ACC: Landon Walker

One good reason: Clemson

July, 2, 2012
We’re taking a look at one good reason each school in the ACC will win this year, and, just to make sure we cover both sides of the story, one good reason why it won’t. For most schools, the focus is on winning the ACC title. For the programs that missed out on the postseason entirely last year, the focus is on getting back to a bowl game (at least it is here in the blogosphere). We’re going in alphabetical order.

The series continues today with one good reason why

Clemson will defend its ACC title: It’s oozing talent at the offensive skill positions. Heisman-caliber quarterback? Check. 1,000-yard rusher? Check. All-American receiver? Check. The trio of quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receiver Sammy Watkins will make the Tigers one of the toughest teams in the country to defend. They’ve got options. Lots of them. And they’re not rookies anymore. Last year, under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, those guys helped Clemson score an ACC-best 470 points – the seventh-highest total in ACC history. Ellington’s 5.78 per-carry average is the second-highest in the ACC among returnees who have more than 1,000 career rushing yards (Georgia Tech’s Orwin Smith leads with 9.87). Boyd set a single-season ACC record by running and throwing for 38 touchdowns last year. And Watkins broke both the Clemson and ACC records for most receptions by a freshman with 82 catches.

Why it won’t: Clemson loses six starters from its offensive and defensive lines. The Tigers must replace three starters on the offensive line and three starters on the defensive line from 2011. Left tackle Philip Price, right tackle Landon Walker, and right guard Antoine McClain graduated, along with defensive tackle Andre Branch, the team’s leading pass rusher last year, defensive tackle Rennie Moore (43 tackles, 4 sacks) and nose guard Brandon Thompson (46 tackles, 2.5 sacks). Including tight end Dwayne Allen and cornerback Cody Sensabaugh, the Tigers will lose a combined 232 career starts. Also factor in the new-look defensive line will be under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables, and that’s almost an entirely new look for the defense.

More in this series
As mentioned in lunch links, Clemson announced the signings of undrafted lineman Landon Walker (Cincinnati Bengals) and punter Dawson Zimmerman (Atlanta Falcons). And a couple of generous readers have passed along a few more signings from ACC schools.

Virginia Tech guard Blake DeChristopher signed with the Cardinals, and Hokies defensive back Cris Hill signed with the Bills.

Big thanks to Matt from Alexandria, Va., Ben in Blacksburg, Va., and Lynn in Blacksburg, Va., for the head's up.

The updated, working list is below. Feel free to pass along any oversights.

CB Donnie Fletcher: New York Jets

DE Kourtnei Brown: San Francisco 49ers
FB Chad Diehl: Baltimore Ravens
OL Antoine McClain: Baltimore Ravens
DT Rennie Moore: Houston Texans
OT Landon Walker: Cincinnati Bengals
P Dawson Zimmerman: Atlanta Falcons

S Matt Daniels: St. Louis Rams

WR Bert Reed: Cleveland Browns
S Terrence Parks: Kansas City Chiefs
P Shawn Powell: Buffalo Bills

CB Cameron Chism: Indianapolis Colts
RB Davin Meggett: Houston Texans

WR LaRon Byrd: Arizona Cardinals
OL Joel Figueroa: Miami Dolphins (rookie camp tryout)
TE Chase Ford: Philadelphia Eagles
DL Marcus Forston: New England Patriots
LB Jordan Futch: Tampa Bay Bucaneers
G Harland Gunn: Dallas Cowboys
QB Jacory Harris: Miami Dolphins (rookie camp tryout)
C Tyler Horn: Atlanta Falcons
S JoJo Nicolas: New York Giants
DL Adewale Ojomo: New York Giants
DT Micanor Regis: Atlanta Falcons

CB Charles Brown: Baltimore Ravens
C Cam Holland: Kansas City Chiefs
WR Dwight Jones: Houston Texans
S Matt Merletti: Indianapolis Colts
DT Tydreke Powell: Minnesota Vikings

TE George Bryan: Dallas Cowboys
FB Taylor Gentry: Kansas City Chiefs

CB Chase Minnifield: Washington Redskins
OG Austin Pasztor: Minnesota Vikings
S Rodney McLeod: St. Louis Rams
DT Matt Conrath: St. Louis Rams

WR Jarrett Boykin: Jacksonville Jaguars
OT Jaymes Brooks: Green Bay Packers
G Blake DeChristopher: Arizona Cardinals
CB Cris Hill: Buffalo Bills
S Eddie Whitley: Dallas Cowboys

TE Cameron Ford: Green Bay Packers
S Cyhl Quarles: Baltimore Ravens

ACC's lunchtime links

May, 1, 2012
For those counting, that's one playoff win for a fire extinguisher since 2001 ... and none for the Knicks.

Offseason spotlight: Clemson

February, 7, 2012
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with Clemson. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons — starting this spring.

Spotlight: Offensive line.

