ACC: Nick Claytor

Spring preview: Coastal Division

February, 15, 2011
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We've already looked at who and what to watch in the Atlantic Division this spring. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Spring practice starts: Feb. 16

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Jim Knowles taking over as defensive coordinator. After coaching the safeties last season, Knowles was promoted in late January following the departure of Marion Hobby to coach Clemson’s defensive line. It’s not a complete overhaul on defense, but for the third time in as many seasons, a different person will be calling the plays. Knowles has also assumed the lead role with Duke’s practice scheduling and weekly preparation.
  • New faces at linebacker. Duke graduated its leading tackler from 2010, Abraham Kromah, and freshman All-American Kelby Brown is out while recovering from knee surgery. Those two slots will be wide open this spring and the competition will be among Austin Gamble, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Kevin Rojas.
  • Offensive line shuffling. The Blue Devils return four starters up front, but they’ll be missing the glue of the line in Bryan Morgan, who graduated. Brian Moore, who has started the past two seasons at right guard, will make the transition to center. John Coleman and Laken Tomlinson are expected to compete for the right guard spot.
GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 28 (tentative)

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Starting quarterback competition. Tevin Washington enters the spring at No. 1 on the depth chart, and it's his job to lose, as he has the most experience after taking over for injured starter Joshua Nesbitt in 2010. Synjyn Days will give him legitimate competition this spring, though, and it will increase this summer with the addition of standout recruit Vad Lee to the roster. For now, though, it’s between Washington and Days, as David Sims is expected to move to B-back.
  • Offensive line reshuffling. Georgia Tech will have to replace three starters in all-conference center Sean Bedford, right tackle Austin Barrick and left tackle Nick Claytor, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft. Phil Smith, Barrick’s backup last year, is the only one with any experience at tackle. The staff will likely have to move a player or two from guard to tackle, and only it knows who those candidates might be right now.
  • Revamped secondary. Jerrard Tarrant's decision to leave school early and enter the NFL draft left the Jackets without any returning starters in the secondary. Junior cornerback Rod Sweeting, sophomore cornerback Louis Young, redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Ayers and sophomore safety Fred Holton are front-runners, but they all have a lot to prove this spring. Holton and Young played sparingly as true freshmen and combined for 21 tackles. Sweeting played in all 13 games and had one fumble recovery and eight passes defended, including one interception. Senior cornerback Michael Peterson may help, and safety Jemea Thomas played as a true freshman in 2009 but redshirted last year. There’s some talent, but the inexperience makes it a question mark.
MIAMI

