better this year. Tailbacks Shaun Draughn, who didn't start until the seventh game at Virginia, and Ryan Houston, who was used mainly in short-yardage situations, return along with fullback Bobby Rome, a strong blocker.

While there's no question Davis faces a challenge in taking the program one step further this season and doing it with rookie wide receivers, overall UNC returns far more than it lost from 2008.