ACC: Max McCaffrey

Assessing the ACC's slow starters

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:00
PM ET
Last week we looked at some of the best performances at the midpoint of the season, but there are more than a few stars off to slow starts, too. We dug into the struggles of five to try to figure out what has gone wrong.

Stacy Coley (WR, Miami)

The hype: As a true freshman in 2013, Coley averaged 18 yards-per-catch and finished with 1,461 all-purpose yards, fifth-most in the ACC. With a year of experience under his belt, expectations were high.

The reality: In six games, Coley has 11 receptions for 59 yards. He has yet to catch a single pass of 18 yards or more after averaging that last season.

The explanation: Coley suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 that has hindered him all season. He hasn’t been able to match up with physical cornerbacks, and his routes have suffered as a result. The early season injury also kept him from building a rapport with new quarterback Brad Kaaya, and overall Coley has been targeted just 17 times in the passing game.

The fallout: Coley’s numbers are way down, but Miami’s passing game has remained solid. Kaaya has improved each week and become one of the top deep-ball passers in the nation, even without one of his top deep threats. With Coley struggling, however, Phillip Dorsett has stepped up. His 34.4 yards-per-catch average is the best in the nation.

Jamison Crowder (WR, Duke)

The hype: As a junior in 2013, Crowder led the ACC with 108 catches and topped 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He was a fixture of Duke’s passing game, earning the second most targets of any receiver in the nation. His senior season was to be a culmination of an exceptional career, including a good chance Crowder would set the conference record for receiving yards.

The reality: Crowder’s 40 catches are the second-most in the ACC this season, which is good. But he has yet to find the end zone against an FBS foe, and before a solid eight-catch, 99-yard day against Virginia last week, he had managed just 12 receptions for 90 yards in three games vs. Power 5 competition.

The explanation: The preseason injury to tight end Braxton Deaver, Duke’s second-leading receiver in 2013, meant there would be ample focus on Crowder from opposing defenses this season, so he has found a bit less room to maneuver. He has been a bit more prone to drops -- three so far -- but he is also catching just 47.6 percent of his targets, down from 62 percent a year ago.

The fallout: Duke’s passing game has been inconsistent this season, in part because of Crowder’s diminished numbers, but other receivers have stepped up. Max McCaffrey and Issac Blakeney have 50 catches and six touchdowns between them, better numbers than they tallied all of last season. But a more consistent Crowder would certainly be a big asset to quarterback Anthony Boone and the Duke offense, and last week's game could be a sign of what's to come.

Karlos Williams (RB, Florida State)

The hype: Williams was third on FSU’s depth chart last season, but he still rushed for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns. Moving into the starting role in 2014 behind a senior-laden offensive line, he was considered a darkhorse Heisman threat.

The reality: Last season, 23 of Williams’ 82 rushing attempts vs. FBS teams went for 10 yards or more. This season, just 11 of 73 have. He has rushed for nearly 2.5 yards-per-carry less than a year ago, and he already has more negative runs (12) than he did all of last season (8).

The explanation: Part of the Williams hype was conjecture. He posted big numbers in 2013, but he had just 18 carries in the first halves of games, with the bulk of his production coming in the latter half of blowouts. More problematic for Williams this season, however, has been the struggles of his offensive line. In 2013, he averaged 3.7 yards-per-carry before contact. This year, just 2.0.

The fallout: Florida State’s ground game has taken a major step backward from a year ago. In 2013, the Seminoles averaged 6.3 yards-per-carry on non-quarterback runs vs. FBS opponents (fourth-best in the nation). This season, they are getting just 4.4 (80th). As a result, Jimbo Fisher has been far more reliant on his passing game, calling for throws 55 percent of the time on first and second down, while averaging a yard-and-a-half less.

Ryan Switzer (PR, North Carolina)

The hype: As a true freshman, Switzer tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdowns, earning All-America status for the effort.

The reality: After averaging 21 yards-per-return a year ago, Switzer has just 20 punt-return yards total against FBS teams this season. He hasn’t found the end zone, and he has managed double-digit yardage in the return game just once since the opener vs. Liberty.