Spring practice starts: March 5

Spring game: April 9 or 16

What to watch:
  • New staff, new schemes. Defensively, first-year coordinator Mark D’Onofrio will work with two other assistants who were with him and first-year coach Al Golden at Temple, so there is familiarity there. Linebackers coach Michael Barrow has to learn D’Onofrio’s system, but the players tend to pick it up faster if the majority of the staff is already acclimated to it. Offensively, everyone will be working together for the first time. Jedd Fisch wants to run a pure pro-style offense based on matchups, and the good news is that several of the assistants, because of their respective backgrounds, are already schooled in at least a version of it.
  • Quarterback battle. Golden has said he would like to name a starter by the end of the spring, making these practices critical auditions for both Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Harris has both flourished and flopped as a starter for the Canes, and his injury last year gave Morris the opportunity he needed to win the people’s choice award. Has a new era of quarterback begun, or will Harris finally have the breakout season Miami fans have waited for in his final year as a Cane?
  • Corner competition. Following the departures of Ryan Hill, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Brandon Harris, Brandon McGee is the only corner remaining on the roster with any significant experience. He played in 11 games, started one, and had 15 tackles. Redshirt freshman Devont’a Davis, sophomore Kacey Rodgers, and redshirt sophomore Jamal Reid will also compete for playing time. There are also several incoming freshmen who could be immediate contributors.
NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • The rookie quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee that Bryn Renner will be the Tar Heels’ starter in 2011, but he enters the spring slightly ahead of the race, as he was No. 2 on the depth chart last season and was pushing T.J. Yates for the starting job at this time a year ago. The staff would also like to see what true freshman Marquise Williams, who enrolled in January, has to offer. Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue will also compete for playing time. Blue was injured two years ago and redshirted last season.
  • Running backs race. The Tar Heels graduated three key players from 2010: Johnny White, Anthony Elzy and Shaun Draughn. Ryan Houston is back for his fifth year after redshirting last year and is the most experienced of the returnees. Giovani Bernard was a true freshman last year and had been expected to get some playing time, but he tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. It’s not clear yet how much he’ll be able to participate this spring. Hunter Furr played sparingly last year and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, are also in the mix.
  • Another strong defensive line. If Quinton Coples was an all-conference selection as a defensive tackle, he could be scary good at his natural position, defensive end. Coples played there as a freshman and sophomore, but switched to tackle out of necessity last season. The defensive line should once again be the strength of the team, but it will be reconfigured again, as Coples’ move will leave a defensive tackle spot up for grabs. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams, who enrolled in January, could fill that role.
VIRGINIA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • The search for a new starting quarterback. With Marc Verica graduated, the lead contenders to replace him are the ones who saw the field last year -- Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny. Neither of them started, but Rocco played in six games and Metheny five. Nobody has thrown the ball more than Rocco’s 25 times. The staff will also look at Michael Strauss, who redshirted last year, Miles Gooch, and David Watford, who enrolled in January.
  • Competition at running back. With leading rusher Keith Payne graduated, the question becomes what can Kevin Parks do after redshirting last year? There’s a lot of depth at the running back position, but Parks, the No. 56 running back in his class by ESPN.com and national prep record-setter out of the state of North Carolina, came to Charlottesville facing high expectations. With Payne gone, this could open the door for him to meet them, but returning starter Perry Jones will also be competing for carries.
  • Development of the receivers. In January, Jared Green Tweeted that he had decided to transfer after finishing his degree in Charlottesville this spring, according to a school spokesman. His departure, coupled with the graduation of Dontrelle Inman, leaves the Cavaliers without two of their top wideouts from 2010. With Tim Smith coming off an injury, the development of other receivers will be critical -- especially with a new starting quarterback.
VIRGINIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Quarterback Logan Thomas. The Tyrod Taylor era is over, and Thomas is the front-runner to succeed the winningest quarterback in school history. Ju-Ju Clayton is the only other quarterback on the roster who’s ever taken a snap, and he’ll push Thomas this spring. It’s Thomas’ job to lose, but the staff is looking for him to improve his accuracy. He played quarterback in only his final two high school seasons and was projected as a tight end. He’s still raw and learning the position, but physically, he’s a clone of Cam Newton. If he develops some poise in the pocket, look out.
  • Competition on the defensive line. The Hokies have to replace starters John Graves (defensive tackle) and Steven Friday (defensive end), who both graduated. They’ve got Antoine Hopkins and Chris Drager back, but it’s possible Drager could move back to tight end after starting 10 games at defensive end last year. Tackle Kwamaine Battle, who started the first two games before he tore his ACL and Hopkins took over, is another front-runner. Hopkins’ younger brother, Derrick, will also be in the mix, along with James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray, the cousin of Logan Thomas, has also impressed the staff so far.
  • Tight end auditions. The graduation of Andre Smith leaves the Hokies with only one returning tight end who’s caught a pass in a game, Randall Dunn (one). Redshirt freshman Eric Martin was the second tight end when the Hokies used two-tight end sets, but he missed three games mid-season with an injury.
This morning we looked at the main recruiting needs for the Atlantic Division. Here are the priorities for each team in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Offensive line: The Blue Devils will have to replace one starter in center Bryan Morgan, and it’s still a relatively young group, but with several redshirt sophomores on the roster, the staff wants to load up two grades behind them to fully stock the position for the future.

Defensive line: This has always been Duke’s deficiency, which means it will always be a priority to catch up and build depth. The Blue Devils will have to replace two starters in Wesley Oglesby and Patrick Egboh. Noseguard Charlie Hatcher will be a redshirt senior.

Cornerback: Duke only loses one starter, cornerback Chris Rwabukamba, but it’s another position that has been weak and needs better athletes.

GEORGIA TECH

Offensive line: The early departure of Nick Claytor to the NFL didn’t help the depth, but there were still several young players who gained valuable experience and others who redshirted to help the depth. While no true freshman is likely to make an immediate impact, the staff is still looking to build the numbers up front.

Linebacker/defensive line: The Jackets need to find more athletes who are suited for Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. Fast athletes who are versatile enough to play a hybrid role, with the ability to move in space, will be a priority in this class.

MIAMI

Quarterback: With Jacory Harris being a senior, A.J. Highsmith moving to defense, and Spencer Whipple struggling in what little time he has played, the position needs a boost. It didn’t help that Teddy Bridgewater reneged on his commitment.

Linebacker: This is a position former coach Randy Shannon had put an emphasis on building, and there are young players and depth, but it was also a veteran group in the 2010 two-deep, with mainly juniors and seniors.

Wide receiver: The upperclassmen did all of the work in 2010, with Leonard Hankerson leading the way. Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Laron Byrd will all be seniors. An influx of young talent is needed.

Defensive end: The staff is looking to improve the depth here, get stronger up front, and build upon the success from 2010. Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, and Micanor Regis will all be seniors.

