ACC: Morgan Burnett
And I sympathize with the Yellow Jackets' fans and players who "lost" their 2009 ACC title over what amounted to $312. The entire saga could have been handled better by both the NCAA and Georgia Tech.
But the bottom line is this: screw up, pay up.
How many times have we heard the coachspeak that football is a team sport? From the top down, Georgia Tech screwed up -- as a team. The administration went against the NCAA's wishes the moment athletic director Dan Radakovich informed coach Paul Johnson of the NCAA's intent to interview Morgan Burnett. The staff and administration took a major risk when they decided to play an athlete who was later deemed ineligible. And former receiver Demaryius Thomas, who accepted $312 worth of clothing, made the poor decision that started it all. Regardless of how small or questionable the initial transgression was, other mistakes followed, and what began as a secondary violation snowballed into one, long, 20-month investigation that ended with a major violation.
And even after all of that, Georgia Tech got off easy: No loss of scholarships or postseason ban, the two sanctions that hurt programs most on the field and in recruiting.
Yet instead of accepting the penalties and moving on, Georgia Tech has taken the Bedford approach -- win as a team, lose as individuals.
- Clemson running back Andre Ellington has been cleared to run again after offseason toe surgery.
- Miami offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has endured a lot in just 34 years.
- Former Georgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett has been honored by the state senate.
- Former Miami running back Damien Berry is hoping to improve his stock for the NFL draft at Miami's pro timing day.
- FSU offensive coordinator James Coley is tweeting his way to Orlando.
- Several in-state players are headed to Virginia Tech as walk-ons.
- Not on the job long at Texas Tech, former Miami AD Kirby Hocutt already has another big hire to make.
- Incoming Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee answered some questions Jackets fans would be interested in.
- Texas Tech is reportedly very interested in Miami AD Kirby Hocutt. That would be a big loss for Miami and the ACC.
- Former Virginia Tech running backs coach Billy Hite's son will join the team as a walk-on.
- Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain spoke with reporters on Wednesday for the first time since it was announced he would be calling the plays.
- This story will help Virginia Tech fans get to know O'Cain, one of the nicest guys in the business.
“I always looked up to him,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to follow his path.”
He’s literally off to a good start.
As the Jackets prepare to open the season Saturday against South Carolina State, Johnson is not only still wearing the jersey, he’s also expected to start it in. The coaches let him keep it after they saw his effort and improvement throughout the summer. He is listed as No. 1 on the depth chart at safety, and could be the first true freshman to start a season opener since Tyler Melton in 2008. Prior to Melton, the last true freshman to start the first game of the season was wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2004 and quarterback Reggie Ball in 2003.
Because he knew Burnett was leaving early for the NFL, Johnson chose to enroll early.
“I knew my chances of playing would be greater,” he said. “It’s always been my goal. That’s what I’ve been working towards.”
Johnson is one of five true freshmen listed on Georgia Tech’s depth chart, along with A-back B.J. Bostic, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, CB Louis Young and DT Shawn Green.
The most difficult part of adapting to the college game, Johnson said, has been taking on blocks from his own offensive teammates.
“Georgia Tech is different,” he said. “Going against our offense, they throw a whole lot of chop blocks. Taking on the blocks has been a challenge for me, and trying to make a play off the blocks. At first I was running up wild, full speed. You have to learn how to slow it down, make sure I was doing my right assignment, not just running wild. It’s good to play fast, but it’s better to play fast and smart.”
It’s a good way to stay No. 1.