2011 summary: The senior-laden group comprised of Phillip Price, Brandon Thomas, Dalton Freeman, Antoine McClain and Landon Walker fared remarkably well with a new offensive line coach, a new offensive coordinator, a first-year starting quarterback, and a new system. The Tigers paved the way for the nation’s No. 24 scoring offense at 33.57 points per game. They were integral in blocking for a 1,000-yard rusher (Andre Ellington), 1,000-yard receiver (Sammy Watkins) and 3,000-yard passer (Tajh Boyd).

The skinny: You can argue the defensive line needs an equally big offseason, but consider this: At this time in 2008, coming off of the 2007 season, Clemson ranked in the top 25 and had James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Cullen Harper and Aaron Kelly — all of whom were returning from fantastic seasons. The Tigers were a top-10 preseason pick, but had to replace four starters on the offensive line. Clemson finished 7-6 and midway through the season, Tommy Bowden was fired. Even with all of those outstanding skill position players returning, Clemson couldn’t get it done up front, and it was a major factor in the team’s implosion that year. This spring, the Tigers have to replace three starters up front, as Freeman and Thompson are the only two returning starters. The staff moved Tyler Shatley from defensive tackle to offensive guard. He’s a 6-foot-3, 295-pound redshirt junior who is a quick athlete and could play a role in 2012.

More in this series:
The Clemson team that will face Virginia Tech on Saturday in the Dr Pepper ACC championship game is not the same Clemson team that beat the Hokies 23-3 earlier this year.

That Clemson team was ranked No. 13 in the country and undefeated.

This Clemson team is ranked No. 20 and has lost three of its past four.

“I feel like ever since obviously Virginia Tech's only loss, ever since that game they've been -- the sky's the limit for them they've been doing nothing but great things,” said Clemson offensive lineman Landon Walker. “Every game they've played their offense has just gotten better every game.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
AP Photo/Steve HelberClemson needs Tajh Boyd to return to his early-season form if it hopes to knock off Virginia Tech.
“And it seems like we were going that way until about three weeks ago. Georgia Tech kind of was a downfall for us. We didn't play as good as we wanted to at Wake and obviously NC State and South Carolina. We haven't been ourselves the last three, four weeks.”

There is only one game left for Clemson to determine which team it wants to be, and it’s no mystery where the Tigers have come unraveled in the past month. It started with turnovers, as Clemson had 11 during a three-game span against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and NC State. Turnovers, though, didn’t entirely explain the program’s third straight loss to rival South Carolina. Pass protection was a bigger factor, as quarterback Tajh Boyd was sacked five times. Three of those were the fault of the offensive line, which has allowed 11 sacks in two games and struggled without injured starter and senior left tackle Phillip Price, whose status is still questionable for Saturday.

“We're missing some plays, we're not protecting quite as well, and there's a combination of things, got a few guys that aren't playing quite as well as maybe they played earlier in the season,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “But big-picture wise, again, we certainly didn't finish the way we wanted to, but we did finish with the second-best record in this league, and we're 9-3, and we've earned the right to play for the league title, and that's what we're focusing on, these four quarters.”

Clemson’s most complete performance of the season remains its 23-3 win over Virginia Tech on Oct. 1. The defense hasn’t come anywhere near that kind of domination since, allowing an average of 35.5 points per game over the past six games. The only time one of Clemson’s opponents hasn’t scored more than 30 points during that span was in the win over Wake Forest, which lost 31-28 on a last-second field goal. The defense has also allowed an average of 420.3 total yards and 246 rushing yards in the three losses.

The focus, though, has been on Boyd, who earlier in the season had played his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Through the first eight games, Boyd had 24 touchdowns and three interceptions and the Tigers were undefeated. Since the win over North Carolina on Oct. 22 -- the last of the eight-game winning streak --Boyd has four touchdown passes to seven interceptions.

“I would say he's not playing with the confidence that he was at that time,” Swinney said. “I think just the pressure and the sacks, quarterback pressure and the sacks, have been a problem, and then the turnovers. You know, all of those things affect especially a young player. He's a first-year starter and everything was going perfect for him, and then all of a sudden he's had some mistakes, and he's got to fight his way through it. That's his part of the growing pains of having a young quarterback. It's disappointing, but we've got to do a good job this week of making sure we give him a chance and make sure our protection is shored up.”

That’s not going to be easy against a Virginia Tech defense that is No. 8 in the country with 3.08 sacks per game.

Clemson has a lot of work to do if it’s going to beat Virginia Tech twice this year, but if it does, the mistakes of the past four weeks will be overshadowed by the program’s first ACC title since 1991.

“One of our goals was to win the state championship and beating South Carolina,” tight end Dwayne Allen said. “But a bigger one, one that comes after that, is to win the ACC championship. And winning the championships, which is something that hasn't been done here in over 20 years, will wipe away the aches that we've been having with the taste of defeat the past couple of weeks.”

There’s only one championship left to win.

Clemson meets consistency

September, 24, 2011
CLEMSON, S.C. -- This change didn’t happen overnight.