NORTH CAROLINA

Tailback: Injuries depleted this group in 2010, and Anthony Elzy, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn were both seniors. Ryan Houston was able to redshirt and will return as a fifth-year senior, but the Tar Heels need more dependable runners and a foundation for the future.

Defensive line: The Tar Heels have to prepare for some departures, especially on the interior, where all four players on the two-deep roster in 2010 were juniors.

Secondary: UNC will have to replace three starters in the secondary this spring, and three backups this year were juniors. Because of the NCAA investigation, this is a group in which backups had to develop quickly, so there are some experienced younger players, but the group still needs to reload.

Tight end: The loss of Zach Pianalto and his backup, Ed Barham, leaves the position thin.

VIRGINIA

Offensive line: With starting right guard B.J. Cabbell gone, starting center Anthony Mihota a senior, and starting left guard Austin Pasztor a senior, the staff has to prepare for some departures. Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi are talented young players, but the rotation needs more of them.

Defensive line: End Zane Parr’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft hurt the position’s depth, and the Cavs will also have to replace John-Kevin Dolce at tackle. Three other players in the two-deep will be rising seniors, and with Virginia switching back to a 4-3 defense under Mike London, the Cavs have to rebuild up front.

Secondary: Cornerback is of particular concern, as Chase Minnifield will be a senior, and starter Mike Parker will graduate.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: The early departures of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans to the NFL left David Wilson as the only tailback with any significant experience. Overall, the Hokies have four tailbacks on their current roster.

Defensive line: The Hokies will have to replace redshirt senior starters Steven Friday and John Graves, and starting left end Chris Drager will be a redshirt senior this year.

Wide receiver/tight end: Starters Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale will be seniors, and tight end Andre Smith will graduate.

Secondary: Half the players on the two-deep roster against Stanford were either juniors or seniors, and the Hokies will have to replace rover Davon Morgan and cornerback Rashad Carmichael.

What are they thinking?!

January, 14, 2011
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Maybe I'm the one who's a little off. I've got plenty of friends, family, colleagues -- and readers -- who can vouch for that. But ...

This has been a curious offseason in the ACC:
  • Two coaches with winning records, clean programs and bowl-bound players were fired. North Carolina's Butch Davis, who is still tangled up in an NCAA investigation that derailed the season for at least half his starting lineup, continues to coach.
  • Maryland AD Kevin Anderson made a "business decision" to fire the ACC's Coach of the Year and replaced him with the Big East Coach of the Year.
  • Clemson coach Dabo Swinney fired his young offensive coordinator and hired one with one year of collegiate experience. He fired a running backs coach and replaced him with a former receivers coach who has never coached running backs.
  • Miami coach Al Golden hired an offensive coordinator -- Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch -- with the same amount of collegiate experience as Clemson's new coordinator, and even most NFL experts don't know a thing about him. (And P.S., that one season Fisch was Minnesota's offensive coordinator? The Gophers ranked No. 111 in rushing offense, No. 109 in total offense, and No. 100 in scoring offense).
  • Wait, Miami hired Temple's coach?
  • Boston College has a chance to inject some life into its offense, but instead it is more likely to promote somebody from within as its offensive coordinator.
  • Three players -- Georgia Tech offensive tackle Nick Claytor, safety Jerrard Tarrant, and Clemson running back Jamie Harper have all decided to leave school early to enter the NFL draft. If you're not a first-round pick, stay in school -- unless you're Darren Evans and have a wife and kid, or some other special circumstance. If any of those guys do, I apologize because I'm not aware of it.

Am I the only one really scratching my head over these moves? Now, I could be wrong and all of these decisions and hires might raise the ACC to unprecedented heights. Two new head coaches, four new offensive coordinators -- maybe they'll be just the spark the conference needs to push it into national relevance. Maybe all of those unheralded NFL hopefuls will go on to have long, lucrative professional careers and donate to my kid's college fund.

Right now, though? One word comes to mind: Gamble.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 13, 2011
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Gotta be honest, it's much easier to find hoops headlines these days in ACC country ...

Georgia Tech OT to enter NFL draft

January, 12, 2011
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Georgia Tech junior offensive tackle Nick Claytor said Wednesday that he plans to forgo his senior season and enter the 2011 NFL draft.

Claytor started 10 games and helped the Yellow Jackets lead the nation in rushing offense in 2010. A Gainesville (Ga.) native who now lives in Atlanta, Claytor played in 35 career games and started 15.

At Gainesville High School, Claytor was considered one of the top offensive line prospects in the state. He came to Tech in 2007 and redshirted as a true freshman. Claytor’s first career start came Nov. 1, 2008 against Florida State.