The explanation: The dangers of Switzer’s immense success in 2013 were obvious this offseason. Teams simply wouldn’t kick to him because they didn’t want to get burned. Still, he had just 24 return attempts last season, the same number he has had through seven games this season. More likely, Switzer is trying to make something out of nothing a bit too often, and the blockers leading the way haven’t been quite as good.

The fallout: Beyond the lack of special-teams touchdowns, there really hasn’t been much of an impact. In fact, last season UNC’s average starting field position after a punt was its own 28. This season, it’s the 29. Moreover, what Switzer has lacked in special-teams flair, he has made up for on offense. Through seven games last season, he caught 16 balls for 121 yards and one touchdown. This season he has 34 receptions for 429 yards and three scores.

Florida State’s defensive backs

The hype: The Seminoles led the nation in pass defense in 2012 and 2013, and under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt last season, they utterly dominated opposing quarterbacks, allowing just 5.1 yards-per-attempt (best in the country) and picking off 26 passes (also tops in the nation). With rising stars like Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams, Nate Andrews and Jalen Ramsey all returning, the stage was set for another big season.

The reality: Through seven games, FSU’s pass defense ranks 61st nationally. The Seminoles are allowing a far more hospitable 6.8 yards-per-attempt, have allowed 11 touchdowns after surrendering just 14 all season in 2013, and have picked off just seven passes.

The explanation: Personnel has something to do with it. The Seminoles clearly miss Terrence Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner's leadership and playmaking ability. The transition from Pruitt to new coordinator Charles Kelly has earned some of the blame from fans, too. But perhaps the biggest culprit is the lack of pressure up front. FSU’s sack rate has dropped from 7.6 percent of dropbacks a year ago to just 4.5 percent this season.

The fallout: Florida State avoided the worst possible consequence last week when an offensive pass interference call kept its undefeated season alive. Beyond that, teams are completing a higher percentage of third-down throws (54.4 percent, up from 46 percent last year) and converting a higher rate for first downs (37 percent, up from 28 percent), keeping drives alive and keeping Jameis Winston and the offense off the field. More impactful, perhaps, is that FSU scored 197 points off turnovers last season. So far this season, it has scored just 45.

ACC morning links

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
AM ET
Let's get the morning started with a few quick news items:

Miami receiver Stacy Coley is out against Arkansas State on Saturday with a shoulder injury. The announcement is not a huge shock, considering Coley was in a non-contact jersey during practice this week after getting hurt against Florida A&M. Still, Coley has not gotten off to the start the Hurricanes anticipated after a breakout freshman season.

He only has three catches for 9 yards, all in the opener against Louisville, as the Miami offense has struggled to find consistency and production in the passing game. Coley was a major deep threat for Miami a year ago, averaging 17.9 yards per catch. But with freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, Miami has not been able to get its downfield passing game going the way it did with Stephen Morris, who excelled at the deep ball.

The season is early, and Coley is not seriously injured. Perhaps he will be back next week when the Hurricanes travel to Nebraska. But there's no doubt Miami is going to need a Kaaya-to-Coley connection to develop for the passing game to be seen as a serious threat. Miami does have depth at the position with Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Lewis, freshman Braxton Berrios, and Herb Waters. But Coley is the most dynamic player in that group.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech defensive tackle Corey Marshall is questionable for the East Carolina game with a sprained ankle. Marshall was hurt last week against Ohio State, and would be a pretty big loss for the group up front. As the Roanoke Times notes, Marshall has six quarterback hurries already this season and was the MVP of the spring for the Hokies. Facing a veteran quarterback in Shane Carden, the Hokies will want to keep the pressure on to disrupt his timing in the pass game.

If he can't play, Woody Baron would get the start. Tight end Kalvin Cline also is out for his third straight game.

Finally, North Carolina announced it had concluded its investigation into an alleged hazing incident between football players last month. But that is basically all the school said. No details were provided on what exactly happened; on the players involved; or whether what happened was, indeed, a hazing incident. The information gathered has been given to the student attorney general, who will decide whether any player will be charged through the honor court.

Strangely enough, the Raleigh News & Observer reported earlier this week that a police report on the alleged incident was riddled with errors. The truth, it seems, remains elusive.

