ACC: Olivier Vernon

Miami leads ACC draft contingent

April, 30, 2012
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Despite a 6-6 season in 2011, Miami led all ACC schools with six players getting selected during this past weekend's NFL draft. The ACC as a whole had 31 players selected, the third most among all conferences, behind the Big Ten (41) and, yes, the SEC (42).

NC State had five players taken, the second most among ACC schools. Neither the Hurricanes nor the Wolfpack had any players taken in the first two rounds. Duke and Maryland both had zero players drafted.

Luke Kuechly, as expected, got the ball rolling for the conference Thursday night, when the Panthers took the former Boston College inside linebacker ninth overall. I was a little surprised to see Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill, projected by many as a late first-rounder, fall all the way to the Jets at No. 43.

Here's a school-by-school breakdown of the draft, followed by a round-by-round breakdown:

Miami: 6
NC State: 5
Clemson: 4
FSU: 4
Wake Forest: 4
Virginia Tech: 3
UNC: 2
Georgia Tech: 1
Virginia: 1
Boston College: 1

FIRST ROUND
No. 9, Panthers: ILB Luke Kuechly, Boston College
No. 16, Jets: DE Quinton Coples, UNC
No. 31, Giants: RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech

SECOND ROUND
No. 38, Jaguars: DE Andre Branch, Clemson
No. 43, Jets: WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech
No. 52, Titans: OLB Zach Brown, UNC

THIRD ROUND
No. 64, Colts: TE Dwayne Allen, Clemson
No. 69, Bills: WR TJ Graham, NC State
No. 72, Dolphins: DE Olivier Vernon, Miami
No. 86, Steelers: LB Sean Spence, Miami
No. 93, Bengals: DT Brandon Thompson, Clemson
No. 94, Giants: CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech

FOURTH ROUND
No. 96, Rams: WR Chris Givens, Wake Forest
No. 97, Dolphins: RB Lamar Miller, Miami
No. 100, Browns: WR Travis Benjamin, Miami
No. 105, Bills: OLB Nigel Bradham, FSU
No. 113, Cowboys: OLB Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest
No. 115, Titans: CB Coty Sensabaugh, Clemson
No. 117, 49ers: G Joe Looney, Wake Forest

FIFTH ROUND
No. 144, Bills: T Zebrie Sanders, FSU
No. 163, Packers: OLB Terrell Manning, NC State

SIXTH ROUND
No. 152, Cowboys: WR Danny Coale, Virginia Tech
No. 176, Jaguars: CB Mike Harris, FSU
No. 187, Jets: S Josh Bush, Wake Forest
No. 198, Ravens: WR Tommy Streeter, Miami
No. 200, Eagles: G Brandon Washington, Miami

SEVENTH ROUND
No. 210, Vikings: ILB Audie Cole, NC State
No. 225, Seahawks: DE JR Sweezy, NC State
No. 237, 49ers: DE Cam Johnson, Virginia
No. 239, Giants: DT Markus Kuhn, NC State
No. 241, Packers: T Andrew Datko, FSU

Mocks aplenty on NFL draft eve

April, 25, 2012
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It's NFL draft eve, and it's the last Wednesday before the event, meaning one last chance for our team of analysts to predict how this weekend will unfold.

Mel Kiper Insider and Todd McShay Insider reveal their final draft boards, and each has a mock Insider, with McShay and the rest of the Scouts Inc. team going seven rounds full Insider.

Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, naturally, tops the list, going No. 5 to the Buccaneers. North Carolina end Quinton Coples is next off the board at No. 19, to the Bears, with wideout Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech going two spots later to the Bengals.

How do the rest of the ACC's draft-eligible players stand? Let's take a look:

ROUND 2
No. 36, Buccaneers: RB David Wilson (Virginia Tech)
No. 50, Bears: OLB Zach Brown (UNC)
No. 58, Texans: DE Andre Branch (Clemson)
No. 59, Packers: RB Lamar Miller (Miami)

ROUND 3
No. 64, Colts: DT Brandon Thompson (Clemson)
No. 68, Buccaneers: CB Jayron Hosley (Virginia Tech)
No. 72, Dolphins: OT Zebrie Sanders (FSU)
No. 76, Texans: TE Dwayne Allen (Clemson)
No. 80, Cardinals: DE Olivier Vernon (Miami)
No. 82, Titans: WR Chris Givens (Wake Forest)
No. 91, Ravens: G Joe Looney (Wake Forest)
No. 95, Raiders:
DE Cam Johnson (Virginia)