Spiller gets his shot; GT's Smith out

December, 5, 2009
12/05/09
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TAMPA, Fla. -- No need for Clemson fans to panic over running back C.J. Spiller's brief departure. A school spokesman said it's been routine for him to head into the locker room around that time in the first quarter to get a shot for his turf toe.

One other quick observation. It looks like Georgia Tech is doing just fine on the offensive line without starting left tackle Phil Smith. He suffered a lower leg injury and will not return. Nick Claytor came in, but it looks like they moved him to the right side. Georgia Tech continues to run the ball well, but has struggled to throw it.

Ranking the ACC units: Offensive lines

July, 20, 2009
7/20/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Position rankings today will include who has what up front. While it's not exactly glamorous, it wins games.

Let's start with the offensive lines.

1. Florida State -- Ah, it's amazing what a year can do, no? At this point last season, I had the Noles ranked No. 12. That's right, and I'd do it again. There wasn't a senior in the group, and they were the youngest O-line in the FBS with a lot to prove. It was a work in progress, and the tight ends had to help out, but Rick Trickett did a heck of a job, and I take partial credit for the motivation. You're welcome, coach. Now this group, led by Rodney Hudson, Ryan McMahon and Andrew Datko could be one of the best in the country.

2. Boston College -- Four starters return who started all 14 games last year, including potential All-ACC candidates Anthony Castonzo and Matt Tennant. It took some time for this group to come together after Castonzo moved from right tackle to left, Thomas Claiborne was a defensive lineman who moved to the right guard spot and Rich Lapham came off the bench in nine games in 2007. Once they got comfortable, they were a major factor in the success of true freshmen running backs Montel Harris and Josh Haden. It should only be better this year.

3. Wake Forest -- This should be a much-improved group, and deeper, especially with the return of Chris DeGeare, who missed last fall for academic reasons, at left tackle. Seven players with starting experience return to the offensive line and they have combined for 95 career starts. Russell Nenon, who moved to center after Trey Bailey broke his ankle last year, has solidified the position, and Jeff Griffin, who had been a starting tackle, is now comfortable at right guard. Barrett McMillin returns at guard.

4. Clemson -- This is where the problems began last year, and it should be part of the solution in 2009. In 2008, Clemson had to replace four starters. This year, all five starters return. Since 1963, Clemson has had a winning percentage of 76 percent when it returns five starters on the offensive line. Thomas Austin has starting experience at center and guard and should be one of the top offensive linemen in the 2010 NFL draft.

5. Virginia Tech -- The Hokies should be more athletic up front, and this unit goes eight deep, which might be the best depth they've had in the past two seasons. Ed Wang, who is entering his third season as a starter and Sergio Render, who is entering his fourth, are the veterans of a group that includes seven redshirt freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep. Beau Warren is expected to replace Ryan Shuman at center and Jaymes Brooks took over the right guard position and played well in the Orange Bowl in place of an ineligible Nick Marshman.

6. Miami -- Depth remains a concern, but veteran tackle Jason Fox is as dependable as they come, with 36 career starts. There were some tweaks to the line this past spring, as Matt Pipho will be the new starter at right tackle, and the staff is eager to see how he handles that role. A.J. Trump moved from right guard to center, and Joel Figueroa took over at right guard. The health of the starters will be key through the tough stretch to start the season.

7. Georgia Tech -- There is definitely potential here, but first the Jackets have to replace Andrew Gardner and David Brown, which they started to do last season when that duo got hurt. Then they have to keep everyone healthy, which didn't happen this spring. With Dan Voss, Nick Claytor and Cord Howard back for summer camp, and Joseph Gilbert having started 12 games last year, this group should improve and be more consistent this fall, but it will get even better as Paul Johnson's staff begins to recruit more athletic linemen.

8. Virginia -- There are no athletic freaks on the line like coach Al Groh usually finds, but it should still be a solid group. Four starters return, including senior right tackle Will Barker, who has 37 starts. Junior B.J. Cabbell at right guard was a solid blocker last year in his first season as starter, as was Jack Shields, who improved as the season progressed. Sophomore Austin Pasztor moved into the starting lineup against Maryland and sophomore Landon Bradley was Eugene Monroe's backup.

9. NC State -- The good news is that the Pack have plenty of upperclassmen to depend on, and four of the five starters have combined to start 60 games. The only player listed as a current starter who has never started is redshirt senior Andy Barbee, who has spent the previous three years as a reserve center but has now moved to guard. Behind those veterans are several players who redshirted last year and will be given an equal opportunity for playing time.

10. North Carolina -- The Tar Heels took a hit early last month when starter Aaron Stahl decided to forgo his final year of eligibility to "move forward with the next phase of [his] life." His experience will be tough to replace, but there are a handful of players who had a good spring and will compete for his spot. Kyle Jolly, who is entering his third year as a starter, Alan Pelc, who earned a starting job at guard last year, and Lowell Dyer, who has started at center each of the past two seasons, will be the leaders of the line.