Now here's a look at what else is happening in the ACC:

Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:

Duke

Spring practice over

What we learned:
  • Momentum rolls on. It's hard to believe the Blue Devils are already done with spring ball, but coach David Cutcliffe opted to open practice in February to capitalize on the momentum that was created last season. After the spring game ended Saturday, he praised the way his players handled the practices. There was a great deal of retention and not a lot of re-teaching, so coaches were able to get much more out of their players this spring.
  • Max McCaffrey emerges. Jamison Crowder had a spectacular 2013 season, but it was essentially him and then everybody else in the receiver group. That may not be the case this season. McCaffrey earned praise from coaches and teammates for the way he improved during the spring. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said McCaffrey made as many plays as anybody else on the offense this spring.
  • Stepping up on the line. The Blue Devils lost three starters on their defensive line -- both ends in Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento. But it appears as if the players behind them are ready to step up and make a seamless transition. Defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson each had two sacks in the spring game. Kyler Brown also made the switch from linebacker to defensive end and had a sack in the spring game as well.
Georgia Tech

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:
  • Justin Thomas takes over. After Vad Lee announced his transfer from Georgia Tech, the quarterback reigns fell to Thomas, who played in 10 games this season. The Jackets had their share of highs and lows under Lee, but what the staff is going to be looking for first and foremost is Thomas’ ability to hold on to the football. Georgia Tech had 24 giveaways and ranked No. 12 in the ACC in turnover margin.
  • Defensive line questions. The Jackets lose three starters on the defensive line, including All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu -- who had 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Who will step up and fill that type of production? The most experienced backups returning are sophomores Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble. Also, Travin Henry will get a look at defensive end after playing wide receiver last season.
  • Offensive line questions. Georgia Tech also loses three starters on the offensive line -- tackles Ray Beno and Will Jackson and center Jay Finch. The trio combined to start 117 games in their careers, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much less experienced unit in 2014. The good news is All-ACC guard Shaq Mason returns to help anchor the new-look line.
Miami

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Quarterback derby. Stephen Morris is gone, but the Canes do have at least one experienced quarterback on the roster in Ryan Williams, a Memphis transfer who has served as Morris’ backup the last two seasons. As a true freshman with the Tigers, Williams started 10 games -- all the way back in 2010. Challenging Williams is redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who had a bit of a rocky first year in Miami, along with Gray Crow.
  • Defensive improvements. Perhaps more than what happens at quarterback, Miami must see improvements out of its defense this season. Embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job but the status quo cannot persist. Every single area of the defense must be upgraded. Ranking No. 13 in the ACC in total defense just can’t happen again.
  • Defensive improvements, Part II. To try and help the secondary, Miami already moved Dallas Crawford over to safety, where the Canes could use the help. But Miami must be stronger on the defensive front. The Canes only had 12 sacks in eight conference games. By comparison, BC led the way with 25 sacks in conference games. This is a big opportunity for guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu to really step up.
North Carolina

Spring start: Started March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Marquise Williams took over as the starter when Bryn Renner was gone for the season and ended up helping the Tar Heels make a bowl game after a 1-5 start. But coach Larry Fedora said the competition is open this spring. Look for Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker to give Williams a major push.
  • Defensive line questions. Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are both gone, leaving big holes in the North Carolina front. Martin ended up notching 21.5 tackles for loss to rank No. 3 in the ACC. So who are the next guys up? At end, Junior Gnonkonde and Jessie Rogers are the top two contenders, while Shawn Underwood, Devonte Brown and Justin Thomason will compete for one of the tackle spots.
  • Replacing Ebron. Eric Ebron was dynamic at tight end for the Tar Heels last season, leading the team with 62 receptions for 973 yards, while adding three touchdowns. Will the Tar Heels be able to replace that type of production with just one player? Jack Tabb would be next in line among the tight ends, but this is a huge opportunity for the North Carolina receiving group as well. We saw plenty of promise out of young guys like Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer.
Pitt

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: No spring game. Last day of practice April 13

