ACC: Everett Dawkins

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- By any significant measure, the difference between Timmy Jernigan's role as a reserve the past two seasons and the starting job that awaits him in 2013 shouldn't be a major overhaul.

Jernigan was already on the field for a majority of snaps throughout most games, and his impact on the defensive line already included more tackles than any other FSU interior lineman in 2012. Still, there's something about hearing his name announced before each game and knowing he's officially secured the job of starter on a unit that's been among the best in the nation in recent years that Jernigan relishes.

"I've been waiting a long time," he said. "So I'm really excited about it."

Jernigan's enthusiasm isn't entirely inflated either. Sure, his playing time isn't likely to shift dramatically, and he's already proven he's capable of handling a sizable role on the defense. But what's truly different for the junior defensive tackle in 2013 isn't about reps or tackles but about his place in the hierarchy of the defense.

For the past two seasons, FSU's line has been the foundation of its defensive scheme. The unit has helped the Seminoles finish in the top three in the nation stopping the run in both 2011 and 2012, and last month, it sent five players on to the NFL, including all of last year's starters.

That, of course, means a massive overhaul for the unit, but thanks to Jernigan's presence -- along with potential breakout stars like Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman -- the expectations haven't dipped much. And that's a burden Jernigan hadn't been asked to carry before.

"I feel like it's my D-line now," Jernigan said. "I'm trying to be a leader."

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
AP Photo/Phil SearsAs a sophomore, Timmy Jernigan led all FSU defensive tackles in tackles last season.
When it comes to production, there's little reason to question Jernigan's ability to handle a bigger share of the spotlight. As a reserve the past two seasons, he's racked up 76 tackles, including 14 for a loss, and four sacks. Despite playing behind Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins -- both in NFL camps now -- Jernigan established himself as a star, and he's already currying attention as a potential first-round selection in next year's draft.

That attention is nice, he admits, but his bigger role in 2013 isn't about burnishing his resume for the next level.

"It inspired me to work even harder toward what I want," Jernigan said. "I'm not really worried about the NFL or anything like that because there's so much more I feel like I have to do here in Tallahassee. I'll worry about that when it's time."

What Jernigan needs to do this season isn't simply a repeat of past performance either.

Jimbo Fisher has been quick to shrug off concerns about the massive changes on the defensive line, noting that Jernigan and Demonte McAllister were already FSU's most productive tackles, but it's hard to ignore the notion that life gets more difficult without established talent surrounding them.

That means Jernigan has to pick up the slack as the centerpiece of the line and help bring along the younger talent alongside him.

Before an ankle injury sidelined him midway through the spring, Jernigan was taking reps alongside a bevy of potential partners on the line, from veterans like Jacobbi McDaniel and Giorgio Newberry to youngsters like Edwards and Goldman. The rotations, he expects, will continue well into the fall, but he admits it's hard not to be impressed by the potential of some of the young guns.

"I like what they're doing because they're asking questions, they're very humble," Jernigan said. "They understand we have all the talent in the world up front but the biggest thing is we've got to get everything going. Those guys are going to be just fine. It's just a matter of understanding what you're doing. Not understanding slows you down, but those guys are going to be just fine."

Of course, Jernigan is dealing with a bit of a learning curve, too. While his position group was spared in the overhaul of FSU's coaching staff this offseason, the new, aggressive schemes being implemented by defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt have added some wrinkles to what had been a relatively straightforward approach.

But like the move from reserve to starter, Jernigan sees the changes as an opportunity to impress.

"That's what I like," Jernigan said. "I like to get off the ball and attack blockers rather than absorb them. It's going to be a positive. I'm very excited about it."
Florida State followed up its big first round with a huge NFL draft weekend, as the Seminoles led every program in the nation with 11 total picks, setting a new school record.

That's right. The Noles had more picks than national champion Alabama (nine) and SEC power LSU (nine), two schools that played for the national championship following the 2011 season. More than in-state rival Florida (eight), too.

Those numbers are clear validation the Seminoles have restocked their cupboards with an inordinate amount of talent as they re-emerge in the national conversation.

"It’s a great indication of how the program is truly developing," coach Jimbo Fisher said in a statement. “I think it shows we’re getting back to national prominence. Our players are doing a great job of representing themselves on and off the field leading to chances at the next level. I’m happy for all of these guys and want to thank them for helping return this program back to the national spotlight."