11. Maryland -- The Terps lost five of their top seven offensive linemen, including three starters, and the development of their replacements will go a long way in determining how their season unfolds. Despite the graduation of longtime center Edwin Williams, it's the position of least concern as the staff is confident in the leadership and playing abilities of Phil Costa. There are also high expectations for left tackle Bruce Campbell, a physically gifted athlete.

12. Duke -- This has been a trouble spot for the Blue Devils for years, and it's a work-in-progress for coach David Cutcliffe. This year should be another challenge as Duke has to replace three starters after making some progress last year. Center Bryan Morgan is the anchor of the group and enters his second season as a starter and is the only player back in his original position. Kyle Hill moved from left guard to left tackle, so this group will have a whole new look.

Georgia Tech's offensive line working to get healthy, improve

June, 15, 2009
6/15/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It was a downright miserable 20th birthday for Georgia Tech offensive tackle Nick Claytor, who spent April 1 in an Ohio hospital where he underwent surgery for a ruptured disc in his back. It was still better, though, than going through another season with the scary pain and numbness on his left side.

Claytor was in the hospital for about four days, and he wasn't the only starting offensive lineman at Georgia Tech who spent more time this offseason recovering than he did playing football. Center Dan Voss, who fell awkwardly on his shoulder against Mississippi State last year and said "it just popped out," was also held out of spring drills, along with senior guard Cord Howard, who missed most of the practices.

Even though Georgia Tech featured the No. 4 rushing offense in the country last year, there was still room for improvement up front, and the offensive line remains a concern heading into summer camp. Some of the progress was slowed by the absences caused by injuries, but those within the program say it gave the backups some valuable reps that will in turn make the unit better and deeper in 2009.

"Last year we didn't play nearly as well as we needed to and had a lot of room for improvement," Voss said. "It was almost like there was nowhere to go but up for us. In the spring we really built a lot of depth, and although Nick and Cord and I were out for a lot of it, we were getting better in the film room, just by watching plays and taking a different point of view. And the guys who did play definitely got better with the reps. I think overall it will be a lot better offensive line next year."

The last thing Claytor is worried about is healing.

"I really, really, really want a championship," he said. "Getting healthy and getting back in shape, that's not even a goal -- that's going to happen. The goal is to win games."

Because Claytor's injury kept him sidelined for so long, though, he said he might be a little tentative until he gets hit for the first time this summer.

"When it's time to start hitting again, it will probably take a day, or one good shot from a linebacker or one of our ridiculous D-linemen," said Claytor, who has been lifting again, but isn't back to a full sprint yet. "Our D-linemen are so good. It will probably take one good shot from one of them to get me angry and back into it."

Voss wasn't allowed to do any lifting with his left arm, and spent most of the spring wearing a red jersey running on the practice field sideline affectionately known as "muscle beach." He said he expects to shake off the rust within the first two weeks of summer camp, and that he benefited from his time as a "player-coach" this offseason.

"With coach [Paul] Johnson, you're going to get better, especially during the spring," Voss said. "The O-line improved a lot. There were some people who didn't play much last year that got a lot of reps this spring. You could see a difference in how people move and how people react. It was bad for us to get hurt; it's never fun to get injured like that and get surgery, but the fact the rest of the line got better, it's good for everybody."

It's not like Georgia Tech's offensive line couldn't execute at all last year -- the Jackets averaged 273 rushing yards. But the front five didn't always give quarterback Josh Nesbitt enough time to throw, wasn't consistent about protecting him well or cutting down the linebackers and opening up lanes for the talented backfield.

Jonathan Dwyer can make defenders miss, but if the line makes its blocks, he can be that much better. Voss said there's no ceiling for the Yellow Jackets this fall, as long as everyone executes their assignments, starting up front.

"As an offensive line, the team will go as we do," he said. "If the offensive line plays well, we could have one of the great seasons at Georgia Tech. And if we don't do well, it could be a huge disappointment. We understand that."

SOS in the ACC

May, 26, 2009
5/26/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Each team is going to need a little bit of help this fall (some more than others). Here's a look at where everyone in the ACC needs the most help heading into summer camp:

BOSTON COLLEGE -- Quarterback. It's easily the biggest question mark in Chestnut Hill, and it will also be one of Frank Spaziani's first major decisions as head coach. Regardless of whom he picks -- Dominique Davis, Codi Boek or Justin Tuggle -- experience will be at a minimum.

CLEMSON -- Wide receivers. Somebody needs to help Jacoby Ford, and Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham are no longer around to do it. Xavier Dye didn't quite have the consistency he'd hoped for this spring. Marquan Jones and Terrence Ashe could also be factors.