In January, offensive coordinator Chad Morris was hired. In February, Clemson signed one of the most talented recruiting classes in the country. In March, an offensive overhaul began. And this past summer, quarterback Tajh Boyd said, some veterans on Clemson’s roster got together and decided this season would be different.

With its 35-30 win over No. 11 Florida State on Saturday, Clemson proved it is.

“We hear Clemson can’t win two games back-to-back, Clemson can’t do this, Clemson can’t do that,” Boyd said. “It’s really fine because we have everything we need in this stadium right here.”

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
AP Photo/Richard ShiroTajh Boyd threw for 344 yards on 23-of-37 passing with three touchdowns in an upset win over No. 11-ranked Florida State.
Including back-to-back wins over ranked opponents.

In a span of two weeks, Clemson found ways to beat defending national champ Auburn, and a Florida State team that was lauded by many as a national title contender for 2011. For Clemson, a program widely regarded as one of the most inconsistent in the country, its 4-0 start proves the Tigers are capable of consistency. After all, it’s only the second time in 23 years that Clemson has defeated Top 25 teams on back-to-back weekends and the first time they’ve done it at home. More importantly for the Tigers, though, Saturday’s win came against a Florida State team heavily favored to win the Atlantic Division.

If you thought Florida State was “back,” you might want to reconsider.

“We’re back,” said Clemson offensive lineman Dalton Freeman. “A lot of people have been doubting us and saying it’s the same old team. In the past we’ve been very inconsistent, but a lot of things have changed and we’re just hoping to keep the ball rolling. ... We’re just clicking right now. If we can keep it rolling and continue to get better, we have a chance to be pretty special.”

Now, as Clemson prepares to travel to Virginia Tech for its first road test of the season, it does so undefeated, with confidence, and with an early lead in the Atlantic Division race. While it’s still very early in the conference schedule, Clemson’s chances at returning to the ACC title game for the first time since 2009 look even better considering how Atlantic Division opponents Maryland, NC State and Boston College have struggled this month.

“The biggest thing, it’s not 4-0, it’s the first ACC game,” defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “In this league, if you don’t win that first one, it puts you behind the eight-ball. In that regard, it helps us to win that first one, because it makes it difficult if you don’t. Somebody else is driving when that happens, particularly when it’s a divisional game.”

All of the hype in the ACC this past offseason belonged to Florida State -- in retrospect, probably a year too early. The Seminoles, whose misfortune with injuries to key players continued against the Tigers, struggled to run the ball and sustain drives against Clemson. They couldn't key in on any one playmaker for the Tigers, as eight different players caught passes and four different players scored.

Florida State was just 3-of-10 on third-down conversions, was only in the red zone twice, and had just 29 rushing yards -- its fewest against Clemson since 2003. The Seminoles’ defense, which entered the game allowing an average of only 11 points, was gashed for 455 yards. It was the first time Clemson ever passed for more than 300 yards against Florida State. The up-tempo offense under Morris cranked out 33 more plays than Florida State and had the ball almost 10 minutes longer.

If there were any questions about whether or not Morris was a good hire, the output against the Noles should answer them.

“There’s a lot of teams with talent that don’t win,” Morris said. “It’s about guys buying into what you’re doing. There’s nothing more common in this world than unsuccessful people with talent. We’ve got the talent, and we’ve got the scheme, and these guys are believing. It’s like a puzzle -- it fits together.”

Talent has never been the problem at Clemson. Whatever was missing, the Tigers seem to have found it in the past two games, though nobody can pinpoint it.

“There’s something different here at Clemson, man,” said Rennie Moore, whose sack on FSU backup quarterback Clint Trickett helped seal the win for Clemson. “I know everyone feels it. I’m proud of my team, man, I’m proud of the coaching staff, I’m proud of Clemson. We’re 4-0, we’re in the driver’s seat, it’s time to keep doing what we’re doing, man.”

Despite Clemson’s win over Auburn in Week 3, doubts about Clemson’s No. 21 ranking in the Associated Press still remained, as critics pointed out Auburn’s abysmal defense. Coupled together with the win over Florida State, though, Clemson validated the offseason changes both on and off the field.

Still, Boyd isn’t holding his breath that Clemson has made a believer out of everyone just yet.

“There’s never going to be a point where you silence everybody, and that’s fine,” Boyd said. “We really do feed off that. It is what it is. We believe in ourselves as a team and a unit.”

And so far, they’ve gotten everything they needed out of Death Valley.
It was a busy weekend in the ACC. Here's a look back at the highlights from the scrimmages, according to the sports information departments of the teams that provided reports:


Coach Frank Spaziani told reporters after the 70-minute scrimmage that there were some good things, but "it's like a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces in the box; they're not connected yet."