2009 overall record: 11-3
2009 conference record: 7-1, ACC champions
Offense: 7, defense 8: punter/kicker: 2
QB Josh Nesbitt, RB Anthony Allen, RB Roddy Jones, C Sean Bedford, WR Tyler Melton, WR Stephen Hill, LB Brad Jefferson, CB Mario Butler, S Dominique Reese, PK Scott Blair
WR Demaryius Thomas, RB Jonathan Dwyer, OG Cord Howard, DE Derrick Morgan, LB Sedric Griffin, S Morgan Burnett
2009 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Dwyer (1,395 yards)
Passing: Nesbitt* (1,701 yards)
Receiving: Thomas (1,154 yards)
Tackles: Jefferson* (95)
Sacks: Morgan (12.5)
Interceptions: Burnett (4)
1. Who’s No. 2. Tevin Washington earned the No. 2 quarterback job behind Josh Nesbitt, who was out this spring recovering from minor ankle surgery. Washington ran for three touchdowns and threw for another in the Jackets’ spring game. He made the most of Jaybo Shaw's transfer to Georgia Southern and beat David Sims and Jordan Luallen for the job.
2. Receiver by committee. Yes, Stephen Hill has the chance to be the program’s next elite receiver, but there were signs the passing game will have some more help this fall. Look for the Jackets to make an effort to throw more to the A-backs, or slot backs, this year.
3. Finding homes on defense. Georgia Tech won’t solve all of its defensive problems in one spring, but the transition to Al Groh’s 3-4 defense helped a few players who were in between positions find a spot. Anthony Egbuniwe, who was a defensive end last year, is now an outside linebacker. And Anthony Barnes, who was a nomad last year, seems to have found a home at the other outside linebacker spot. Jason Peters, who has bounced between defensive tackle and end, showed significant improvement at end this spring.
1. How much better can the defense be? Overall, the transition under Groh remains a question. Specifically, the biggest concern on the line is the nose tackle position. T.J. Barnes played there in the spring, and Ben Anderson missed all of spring recovering from a knee injury he suffered late last season. When Anderson comes back in August, he’ll compete with Barnes for that job. There were too many runs up the middle during the spring game to stop a team like Virginia Tech or Miami.
2. Nesbitt’s health. The ankle injury was minor -- he could have participated this spring had he wanted to -- but Nesbitt’s health will be a concern this year. There is still a big difference between Nesbitt and Washington, and Nesbitt has to stay healthy if the Jackets are going to defend their ACC crown.
3. Unsettled offensive line. There are a lot of new players working their way into the rotation, and competition will continue. Georgia Tech lost three starters, including the transfer of guard Joseph Gilbert. The second team was composed entirely of freshmen in the Jackets’ spring game.
Here are a few notes to tie it all together for you:
- For the sixth straight year, the ACC had more than 30 players selected.
- Since 2005, the ACC and the SEC are the only two leagues in the nation to have had 30 players selected in each of the past six years.
- Atlantic Division champion Clemson (C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford, Ricky Sapp, Crezdon Butler, Kavell Connor) and Coastal Division runner-up Virginia Tech (Jason Worilds, Kam Chancellor, Ed Wang, Brent Bowden, Cody Grimm) led all ACC schools each with five players chosen in the draft.
- ACC champion Georgia Tech (Derrick Morgan, Demaryius Thomas, Morgan Burnett, Jonathan Dwyer) and Miami (Jimmy Graham, Darryl Sharpton, Jason Fox, Dedrick Epps) were next, each with four players chosen.
- The ACC maintained its streak of having at least one top-10 selection in each of the past five years. Since 2006, the ACC is the only conference in the country to have had a top-10 selection in each year.
- In all, 18 NFL teams selected players from the ACC.
- No. 42, Chris Cook, CB, Virginia -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- No. 50, Bruce Campbell, OT, Maryland -- Kansas City Chiefs
- No. 59, Morgan Burnett, S, Georgia Tech -- Dallas Cowboys
- No. 62, Brandon Ghee, CB, Wake Forest -- Minnesota Vikings
- No. 63, Cam Thomas, DT, North Carolina -- Indianapolis Colts
The analysts at Scouts Inc. project Cook higher, as the second pick in the second round, and he's the only ACC player they have in the second round. The third round seems to be where the ACC will have some good representation, according to Scouts Inc. That's where to find players like Clemson's Ricky Sapp, Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds, and Miami's Jimmy Graham.
Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan was chosen No. 16 by the Tennessee Titans, and former Jackets receiver Demaryius Thomas followed soon after with the No. 22 overall pick to Denver. The Jackets were one of eight schools to have more than one player chosen in the first round. It was also the first time since 1979 that the school had two players selected in the first round.