DUKE -- Offensive line. The Blue Devils lost three starters there and moved a fourth (Kyle Hill from left guard to left tackle), so it will have an entirely new look. The one player back in his original position is center Bryan Morgan.

FLORIDA STATE -- Receivers. FSU is waiting until the legal process unfolds to determine the length of Rod Owens' suspension, and it's uncertain how quickly Taiwan Easterling will be cleared to play after an injury to his Achilles. Bert Reed, Louis Givens and Jarmon Fortson will be heavily depended upon.

GEORGIA TECH -- Linemen. The Yellow Jackets have to replace three of four starters on the defensive line, and injuries to Cord Howard, Dan Voss and Nick Claytor slowed the progress on the offensive line this spring.

MARYLAND -- Offensive line. The Terps lost three starters and will have four players in new positions. Phil Costa should be the leader of an otherwise inexperienced group.

MIAMI -- Linebacker depth. There were a few position changes, and Colin McCarthy missed the spring. Sean Spence is proven, but depth remains a concern.

NORTH CAROLINA -- Receivers. This group had to be completely rebuilt, as UNC lost players who accounted for 17 of 21 receiving touchdowns last year. Greg Little had a good spring and should be the leader now, and freshman Joshua Adams benefitted from enrolling early.

NC STATE -- Safety. This is coach Tom O'Brien's biggest concern, and the Pack need Javon Walker, who tore his ACL and missed the spring, back and healthy. Clem Johnson played well last year despite being hindered by several injuries. O'Brien is looking for more from Jimmaul Simmons and Justin Byers.

VIRGINIA -- Linebackers. The backups to Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim rarely played, as Al Groh wanted to keep his best players on the field. Darren Childs, Steve Greer, Aaron Taliaferro, Cam Johnson, and Darnell Carter will have to grow up quickly.

VIRGINIA TECH -- Kicker. For the third straight year, Frank Beamer is in search of a new kicker, this time to replace Dustin Keys. Matt Waldron was the leading candidate out of the spring, but the competition is wide open.

WAKE FOREST -- Linebackers. Gone are Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux and Chantz McClinic. Introducing Gelo Orange. Yes, that's his name. Orange, along with Hunter Haynes, Jonathan Jones and a host of others have some big shoes to fill.

Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech

May, 19, 2009
5/19/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

After winning nine games and beating Georgia on the road in Paul Johnson's first season, it would seem on the surface that Georgia Tech should be getting as much attention as Virginia Tech in the offseason and preseason. After all, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech were technically Coastal Division co-champions in 2008.

The Jackets don't deserve it, though -- at least not yet.

That's because the difference is up front.

What separates Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech right now (in addition to the Hokies' 20-17 win last year in Blacksburg) is their offensive and defensive lines. Even though the Jackets had the No. 4 rushing offense in the country last year, they didn't have the best offensive line.

Progress was slow in that area this spring, as senior guard Cord Howard missed most of the spring, starting center Dan Voss missed all of the spring after shoulder surgery, and Nick Claytor, who started at tackle last year after David Brown went down with an injury, missed all of spring and had back surgery. And they've got to replace three of four starters on the defensive line. Derrick Morgan, though, is extremely talented and was overshadowed by his senior teammates last year.

In Blacksburg, the offensive line should finally be a strength, and the coaching staff seems excited about having more athletic players up front, many who were former tight ends. Defensive end is probably Bud Foster's biggest question mark heading into the summer, as there's just not a lot of depth there. What the Hokies don't have this year is Dustin Keys, and they needed him last year for the game-winning 21-yard field goal against Georgia Tech. (Well, they needed Keys and two costly 15-yard penalties on that drive.)

Both of these teams will be contending for the Coastal Division title again, but if Georgia Tech is going to improve upon last season, it's going to have to make significant strides this summer in the trenches -- something Virginia Tech began to do this spring.

Georgia Tech spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009
5/07/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2008 overall record: 9-4

2008 conference record: 5-3, Coastal Division Co-Champions

Returning starters

Offense: 9, defense: 8, kicker/punter 2

Top returners

RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Demaryius Thomas, QB Josh Nesbitt, RB Roddy Jones, C Dan Voss, DE Derrick Morgan, S Morgan Burnett, S Cooper Taylor, K/P Scott Blair

Key losses

OT Andrew Gardner, DE Michael Johnson, DT Darryl Richard, DT Vance Walker, CB Jahi Word-Daniels

