ACC: Kenderius Whitehead

Just a few weeks remain before fall camp opens around the ACC, and there are plenty of big questions still left to be answered. With that in mind, we’re looking at some of the conference’s biggest wild cards -- veterans without a distinguished track record who could make all the difference for their respective teams this season. One caveat: With so much of the conference breaking in a new QB, we ignored that key position for now. We’re also not including any true freshmen, since they all come with their share of intrigue. Instead, these are the Coastal Division’s biggest wild cards as we get set for 2014.

Duke: DE Dezmond Johnson

With fewer than five tackles for loss per game last year, Duke had the second-least-productive defensive front in the ACC. Then the Blue Devils lost three of their four starters on the D-line. That means there are major holes to fill and plenty of room for improvement. Johnson is a fifth-year senior coming off a solid spring, which makes him the first man up to fill the void.

Georgia Tech: DE Kenderius Whitehead

Talk about a wild card. Whitehead started his career at NC State, transferred to Georgia Military College, then became the first juco player to sign with Georgia Tech in the Paul Johnson era. Because he’s wrapping up his degree at GMC, he won’t even report to Tech until later this month, but the Yellow Jackets are so thin on the D-line that Whitehead could still be the starter at rush end. Aside from Adam Gotsis, Tech has virtually no established pass rushers, but before Whitehead can even begin to assert himself on Tech’s depth chart he has to take care of academics elsewhere.

Miami: LB Thurston Armbrister

A part-time starter last season, Armbrister has the ability to rush the QB and play the run. But after two linebackers were dismissed earlier this month, further diminishing an already thin group, the Hurricanes need their senior to blossom into a more well-rounded player in 2014. Aside from Denzel Perryman, Miami has little in the way of sure things in the linebacking corps. Getting some better production from that group -- Miami had the fewest tackles for loss in the conference and second fewest among Power 5 teams last season -- could be the key to the Canes’ defense.

North Carolina: DT Greg Webb

There’s ample depth on UNC’s defensive line, but there are plenty of question marks, too. After bandit Norkeithus Otis, the unit lacks an experienced pass rusher, and the Heels finished last in the ACC in rushing defense in 2013, allowing 182 yards per game on the ground. Right now, a handful of juniors and seniors are atop the depth chart, but last year’s struggles only underscore the need for younger talent to emerge. Webb could be the centerpiece. An ESPN 300 recruit in 2013, he has the size and quickness to make a difference up the middle. And if he can progress along with Nazair Jones, Dajaun Drennon and Junior Gnonkonde, there’s plenty of room for the unit to grow into a force in 2014.

Pitt: OT Adam Bisnowaty

A former four-star recruit, Bisnowaty has plenty of upside, but a back injury stemmed his progress early last season and sidelined him for the final four games and much of this spring. The left side of Pitt’s O-line has ample talent between Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson, but the unit was a sieve at times last year, with the Panthers allowing the most sacks per game of any Power 5 team in the country. If Bisnowaty is healthy, he has a chance to get much better. And if he can hold down the left tackle spot, Pitt’s pass protection -- combined with a more mobile QB in Chad Voytik -- has a chance to improve dramatically.

Virginia: WR Darius Jennings

Coming out of high school, Jennings was an ESPN 150 prospect, and he appeared close to blossoming as a sophomore in 2012, catching 48 balls for 568 yards. Last year, however, was a regression. He had 10 fewer catches and just 340 yards on the season. He flashed potential with a 13-catch, 119-yard, two-TD performance against Georgia Tech, but that accounted for a third of his season’s production. With Virginia’s QB situation improving, the Cavaliers are looking for Jennings to finally capitalize on his potential in his final season in Charlottesville.

Virginia Tech: TE Ryan Malleck

OK, so pretty much the entire Virginia Tech offense feels like a wild card this year -- from leading rusher Trey Edmunds to a talented-but-inconsistent receiving corps to, of course, the mystery at QB. But for an offense in transition, its best friend can often be a reliable tight end. Coordinator Scot Loeffler plans to use Malleck, who missed last year with a shoulder injury, as a key contributor in 2014. When Loeffler was OC at Temple in 2011, his tight end led the team in receiving. When he moved to Auburn in 2012, the tight end finished second. Malleck was held out of contact drills this spring and has some competition at the position, but if he’s healthy, it’s reasonable to expect a big season.
A week after releasing its offensive depth chart, Georgia Tech released its defensive depth chart. Here are a few notes:
  • Defensive line could be a position of concern headed into the fall. There is not much depth at defensive tackle, and there are big-time question marks at defensive end. Right now, the Jackets list either Roderick Rook-Chungong or true freshman KeShun Freeman as the starter at the defensive end spot that lost Jeremiah Attaochu (NFL) and Jabari Hunt-Days (academically ineligible). Neither Rook-Chungong nor Freeman has played in a college game. The depth chart does not list incoming junior college transfer Kenderius Whitehead, who will be expected to contribute right away. At the other end spot, Tyler Stargel is listed as the starter. He has never started a college game. Tackle Adam Gotsis is the only returning starter in the group.
  • At linebacker, it's no real surprise to see Tyler Marcordes taking over for Brandon Watts. Quayshawn Nealy is back and should be among the best linebackers in the ACC.
  • The secondary also has potential, with safeties Jamal Golden (shoulder) and Isaiah Johnson (knee) coming back off injuries. The Jackets do have to replace all-everything Jemea Thomas and have Demond Smith penciled in at that safety/nickel spot. Lynn Griffin is listed as one starter at cornerback, taking over for Louis Young.
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson already faced a tough enough task having to replace Jeremiah Attaochu. The challenge is now amplified with the recent news that projected replacement Jabari Hunt-Days is ineligible for the upcoming season.