And finally, just like FSU coach Jimbo Fisher had predicted, former cornerback Patrick Robinson snuck into the first round with the 32nd pick to the New Orleans Saints. He was the program's first first-round draft pick since 2007.
ESPN's Todd McShay listed Morgan's move to Tennessee as one of his top five "Best marriages of need and value." Former Georgia Tech B-back Jonathan Dwyer and safety Morgan Burnett are both still waiting, but that's not a surprise, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper and McShay, both who left those players off of their final first-round mock drafts.
Two main points stand out from these picks:
- Message to Georgia Tech recruits: Yes, you can be a first-round draft pick at receiver in Paul Johnson's run-based offense -- if you're good enough.
- Any doubts about Spiller's ability should finally be erased. He's had his critics his entire career, but the vote of confidence from the NFL in his abilities should confirm what Spiller proved in 2009 -- he's one of the best players in the country.
In just two seasons, Johnson managed to win the school’s first outright ACC title since 1990, take the program to its first BCS bowl game since 1967, and repeat as the ACC’s Coach of the Year.
In a matter of months this offseason, though, several of the leading contributors to that instant success have departed, leaving Johnson right back where he started when he entered the conference -- facing some serious doubts and ready to answer them head-on.
While four early departures for the NFL draft left the Jackets with a shortage of star quality this spring, there certainly isn’t a lack of confidence their replacements can maintain the Jackets’ spot atop the Coastal Division standings.
“The confidence level is definitely high,” said Anthony Allen, who will take over for leading rusher Jonathan Dwyer at B-back. “I can tell you firsthand, we don’t think of ourselves as the replacements. That’s how college football goes -- players come, then they go. This is an opportunity for a new guy to step up and make himself a name, make himself a big-time player. We’re definitely confident in our abilities. We feel like we can go out and probably produce more than we did last year.”
That sense of security comes from the top, where Johnson said he prefers to look at what he has coming back, not what he lost.
“I think that we lost some really good players, but I think as a whole we’ve got more good players,” Johnson said. “I don’t know that we have great players, but we’ve got more good players. I don’t know that you get a Derrick Morgan that often. I don’t know that we have another Derrick Morgan right now. But I think we’ve got more depth and some good, young players. We’re excited about the young guys that people haven’t really seen.
“We lost an awful lot of good players, but my experience has been somebody else will step up,” he said. “That’s what needs to happen.”
Georgia Tech’s championship roster isn’t depleted -- the Jackets only lose five starters on offense and three on defense. It’s who they lost -- wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Dwyer, who combined to account for 22 of the team’s 58 passing and rushing touchdowns, Morgan, who had 12.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, and Burnett, who led the team with four interceptions.
Offensively, there should be a smooth transition this spring with Allen, a former A-back, taking over for Dwyer at his natural position. There are high expectations for receiver Stephen Hill to eventually be as productive as Thomas.
“In this offense, when you learn one position, you have to learn them all in order to know how it works, and how everything clicks together,” Allen said.
Defensively, though, Georgia Tech will be in transition. The fact that Groh and Johnson were recently two headstrong head coaches on opposing sidelines in the Coastal Division is only part of the subplot. The Jackets will have a nose guard for the first time. Some defensive ends will move to outside linebacker. Groh and the defensive staff have reviewed film from every game in 2009 and penciled in players at certain positions based on their past performances and winter workouts.
“We lined up in a bunch of different ways last year,” Johnson said. “It will take some time, but our guys are excited about it.”
If Georgia Tech can put it together on defense quickly enough, the Jackets will be one of the more difficult teams to prepare for in the country, as both the offensive and defensive schemes are unique to prepare for in a week’s time.
Georgia Tech has grown used to proving its doubters wrong.
“It wasn’t a fluke we were the ACC champs,” said Allen. “We were the champs for a reason. We’re definitely going to defend our title.”