Offensive highlights:
  • Quarterback Chase Rettig completed 12 of 19 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns. “I think Chase showed the progress he's been making,” Spaziani said. “The obvious things were fine; there were some subtle things he needs to work on.”
  • Rettig connected on passes of 10 yards six times, including a 30-yard pass to Colin Larmond, Jr., a 24-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field to receiver Bobby Swigert and a 3-yard touchdown pass to senior captain Ifeanyi Momah.
  • Larmond (3 receptions for 53 yards), Swigert (3-for-33), junior receiver Donte Elliott (3-for-37) and redshirt freshman tight end Jarrett Darmstatter (3-for-16) led a total of 12 receivers that registered at least one reception each.
  • Rettig and fellow quarterbacks Mike Marscovetra and Dave Shinskie combined for four touchdowns as Marscovetra went 6-for-9 for 30 yards and a touchdown pass of five yards to junior receiver Hampton Hughes and Shinskie connected on 4-of-5 passes for 38 yards and a touchdown to sophomore tight end Mike Naples.
  • Tailback Rolandan Finch carried the ball 10 times for a total of 30 yards to lead all running backs while sophomore Andre Williams broke free for a 20-yard touchdown run during red zone drills. Williams finished with five attempts for 21 yards and redshirt freshman Tahj Kimble accounted for 20 yards on five carries.
Defensive highlights:
  • Linebacker Nick Clancy and defensive back Sean Sylvia led the team with four tackles each.
  • Sophomore linebacker Jake Sinkovec had one interception and one fumble recovery.

Quarterback Tajh Boyd had an impressive performance, as he completed 10 of 12 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown to highlight the new offense in Clemson’s 75-play scrimmage in Memorial Stadium on Saturday morning.

Offensive highlights:
  • Boyd completed each of his final eight passes to six different receivers. He threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to receiver DeAndre Hopkins, then connected on a 3-yard score to Dwayne Allen in a goal-line situation.
  • Allen had three receptions for 66 yards, including a diving catch over the middle for 14 yards and a first down. Brandon Ford had three receptions for 37 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cole Stoudt.
  • Stoudt was 4-of-14 passing, but threw for 71 yards and two touchdowns, one to Ford and one to Bryce McNeal (23 yards).
  • Rod McDowell was the leading rusher with four carries for 68 yards, including a 39-yarder on his first carry of the day. Andre Ellington had five rushes for 41 yards and added two receptions, while freshman Mike Bellamy had five carries for 40 yards.
Defensive highlights:
  • The first-team defense did not allow a scoring drive.
  • Martin Jenkins led the team with seven tackles, including a tackle for loss.
  • Corico Hawkins had five tackles and a fumble recovery, while freshman defensive end Corey Crawford had five stops, including a sack.
Special teams highlights:
  • Clemson’s three kickers, Chandler Catanzaro, Ammon Lakip and Brian Symmes were a combined 16-of-16 on the day in field goal attempts and extra points against a live rush.
  • Three Tigers missed the scrimmage because they were going through graduation exercises across the street from Memorial Stadium in Littlejohn Coliseum. Starting offensive tackle Landon Walker, starting safety Rashard Hall and reserve defensive end Kourtnei Brown all graduated from Clemson on Saturday. It was especially noteworthy for Hall, who has been at Clemson just three years. He joins Nick Eason (now in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals) as the only scholarship football players to graduate with two years of athletic eligibility remaining.
  • Four players missed the scrimmage due to injury. Those players were defensive back Xavier Brewer (sprained foot), defensive back Garry Peters (bruised calf), Andre Branch (head injury), DeShawn Williams (sprained ankle).

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson had mixed reviews after the Yellow Jackets' first scrimmage, which ran 90 minutes inside Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday morning.

"It was like a lot of first scrimmages, there were way too many balls on the ground and way too many penalties," Johnson said. "But we hit some big plays. When you play against each other there's positives and negatives on both sides. It's a starting place and we'll look at it and try to make some improvements."

Offensive highlights:
  • While no official statistics were kept, quarterback Tevin Washington passed for well over 100 yards, including a 63-yarder to senior A-back Roddy Jones. Redshirt freshman quarterback Synjyn Days threw the only touchdown of the day, to true freshman Jeff Greene.
  • Greene ran with the first unit Saturday as most of the veterans -- junior Stephen Hill, senior Tyler Melton, sophomore Jeremy Moore and junior Daniel McKayhan -- all sat out with injuries.
  • Washington scored the only other touchdown Saturday on a 1-yard QB keeper.
Defensive highlights:
  • Defensive end Emmanuel Dieke had a sack, true freshman Jamal Golden intercepted a Vad Lee pass, and Steven Sylvester and Isaiah Johnson both recovered fumbles.
Special teams highlights:
  • Sophomore Justin Moore booted a 45-yard field goal on his only attempt.
  • David Scully's 52-yard attempt was long enough, but just wide left.

The most important news out of Miami's first scrimmage was that quarterbacks Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris combined for five touchdown passes and only one interception. That sounds like improvement. Miami's quarterbacks combined for 407 passing yards on 38-of-52 passing for six touchdowns and only one interception.