Overall, the ACC had 31 players taken for the ninth straight season, finishing second behind the SEC.

Here is a quick look back at all the selections:

First round
  • No. 7 Jonathan Cooper, OG, Arizona
  • No. 16 EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo
  • No. 24 Bjoern Werner, DE, Indianapolis
  • No. 25 Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota
  • No. 27 DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston
  • No. 28 Sylvester Williams, DT, Denver
Second round
  • No. 37 Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
  • No. 40 Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, San Francisco
  • No. 42 Menelik Watson, OT, Oakland
  • No. 51 David Amerson, CB, NC State
Third round
  • No. 73 Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay
  • No. 89 Brennan Williams, OT, North Carolina
Fourth round
  • No. 127 Malliciah Goodman, DE, Atlanta
Fifth round
  • No. 136 Earl Wolff, S, Philadelphia
  • No. 141 Oday Aboushi, OG, New York Jets
  • No. 143 Jonathan Meeks, S, Buffalo
  • No. 149 Brandon McGee, CB, St. Louis
  • No. 154 Chris Thompson, RB, Washington
  • No. 162 Brandon Jenkins, LB, Washington
Sixth round
  • No. 171 Corey Fuller, WR, Detroit
  • No. 173 Vinston Painter, OT, Denver
  • No. 177 Dustin Hopkins, PK, Buffalo
  • No. 180 Nick Moody, LB, San Francisco
  • No. 187 Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona
  • No. 189 Mike James, RB, Tampa Bay
  • No. 206 Vince Williams, LB, Pittsburgh
Seventh round
  • No. 214 Travis Bond, OG, Minnesota
  • No. 215 Tommy Bohanon, FB, New York Jets
  • No. 224 Kevin Dorsey, WR, Green Bay
  • No. 229 Everett Dawkins, DT, Minnesota
  • No. 249 Sean Renfree, QB, Atlanta

Incoming member Syracuse had three players drafted as well: tackle Justin Pugh in the first round to the New York Giants; quarterback Ryan Nassib in the fourth round to the Giants; and safety Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round to Pittsburgh.

And now a few notes:
  • North Carolina had the second-most picks from the ACC with five -- its highest total since five were picked in 2011. The Tar Heels had three offensive linemen selected, the most from UNC in the draft since 1967.
  • Miami had its NFL draft streak extended to 39 consecutive seasons with Brandon McGee and Mike James both getting selected.
  • Virginia also had its draft streak extended to 30 straight seasons with Aboushi's selection.
  • Tommy Bohanon Bohanon became just the third Wake Forest fullback to have his name called in the draft, joining Ovie Mughelli (Ravens, 2003) and Neil MacLean (Eagles, 1958).
  • With four selections in this year's draft, Clemson has now had 23 players chosen over the last five years, and at least four every year Dabo Swinney has been head coach. It is the first time in history Clemson has had at least four players drafted each of the last five years.
  • Georgia Tech did not have a player selected for the first time since 2005. Three players with draft hopes ended up with free agent deals: T.J. Barnes (Jacksonville), Izaan Cross (Buffalo) and Rod Sweeting (New Orleans).
  • Pitt did not have a player drafted for the second consecutive season. Running back Ray Graham, who was the Panthers' best hope for selection, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Texans.
  • Here are a few other notable free-agent signings: Conner Vernon (Oakland), Chibuikem “Kenny” Okoro (San Diego), Marcus Davis (New York Giants), Lonnie Pryor (Jacksonville).
You look at the Florida State roster, and you look at the Florida State coaching staff, and the automatic assumption is this could be a rebuilding year for the Noles.

Jimbo Fisher does not see it that way. Not one bit. As spring practice opens today, Fisher needs to find new starters at some key positions, including quarterback, defensive end and linebacker. But he sees players who have had valuable playing experience ready to step right into starting roles, not wet-behind-the-ears freshmen in over their heads.

To him, there is no dropoff between the talent on his 2012 ACC winning team, and the talent on his 2013 team.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsThere will be a competition for FSU"s starting quarterback, but Clint Trickett has more game experience than the others.
"I ask people this: Lawrence Dawsey is arguably one of the best receivers in Florida State history," Fisher said during his pre-spring news conference earlier this week. "How many years did he start here? He started one year. How about Odell (Haggins)? He was a linebacker that got moved. Nowadays he’d be, 'Oh, he wasn’t what we said he was, you moved him.'