It's good to see Dwyer show improvement, but there was probably too much made about his combine time in the first place. Anyone who has paid attention to Georgia Tech over the past two seasons knows what Dwyer can do, and he'll probably be even more successful in a more traditional NFL offense.
Morgan Burnett, Derrick Morgan and Demaryius Thomas all participated on Monday, though Morgan didn't run the 40 and Thomas, who broke his foot while training for the combine, only did the measurements. He'll have his own pro day later this month.
Offensive lineman Cord Howard, who did not participate in the NFL combine, was also tested, along with linebacker Sedric Griffin and defensive back Martin Frierson.
Burnett posted an unofficial time of 4.42 in the 40-yard dash. Frierson ran it in 4.57, Griffin in 4.83 and Howard in 5.12. Howard had the most reps (25) in the 225-pound bench press, followed by Griffin (24) and Morgan (21).
Burnett had a vertical leap of 39.5 inches and a standing broad jump of 11 feet.
Coach Paul Johnson was careful not to put too much stock into the combine results from earlier this month. Instead, he said, NFL scouts will likely lean more heavily on game film for his four former juniors -- Derrick Morgan, Jonathan Dwyer, Morgan Burnett and Demaryius Thomas.
“The combine I think has kind of turned into a made-for-tv-deal," Johnson said. "I’m not sure how much emphasis those people put on that stuff, just like the mock drafts and all that stuff. If they don’t change them every day, nobody looks. They’ve got to have something to talk about, but I would imagine the NFL people are going to look at the tape. There’s a lot of tape on those guys, and that’s going to far outweigh whatever happened at the combine."
Morgan really doesn't have much more prove, and will probably just work out, but Dwyer will likely be tested again in the 40-yard dash. Here's what NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks had to say about Dwyer's performance:
The Yellow Jackets' workhorse was expected to make a push for first-round consideration with a strong performance over the weekend, but Dwyer's slow 40-yard dash time and soft body build has undoubtedly hindered his chances. Additionally, Dwyer repeatedly dropped passes throughout the workout.
"I know Jon can run better than that," Johnson said.
Burnett tweaked his hamstring at the combine, so he'll likely run again. Thomas injured his ankle and couldn't participate in the combine drills. Johnson said he had been texting with Thomas, and his cast was off, but he would attend another pro day in April.
• Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. on Virginia CB Chris Cook:
Virginia CB Chris Cook turned some heads at the Senior Bowl, and he's doing the same in Indianapolis. At 6-2 and 212 pounds Cook posted an unofficial 4.43 seconds. That's an excellent size-speed combination for a safety and rare to see in a corner. Cook also recorded a jaw-dropping 11-0 broad jump.
• Muench on former Virginia Tech linebacker Cody Grimm:
Virginia Tech's Cody Grimm is an interesting prospect. Grimm appears instinctive and relentless on film, but he played outside linebacker in college and is just not big enough to line up there in the NFL. He measured just 5-10^ and 203 pounds and would be a better fit at safety, where he would have the potential to develop into an adequate reserve and special-teams contributor. Grimm's 4.54 time in the 40 is encouraging because the average time for safeties last year was 4.63 seconds and in 2008 was 4.55 seconds.
• What to make of Jonathan Dwyer? He was listed as one of the 10 most polarizing players in the combine by Bruce Feldman:
There were a bunch of fast backs in Indy; Dwyer was not one of them. His size is good (228 pounds) and he looks dynamic on film, but some skeptics will wonder if much of that is due to the frenetic nature of the triple option scheme he played in at Tech. He didn't test as a particularly explosive guy, and he looked shaky in the position drills and didn't seem comfortable as a receiver.
• Here's an excerpt from Todd McShay on former FSU safety Myron Rolle:
Purely from a football standpoint, Rolle has the tools of a potential third-round pick who could be developed into an adequate starter two or three years down the road. However, while NFL teams love the Rhodes scholar's intelligence and work ethic, there is a growing concern regarding his long-term dedication to football. Rolle is in a truly unique situation and has a lot of convincing to do between now and the draft.