Offensive highlights:
  • Receiver Tommy Streeter had the best offensive day for the Canes, catching five passes for 71 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came from Harris.
  • Lamar Miller had runs of 16 and 31 yards on the opening drive.
Defensive highlights:
  • Senior defensive back JoJo Nicolas led all defenders with eight tackles (six solo), with two tackles for loss.
  • Ramon Buchanan and freshman Gionni Paul and each had six total tackles, with Paul also recording a tackle for loss.
  • The defense totaled eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage for a total loss of 29 yards

The Hokies' offense was the highlight, but what does that mean for the defense? Coach Frank Beamer pointed out that there were some long plays allowed, as the offense racked up 398 yards of total offense in the 78-play scrimmage at Lane Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The touchdowns came against Tech's second- or third-team defense, though, so the jury is still out.

"I thought it was a good first scrimmage -- better than most," Beamer said, according to the team's scrimmage report. "You take into consideration that you're trying to get everyone some work, people who don't know quite what they're doing, and that makes things a little ragged. I thought overall, though, it was a sharp scrimmage. The quarterbacks made some nice plays and Wilson got a couple of long plays against the defense, and we need to see what's going on there. Overall, the effort was good and the play was good."

Offensive highlights:
  • Backup quarterback Mark Leal led the quarterbacks with 116 yards passing, completing 6 of 13. He also threw an interception. Beamer said Leal is No. 2 on the depth chart behind Logan Thomas. Ju-Ju Clayton, who has dropped to No. 3 on the depth chart, completed 6 of 10 for 51 yards, while starter Thomas completed 4 of 8 for 79 yards, with an interception, in limited action.
  • Tailback David Wilson scored against the Hokies' second-team defense on a 22-yard run. Wilson led all rushers with 57 yards on five carries. Freshman Michael Holmes added 54 yards rushing on a game-high 11 carries.
Defensive highlights:
  • Freshman tackle Luther Maddy led the team with eight tackles, including two for a loss, and a sack. Freshman Michael Cole added six tackles, while Telvion Clark and Jack Tyler each finished with four.
  • Barquell Rivers had three tackles and an interception.
  • Jayron Hosley and freshman Ronny Vandyke also had interceptions. Hosley intercepted a Logan Thomas pass, while Vandyke intercepted a Trey Gresh attempt.
Special teams highlights:
  • The kickers connected on 5-of-6 attempts. Cody Journell hit from 35, 22 and 35 yards, while Justin Myer drilled a 52-yarder and a 28-yarder. "Cody's kicking extremely well," Beamer said. "Myer has a load of potential, and he needs to win some of the kicking contests during the week. That shows consistency, and that's where he is right now. Cody is usually winning it or right in the running at the end."

Look who's talking ...

July, 11, 2011
The ACC on Monday announced the names of the 24 players who have been chosen to attend the 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff, July 24-25 at the Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, N.C.

This is one of my favorite events of the year, as it's the first real sign the season is right around the corner. I will be covering every second of it, tweeting and posting videos of players and coaches. I'll have more on it as it gets closer, but here are the players who will be available for interviews from each school:

Boston College
Montel Harris, tailback, senior, Jacksonville, Fla.
Luke Kuechly, linebacker, junior, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Landon Walker, offensive tackle, senior, North Wilkesboro, N.C.
Brandon Thompson, defensive tackle, senior, Thomasville, Ga.

Sean Renfree, quarterback, junior, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Matt Daniels, safety, senior, Fayetteville, Ga.

Florida State
EJ Manuel, quarterback, junior, Virginia Beach, Va.
Brandon Jenkins, defensive end, junior, Tallahassee, Fla.

Georgia Tech
Roddy Jones, A-Back, senior, Stone Mountain, Ga.
Logan Walls, defensive tackle, senior, Dawsonville, Ga.

Danny O’Brien, quarterback, sophomore, Kernersville, N.C.
Kenny Tate, linebacker, senior, Forestville, Md.

Tyler Horn, center, senior, Memphis, Tenn.
Sean Spence, outside linebacker, senior, Miami, Fla.

North Carolina
Jonathan Cooper, center, junior, Wilmington, N.C.
Tydreke Powell, defensive tackle, senior, Ahoskie, N.C.

NC State
George Bryan, tight end, senior, Castle Hayne, N.C.
Audie Cole, linebacker, senior, Monroe, Mich.

Kris Burd, wide receiver, senior, Matoaca, Va.
Chase Minnifield, cornerback, senior, Lexington, Ky.

Virginia Tech
Danny Coale, wide receiver, senior, Lexington, Va.
Eddie Whitley, safety, senior, Charlotte, N.C.

Wake Forest
Joe Looney, offensive guard, senior, Lake Worth, Fla.
Kyle Wilber, outside linebacker, senior, Apopka, Fla.
I know there are many ACC enthusiasts out there who will be saddened to hear that I am not going to rank the offensive linemen by position (centers, guards and tackles). Instead, I’m going to put them all together and just rank the top 10 offensive linemen in the ACC this year.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Washington
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesBrandon Washington started every game last season and was credited with 56 pancake blocks.
1. Brandon Washington, Miami: He was one of three offensive linemen to start all 13 games last year and finished second on the team with 56 pancake blocks. He graded out at 99 percent against Pittsburgh, the highest grade of any starter all season, and 95 percent against Virginia Tech.