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Chad Voytik played really well in relief of an injured Tom Savage in the bowl game, but coach Paul Chryst said the competition to win the starting job is open headed into the spring. At this point, Voytik and Trey Anderson are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. So you can bet the biggest goal of all is to keep them both healthy.
  • Replacing Aaron Donald. One of the biggest surprises in all of college football this past season was the emergence and utter dominance of Donald at defensive tackle. Donald swept every major defensive award after notching 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. Darryl Render is the next man up.
  • Complementary receiver. Devin Street is gone, leaving Tyler Boyd as the only standout receiver on the roster. Not only do the Panthers have to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver, they also have to develop some depth. Watch for Manasseh Garner, a former H-back who moved to receiver late last season when Street got hurt. He is more physical than Boyd, and has some extended playing experience.
Virginia

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. David Watford is not guaranteed to win his starting job back after last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are also in the mix and reps with the first team will be split. In fact, Lambert got the first-team reps when the Hoos opened spring ball last weekend.
  • Andrew Brown. The highly-touted freshman will have every opportunity to win a starting job at defensive tackle, and it all starts in spring ball. The No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN 300 comes in with tons of hype; now can he translate that into on-field success? He, Donte Wilkins and Chris Brathwaite will be competing to start next to David Dean.
  • Mr. McGee. Jake McGee was the best player the Hoos had among the group of tight ends and receivers a year ago, leading the team with 43 catches for 395 yards. This spring, McGee has now moved over to receiver so the Hoos can take advantage of his athletic ability. Plus, Virginia is lacking playmakers at the position, so we’ll see how much this move benefits both McGee and the offense.
Virginia Tech

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Quarterback. Mark Leal heads into the spring with a leg up in the quarterback competition but make no mistake, there is no set starter. He will get competition from freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley in the spring, with freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arriving in summer. This competition will likely drag on into the fall.
  • Front seven. The Hokies are losing five terrific players up front, including ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, and linebacker Jack Tyler, who racked up 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. There is no doubt a major priority this spring is finding their replacements and building depth along the line and at linebacker. Who will step up as the leader of this group with Tyler gone?
  • Skill players. This has been an ongoing theme over the last two seasons and will continue to be a theme until the Hokies have consistently good players at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is excited about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, and his entire tight end group for that matter. A healthy Malleck and improvement from Kalvin Cline means the Hokies could simultaneously improve their run and pass game.
Brandon Connette missed all of spring practice last season with a shoulder injury. But even as he sat on the sideline, he knew his quarterback duties would be diminished as the Blue Devils sought to play him all over the field.

That, of course, is no longer the case.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Connette
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesBrandon Connette completed 11-of-16 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns in Duke's spring game on Saturday.
Connette and Anthony Boone teamed to form a highly successful quarterback rotation this past season so the hope is to keep that momentum going headed into 2014. Every single rep Connette took this spring came at quarterback, and he showed more growth in the spring game this past Saturday. Connette completed 11-of-16 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Blue team past the White team, 24-14. Both Connette and Boone teamed together for the Blue team.

Afterward, coach David Cutcliffe said, "Today you saw what spring practice has been -- continued momentum. There were a lot of positives on both sides of the ball, on both the Blue and White units.”

In a phone interview before the spring game, Connette said focusing on quarterback this spring has been a huge help. When he studies tape, he focuses on the quarterback. He has become much better with his pre-snap reads. And there is a comfort in knowing what he will be doing in practice and in games, as opposed to the unpredictability that comes with being more of a wildcat-type player.

"This spring has really helped me," Connette said. "I don't have to worry about what position I'm going in as. Even last year in fall camp, I'd be sitting on the sideline at practice and one rep I'd be in at quarterback, then I'd be in at tight end, receiver, just all over the place. It makes you think a lot more. Right now, I'm able to just focus on what I could be doing as a quarterback on every play."

Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery was not ready to reveal too many details about how Duke would build upon its rotation with Boone and Connette, saying in a recent phone interview, "Right now, Anthony is the starter like the way we ended the season. Brandon’s been phenomenal so it’s a really good problem to have. We’re very happy with where we are with both those guys."