ROUND 4
No. 100, Browns: OLB Nigel Bradham (FSU)
No. 124, Bills: OLB Sean Spence (Miami)
No. 125, 49ers: CB Chase Minnifield (Virginia)
No. 128, Vikings: OLB Terrell Manning (NC State)
No. 129, Raiders: OLB Kyle Wilber (Wake Forest)
No. 130, Ravens: WR Danny Coale (Virginia Tech)

ROUND 5
No. 154, Jets: WR Tommy Streeter (Miami)
No. 157, Falcons: WR TJ Graham (NC State)
No. 159, Steelers: G Brandon Washington (Miami)
No. 162, Saints: CB Coty Sensabaugh (Clemson)

ROUND 6
No. 176, Jaguars: DT Marcus Forston (Miami)
No. 178, Bills: ILB Audie Cole (NC State)
No. 188, Broncos: DE Rennie Moore (Clemson)
No. 191, Bengals: WR Travis Benjamin (Miami)
No. 197, Packers: OT Andrew Datko (FSU)
No. 205, Browns: G Antoine McClain (Clemson)

ROUND 7
No. 209, Rams: WR Dwight Jones (UNC)
No. 240, Steelers: DE Matt Conrath (Virginia)
No. 242, Jets: TE George Bryan (NC State)
No. 243, Packers: RB Davin Meggett (Maryland)
No. 245, Browns: DT Markus Kuhn (NC State)
No. 250, Chargers: CB Donnie Fletcher (BC)

Here's a breakdown by school of the 37 ACC players that Scouts Inc. thinks will be drafted:

Miami: 7
Clemson: 6
NC State: 5
Virginia Tech: 3
UNC: 3
Virginia: 3
Wake Forest: 3
FSU: 3
BC: 2
Georgia Tech: 1
Maryland: 1
Duke: 0
Mel Kiper took a different approach Wednesday to potential NFL Draft outcomes, listing who he would pick if he were selecting for each team in Rounds 1-3, Insider then compiling those players into a "best possible" scenario Insider for each franchise.

The tally revealed 14 players from ACC schools in the first three rounds, and, to change things up a bit, we'll list them here in order of the selection Kiper has them going to their respective teams.

No. 9, Panthers: LB Luke Kuechly (BC)
No. 12, Seahawks: DE Quinton Coples (UNC)
No. 38, Jaguars: WR Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech)
No. 45, Cowboys: OLB Andre Branch (Clemson)
No. 46, Eagles: LB Zach Brown (UNC)
No. 51, Eagles: TE Dwayne Allen (Clemson)
No. 53, Bengals: CB Jayron Hosley (Virginia Tech)
No. 60, Ravens: OLB Terrell Manning (N.C. State)
No. 63, Giants: RB David Wilson (Va. Tech)
No. 65, Rams: RB Lamar Miller (Miami)
No. 69, Redskins: OT Zebrie Sanders (FSU)
No. 84, Falcons: DE Olivier Vernon (Miami)
No. 86, Steelers: DT Brandon Thompson (Clemson)
No. 93, Patriots: WR Chris Givens (Wake Forest)

Kuechly has moved up a spot to No. 9 on Kiper's 25-man Big Board this week, Insider and Coples has dropped a spot to No. 15.

On Todd McShay's 32-man draft board, Kuechly is up three spots to No. 7, Insider Coples is down five spots to No. 14 and Hill has moved in at No. 30. Branch rounds out the ACC contingent at No. 31, having dropped two spots.

Miami pro day notes

March, 12, 2012
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A trio of Miami players broke the 4.5 barrier in the 40-yard dash at the school's pro day, but two of the fastest Hurricanes decided to sit out the 40 on Thursday.

Lamar Miller and Tommy Streeter, both content with their 4.40 performances at last month's NFL scouting combine, participated only in position drills, with both performing the "L" drill and Miller participating in the vertical jump.
"I think I did pretty good," Miller said, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I had a very good day catching the ball out of the backfield, doing the position drills."