When asked about his choices at defensive end come fall camp, Johnson seemed confident the Jackets would be fine.

"We’ve got Kenderius Whitehead that we recruited for that position," Johnson said. "There’s going to be some competition in camp and I’m just really disappointed for Jabari. But we’ll have a guy to step up and play I don’t have a doubt we’ll put a guy in there. (KeShun Freeman) had a great spring and there’s other guys that can rotate and move around so we’ll sit down as a staff and figure it out."

As for Hunt-Days' future with the program, Johnson said, "That’s up to him. I think when you don’t fulfill your side of the obligation, then you have to suffer the consequences. It’s disappointing for him and his family. I know he’s disappointed."

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that Hunt-Days' parents want their son to be taken off scholarship until he shows he is serious about his academics.

Hunt-Days, a starter at linebacker the last two seasons, moved to defensive end in the spring to help fill the spot Attaochu left behind. Attaochu also played linebacker before moving to end full-time last year, and he ended up with 12.5 sacks. Hunt-Days, going into his redshirt junior year, had a good spring and was listed on several really early 2015 mock drafts.
Georgia Tech defensive standout Jabari Hunt-Days is ineligible for the upcoming season, the school announced Friday.

The news is a tough one to take for the Jackets, who planned to rely on Hunt-Days to fill the spot Jeremiah Attaochu vacated at defensive end. Hunt-Days, a starter at linebacker in 2012 and 2013, moved to end in the spring in the hopes that he could develop more into a rush end. Georgia Tech also is thin at the defensive end position, so his departure does not help matters when it comes to depth, either.

Now more than ever, Georgia Tech will have to rely on junior college transfer Kenderius Whitehead, who began his career at NC State before transferring to Georgia Military College. The Jackets rarely sign junior college prospects, but Whitehead fit a major area of need. In his only season in junior college, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Whitehead racked up 7.5 sacks and became an All-American.

But early enrollee KeShun Freeman could have a leg up on Whitehead. Freeman, who was second behind Hunt-Days on the depth chart, impressed coach Paul Johnson throughout the spring and earned praised after racking up four tackles in the spring game. Tyler Stargel and Roderick Rook-Chungong also are in the mix. Of course, defensive coordinator Ted Roof could also move other players around the way he did this spring to get his 11 best guys on the field.

Needless to say, the Jackets are losing some big-time experience from this position and might have a tougher time than they anticipated replacing Attaochu.

In addition to losing Hunt-Days, freshman running back Travis Custis is leaving for at least the 2014-15 academic year to attend Georgia Military College.

2012 recruiting team wrap-ups

February, 2, 2012
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While the star systems help evaluate each recruit and grade each class Insider, the most important aspect of signing day is whether or not each program filled its specific needs at each position. Here’s a quick look at each school in the ACC and the biggest need it filled on signing day:

BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles wanted to continue to build the depth on both lines, and did that with three offensive linemen and a defensive end. BC might have gotten a future star in four-star guard Frank Taylor, who is rated No. 14 in the country at his position.

CLEMSON: One look at the 2011 depth chart and it’s easy to see where Clemson’s biggest need was, as three starters on the offensive line and three starters on the defensive line have to be replaced from the ACC title team. Mission accomplished in this class with 10 linemen, including six on offense.

DUKE: The Blue Devils got what they were looking for in offensive skill positions with a quarterback, two running backs and three wide receivers in the 20-player class. Jela Duncan, rated the No. 39 running back in the country by ESPN.com, could give Duke’s running game a much-needed boost.

FLORIDA STATE: An already deep defensive line got even deeper and faster. The Noles lured in five defensive linemen, including the No. 1 defensive end and the No. 1 defensive tackle in the country in Mario Edwards and Eddie Goldman, respectively.

GEORGIA TECH: The defensive line was the most pressing need for the Jackets, as they have to replace two senior starters up front. The staff got it done with five defensive linemen in this class, including three tackles.

MARYLAND: Randy Edsall and his staff put a heavy emphasis on linebackers in this class, with three outside linebackers and three inside linebackers. Abner Logan Jr., who is rated No. 28 in the country at his position, highlights the group.

MIAMI: Defensive backs were a big priority, and Miami took care of it with five cornerbacks and two safeties. The prize of the class was Tracy Howard, rated the No. 1 cornerback in the country by RecruitingNation.

NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels' depth at linebacker needed some help, especially with having to replace outgoing senior Zach Brown. First-year coach Larry Fedora added some talent with four linebackers in this class, including four-star commit Shakeel Rashad.

NC STATE: Tom O’Brien bolstered his defensive line in this class with six newcomers, and he said he now has a “whole different breed” of pass-rushers. The Pack lured in defensive end Kenderius Whitehead, the No. 31 end in the country.

VIRGINIA: Offensive line was a concern, as the Hoos will have to replace their starting center and left guard in 2012. Mike London brought in three guards and two tackles to help build the depth up front.

VIRGINIA TECH: It’s no secret the Hokies needed to load up on running backs after back-to-back seasons in which three stars decided to leave early and one backup graduated. Virginia Tech got it done in this class with four running backs, including Drew Harris, ranked No. 19 at his position by RecruitingNation.

WAKE FOREST: The Deacs have to replace four starters on the offensive line, and while it’s unlikely a true freshman will earn a starting job, it’s certainly a place on the depth chart where an outstanding rookie has a chance to make an impact. Wake brought in two tackles and a guard to help their cause.

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