Among other spring game highlights:

  • Shaquille Powell led the team with 75 yards on eight carries -- including a 36-yard touchdown run to seal the win for the Blue team.
  • Max McCaffrey ended up with four catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. Just about everybody at Duke has praised McCaffrey for the strides he has made this spring and has seemingly emerged as the No. 2 receiver to Jamison Crowder.
  • Defensively, the Blue Devils got good performances from ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson, who had two sacks each. That was an encouraging sign for the Blue Devils, who have to rebuild their defensive front after losing Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento. Johnson told The Herald-Sun after the spring game, "They left the place better than they found it, which is what Coach Cut preaches all the time. For me, it’s about not letting what they built fall. Keep it going and continue to grow it as much as I can."

ACC lunchtime links

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
12:00
PM ET
Never Forget.

Andrea Adelson talks about Duke spring MVP -- receiver Max McCaffrey.

Duke Blue Devils spring wrap

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
10:30
AM ET
Duke Blue Devils

2012 record: 6-7

2012 conference record: 3-5, Coastal

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

WR Jamison Crowder, RB Juwan Thompson, DE Kenny Anunike, CB Ross Cockrell

Key losses

QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, S Jordan Byas, S Walt Canty

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Jela Duncan* (516 yards, 4 TDs)

Passing: Renfree (260-of-392 for 2,755 yards, 18 TDs, 8 INTs)

Receiving: Crowder* (1,025 yards, 8 TDs)

Tackles: Canty (102)

Sacks: Anunike* (5)

Interceptions: Cockrell* (5)

Spring answers

1. Anthony Boone is for real. People will still wonder how the Blue Devils are going to do without Sean Renfree, but Anthony Boone proved this spring he is the real deal. Boone was impressive as he took over the starting quarterback job, and allows the Blue Devils to add more option principles to the offense, which will make them much more unpredictable.

2. Receivers step up. Here is another question that coach David Cutcliffe believes has been answered this spring. The Blue Devils do lose Conner Vernon, but leading receiver Jamison Crowder returns and Cutcliffe had special praise for the way Max McCaffrey came on this spring. “The receiving corps, I thought, had a tremendous spring,” Cutcliffe said.

3. Defensive front. The Blue Devils went back to the drawing board on defense and decided to simplify the scheme, in order to have their players do less thinking and more attacking. The result, Cutcliffe believes, could be a much better group -- particularly up front.

Fall questions

1. Secondary. This unit has to be completely rebuilt, with Ross Cockrell the only returning starter in the group. And even he missed the second half of spring with an injury. Jeremy Cash, Dwayne Norman and Corbin McCarthy are the new faces that are expected to take their spots in the starting lineup, but don’t be surprised if true freshmen Evrett Edwards and Quay Mann play as well.

2. Can the run game improve? The Blue Devils appear to have great depth in their backfield with their top four rushers back. So the hope is they can have a much more consistent running game this season. Last year, Duke ranked No. 98 in the nation in this category. Boone should factor in here as well.

3. Inexperience. Though the Blue Devils do return a good many of their starters, the ones who are gone are at the key positions on the football field -- quarterback, two receivers, center and three players in the secondary. They will have to rely on players without much game experience at all those positions so how quickly they grow up will be a huge key for this team.
Max McCaffrey’s Duke family tree has more branches than the federal government.

His grandfather, Dave Sime, was an All-ACC outfielder who led Duke in batting average, home runs and stolen bases. He won 12 ACC titles in track, was an All-American, and set seven world records. He played one season of football as a wide receiver and went on to win a silver medal in the 100-meter dash in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Oh, and he found time to graduate from Duke’s medical school in 1962.

And that’s just gramps.

McCaffrey’s grandmother, Betty Conroy, graduated from Duke in 1959. His uncle, Scott Sime, lettered in four seasons (1981-84) as a fullback at Duke before graduating in 1986. Another uncle, Billy McCaffrey, lettered two seasons (1990-91) in basketball at Duke.

And that was just at Duke.

[+] EnlargeMax McCaffrey
Courtesy of David JohnsonThose within the Duke football program say that receiver Max McCaffrey's toughness has stood out this spring.
McCaffrey’s dad, Ed, was an All-American receiver at Stanford and went on to play 13 years in the NFL. His mother, Lisa, earned three letters in soccer at Stanford. Oh, and aunt Monica lettered four seasons in hoops at Georgetown.