"Just because you don’t start a game doesn’t mean you’re not starter material. Do you understand what I’m saying? We’re establishing ourselves as a program again and guys still played as much ball as anybody else."

Fisher gave a host of examples. Every starter on the defensive line is gone -- ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, and tackles Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins. But the players expected to move into the starting lineup played extensively last season. Mario Edwards Jr. and Giorgio Newberry will start with the first-team at end; Timmy Jernigan, perhaps the best interior lineman last year, moves up to start at one tackle spot.

Vince Williams and Nick Moody are gone at linebacker. Into the middle steps Telvin Smith, who has extensive game experience and should have no problems moving up.

Then of course, there is the quarterback spot, a position that folks across the ACC will be paying attention to as the competition begins. Clint Trickett starts out No. 1 on the depth chart, and here again is where playing time has helped him. Trickett has played in 16 games with two starts behind EJ Manuel the last two seasons.

The other three players competing for the starting job -- Jacob Coker, Sean Maguire and Jameis Winston -- have either limited or no game experience. That does not take them out of the mix by any stretch. Fisher already said the position is wide open, and he has no timetable to make a decision. But having game experience is certainly not going to hurt him as the Noles try to find their leader on offense.

"From a talent standpoint, I think we’re still a very talented football team and we have guys with a lot of experience still playing," Fisher said. "We look at returning starters sometimes, it’s a very misleading factor about depth of a team and how much guys have played behind them. I’m excited about these young guys. Even though they’re new starters, they've still played like starters."

As for the coaching changes, six new assistants will be on the field this spring, including new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. But Fisher downplayed those changes as well, saying nothing would change about philosophy or with the schemes the Noles run.

"We're going to do things the Florida State way, the way we've been doing," Fisher said.

That means plugging new guys into the starting lineup and believing there will be few hiccups along the way.

ACC players on NFL combine list

February, 7, 2013
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The official list of players invited to the combine is out.

Out of the whopping 333 invited players, the ACC will have 42 representatives at the big event, scheduled for Feb. 23-26 in Indianapolis. Every ACC team is represented. Florida State has the most players invited with 12; Maryland, Virginia and Wake Forest have the fewest with one each.

Here is the complete list:

EJ Manuel stars in Senior Bowl

January, 28, 2013
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What a great finish for former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel's collegiate career.

Less than a month after helping lead his team to a Discover Orange Bowl win against Northern Illinois, Manuel was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Senior Bowl. Manuel passed for a touchdown and rushed for another on the South's first two drives in a 21-16 victory over the North on Saturday. He completed 7-of-10 passes for 76 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also had four carries for 10 yards and a touchdown.

Former Miami running back Mike James, a late addition to the roster, also made an impact in the game, scoring a touchdown on a five-yard run with 2:41 left in the game. He also had three catches for 11 yards, and six carries for 10 yards. Former Duke receiver Conner Vernon led the South team with four receptions, and finished with 36 yards.

Defensively, former FSU linebacker Vince Williams had a big day, picking up where he left off in the Senior Bowl practices Insider. Williams was second on the South team with six tackles (four solo). Teammate Everett Dawkins had four tackles and was credited with .5 sack.

A few other stats of note:
  • Former Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohanon had two catches for six yards.
  • For the North team, former NC State quarterback Mike Glennon completed 8-of-16 passes for 82 yards.
  • Former FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins had his lone field goal, a 52-yard attempt in the second quarter, blocked.
  • Hopkins' four kickoffs averaged 63.2 yards and he had two touchbacks.
  • Former UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams had two tackles.
  • Former UNC linebacker Kevin Reddick had two tackles.

Day 1 Senior Bowl notes

January, 22, 2013
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Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc. is at Senior Bowl practices, scouting it out as the nation's best seniors prepare for their final audition for the NFL. There are plenty of ACC representatives on the Senior Bowl rosters, and some of them have already made an impression. According to Weidl's latest practice report from Mobile, Ala., a pair of former UNC players stood out.

Weidl wrote that Sylvester Williams was the best player from Day 1:

"Of anyone on the field, the guy who had the best practice was North Carolina's Sylvester Williams. He has strong, powerful hands and had a tackle for a loss in nine-on-seven. His combination of quickness and power -- with his hands and his feet -- is really disruptive."