Miller, whose 40-time led all running backs at the combine, is projected as a late-first or early-second round draft pick. Streeter figures to be a mid-round pick.

Leading the way for Hurricanes runners at their pro day was LaRon Byrd (4.41), followed by Lee Chambers (4.43) and Ben Bruneau (4.48). Defensive end Olivier Vernon, one of five Miami players to declare for the draft early, ran a 4.64 40, up from his 4.80 in Indianapolis.

Chambers topped all in the vertical, at 40.5 inches, with Bruneau just behind him there, as well, with a 39.5-inch jump. Jacory Harris and Travis Benjamin opted to rely on most of their combine numbers.

Linebacker Sean Spence, who benched 225 pounds just 12 times at the combine, told reporters a bone bruise in his left shoulder was the reason for the low number, saying he can usually do 19 reps.

Eight Miami players had participated in last month's combine, and 26 worked out at the school's pro day

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 7, 2012
2/07/12
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The official invite list for the NFL combine is out. Every school but Duke is represented, and there are a total of 43 former players from the conference who will participate, including Miami's entire starting lineup from 2011. Well, ok, not really, but it's a pretty big hit for the Canes. Best of luck to all of these guys at the next level.

Here are your ACC representatives:

BOSTON COLLEGE (1)
CLEMSON (6)
FLORIDA STATE (6)
GEORGIA TECH (1)
MARYLAND (1)
MIAMI (8)
NORTH CAROLINA (6)
NC STATE (5)
VIRGINIA TECH (4)
VIRGINIA (2)
WAKE FOREST (4)

Suspensions finally over at Miami

October, 26, 2011
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On Sunday, a day after Miami defensive tackle Micanor Regis had served his one-game suspension against Maryland for punching a North Carolina player below the belt the previous week, coach Al Golden said his top interior lineman had “paid a price.”

So has Miami – until now.

A series of NCAA-related suspensions that began in the season opener against Maryland helped derail Miami’s championship hopes this season, and just as the Hurricanes thought their off-field troubles were finally over last week, the misconduct by Regis was captured on video and brought to Golden’s attention. Now, finally, as the Hurricanes prepare this week to face Virginia on Thursday night, they do so with the most complete roster they have had since the preseason. For the first game this season, all of Miami’s players are eligible.

While several injuries still remain concerns, Golden said this week that he doesn’t anticipate any more players missing time this year for disciplinary reasons. At the closest to full strength it’s probably going to be this year, Miami has the potential to finish the season strong, but it will need some help from Virginia Tech’s remaining opponents to have a meaningful stake in the Coastal Division race. Regardless of whether or not the Canes actually make it to Charlotte, there has been noticeable improvement in back-to-back wins that indicates Miami is a contender in the ACC when all of the starters are in the lineup on a consistent basis.

“We’ve played a tough schedule amidst a transition year, amidst a lot of adversity that we could not foresee coming,” Golden said. “There’s been a lot of transition, there’s been a lot of inconsistency, and now we’re starting to get some traction. They’re starting to understand the process, they’re starting to understand what it means to be consistent and to take care of your business every day. They’re starting to see results.”

Those results added up to wins against North Carolina and No. 22 Georgia Tech in each of the past two weeks. Both wins kept the Canes alive in the Coastal Division race, and Miami faces two more divisional opponents in Virginia and Duke before traveling to rival Florida State on Nov. 12. Defensive end Olivier Vernon served a six-game suspension as a result of the NCAA investigation and didn’t return until last weekend against Georgia Tech. Standout safety Ray-Ray Armstrong was suspended until the Virginia Tech game. And there were a total of eight players suspended for the season-opening loss to Maryland.

“I think we all know they were a big factor,” Golden said. “I don’t think there’s any question when you look at the players involved and of course the impact they’ve made. To say that Jacory Harris, or Travis Benjamin or Sean Spence or Ray Armstrong – any of those guys – wouldn’t have made a difference early in the season, I think it’s fair for us to say they would have made a difference.”

Over the past few weeks, they have made a difference. Spence played in the middle against Georgia Tech and led the team with10 tackles. He also had six solo stops and a tackle for a loss of two yards. Against UNC, he led all defensive players with 14 tackles, including a crucial sack late in the fourth quarter for a loss of seven yards. Harris has improved dramatically, throwing 12 touchdown passes to four interceptions. He threw three touchdown passes in the road win at North Carolina.