• The Sporting News listed Miami's Jimmy Graham, Maryland's Bruce Campbell and Clemson's Jacoby Ford among its offensive combine winners. Russ Lande of TSN listed Derrick Morgan and Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds among the defensive winners, but it doesn't sound good for Duke's Vince Oghobaase.
• Campbell really turned some heads with his 40 time. Chad Reuter of NFLDraftScout.com wrote:
Campbell also has 36.5-inch arms and bench-pressed 225 pounds 34 times. Said one scout said, "He has the best body of anyone I've ever seen."
• Of course, the question is whether he can block. Said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, "If there's a star so far in the combine, it's him. What he's going to have to overcome is the tape."
• Reuter on Miami's Graham:
Miami (Fla.) tight end Jimmy Graham ran a 4.56, according to NFL.com. Graham played only one season of football for the Hurricanes, but his basketball background intrigues scouts and his blistering 40 time could lift Graham as high as the second round.
Spring practice starts: March 18
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
• How linebacker Mark Herzlich progresses. Herzlich, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer last May, has been going through winter conditioning with his teammates, and he plans on participating in spring drills. How quickly he regains his form will be worth watching, as he and sophomore Luke Kuechly could give the Eagles one of the most formidable linebacking corps.
• The quarterback battle. After one season, Dave Shinskie has the most experience on the roster, but he’ll get some competition from Josh Bordner and Chase Rettig, two early enrollees. There were times last season when Shinskie looked like the future of the position and there were others when he looked like any other freshman.
• Defensive linemen. For the second straight year, BC is looking for some stability up front. The Eagles have to replace left tackle Austin Giles and defensive end Jim Ramella. They return Kaleb Ramsey, Giles’ backup, and Brad Newman, Ramella’s reserve, but some young faces are likely to be seen in the rotation.
Spring practice starts: March 7
Spring game: April 10
What to watch:
• Life without C.J. Spiller officially begins. The backs behind him had a pretty good year, so there’s no need for full panic mode. Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington actually combined for a higher yards per carry average (6.1 to 5.6 yards). Clemson will also be looking to replace Spiller’s lost kickoff return yardage. The Tigers had a 13-yard advantage in average starting field position, as their start was their own 37-yard line compared to opponents’ 24-yard line. Ellington is a candidate in the return game.
• Kyle Parker’s batting average. No, really. How well Parker does this spring with the baseball team will help determine whether he remains Clemson’s quarterback or turns to the MLB draft. He didn’t have a great 2009 season, but he was still the fastest player to 25 home runs in school history. It remains to be seen this spring if he’ll become a high enough draft choice to give up college football.
• Secondary shuffling. It seems like eons ago since Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor weren’t the Tigers’ starting corners, as Butler started 40 straight games and Chancellor started 42. Butler finished his career second in school history in interception return yards. Now it’s time for a new duo. Will Marcus Gilchrist move to corner, which he’s capable of doing? Might Rashard Hall move to safety with DeAndre McDaniel?
Spring practice starts: Feb. 14
Spring game: March 27
What to watch:
• Quarterback competition. Somebody has to take over for the graduated Thaddeus Lewis, but his backup – Sean Renfree – will miss the spring with a torn ACL. Redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder should be heavily in the mix to be the starter, pending Renfree’s recovery.
• Defensive line makeover. It’s wide open. Charlie Hatcher is entrenched at nose guard, but it’s really anyone’s game. The staff might move redshirt senior Wesley Oglesby, who played the majority of his career at defensive end, inside. Other options are defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento, a redshirt freshman, and Curtis Hazelton, who played sparingly last season.
• Johnny Williams’ move from wide receiver to cornerback. He had 31 catches in 2009 – the fourth-best on the team. Now they need his help in the defensive backfield. Duke will lose starter Leon Wright and his 10 career interceptions, and the pass defense, which allowed 215.75 yards per game, could use a boost.