At linebacker, Weidl wrote that UNC's Kevin Reddick had a good day:

"Reddick is an enforcer in the run game, good in tight quarters and can blitz."

Regarding the quarterbacks, Weidl wrote that NC State's Mike Glennon "is the easiest thrower of the football."

On Glennon: He has a big stature, strong arm. The ball comes out easy for him. He had a little trouble with his accuracy. He was a little high on both of his throws in the seam route, one of which was intercepted in team period. And he still holds the ball too long.

Here's a look at the ACC representatives on updated versions of the Senior Bowl rosters, with their current heights and weights:

NORTH
  • Mike Glennon, QB, NC State (6-6, 220)
  • Kevin Reddick, LB, North Carolina (6-1, 246)
  • Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina (6-2, 313)
SOUTH

Stay tuned this week for more Senior Bowl updates.
The Senior Bowl announced another group of participants to its annual all-star game, with three more ACC players added to the roster:
They will join NC State quarterback Mike Glennon, Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins, Clemson defensive end Malliciah Goodman, Florida State defensive tackle Everett Dawkins, North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick, and Virginia offensive tackle Oday Aboushi, who all were previously announced.

Williams has got one of the more incredible back stories of any player who will be in Mobile, Ala., for the game on Jan. 26. He was expelled from high school, then worked various jobs after he eventually graduated before ending up in junior college. From there, he wound up at North Carolina, made the All-ACC team this year and is en route to having his NFL dreams come true.

Video: Florida State DT Everett Dawkins

January, 1, 2013
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Florida State defensive tackle Everett Dawkins talks about what an Orange Bowl win would mean and preparing for Northern Illinois' offense.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was only last week that Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher lamented the use of computers to help determine the BCS standings and argued his squad's case as one of the best one-loss teams in the country.

With five turnovers in a wild 37-26 loss to rival Florida on Saturday, the Seminoles’ case against the computers was officially deleted.

It’s not that No. 10 Florida State (10-2, 7-1 ACC) shouldn’t be ranked -- it absolutely should -- but the Seminoles proved Saturday that the fourth-ranked Gators (11-1, 7-1 SEC) deserve their spot ahead of FSU, and the program is still not consistent enough to be considered a true national title contender. Florida State’s mistake-laden four quarters were a microcosm of the Seminoles’ entire regular season: an opportunity at something bigger fumbled away.

“There were ample opportunities -- ample opportunities,” Fisher said. “We just didn’t capitalize on them.”

He was talking about the game -- not the season.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Kevin Liles/US PresswireMike Gillislee's 140 yards (including this 37-yard TD) led Florida's 244-yard assault on the Noles.
Those within Florida State’s locker room after the loss emphasized the team's “24-hour rule,” reminding each other there is still plenty to play for, as the Atlantic Division champs are heading to Charlotte, N.C., to play Georgia Tech in the Dec. 1 Dr Pepper ACC championship game. The Seminoles still have a chance to win the Discover Orange Bowl. The possibility of a 12-2 season is still within reach. It’s going to be hard, though, for some of the players -- and most all of the Noles’ fans -- not to wonder what could have been this season had FSU not lost on the road to NC State and found a way to beat its rivals at home. The Noles were so close to finally meeting preseason expectations, yet so far away.

“That’s just something that’s going to be in the back of your head forever,” defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. “But we can’t worry about that right now. We just have to keep on moving.”

Just like Florida’s running game.

The Gators controlled the line of scrimmage and ran the ball with ease, racking up 244 yards on the ground. Florida’s success on the ground made quarterback Jeff Driskel look better than usual, as it opened up the play-action and allowed him not to have to execute a true drop-back game. By the fourth quarter, the Gators had scored 24 points in a span of less than nine minutes and Florida State’s usually staunch defense looked gassed.

“We weren’t able to execute,” said Noles receiver Rashad Greene. “That basically sums it all up on one piece right there.”

In what was only its second game of the season against a ranked opponent, Florida State’s mistakes were too much to overcome. It wasn’t the first time this season turnovers plagued the Noles (two against Miami, two against Virginia Tech), but against better competition, FSU couldn’t get away with it.