"I feel like we're pretty good right now," Harris said. "We've got everybody back and I feel like the guys who were missing after the one-game suspension were a big part in helping us move forward. Now that everyone is back, we do have a complete team, but at the same time we have to take care of the little things in order for us to be where we want to be."

Of course, it's hard not to wonder where they could have been this year had there not been so many suspensions.

"Of course we could say it would have been a different season, but at the same time, if we would've just taken care of business we'd be in a great position right now," Harris said. "Obviously we didn't do that, but having these guys back, we can still have a good season moving forward."

A win against Virginia would guarantee the Canes of a winning record in the ACC in Golden's first season. Miami is undefeated against Virginia in Sun Life Stadium, but was ranked No. 22 last year when it lost to the Cavaliers on the road. Virginia coach Mike London said he has noticed a change in Miami in recent weeks.

“You see a lot of things that Al has got going that can add up to where they play hard on defense, run around,” London said. “The quarterback is throwing the ball down the field to some of the skilled receivers; their special teams has become a weapon for them also. I can imagine that with having guys back they will just add to the fact that they are getting better.”

They had little choice but to get better. A 2-3 start at Miami is a big price to pay.
Luke Fickell & Al GoldenUS Presswire, Icon SMIOhio State's Luke Fickell, left, and Miami's Al Golden have had challenging starts to their new jobs.
As college football suffered through an offseason of scandal, two programs found themselves squarely in the crosshairs.

Ohio State made headlines for the wrong reasons throughout much of the spring and summer, especially during an eight-day stretch when coach Jim Tressel resigned and starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor left the program. The notoriety then shifted to Miami after a Yahoo! Sports investigation revealed damaging allegations by former booster Nevin Shapiro.

It brings us to Saturday night, when the Buckeyes and Hurricanes will meet on the field.

Some folks are calling it the Ineligi-Bowl.

Both teams are short-handed -- Ohio State more than Miami -- and both are dealing with change and intense scrutiny. Both are facing potential NCAA penalties and uncertain futures, but first-year coaches Luke Fickell and Al Golden are trying to keep the focus on the field.

Bloggers Heather Dinich (ACC) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down a unique matchup at Sun Life Stadium.

Adam Rittenberg: HD, hope you had a better summer than the Canes or Buckeyes. Both programs have dealt with a lot of recent distractions. Miami dropped its opener to Maryland but regains the services of quarterback Jacory Harris and others from suspension. Ohio State still will be without three offensive starters and looked very shaky Saturday against Toledo. Before getting between the lines, let's look between the ears. How do you think these teams are approaching this game from a mental standpoint? Does one squad have an edge?

Heather Dinich: The only edge I see, Ritt, is the fact that Miami had a bye week to move on from its loss to Maryland, while that scare from Toledo is pretty fresh in the Buckeyes’ heads. Then again, it could have been just the wake-up call Ohio State needed. Plus, Miami has to be recharged a bit and excited about getting several of its players back from the opening-game suspension. Miami was without eight players against the Terps, and now five of those players return, including Harris. Most notably, the defense should get a boost up front from the return of linebacker Sean Spence, defensive end Adewale Ojomo, and defensive tackle Marcus Forston. The Canes were beat up front by Maryland, but the return of those guys should give them some more confidence heading into the Ohio State game. What about the Buckeyes? Two wins over teams they should beat. Are they ready for their first real test of the season?

AR: Ohio State's first real test actually came Saturday against Toledo, although few thought the Rockets would challenge the Buckeyes. Toledo found gaps in Ohio State's secondary and held the Buckeyes to just six points in the second half. Ohio State will have to play better in all three phases against Miami, especially in the kicking game after the Canes recorded two returns for touchdowns last year in Columbus. The first road game always presents challenges, especially for an Ohio State team dealing with significant personnel losses on both sides of the ball. Line play is an area the Buckeyes must lean on Saturday night, as Ohio State has proven veterans on both sides like center Mike Brewster and defensive lineman John Simon. But with so many key players out, the Buckeyes will be challenged.

Speaking of getting key players back, what's your take on the short suspensions for Harris and the others? Ohio State fans are livid that the Tat-4 remains out while Shapiro's pals are back on the field this week.