2. Andrew Datko, Florida State: He has played his entire career at left tackle, where he has protected the quarterbacks' blind side extremely well. He allowed just one sack in 11 games (all starts) last year, stifling heralded pass-rushers from Oklahoma, Miami, Clemson, Florida and Virginia Tech. He was penalized just three times and had only five missed assignments in 691 snaps. Datko's season average grade of 87 was second on the team only to Rodney Hudson.

3. Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech: He’s the veteran on the offensive line, with 37 career starts. He was a second-team All-ACC selection at tackle last fall when he graded out at 83 percent with a team-leading 59 knockdown blocks.

4. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina: He is the veteran on the line with 22 career starts. He started all 13 games last year and played a team-high 875 snaps. He led the Tar Heels in knockdown blocks for the second straight year with 55. He graded out at 83 percent, tied with James Hurst for the best on the team.

5. Jaymes Brooks, Virginia Tech: He’s entering his third season as starting right guard, and is powerful and explosive. He had a season-high nine knockdowns against Florida State in the ACC championship game, and eight in the opener against Boise State.

6. Dalton Freeman, Clemson: He has started each of the past 22 games at center and finished second on the team with 58 knockdown blocks. He allowed just two sacks and was third on the team with a grade of 80.6 percent. He led the team in knockdown blocks in six games and four of the last seven.

7. James Hurst, North Carolina: He was one of the top freshmen in the country last year, and made an immediate impact with 12 starts at left tackle. He was third on the team with 33 knockdown blocks and tied with Cooper for a team-high grade of 83 percent.

8. Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech: He was a second-team all-conference guard last year and started all 12 games he played in. He’s strong, has good lateral quickness, and has become more fundamentally sound. He should be the leader of the line this year.

9. Zebrie Sanders, Florida State: He started all 14 games last year and was the only Seminole lineman credited with at least one knockdown block in 13 of 14 games. He finished second on the team with 37 knockdown blocks, and had a season average grade of 81 percent, which was the best of his career. He ranks third among all FSU linemen with 37 career starts, including 23 consecutive.

10. Landon Walker, Clemson: He has played in 39 games (35 starts). Last year he had 30 knockdowns, at least one in every game, and had five and a team-high 87 percent grade against Auburn.
Ranking offensive linemen is not easy. But hey, either is being an offensive lineman. Here are your best "big uglies."

1. North Carolina: Three starters and one part-time starter return from last year’s team, and this line could be the biggest and best since Butch Davis was hired. Guard Jonathan Cooper (22 starts), center Cam Holland (20) and tackle James Hurst (12) have combined for 54 career starts. Travis Bond has four starts and is the leading candidate to take over at the other guard position.

2. Miami: The Canes return nine of their top 10 offensive linemen including four starters from last year, and Joel Figueroa was granted a sixth season of eligibility. Even with the coaching change, the Canes should be strong up front. Center Tyler Horn is a veteran, Brandon Washington is a difference-maker, and there’s enough competition that Seantrel Henderson spent most of the spring as a backup.

3. Clemson: First-year offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has four returning starters to work with in Landon Walker, Antoine McClain, Dalton Freeman and David Smith. They also have top reserve Mason Cloy, who has 19 career starts and has played in 38 games. There is plenty of depth for a dependable rotation.

4. Virginia Tech: All four returnees started every game last year, and there is enough depth that the Hokies should be able to rotate the most players up front they ever have. It’s a veteran group led by Blake DeChristopher, Andrew Lanier, Jaymes Brooks and Greg Nosal.

5. Florida State: Despite the losses of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon, there’s experience up front. This fall, the starting lineup will consist of tackle Andrew Datko, left guard Bryan Stork or David Spurlock, center Jacob Fahrenkrug, right guard Spurlock or Stork, right tackle Zebrie Sanders. Just how good they’ll be remains to be seen as the majority of them were out with injuries this past spring.

6. NC State: The Pack lost Jake Vermiglio and will be without injured left guard Andrew Wallace for about half of the season, but Zach Allen, Camden Wentz and R.J. Mattes are returning starters. There’s also a lot of talent waiting to emerge with young players like Duran Christophe, Rob Crisp, Tyson Chandler, Torian Box and Andy Jomantas.

7. Virginia: Four players return with a combined 64 career starts in Anthony Mihota, Austin Pasztor, Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses, who started the final seven games of the season as a true freshman. Pasztor is in his fourth season as a starter and has 32 career starts.

8. Boston College: Despite the losses of Anthony Castonzo, Thomas Claiborne and Rich Lapham, the Eagles are almost settled up front, it’s the experience behind the starters that’s reason for concern. The No. 2 offensive line is comprised entirely of redshirt freshmen. Mark Spinney returns at center, the projected starting guards are Nathan Richman and Ian White, who started three games as a freshman, and the tackles are Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel.