“We’ve got to have them better prepared and we have to take care of the ball better,” Fisher said. “It was rare -- it wasn’t fumbles, it was interceptions. Something we haven’t done very much.”

It was also an emotional and difficult game for Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, who threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball, leading to a Florida touchdown.

“It was not one of his most stellar performances,” Fisher said.

Manuel agreed.

“I’ve got to get better these next two games,” he said. “It was tough. This is hard right now.”

While Florida State tries to refocus on the ACC championship game, the Gators left Doak Campbell Stadium believing they should be playing for the national title.

The Seminoles did their part to help the Gators build their résumé.

“We didn’t finish,” Fisher said, “we didn’t finish.”

It was only the second time this season that happened to FSU, but that’s two times too many for a team playing for more.

Countdown to kickoff: No. 7

August, 23, 2012
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There are seven more weekdays until NC State kicks off against Tennessee in Atlanta on Friday, Aug. 31. We’re counting down with 25 reasons to be excited about ACC football this year. This list features coaches, players, games, themes, position groups – 25 things for you to look forward to.

The countdown to kickoff continues with …

No. 7 Florida State’s defensive line: This group might be No. 7 on this list, but it could be No. 1 in the country. The Seminoles have closed the gap with the elite defensive lines in the country and it is on par if not better than the likes of LSU and Alabama. It’s a championship-caliber group deep enough that the backups could be starters for other teams. The interior line can rotate in fresh faces without a drop-off, and there are plenty of pass-rushing ends who can change the game. A pair of seniors anchors the middle in tackles Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud, and senior Brandon Jenkins and junior Bjoern Werner are equally effective from the end positions. This is a group of game-changers that should remind us of FSU teams of the past.

No. 8: Thursday night games
No. 9: Atlanta
No. 10: NC State's secondary
No. 11: SEC rivalry games
No. 12: Virginia Tech's 10-game winning streak
No. 13: Florida State vs. Clemson
No. 14: North Carolina vs. NC State
No. 15: Unofficial state championships
No. 16: Talented true freshmen
No. 17: Unpredictability
No. 18: ACC vs. Notre Dame
No. 19: Clemson's offensive playmakers
No. 20: The ACC's record chasers
No. 21: Larry Fedora
No. 22: One of the nation's top rushing offenses
No. 23: The last season before expansion
No. 24: Brent Venables
No. 25: A fresh start at Maryland

Walter Camp watch list announced

July, 20, 2012
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The Walter Camp Football Foundation has announced the names of 50 players to watch for its 2012 Player of the Year award. Here are your ACC representatives:

Walter Camp Award (Presented to the nation’s most outstanding player by the Walter Camp Football Foundation)

The Walter Camp Award watch list was the final watch list scheduled to be announced by the National College Football Awards Association. As promised, I have been keeping a running list of your ACC players who are up for awards this year. Here is a compliation of the awards released over the past two weeks. Best of luck to those who were nominated:

Doak Walker Award (Presented to the nation's premier running back by the PwC SMU Athletic Forum)
Davey O'Brien Award (Presented to the nation's best quarterback by the Davey O'Brien Foundation)
Biletnikoff Award (Presented to the nation's most outstanding receiver by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation)
Butkus Award (Presented to the nation's most outstanding linebacker by the Butkus Foundation)
Rotary Lombardi Award (Presented to the college lineman of the year by the Rotary Club of Houston)

Jim Thorpe Award (Presented to the nation's best defensive back by the Jim Thorpe Association)
Bronko Nagurski Trophy (Presented to the nation's most outstanding defensive player by the Charlotte Touchdown Club)
Outland Trophy (Presented to the nation's most outstanding interior lineman by the Football Writers Association of America)
Lou Groza Award (Presented to the nation's top place-kicker by the Palm Beach County [Fla.] Sports Commission)
Ray Guy Award (Presented to the nation's best punter by the Augusta [Ga.] Sports Council)
Mackey Award (Presented to the nation’s most outstanding tight end by the Nassau County [N.Y.] Sports Commission)
Rimington Trophy (Presented to the nation’s premier center by the Boomer Esiason Foundation)
Bednarik Award (Presented to the college defensive player of the year by the Maxwell Football Club)
Maxwell Award (Presented to the college player of the year by the Maxwell Football Club)

Nagurski, Outland watch lists announced

July, 12, 2012
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The Football Writers Association of America today announced the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Outland Trophy. Here are your ACC representatives:

Bronko Nagurski Trophy (Presented to the nation's most outstanding defensive player by the Charlotte Touchdown Club)
Outland Trophy (Presented to the nation's most outstanding interior lineman by the FWAA)

Ranking the ACC's defensive tackles

June, 28, 2011
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You realize how difficult these are, right?