HD: Well, fortunately for the sport, there really is no precedent for this, so it seems like the only thing you can really compare in these two cases is the monetary value of their infractions. In Miami's cases, the harshest punishments (six games and four games), were reserved for violations that occurred when Olivier Vernon and Ray-Ray Armstrong were still recruits. Vernon has to repay more than $1,200, Armstrong (four games) and Dyron Dye (four games) were both less than $800. The one-game suspensions correlate to players whose violations all amounted to less than $500. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the Buckeyes are working on repaying between $1,000-$2,500. I think it's safe to say the Buckeyes' violations were more costly in more ways than one, as they should be.

All of that aside, though, there's only one thing that will matter on Saturday, and that's who wins. Miami hasn't started out 0-2 since 1978. Who, in your opinion, needs this win more?

AR: Yeah, I think the folks in Columbus are more upset that three players who took money at a charity function -- running back Jordan Hall and defensive backs Travis Howard and Corey Brown -- are serving longer suspensions than those who took benefits from Shapiro. But whatever. Both teams really need this win, but I'll make the case for Ohio State. Unlike Golden, who shouldn't have to worry about his job security (whether he wants to stay at Miami is another question), Fickell and his staff have no guarantees beyond this season. While coaches need the players to perform well in the Big Ten no matter what, this is the type of game that can build confidence or reduce it. Any road win boosts a team's morale, but beating Miami without so many key pieces would increase the Buckeyes' belief that they can continue to achieve their top goals despite all the turmoil. I certainly see the urgency for Miami, too.

Let's talk about Jacory Harris. I'll be kind and say he was very bad last year at The Shoe. If not for his interceptions, Miami could have made things very interesting. How do you think Harris fares against an Ohio State defense with a bunch of new starters, particularly in the secondary?

HD: Four turnovers was the reason Miami lost this game last year. I would be surprised if Jacory doesn't play better. I spent some time down at Miami this summer and could sense some genuine confidence in Harris from first-year offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and from Golden. They backed that up when they named him the starter after the loss to Maryland. I know Stephen Morris is the fan favorite, but Jacory's experience alone will help alleviate some of the mistakes and confusion that came in the loss to the Terps. This is Jacory's last season to go out a winner and redeem himself. I believe he is truly a more confident player, but how that translates in his first start since a dreadful performance in the Sun Bowl last year remains to be seen. He still has a lot to prove. Of the four ACC teams lining up against ranked opponents this weekend, though, I give the Canes the best chance to win. I'll save the score for Thursday's picks, but I'm sticking with the ACC in this one. I'll give you the last word, though, since I know you'll need it to defend the Buckeyes.

AR: Thank you, ma'am. Defending Ohio State after last week's performance isn't easy, but Toledo looks like a pretty solid team, and coach Tim Beckman definitely had the Rockets ready to play. Given the players missing on offense, Ohio State will have to win this game by playing TresselBall -- ironically without Tressel. It'll be all about defense, the run game, controlling field position on special teams and limiting mistakes. The Buckeyes need a much sharper defensive performance and I think they'll get one, especially against Harris, whom I don't trust at all to limit mistakes. The kick and punt coverage teams have to be sharper than they were last year and against Toledo. It will be tough for Fickell's crew, but there are enough leaders on that team who know how to win tough games. I'll also wait to reveal my score Thursday, but I'm going with the Scarlet and Gray.

Turnovers continue to plague Miami

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
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With all of the hoopla surrounding Miami's NCAA investigation, and all of the talk about the eight suspended players for the season opener against Maryland, in the end, it was a familiar foe that helped bring Miami down: turnovers. All four of them added up to points for the Terps in the form of three touchdowns and one field goal.

Yes, Miami's young and inexperienced defensive linemen got pushed around by Maryland's mediocre offensive line. The loss of Marcus Forston, Adewale Ojomo and Olivier Vernon up front absolutely had an impact on this game. But so did the two lost fumbles and two interceptions. The shadow that Miami has been trying so hard to shake this offseason crept back over the shoulders of quarterback Stephen Morris on fourth down in the final minute, when Maryland cornerback Cameron Chism made an interception and ran it back 54 yards to end Miami's hopes of a comeback. A turnover late in the second half was equally as devastating, as Chism stripped the ball from tailback Mike James and Joe Vellano recovered it for a 30-yard touchdown return. The play gave the Terps a 20-14 lead.