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing:
Passing: Josh Nesbitt* (808 yards)
Receiving: Demaryius Thomas* (627 yards)
Tackles: Morgan Burnett* (93)
Sacks: Michael Johnson (9)
Interceptions: Burnett* (7)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Jacksonville State
Sept. 10 Clemson
Sept. 17 at Miami
Sept. 26 North Carolina
Oct. 3 at Mississippi State
Oct. 10 at Florida State
Oct. 17 Virginia Tech
Oct. 24 at Virginia
Oct. 31 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 7 Wake Forest
Nov. 14 at Duke
Nov. 21 BYE
Nov. 28 Georgia

1. Significantly more depth at the skill positions. With the addition of Louisville transfer Anthony Allen, plus Marcus Wright and Embry Peeples, who played as true freshmen, and a few redshirt freshmen wide receivers, the Jackets have a lot of answers off the bench. Unlike last year, the Jackets now go three-deep at quarterback, as Tevin Washington, who redshirted last year, has shown this spring he can play.

2. Leadership on defense. Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett have clearly established themselves as leaders and arguably the top defenders on the roster. Burnett wasn't noticed as much last season because of his supporting cast, but that should change this fall. Both could be among the best defenders in the ACC this fall.

3. Unprecedented depth in the secondary. Jerrard Tarrant was cleared from his suspension, and redshirt freshman Kamaron Riley should give the secondary a boost. Plus, the Jackets have three returning starters in the secondary. Cooper Taylor and Rashaad Reid were impressive as true freshmen and now they've got legitimate experience.

Fall questions

1. The offensive line. It remains the biggest concern, in part because injuries slowed the progress this spring. Senior guard Cord Howard missed most of the spring, starting center Dan Voss missed all of the spring after shoulder surgery, Nick Claytor, who started at tackle last year after David Brown went down with an injury, missed all of spring and had back surgery, and the line was the weak link last year.

2. The kicking game. In the spring game, the kickers were 1 of 5 on field goals, including Blair, who was 0-for-3. There are a few walk-ons, but they are his only competition. Blair handled both kicking and punting duties last year and Chandler Anderson missed all of spring practice after bout with appendicitis.

3. Defensive changes. Because the staff knows it's going to be thin there, it tweaked the defense a little a bit and made one of linebacker positions a hybrid defensive back/linebacker position called the wolf. How the players grasp that will be a question, as will whether or not it will help take some pressure off the new players up front.

Jackets' Bedford at heart of o-line this spring

April, 6, 2009
4/06/09
11:03
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech center Sean Bedford isn't about to utter one bad word about the Florida Gators -- not when he grew up in Gainesville, where his family attends church and is friends with "the Meyers and the Donovans."

Besides, Bedford, a preferred walk-on, is way too smart -- he's an aerospace engineering major who happens to be getting the most reps at No. 1 this spring. While much attention has been paid to the rebuilding Georgia Tech has to do on its defensive line, the Jackets' problems up front on offense have gone relatively unnoticed. With starters Dan Voss and Nick Claytor out this spring with injuries, lesser-known players like Bedford are getting a chance to make a name for themselves.

"Having guys like Dan Voss and Nick Claytor out right now, that obviously doesn't help our depth," Bedford said. "When you lose two starters like that, obviously you're going to be fighting an uphill battle. We've only got 12 guys practicing, so we're all getting a lot of reps.

"That's not a problem for anybody right now. When it's all said and done, we'll come out alright. A lot of guys who maybe wouldn't have gotten as much exposure are forced into that role right now. So I think we're all getting a good experience out of it."

At the heart of it is Bedford.

His classes currently include aircraft vehicle performance, systems dynamics and controls, aerospace structures, a circuits lab and business law (he's got minor in pre-law). At the end of the day, Bedford said learning Paul Johnson's playbook is much easier than studying for his classes.

"You don't sleep much," he said. "You don't get to go out as much as a lot of students. You have to stay in and do homework and really study a lot more. For me the biggest thing is just staying organized and staying on top of things. When you let things creep up on you, that's when it really gets difficult."

Bedford made the transition from defense last year, and got a lot of reps at the No. 2 spot, so he knows the offense.

"He's a guy that is all in," said Todd Spencer, the Jackets' co-offensive line coach. "He's one of those guys that has a zeal for excellence, he's got a volcanic ambition whatever he's doing, whether it's in the classroom, in the blocking shoots, walk through ... he's just a delight for coach (Mike) Sewak and I to be around."

Ironically, the first school to recruit him was Navy, while Johnson was still there. While Bedford could have gotten in to almost any school he wanted based on his academics, he grew up a Gator fan.

Urban Meyer's daughter, Nicole, plays volleyball with Bedford's sister, and is planning on attending Georgia Tech next year. In his room at home, Bedford has autographed pictures of himself with Meyer and Steve Spurrier. His family has had season tickets there for a while, and he can remember tailgating at the Swamp since he was about 10. This year, he made it back for the Ole Miss game, Florida's lone loss.