9. Maryland: It’s been an injury-prone group the past two seasons and that didn’t change this past spring. Left tackle Justin Gilbert, one of the top linemen on the team, reinjured the same knee he had ACL surgery on and will be out until October. R.J. Dill was also injured this spring, though he played in the spring game, and Justin Lewis was rehabbing from offseason surgery. Pete White also missed practices, so the group needs to solidify the two-deep roster.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets return three starters in guard Omoregie Uzzi, guard Will Jackson and tackle Phil Smith. Sophomore Jay Finch played extensively last season and Ray Beno and Nick McRae were key reserves. Redshirt freshmen Catlin Alford and Morgan Bailey could also work their way into the rotation. Uzzi will be the leader of the line, but they were outplayed by the defense this spring.

11. Wake Forest: Four starters are back, but the Deacs will sorely miss the experience and leadership of former center Russell Nenon. Garrick Williams started the final three games of 2010 -- two at guard and one at center, but he struggled with the snaps towards the end of spring and isn’t where the staff needs him to be yet.

12. Duke: The Blue Devils should take another step forward this season under offensive line coach Matt Luke, and they need to -- Duke’s running game was last in the ACC last year and 104th in the country. Brian Moore replaces a three-year starter at center, but given his experience at right guard the past two seasons, it should be a smooth transition. That will leave a hole, though, at the right guard position, where Laken Tomlinson and John Coleman are the top candidates.

ACC's 2011 veterans

June, 13, 2011
After looking at this list, ACC fans should have a better appreciation for the lengthy, healthy career of former Boston College offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo, who graduated after a league-high 54 career starts. These are the ACC's old guys, the veterans in the conference who enter 2011 with the most starting experience. Virginia Tech, Florida State and Virginia have two players each. Here's a look at the ACC's top 10 veterans for 2011:

1. Danny Coale, Virginia Tech, WR, 40
2. Roddy Jones, Georgia Tech, RB, 39
3. Montel Harris, Boston College, RB, 37
Zebrie Sanders, Florida State, T, 37
Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech, T, 37
6. Andrew Datko, Florida State, T, 36
Kyle Hill, Duke, T, 36
8. Landon Walker, Clemson, T, 35
9. Matt Conrath, Virginia, DT, 33
10. Austin Pasztor, Virginia, G, 32

Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech have a veteran edge at one other very important position group: the offensive line. It's the second straight season that the Seminoles lead the ACC in the number of returning career starts on the offensive line. Though the Seminoles have only three returning starters, this trio -- Zebrie Sanders (37), Andrew Datko (36) and David Spurlock (28) -- combined for 101 starts.

Thanks to information provided by the ACC, here's a look at which ACC schools return the most experience up front:

Clemson spring wrap

May, 5, 2011
2010 overall record: 6-7

2010 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 5, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

WR DeAndre Hopkins, RT Landon Walker, DE Andre Branch, DT Brandon Thompson, P Dawson Zimmerman, RB Andre Ellington, WR Jaron Brown, C Dalton Freeman, OG Antoine McClain, TE Dwayne Allen, MLB Corico Hawkins, S Rashard Hall

Key losses

DE Da’Quan Bowers, DT Jarvis Jenkins, FS DeAndre McDaniel, CB Marcus Gilchrist, RB Jamie Harper, QB Kyle Parker, LT Chris Hairston

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Harper (760 yards)

Passing: Kyle Parker (2,213 yds)

Receiving: Hopkins* (637 yds)

Tackles: McDaniel (84)

Sacks: Bowers (15.5)

Interceptions: McDaniel (4)

Spring answers

1. Cole Stoudt is the backup quarterback. Until true freshmen Stoudt and Tony McNeal enrolled in January and arrived on campus, Tajh Boyd was the only scholarship quarterback on the roster. With Boyd the undisputed starter, the main competition was for his backup. Stoudt won the job over McNeal, who also played well and is a good runner, but Stoudt had the stronger arm.

2. Phillip Price will replace Chris Hairston at left tackle. The Tigers have four starters returning on the offensive line but big shoes to fill at left tackle, where Hairston was a three-year starter. Price, who joined the team as a walk-on tight end and moved to offensive line last year, beat Brandon Thomas for the job.

3. Players bought into the system. First-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris brought an up-tempo offense from Tulsa that is similar to what Auburn runs, and the players not only embraced it, they had fun with it this spring. Whether or not they can execute it on Saturdays? See below …

Fall questions

1. Execution of the offense. With a brand new scheme, a first-year starting quarterback and new offensive coordinator, the entire offense is a question mark heading into the fall. The Tigers also lost their leading rusher in Jamie Harper, who decided to leave early for a shot at the NFL. Can the Tigers get it together quickly enough to be a contender in the Atlantic Division again?

2. Will there be enough pressure on quarterbacks? With the departure of Bowers and his 15.5 sacks -- not to mention and 21 quarterback pressures -- the Tigers will have a lot of ground to make up. Bowers was a big reason Clemson was in top 20 in the nation in both scoring defense and total defense last year. With him gone, who’s going to step up and get after the quarterbacks? Malliciah Goodman and Andre Branch are expected to.