1. Tydreke Powell, North Carolina: The team captain was one of only two UNC defensive players to start all 13 games last season. He finished the regular season with 47 tackles, three tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.

2. Joe Vellano, Maryland: He led the Terps with five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. He finished with 63 total tackles and two pass breakups. He is also the son of former Maryland all-ACC defensive tackle Paul Vellano.

3. J.R. Sweezy, NC State: He had 13 tackles for loss last season, six sacks, 46 tackles, three pass breakups and six quarterback pressures.

4. Marcus Forston, Miami: He had 37 tackles last season including 12 for a combined loss of 31 yards. He also had three sacks, an interception and one pass deflection.

5. Jacobbi McDaniel, Florida State: The true sophomore played most of the season with an elbow injury and still started all 14 games. He finished with 31 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, had two pass breakups and got his first career interception against Wake Forest.

6. Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest: The noseguard from Texas finished last season with 44 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and three sacks. He also had three pass deflections.

7. A.J. Francis, Maryland: He had 44 tackles last season, including seven for losses of 29 yards. He also had 2.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries.

8. Brandon Thompson, Clemson: He’ll be one of the leaders of the line this season, and last season had 40 tackles, including six for loss.

9. Everett Dawkins, Florida State: Despite midseason surgery on his thumb, Dawkins didn’t miss a game and finished with 39 tackles (20 solo), six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

10. Antoine Hopkins, Virginia Tech: He started 12 games last season and had 45 tackles including 6.5 for loss and two sacks.

ACC team position rankings: Defensive lines

June, 27, 2011
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As the title indicated ...

[+] EnlargeQuinton Coples
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireUNC returns a veteran defensive line led by end Quinton Coples.
1. North Carolina: This is a deep and talented group that returns all four starters including Donte Paige-Moss, Jared McAdoo, Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams joins three other players who started at least one game: Kareem Martin (three starts), DT Tim Jackson (five starts) and DT Jordan Nix (two starts).

2. Florida State: All four starters return in juniors Brandon Jenkins, Jacobi McDaniel, Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins. Jenkins finished sixth nationally with 13.5 sacks. This group should take another step forward in the second season under coordinator Mark Stoops, but it already has an outstanding base to build on as the Noles ranked third nationally in sacks and 21st in tackles for loss last season.

3. Miami: The Canes should have one of the better rotations in the ACC. They return starters Olivier Vernon, Micanor Regis and Marcus Forston, who combined for 12 sacks and 30.5 TFLs. It’s a deep group, as DE Adewale Ojomo (seven starts), DT Luther Robinson (five starts), DE Marcus Robinson (10 games), DT Curtis Porter (one start), DE Andrew Smith (11 games) and DE Dyron Dye (six games) all have experience.

4. Virginia: Like Florida State, this is another group that should benefit from being in the second season under the same coordinator. Jim Reid switched the scheme back to a traditional 4-3, and the Hoos return a veteran group led by Matt Conrath (33 starts), DT Nick Jenkins (29 starts), and DE Cam Johnson (22 starts).

5. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have a better understanding of what is expected from them in their second season in Al Groh’s 3-4 defense, and all three starters return in ends Izaan Cross (41 tackles) and Jason Peters (52 tackles), and tackle Logan Walls. Defensive tackles Shawn Green, T.J. Barnes and J.C. Lanier will also compete for playing time along with DE Anthony Williams.

6. Maryland: The Terps should be solid up front with the return of Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis and Justin Anderson. Francis is the veteran of the group (19 career starts) and had 44 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season, but Vellano is also an all-conference candidate. The Terps have good depth with Zachariah Kerr, Isaiah Ross and Bradley Johnson.

7. Virginia Tech: This is a group that could and should jump a few spots by the end of the season. On paper, they’ve got to replace three starters, but this spring the group proved capable of getting the Hokies back to their days of dominating on defense. Based on potential, they should be ranked higher, but based on lack of dependable, proven depth, they could even fall lower.