That must make for some family picnic.

“I guess it’s a pretty competitive family,” Max said.

There’s no question he has inherited the trait.

“Oh, man, Max McCaffrey has opened up every single person’s eyes here,” Duke quarterback Anthony Boone said. “I don’t know if he wants me to say this, but he came out a little bit of a fighter, like he’s not gonna back down from nobody. He’s been making a lot of plays. He’s our blue-collar guy. He’s going to work. Even when he’s tired, he’s going to push through. He’s smart, he knows what he’s doing, and he’s tough. He’s going to stick his nose in there in the run game. Even if he gets smacked and hits the ground, he’s going to get back up and try and push the guy a little extra. He’s a hard-nosed player and he’s really stepped up and shined bright for us this spring. I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do this year in the ACC.”

Despite his remarkable pedigree, there’s no pressure from McCaffrey’s family to be the next All-American wide receiver. There is, however, a wee bit of pressure on Duke’s receivers to fill the void left by record-setter Conner Vernon, who closed out his career as the ACC’s all-time leader in pass receptions and receiving yardage. McCaffrey only caught two passes last year, but he's proven more than worthy this spring of stepping in opposite Jamison Crowder, who started all 13 games last year and had five 100-yard games. Crowder is poised to be the next go-to player, but McCaffrey will be equally important in keeping defenses honest.

“He’s had a great spring,” said offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. “I think the thing that I like the best about him is he’s an unbelievable competitor. He’s a guy who, every day -- it doesn’t matter if you’re at the beginning of practice or the end of practice -- his effort level is the same. His competitiveness is the same. I don’t think I really understood how tough he was, but he’s a tough guy, too, so he can make the contact area catches. He doesn’t mind mixing it up when he has to block in the run game. I can’t say I’m shocked by how well he’s doing. I obviously couldn’t be happier about it, because we need him to step up in a big way. I think spring is about getting guys game ready, not about beating your defense, and I think Max is ready to play on Saturday, quite frankly.”

McCaffrey, a sophomore, caught two passes for 31 yards against Florida State last year and played a total of 196 snaps in 13 games. He said he knows more will be expected of him this fall. At a scrimmage earlier this month, McCaffrey caught five passes for a team-high 76 yards.

“Last year just getting a little bit of experience was awesome, but this year I definitely need to step it up,” he said. “I’ve been working real hard this spring just perfecting the offense, learning coverages on defense, just being able to read the coverages, and I’ve been trying to get a lot stronger and faster, just working on basic fundamentals of the game.”

He’s already mastered the competitive part. After all, it’s in his genes.
Duke’s defensive linemen combined for six sacks, and safety Jacques Bristow intercepted a pair of passes to highlight Wednesday morning’s 85-snap scrimmage at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Here are some notes, according to the team's practice report:
DUKE

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Boone is up. Duke loses three-year starter Sean Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Anthony Boone is the next man up, and has plenty of game experience. But coming in for spot duty is vastly different from taking over the starting quarterback job. He has to get a jump on becoming the leader of this offense in the spring.

2. Receiver spots open. The Blue Devils lose the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Conner Vernon, plus the versatile and athletic Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is back, but Duke is going to need to find two more starters and several more to step up and help with depth.

3. Handling success. This is the first time since 1994 that Duke goes into a spring with 15 bowl practices already under its belt and a taste of success. That should presumably give the Blue Devils an advantage. But it is much harder maintaining, as many coach will tell you. How does this new success impact the mind-set in spring practice?

GEORGIA TECH

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

1. Ted Roof takes over. What is the Georgia Tech defense going to look like with Ted Roof in charge? He has not really given out specifics about the type of scheme he wants to use as his base, so it will be interesting to see how he fits his personnel to what he likes to do best. The Jackets do return eight starters to a unit that improved in the second half of the season.

2. Vad Lee time. We saw glimpse of what Lee could do as he began to share quarterback duties with Tevin Washington last season. Now, the show is all his, so we get to see how he develops as a full-time starter.