3. Will the Tigers find consistency in the kicking game? Clemson lost five games by a touchdown or less last year, including the overtime loss to Auburn, which slipped away with a missed field goal in overtime. Will Chandler Catanzaro pick up where he left off at the end of last season and show some consistency? He made six of his final seven field goals last year, but he also started slow this spring before finishing strong.

What to watch: Week 5 in the ACC

September, 30, 2010
Here’s a look at what to watch this week in the ACC:
Jacory Harris
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIThe Hurricanes need Jacory Harris to cut back on his interceptions.

  • Turnovers in Death Valley and College Park. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has thrown six in the past two games. Clemson is No. 7 in the country in turnover margin, gaining seven and losing two. Duke had five turnovers this past weekend against Army and Maryland is tied for No. 10 in the country in turnover margin with 10 gained and four lost.
  • Clemson’s offensive line vs. Miami’s defensive line. One particular matchup will be right tackle Landon Walker against Miami defensive end Allen Bailey, but it needs to be a group effort. Protecting quarterback Kyle Parker and giving him time will be key, but it won’t be easy. Miami is second in the nation in sacks, averaging 4.67 per game, and leads the nation in tackles for loss with 11.33. Bailey also played 12 snaps at tackle against Pitt.
  • Boston College’s quarterback. The Boston Globe has reported that freshman Chase Rettig will start against Notre Dame, but coach Frank Spaziani hasn’t confirmed it. All we know for sure is that it won’t be Dave Shinskie. Regardless, it could be the difference in the game.
  • FSU’s revamped offensive line. Left tackle Andrew Datko has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury and is listed as day-to-day. Henry Orelus and Garrett Faircloth are both expected to play. Zebrie Sanders could move from right to left tackle.
  • Georgia Tech’s energy. That’s right, it’s that simple, and it’s been missing. Paul Johnson said this week he wants his team to “play like their hair’s on fire” and with a sense of urgency.
  • Atlantic vs. Coastal. All five ACC games this weekend are interdivisional matchups, the first time that has happened since the ACC split into the Atlantic and Coastal divisions in 2005. The Atlantic Division has home-field advantage in four of the five matchups.
  • The record books. NC State quarterback Russell Wilson needs one more touchdown throw to move into sole possession of second place in NC State history in that category behind ACC record-holder Philip Rivers. With 59 touchdown passes for his career, one more will also move him into seventh place in the ACC record books.
  • Virginia Tech in the red zone. The Hokies have been inside the 20-yard line 18 times and scored nine touchdowns. They kicked four field goals last week against Boston College, but will need to have more success against the No. 19 offense in the country or make more even stops on defense.
  • Virginia’s defense vs. Florida State’s offense. Virginia boasts the ACC’s top scoring defense, allowing just 12.3 points per game. Florida State’s offense is third in the conference in scoring (35.2/game) and ranks first in total offense (434.5 yards/game). Virginia has allowed 280.3 yards per game, which ranks second in the league to Miami.
  • North Carolina’s revamped secondary against ECU quarterback Dominique Davis. The Tar Heels’ secondary was one of the positions hit hardest by the suspensions, but those players have held their own. They’ll get another challenge against the No. 9 scoring offense in the country and a passing game averaging just shy of 300 yards per game.

ACC's lunchtime links

September, 28, 2010
Get ready for Week 5 ...

Clemson practice report: Day 2

August, 5, 2010
Here is Clemson's practice report from Wednesday, as provided by the sports information department:
The team worked in helmets and shorts for a little over two-and-a-half hours in humid weather conditions.

Highlights: Brandon Ford made several diving catches. Junior Marquan Jones caught a 70-yard bomb from Kyle Parker near the end of the practice.

Missing: Brandon Thompson and Rashard Hall both missed the practice to take final exams. Landon Walker and Brandon Clear both missed Tuesday’s first practice, but were back on Wednesday. Final exams for the summer session ended on Wednesday evening.

Swinney says: “We got better tonight; it was a good practice,” said coach Dabo Swinney. “I thought the tempo was good, especially among the offensive line. The young guys are also catching on. I was encouraged by the hustle I saw over the course of the practice. Our leadership got better also. You look for your players to take some ownership. I saw that tonight.”

On toughness: “We are definitely tougher now than we were at this time last year. We still want to improve, but we have made strides. We want to be the tougher team in every game this year, that is the mark of a championship team.”

On the receivers: “They had a solid night. They worked hard. We have some talented players at the wide receiver position, we just haven’t had a lot of guys who have had opportunities yet. When talented players get an opportunity good things happen and I saw some good things out there tonight.”

On running backs Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper: “I am sure both of them rolled their eyes last year when C.J.[Spiller] announced he was coming back. But, I am also sure today they would tell you they benefited by working under C.J. They learned a lot from him.

“Andre and Jamie are two pretty good players also and they are capable of putting it together in every aspect of the position. They are friends, they are always together. But they are competitors also and that makes them better.”