The shorthanded Miami team that showed up in College Park with just 63 players on its travel squad instead of the ACC's usual 72 was good enough to beat Maryland -- especially considering that Maryland only scored one touchdown in seven trips inside the red zone.

"We had enough on this trip to win this game and we didn't make the plays," Miami coach Al Golden said after the game. "Maryland did, give them credit. And again, [Maryland] did a better job in the penalty/turnover department and won the game."

Penalties and turnovers are an all-too familiar storyline for Miami.

So is the quarterback competition, which will continue through the bye week and leading up to the Ohio State game. For the majority of the game, Morris performed well and looked more than capable of being Miami's starting quarterback this season. Morris accounted for three of the turnovers, though, including two picks that were returned for touchdowns and one fumble that occurred when he was sacked. (The second interception came on the last play of the game).

"[The turnovers] are unacceptable," he said. "That's the only word I can say from an offensive standpoint as the quarterback. It's just not supposed to happen. We've got to be on top of that and we just need to work on that in practice and we'll be fine in two weeks."

Five of the eight suspended players will return in time for the Ohio State game. But it won't matter if the Canes can't hang onto the ball. The reason they lost last year?

Four turnovers.

Miami can still be a contender

August, 30, 2011
8/30/11
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Miami can finally move on.

The biggest question of the offseason in the ACC -- who will play for the Hurricanes and who will not when Miami lines up against Maryland on Labor Day -- has been answered.

The NCAA has mandated that defensive lineman Olivier Vernon will sit out six games, while Ray-Ray Armstrong and tight end Dyron Dye will miss four games apiece. Quarterback Jacory Harris, Sean Spence, Travis Benjamin, Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo all must sit out one game.

Cornerbacks Brandon McGee and JoJo Nicolas, defensive tackle Micanor Regis, safety Vaughn Telemaque and linebacker Marcus Robinson have been cleared by the NCAA to play.

There are your 13 players whose eligibility was in question.

Now, not only can Miami prepare for Maryland this week confident in its starting lineup, it can also move forward knowing the majority of its roster will be intact for the most critical games of the season. This could have been a lot worse for the Canes, but they’ve got a capable starting quarterback in Stephen Morris, and the majority of top players will miss no more than the season opener. Maryland is Miami’s lone conference opponent in the first four weeks, so the Canes will almost be at full strength when they need to be the most -- for the Oct. 8 game at Virginia Tech.

Miami is still very much in the Coastal Division race.

The Canes’ season could have been over before it started, but this is a very manageable punishment for a team loaded with talent. It's not over yet -- the Hurricanes could still face more sanctions as the NCAA continues to investigate. There's no reason to believe this will be fully resolved faster than any of the other NCAA investigations, but as far as the impact it will have on the field this season, Labor Day will be the worst of it.

The biggest hits will obviously come against the Terps, but mainly on the defensive side, as the offense will be missing only two starters. Defensively, Andrew Smith steps in for Vernon. It’s not NFL talent, but Smith is experienced and more than capable of handling the job. He played in 11 games last season and had three sacks. Marcus Robinson, a senior who played in 10 games last season, is another veteran who fills in at the other end spot. Nicolas moved from corner to safety to take over for Armstrong, but Nicolas has played safety the majority of his career anyway -- including 10 starts at the position last season.

The biggest drop off will be at linebacker, where Jordan Futch replaces Spence, but we’re only talking about one game.

No, this is not an ideal way for Al Golden to start his career at Miami, but so far, these suspensions don’t look like they’ll stand in the way of him making a case to finish his first season strong.

Position of power in the ACC

August, 12, 2011
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Heading into the 2010 season, there was an abundance of talent at the running back position in the ACC, as five 1,000-yard rushers returned for the first time in league history. This season, the ACC is deep and talented at several positions, but not so much so that there is one overwhelming strength. Offensively, the receivers are probably the deepest, most proven group, and defensively, the defensive ends could be the most fearsome group.

Which one, though, will be the position of power in the ACC this fall?