3. So long, Orwin. The Jackets lose one of their most dynamic playmakers in Orwin Smith, who finished his career ranked among Georgia Tech’s all-time leaders in kickoff returns (76), kickoff return yards (1,624) and career all-purpose yards (4,278). Georgia Tech has to find somebody to replace that productivity.

MIAMI

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. D in Defense? The No. 1 spring priority has got to be improving a defense that was one of the worst in the nation in every NCAA statistical category (No. 112 rushing defense, No. 102 passing defense, No. 116 total defense, No. 82 scoring defense). If Miami is going to be a favorite to win the Coastal, it needs better play out of this group.

2. New OC. James Coley takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Jedd Fisch. Coley served as offensive coordinator at Florida State before arriving at Miami, but did not call the plays. So he has much more responsibility here, and is charged with taking Stephen Morris from great to next-level great.

3. D-Line improvement. If Miami is going to be better on defense, it has to start up front, where the Hurricanes were extremely young and mostly ineffective for 2012. The Hurricanes had to deal with their share of injuries, but they also were not great at stopping the run or putting pressure on the passer -- with only 13 sacks all year. That is the lowest total since at least 2005, the first year NCAA stats began listing team sack totals.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Bye bye, Gio. Life begins without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard, who left school early for the NFL draft. The cupboard is not completely bare, though, as A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both return. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

2. Replacing Williams, Reddick. North Carolina returns nine starters on defense. That is the good news. The bad news is the Tar Heels lose their two best players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, two first-team All-ACC selections. We'll see if Ethan Farmer at tackle and P.J. Clyburn at linebacker emerge to win the starting jobs.

3. Replacing Coop. The Tar Heels have a major hole to fill on their offensive line as they say goodbye to unanimous All-America guard Jonathan Cooper, a stalwart who made 47 career starts. Cooper was the unheralded leader of the offense, so filling his spot is a major priority this spring.

PITTSBURGH

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. QB situation. Tino Sunseri is gone, leaving Arizona transfer Tom Savage, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson to compete for the starting job. Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Panthers, so upgrading this position is an absolute must.

2. Adjusting to DC. Pitt is going into the season with its fourth new coordinator in as many years, as Dave Huxtable left for NC State after only one year on the job. Secondary coach Matt House was promoted to coordinator, so at least there will be some familiarity. But he has to get to work on improving this unit's consistency.

3. Offensive line improvements. Is this the year we finally see a vastly improved Pitt offensive line? The Panthers have to replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson, two key positions to watch during spring practice.

VIRGINIA

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. New coaches. How will the three most high-profile hires Mike London made mesh with the staff and returning players? How will the offense deal with a new scheme under Steve Fairchild? How will the defense deal with a new scheme under Jon Tenuta? How big will Tom O'Brien's role be with the offense? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. QB competition. Fairchild has already said he will open up the quarterback job to a "very spirited competition" this spring. The two front-runners figure to be Phillip Sims and David Watford, who both have game experience. But there will be no shortage of quarterbacks in Charlottesville this year, so there are no guarantees that either of them will win the job.

3. Replacing Greer. The Hoos have some big shoes to fill in the middle of their defense with the departure of linebacker Steve Greer, who ended his career with 376 tackles -- ranking No. 6 in school history. Kwontie Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play in 2012, backed up Greer last season. Will he win the starting job?

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Logan Thomas. All eyes will be on Thomas as he heads into his senior season, especially with new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler in charge. How will the two work together, and what will Loeffler do to get Thomas to cut down on his mistakes and capitalize on the immense potential he has?

2. Rushing attack. Item No. 2 on the agenda for Loeffler is to figure out a way to jump start the Virginia Tech rushing game, which struggled in 2012. The offensive line was inconsistent, and so were the running backs. The Hokies could never really settle on a starter or a clear rotation in the backfield, either. Somebody has to emerge as THE guy.

3. Filling in for Exum. Virginia Tech took a serious hit to its defensive backfield last month when emerging cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. The Hokies will look to several young players to try and fill his void, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Fans will have to wait on highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller, who joins in the summer.

True freshmen to watch in ACC

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
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Now that we are closing in on the start of the season, we have a much better idea of how many true freshmen could make an impact in the ACC this season based on preseason practice time and early depth charts.