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 10
What to watch:
• Christian Ponder’s return from shoulder surgery. Ponder is expected to practice this spring, though it could be on a limited basis, at least early. He’s ahead of schedule, but the coaches won’t subject him to any risks now. Yes, E.J. Manuel is talented and played well at the end of the season, but make no mistake – Ponder is FSU’s starter and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.
• The defense under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. His secondary, in particular, will be interesting to watch, as will how quickly he can help the front seven generate a pass rush and plug the middle. Stoops has been a secondary coach, and the Noles lost three starters there. The fourth, Ochuko Jenije, could be pushed to retain his job.
• New faces, new opportunities. In addition to the fab freshmen who are coming in, FSU has a handful of unfamiliar players already on the roster who played sparingly or not at all. We'll see how they fit in this spring. RS-So DT Anthony McCloud and RS-So RB Debrale Smiley are both junior college transfers and former teammates. Physically, freshman linebacker Jeff Luc is already a man, but how quickly can he mature on the field? Two young wide receivers worth watching are Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead.
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
• The defensive transformation. The Jackets will switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under first-year coordinator Al Groh. In addition to learning the new scheme, the staff has to figure out who goes where. Linebackers might play defensive end and vice versa, safeties might play outside linebacker. It’s anyone’s guess as to how this team lines up in the spring.
• The replacements. From Georgia Tech’s coaching staff to the new faces who will be tasked with filling in for the Fab Four -- Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett and Demaryius Thomas -- the Jackets will need some “Hello My Name Is” tags this spring.
• The offensive line. Three offensive linemen redshirted who could start, and Georgia Tech might need them to, especially if guard Joseph Gilbert decides to transfer to pursue his MBA. The Jackets lose two starters on the offensive line, and Gilbert, who graduates this spring, would be a third if he leaves. Center Sean Bedford and tackle Austin Barrick return as seniors.
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
• The quarterback competition. Chris Turner has graduated, leaving Jamarr Robinson the top option going into the spring, but he has limited experience. The staff liked what he did when Turner was injured, but Danny O’Brien, Miami (Ohio) transfer Clay Belton and C.J. Brown will all be given an opportunity. Look for O’Brien to start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart.
• Cornerback: Cameron Chism is the only returning starter in the secondary, but right now the staff has fewer concerns about the safeties. Maryland will have to find some bodies at corner, and Dexter McDougle, who redshirted as a true freshman last year, is one option. Michael Carter and Trenton Hughes, who was the third corner last year, are also among a handful of candidates.
• The offensive line. Losing Bruce Campbell to the NFL hurt, but the Terps also lost starter Phil Costa. Justin Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore, could inherit Campbell’s job. And there’s always Mr. Versatility -- Paul Pinegar. He has helped the Terps at both tackle spots and left guard, and this spring he’ll likely be given a shot at center.
Spring practice starts: Feb. 23
Spring game: March 27 (tentative)
What to watch:
• Tight end/offensive line: Jimmy Graham is gone, and the Canes don’t return any tight ends with any experience other than Richard Gordon, who was injured the majority of last season. Miami signed four tight ends in this recruiting class, but none of them were early enrollees. Miami has to replace three starters up front, including both tackles and the center.
• How the two young quarterbacks perform: The health of Jacory Harris was precious last year, as he had nobody behind him with any experience after the transfers of Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith. The depth has improved a bit with A.J. Highsmith, who played sparingly last year, and Stephen Morris, one of the early enrollees.
• Upgrade on the d-line? Progress up front began with the hire of Rick Petri as defensive line coach, and it’s up to Petri to help the Canes become better pass rushers. Miami will depend upon its two mainstays -- Allen Bailey and Josh Holmes. The right end position was a group effort last year, and Miami has to replace Joe Joseph and Eric Moncur.
Spring practice starts: March 15
Spring game: April 10
What to watch:
• Quarterback T.J. Yates. It’s his job to lose, and the coaching staff still has confidence in him, but Bryn Renner is waiting in the wings, and Braden Hanson will also be given an opportunity. The staff is looking for the offense to improve its passing efficiency and cut down on turnovers.