Bedford's world, though, is much bigger than college football, and he was ready to leave Gainesville.

"I wouldn't change it for the world," Bedford said of his decision to attend Georgia Tech. "This is exactly where I belong. This is exactly the kind of school I belong at, a smaller, more academically focused school. I wouldn't trade my teammates for anything."

Tech's Johnson talks spring ball, expectations

April, 1, 2009
4/01/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Last year, expectations were moderate to low for Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who brought a new offense and a new defense to Atlanta for a young team to digest quickly. After winning nine games and tying for the Coastal Division title, the bar has been raised for 2009.

The Yellow Jackets return almost every skill position player on offense and the bulk of the linebacker and secondary units. Still, it's a young group expecting to contend for the Coastal Division title.

With spring practice now underway, Johnson shared some thoughts on this year's team. Here are the highlights of our interview:

 
  Kelly Kline/Icon SMI
  Paul Johnson won nine games in his first season at Georgia Tech.

When you win nine games your first year, you set the bar pretty high. What does this team need to do this spring and summer to take it to the next level and win 10 or 11?

Paul Johnson: We've got to continue to do all the same things we've been doing, work hard and certainly there are a lot of areas we can improve in. We need to be more consistent. There were times last year that we played very well and times we didn't show up. We've got to become more consistent that way. I think most of our guys are going to be a year older, so hopefully they know what we expect from them, and I've been encouraged by the way they're working.

Do you think some of that inconsistency might have stemmed from the fact you had so many young kids?

PJ: Probably some of that is the case, maybe, but it's time to grow up now. We're still going to be young. We still only have six scholarship seniors on the team.

Wow, I didn't realize that. Was from attrition or what?

PJ: There just weren't that many guys in the class when we came. We have lost a few out of the class, probably three or four that would've been in the class, but there just wasn't very many of them. We've actually only got two of them that play.

What's the biggest difference you've noticed heading into your second season?

PJ: I think the attitude and the expectation level. I think everybody understands now what we're asking and what we're trying to do. It's a lot smoother that way. We can go a lot faster.

For those of us who can't break down film, how much better could the offense have been executed last year?

PJ: I think we could've done a lot better. Not just in offense, but in most categories. We certainly have to get better in special teams. I mean, that was awful. We're working hard on that this spring, the return game specifically. We left a lot of things out there offensively that we need to be able to take advantage of. We have to protect the passer better, we need to throw and catch better, the option part of it should get better, too, as we do it more. We've got all those guys coming back, we need to get better.

(Read full post)

Checking in on Georgia Tech

March, 27, 2009
3/27/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

A quick spring update from Atlanta, thanks to sports info guru Dean Buchan:

  • The Jackets have had two good practices in shells, including one in a steady rain. They're expecting rain through Sunday in Atlanta. They usually have access to the Georgia Dome in bad weather, but can't use it this weekend because the city's marathon is using it for their expo. They also have access to the Falcon's training facility in Flowery Branch, but Paul Johnson doesn't mind practicing in the rain, as long as there isn't lightning.
  • Senior center Dan Voss is out all spring after shoulder surgery and Nick Claytor, a probable starter at tackle, is out all spring with a back injury. In place of Voss has been junior walk-on Sean Bedford, an aerospace engineer major, and redshirt freshman Nick McRae.
  • One of the best competitions going on is for the starting jobs at cornerback. Junior Mario Butler started last year, but rising sophomore Rashaad Reid and sophomore Jerrard Tarrant (suspended all of last season) are both very good.

I'll be talking to the head man next week, so more to come then.

Georgia Tech's Christmas wish list

December, 22, 2008
12/22/08
1:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech's sports information office got creative and asked a few of the players where they were spending the holiday and what they hope to find under the tree. Some of them are funny, so I thought I'd share it:

Georgia Tech Wish List
PlayerWhere They're GoingGift They Hope to Get
Roddy Jones Birmingham, Ala. Playstation 3
Nick Claytor Toledo, Ohio A car
A.J. Smith Tampa, Fla. A job
Cord Howard Phenix City, Ala. Hunting equipment
Josh Nesbitt College Park, Ga. Some new all-black clothes
Morgan Burnett Wrightsville, Ga. The complete Ninja Turtles set
Jonathan Dwyer Maple Hill, N.C. Boosters (Very large inner quad
muscles like Brad Jefferson has)
Anthony Egbuniwe Greenville, S.C. Some new 23-inch rims for my car
Brad Jefferson Green County, Ga. The Gladiator action figure and a Gameboy Color
Richard Watson Tallahassee, Fla. A real vacation
Kyle Jackson McDonough, Ga. A 32-gig iPod touch
Darryl Richard Destrehan, La. Sleep

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