Maryland could end up playing the most, and having players who make the biggest impact. You have quarterback Perry Hills starting in place of the injured C.J. Brown. Highly touted athlete Stefon Diggs has had an outstanding preseason camp. Don't forget about running backs Albert Reid and Wes Brown, who also have looked really good.

Here are a few young players to keep an eye on at each school.

Boston College: Justin Simmons, DB. Defensive back is an area where Boston College needs help, especially after the loss of Al Louis-Jean, who's out six to eight weeks with a foot injury. Simmons already has made his presence felt. In a scrimmage last weekend, he had two interceptions. Also watch for defensive back Bryce Jones and linebacker Steven Daniels.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
John Albright / Icon SMI The versatile Travis Blanks may line up at a number of positions on defense for the Tigers.
Clemson: Travis Blanks, DB. One of the top defensive backs in the country out of high school, Blanks enrolled early and had an impressive spring showing. He has followed that up with a great preseason, and will line up in a variety of positions -- nickelback, cornerback and some linebacker as well. On offense, watch for Germone Hopper, who has had some pretty explosive plays this fall.

Duke: Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell, RBs; Ross Martin, PK. Duncan and Powell have turned heads during the preseason, and coach David Cutcliffe said he would feel comfortable using both players in the opener against FIU. Martin is sure to get plenty of game experience as the starting kicker this year. Others to watch: receiver Max McCaffrey, tight end Erich Schneider and safety Dwayne Norman, who had an interception return for a touchdown in one scrimmage.

Florida State: Ronald Darby, CB. Do not be surprised if Darby ends up starting in the spot vacated by Greg Reid. Darby and Nick Waisome are competing for the starting job. Coaches like both players, but there is something special about Darby. Said coach Jimbo Fisher: Darby is "going to be a very, very good one." Also watch for defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and tight end Christo Kourtzidis.

Georgia Tech: Anthony Autry and Micheal Summers, WR. Georgia Tech only has four other scholarship wide receivers, so that increases the chances for Autry and Summers to play this season. Autry seems to have a slight edge over Summers. Others to watch: defensive back D.J. White.

Maryland: In addition to Hills, Diggs, Brown and Reid, several others could make an impact this year. Punter Brad Craddock is competing for the starting position with redshirt freshman Nathan Renfro; and cornerback Sean Davis could be starting on opening day because he has done well, and there are some injuries on defense.

Miami: Ereck Flowers, OL. Flowers is listed as a starter right now at right tackle, helped in part because of Seantrel Henderson's absence. Offensive line coach Art Kehoe has been extremely impressed. Others to watch: defensive back Tracy Howard and running back Duke Johnson. Howard is listed on the two-deep behind Ladarius Gunter but has drawn raves so far and so has Johnson, who should also return kickoffs this year. Deon Bush is in the mix for a starting safety spot.

North Carolina: Quinshad Davis, WR. Davis missed some early practice time because of a medical issue but has returned in the last week and has a big chance to make some noise. The Tar Heels are lacking depth at this position, and the way Larry Fedora likes to spread the ball around, he will take as many good receivers as he can.

NC State: Charlie Hegedus, WR. Receiver is a position of need for the Wolfpack, and Hegedus has seen more reps during fall camp with the injury to Bryan Underwood. One player NC State hopes you do not see this year is backup quarterback Manny Stocker, a true freshman behind veteran Mike Glennon.

Virginia: Maurice Canady, CB. Coaches are extremely high on Canady, who is in the mix to earn a starting spot in a secondary that has to be rebuilt this year. He has been working with the first team recently. Others to watch: Michael Moore at outside linebacker, and Eli Harold at defensive end.

Virginia Tech: J.C. Coleman, RB; Donaldven Manning, DB. Both players enrolled in January and are virtual locks to play this season. Coleman has separated himself from another true freshman, Trey Edmunds, despite a hand injury. He has had an outstanding fall camp. Manning has had to deal with a hamstring injury, but his early enrollment works in his favor.

Wake Forest: The Deacs rarely play true freshmen. But if there is one player who has a shot this year, it is defensive end Tylor Harris, who has stood out this fall for his pass-rushing ability -- something Wake Forest needs help improving this year.

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