• The offensive line. It was a patchwork effort in 2009, thanks to injuries and inexperience, and will be a major key in how much UNC improves offensively this year. The Heels have to replace two starters, and Jonathan Cooper is likely to move from guard to center, and right guard Alan Pelc will miss spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery.
• Defensive line tweaks. There aren’t many questions on a defense that should be one of the best in the country, but somebody has to replace Cam Thomas and defensive end E.J. Wilson. Tydreke Powell is the frontrunner to take over at defensive tackle and Quinton Coples at defensive end. Both were backups last year at their respective positions.
Spring practice starts: March 9
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
• Backup quarterback Mike Glennon. Russell Wilson is the starter, but he’s going to be playing baseball all spring. Keep an eye on his backup to see if Glennon can make it any more of a competition in Wilson’s absence.
• Chris Ward at punter. No, it’s not usually, the highlight of the spring, but in this case, it’s necessary. Ward is it -- he’s their only option right now, and it’s a position the Pack struggled with last year. Ward was expected to be the starter last season, but he was inconsistent. He’s definitely got the talent to be the guy.
• The recovery of linebacker Nate Irving. After being severely injured in a one-car crash last summer, Irving is hopeful he can go through spring drills. He has been lifting with the team and running with the sports medicine staff, but it’s still uncertain how limited his contact will be.
Spring practice starts: March 15
Spring game: April 10
What to watch:
• Quarterback competition. Marc Verica is the only one with any experience, and first-year offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor hasn’t been in Charlottesville long enough to evaluate any of the candidates. That’s what the spring is for, and true freshman Michael Strauss is the lone incoming quarterback on campus, so he’ll have a head start on the playbook. Of the four quarterbacks Virginia signed in this year’s class, Strauss is the only one listed as a true quarterback. The Cavs also have Ross Metheny, who redshirted last year, and Riko Smalls, who redshirted in ‘08 and was No. 2 on the depth chart when Verica was out with a concussion.
• Coaching transition. First-year coach Mike London has hired almost an entirely new staff, and they’ll bring changes in philosophy and scheme. London has said he wants to get the defense back to the traditional 4-3, and revert to the tradition of featuring the tight ends, offensive linemen and running backs.
• Running back. The Cavs will have the help up front, but they need to replace their four leading rushers in Mikell Simpson, Rashawn Jackson, Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell. The staff will look at true freshman Kevin Parks, but also have Torrey Mack and Dominique Wallace, who had just seemed to be coming on at Southern Miss when he was injured and missed the rest of the season.
Spring practice starts: March 31
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
• Revamped defensive line. The Hokies have to replace three of four starters up front. The only defensive ends with significant playing time are Chris Drager, who the staff wanted to move back to tight end, and Steven Friday. Redshirt freshmen will be given a chance – Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins – but they’ve never played. Isaiah Hamlette is the only other end who’s played and that was a skinny minute. At defensive tackle, Antoine Hopkins will be the frontrunner to replace Cordarrow Thompson.
• Darren Evans’ comeback. Evans, the team’s leading rusher in 2008, is working his way back from a season-ending ACL injury, and one of the biggest questions in Blacksburg is how the staff will divide the carries in such a talented backfield that includes Ryan Williams. With two returning 1,000-yard rushers, will David Wilson decide to redshirt? The spring will help him in that decision.
• The evolution of Tyrod Taylor. He’s going to be a senior, and with so many questions on defense heading into the season, the offense will be leading the way. This should be a breakout year for Taylor, who by now should have mastered the offense and should consistently be a passing threat to compliment his running abilities.
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
• The quarterback competition. It’s the most glaring hole the Deacs have to fill this spring, as they’re tasked with replacing the winningest quarterback in school history, Riley Skinner, and his backup, Ryan McManus. Redshirt sophomores Ted Stachitas and Skylar Jones, and sophomore Brendan Cross, will compete with rookie Tanner Price for the top spot.
• Offensive line. The Deacs will take a huge hit here, as seven players in the two-deep depth chart were redshirt seniors, including all four tackles. Three starters have to be replaced.