Defensive ends:The ACC has earned a reputation as a defensive conference, and these players will do their best to uphold that tradition. Brandon Jenkins at Florida State and Quinton Coples at North Carolina should be two of the best in the country, but they’re hardly alone in their pass rushing abilities. Izaan Cross at Georgia Tech is a name ACC fans will know by the end of the season. He’s underrated and has a chance to finish the season with all-conference accolades. His teammate, Jason Peters, can do the same. Together they should help bring noticeable improvement to the Jackets’ defense this year.

North Carolina also has Donte Paige-Moss at the other end position, another player who has already caught the attention of NFL scouts. Adewale Ojomo and Olivier Vernon at Miami are two veteran standouts, and NC State’s Jeff Rieskamp and Virginia’s Cam Johnson are also among the best in the league. Andre Branch at Clemson should get more recognition this fall, especially with the early departure of Da’Quan Bowers, and Max Holloway at Boston College hasn’t reached his potential yet but began to make a name for himself last season.

There aren’t a lot of veteran quarterbacks in the ACC this year, but there are plenty of defensive ends ready to give the rookies a not-so-warm welcome.

Ted Hendricks award watch list announced

August, 9, 2011
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The ACC had seven candidates among the 35 nominated for this year's Ted Hendricks Award, which is given to the nation's top defensive end:
  • Andre Branch, Clemson
  • Quinton Coples, North Carolina
  • Izaan Cross, Georgia Tech
  • Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
  • Cam Johnson, Virginia
  • Donte Paige-Moss, North Carolina
  • Olivier Vernon, Miami

Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers won this award last year, and in 2007, Virginia's Chris Long was the recipient.

Ranking the ACC's defensive ends

June, 27, 2011
6/27/11
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We'll tackle the ends today, tackles tomorrow. Make sense?

1. Quinton Coples, North Carolina: He was a first-team all-conference pick last year, and he wasn’t even playing his natural position the entire season. As a tackle last year, Coples ranked third in the ACC in sacks with 10, and seventh in TFLs (15.5). He also had 59 tackles, 12 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.

2. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State: He finished sixth nationally last year with 13.5 sacks, and 12th in TFLs (21.5). He was a first-team all-conference selection as a true sophomore in his first season as a full-time starter. He also had five two-sack games in 2010, including one against rival Florida.

3. Cam Johnson, Virginia: He moved to defensive end from linebacker during the program's shift from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme and led the team with 6.5 sacks. He was No. 6 in ACC with 0.54 sacks per game, and No. 5 in ACC with 14.5 tackles for loss, which ranks No. 12 all-time for a season at Virginia. He was fifth on the team with 53 tackles, and he broke up four passes at the line of scrimmage.

4. Donte Paige-Moss, North Carolina: He had 10.5 of his 13.5 tackles for losses in the second half of the season and finished the regular season with 49 tackČles, 13.5 tackles for losses of 77 yards, seven sacks for 57 yards, and one pass breakup. He ranked second on the team in tackles for losses and sacks and was seventh in the ACC in sacks. UNC probably wouldn’t have won the Music City Bowl without him, as he made six tackles, 2.5 tackles for losses, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one blocked kick - an extra point in the fourth quarter, which kept Tennessee’s lead at three.

5. Olivier Vernon, Miami: He played in all 13 games, starting 11, and finished second on the team and 11th in the ACC with six sacks. He was fourth on the team in tackles for loss with 10.5.

6. Adewale Ojomo, Miami: He played in all 13 games last year with starts against Ohio State, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. He finished with a career-high 38 tackles on the year, with five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

7. Andre Branch, Clemson: The senior was overshadowed last year by Da’Quan Bowers, but he’s in the spotlight now. Last year Branch had five sacks and 8.5 TFLs. He also had six pass deflections, the most of any defensive lineman in the ACC last year. He had 54 tackles and eight quarterback hurries.

8. Max Holloway, Boston College: He finished second among BC’s defensive linemen with 36 tackles and lead with 24 solo stops. He lead BC with 14 tackles for a loss and was second on the team with four sacks. He also had a pair of pass breakups and forced fumbles.

9. Jason Peters, Georgia Tech: He moved from tackle to end last year and started all 13 games last and finished with 52 tackles (24 solo), five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He led all Tech defensive linemen in tackles and has played in 36 career games with 17 starts. He graduated in December and is playing this season as a graduate student.