8. Clemson: It will be difficult for the Tigers to replace the production of Da’Quan Bowers, but the defensive line is in capable hands with Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson, and Malliciah Goodman has embraced the challenge of taking Bowers’ spot. Branch was second on the team with five sacks last season and 8.5 tackles for loss. Thompson had 40 tackles, including six for losses. Defensive tackle Rennie Moore, DE Kourtnei Brown and DT Tyler Shatley also have experience.

9. NC State: Defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy is one of the underrated players in the ACC, and he returns along with defensive end Jeff Rieskamp. Several players got significant snaps last season, though, including DE Darryl Cato-Bishop (13 tackles), DT Markus Kuhn (17 tackles, and DT Brian Slay (20 tackles, two TFLs).

10. Wake Forest: The Deacs return three starters including Tristan Dorty, Kyle Wilber and Zack Thompson. Thompson only started five games last season, but after spring practices, coach Jim Grobe said Thompson has all-conference potential.

11. Boston College: Starters Max Holloway and Kaleb Ramsey return, along with four other linemen (DTs Dillon Quinn and Conor O’Neal, and DEs Dan Williams and Kasim Edebali) who each started at least two games last fall.

12. Duke: Until proven otherwise, this is where the Blue Devils belong, but Rick Petri was hired to change that. He’ll have veteran nose guard Charlie Hatcher (24 career starts) to work with, and sophomore Sydney Sarmiento, who started 11 games last season. Junior Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and DEs Desmond Johnson and Jamal Wallace could also see playing time.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher looked at his watch and guessed he gave himself about 10 minutes in the visiting locker room at Sun Life Stadium to celebrate his team’s convincing 45-17 upset of No. 13 Miami.

Fisher isn’t big on wasting time.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher has Christian Ponder and the Seminoles believing that they can win the ACC.
After all, he’s only needed half a season to make a difference at Florida State. And in a matter of weeks, he and first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops have transformed the Seminoles into a different team than the one that got bowled over at Oklahoma.

In a fierce rivalry that has been decided by an average of four points over the past seven games, Florida State controlled the entire game. The Seminoles had a 31-7 lead by the third quarter, and even those within the program said they were surprised by the margin of victory, which was the most lopsided since 1997. It was the most complete performance Fisher has seen from his team, and it came against ranked competition on the road. The Seminoles have now won four straight and are the team to beat in the ACC -- all just six games into Fisher’s head coaching career.

“It builds your confidence,” Fisher said. “Confidence in an athlete or program is something that you don’t know when it comes. And when confidence comes in anything we do, we really can take off. But confidence can be a scary thing. You’ve gotta know how to control confidence.”

With a struggling Boston College team in the midst of a three-game losing streak scheduled to visit Tallahassee on Saturday, though, that confidence should only grow. If Florida State follows the script next weekend, the Seminoles Oct. 28 game against NC State could determine the Atlantic Division winner. The Seminoles’ win over Miami was the kind of performance that could springboard them through the second half of the season.

“It was huge for us,” FSU quarterback Christian Ponder said. “Two back-to-back wins, on the road, in ACC play, I don’t remember when the last time that happened for me. It’s huge. Everyone keeps having different expectations for us, questioning if we’re going to be able to keep playing and keep dealing with success, and we just keep playing to our expectations and we’re doing really well.”

Miami ran 23 more plays than Florida State and managed to do less. Quarterback Jacory Harris completed just 40.4 percent of his passes (19-of-47) and didn’t throw one touchdown pass after throwing four a week ago at Clemson. The Seminoles took away the deep pass and Miami averaged 4.8 yards per completion. According to ESPN’s Stats & Info, Harris only completed 20 percent of his throws over 15 yards and was 0-for-9 against the blitz.

It was a far cry from Sept. 11, when Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones threw for 380 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

“The sky’s the limit for us, I think,” defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said. “With a new scheme and everything we just put in, we’re ahead of schedule because we’re doing real good at it. The defense is on top. We’re ranked top in everything in the nation. I think we’re ahead of schedule.”

Miami, which entered the game second in the nation behind Florida State in sacks, didn’t get one on Ponder.

“We believe we’re right on schedule,” Ponder said. “We had high expectations for ourselves and we’re reaching them.”

It appears the rest of the ACC should expect more of the same under Fisher’s watch.

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