• The interior defensive line. Nose guard Boo Robinson and John Russell have graduated, and Russell’s backup, Michael Lockett, was also a redshirt senior. The Deacs are in good shape at the ends, but will need some help inside.
It's a much different look than the mid-December mock draft, before the players had made their decisions whether or not to return, and before the all-star games had been played.
In mid-December, McShay had Morgan the No. 3 overall pick, Campbell at No. 12 and UNC linebacker Bruce Carter at No. 18. Clemson defensive end Ricky Sapp was No. 25, and Spiller was No. 26.UNC defensive tackle Marvin Austin was No. 27, and Georgia Tech B-back Jonathan Dwyer was No. 29.
For the juniors who decided to leave early and aren't mentioned here -- namely players like Morgan Burnett, Demaryius Thomas and Toney Baker -- let's hope their decisions were worth it.
Defensive linemen: Redshirt juniors and seniors comprised the bulk of the two-deep depth chart in 2009, and the recent dismissal of backup John Drew plus the graduation of Vince Oghobaase makes it a position of concern. The interior line needs the most help.
Running back: The Blue Devils never quite got their running game going in 2009 and will have to start to make a push at this position to help break in new starting quarterback Sean Renfree. Re’quan Boyette will have to be replaced.
Offensive line: In looking ahead, the Blue Devils will have six redshirt juniors or seniors up front in 2010. While that’s good news for the immediate future, Duke needs to work ahead for what it will lose in 2011.
Defensive backs: The biggest loss is obviously safety Morgan Burnett to the NFL draft, but the Jackets need to look ahead. Safeties Mario Edwards and Dominique Reese will be redshirt seniors this year, and cornerback Mario Butler will be a senior.
Defensive linemen: For the second year in a row it’s a concern, and thanks in large part to the NFL draft. Derrick Morgan will be missed, but overall this group needs an upgrade.
Offensive line: Three starters will have to be replaced, including the Canes’ top veteran, Jason Fox. Both guard positions are also short-timers, as Orlando Franklin and Joel Figueroa will both be seniors this fall.
Linebacker: Darryl Sharpton is the lone senior departing, but this unit could use more depth. It’s been a problem since Randy Shannon took over. And while the staff has made progress, injuries have continuously depleted the group.
Secondary: The Canes will have to replace Chavez Grant and Randy Phillips, and DeMarcus VanDyke will be a senior. Miami improved its interceptions in 2009, but not by much, ranking No. 87 in the country with nine. Of course, it helps to get pressure up front to force quarterbacks into those mistakes.
Offensive line: This is where the Tar Heels’ offensive improvement needs to start, and it didn’t help that this year’s unit was battered and bruised most of the season. Two starters will have to be replaced this year and five more of the top players in the rotation will be seniors in 2010.
Linebacker: UNC needs to reload at this position, and it's taking the right steps in that direction with this class. Although Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter elected to return, it’s only a matter of time before the talented seniors have to be replaced.
Quarterback: The Cavs have a lot of questions about this position heading into 2010 and beyond. The good news is that Michael Strauss has already enrolled this semester, so he’ll get an early start with spring ball.
Playmakers: Vague, yes, but it’s exactly what this program needs. Part of the reason Gregg Brandon’s spread offense didn’t work was because he didn’t have the personnel to execute it. Virginia will lose its most versatile player in Vic Hall, will have to replace fullback Rashawn Jackson, and needs more than just Mikell Simpson.
Linemen: The Hokies will need help on both sides of the ball, particularly interior defensive linemen. Six of the eight players on the 2009 two-deep defensive line were either juniors or seniors. Starters Ed Wang and Sergio Render will have to be replaced on the offensive line this year.
Defensive backs: This unit will be hit hard with departures in the next two seasons, as starters Kam Chancellor and Stephan Virgil have to be replaced in 2010, and Rashad Carmichael and Davon Morgan will be seniors.
Quarterback. With Tyrod Taylor being a senior next year, the staff will have to look ahead. There’s a lot of inexperience and question marks behind him. The one thing they don’t need in Blacksburg? Running backs.