10. James Gayle, Virginia Tech: He had an outstanding spring, earned the program’s highest honor from the strength and conditioning program, and earned a starting job. He started two games last year but played in all 14 and finished with 13 total tackles, including 6.5 for loss and four sacks. He also had 12 quarterback hurries.

ACC team position rankings: Defensive lines

June, 27, 2011
6/27/11
3:30
PM ET
As the title indicated ...

[+] EnlargeQuinton Coples
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireUNC returns a veteran defensive line led by end Quinton Coples.
1. North Carolina: This is a deep and talented group that returns all four starters including Donte Paige-Moss, Jared McAdoo, Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams joins three other players who started at least one game: Kareem Martin (three starts), DT Tim Jackson (five starts) and DT Jordan Nix (two starts).

2. Florida State: All four starters return in juniors Brandon Jenkins, Jacobi McDaniel, Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins. Jenkins finished sixth nationally with 13.5 sacks. This group should take another step forward in the second season under coordinator Mark Stoops, but it already has an outstanding base to build on as the Noles ranked third nationally in sacks and 21st in tackles for loss last season.

3. Miami: The Canes should have one of the better rotations in the ACC. They return starters Olivier Vernon, Micanor Regis and Marcus Forston, who combined for 12 sacks and 30.5 TFLs. It’s a deep group, as DE Adewale Ojomo (seven starts), DT Luther Robinson (five starts), DE Marcus Robinson (10 games), DT Curtis Porter (one start), DE Andrew Smith (11 games) and DE Dyron Dye (six games) all have experience.

4. Virginia: Like Florida State, this is another group that should benefit from being in the second season under the same coordinator. Jim Reid switched the scheme back to a traditional 4-3, and the Hoos return a veteran group led by Matt Conrath (33 starts), DT Nick Jenkins (29 starts), and DE Cam Johnson (22 starts).

5. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have a better understanding of what is expected from them in their second season in Al Groh’s 3-4 defense, and all three starters return in ends Izaan Cross (41 tackles) and Jason Peters (52 tackles), and tackle Logan Walls. Defensive tackles Shawn Green, T.J. Barnes and J.C. Lanier will also compete for playing time along with DE Anthony Williams.

6. Maryland: The Terps should be solid up front with the return of Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis and Justin Anderson. Francis is the veteran of the group (19 career starts) and had 44 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season, but Vellano is also an all-conference candidate. The Terps have good depth with Zachariah Kerr, Isaiah Ross and Bradley Johnson.

7. Virginia Tech: This is a group that could and should jump a few spots by the end of the season. On paper, they’ve got to replace three starters, but this spring the group proved capable of getting the Hokies back to their days of dominating on defense. Based on potential, they should be ranked higher, but based on lack of dependable, proven depth, they could even fall lower.

8. Clemson: It will be difficult for the Tigers to replace the production of Da’Quan Bowers, but the defensive line is in capable hands with Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson, and Malliciah Goodman has embraced the challenge of taking Bowers’ spot. Branch was second on the team with five sacks last season and 8.5 tackles for loss. Thompson had 40 tackles, including six for losses. Defensive tackle Rennie Moore, DE Kourtnei Brown and DT Tyler Shatley also have experience.

9. NC State: Defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy is one of the underrated players in the ACC, and he returns along with defensive end Jeff Rieskamp. Several players got significant snaps last season, though, including DE Darryl Cato-Bishop (13 tackles), DT Markus Kuhn (17 tackles, and DT Brian Slay (20 tackles, two TFLs).

10. Wake Forest: The Deacs return three starters including Tristan Dorty, Kyle Wilber and Zack Thompson. Thompson only started five games last season, but after spring practices, coach Jim Grobe said Thompson has all-conference potential.

11. Boston College: Starters Max Holloway and Kaleb Ramsey return, along with four other linemen (DTs Dillon Quinn and Conor O’Neal, and DEs Dan Williams and Kasim Edebali) who each started at least two games last fall.

12. Duke: Until proven otherwise, this is where the Blue Devils belong, but Rick Petri was hired to change that. He’ll have veteran nose guard Charlie Hatcher (24 career starts) to work with, and sophomore Sydney Sarmiento, who started 11 games last season. Junior Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and DEs Desmond Johnson and Jamal Wallace could also see playing time.
The quarterbacks in the ACC are not strong this year. They're not weak, either.

They're a complete unknown.

With more than half of the ACC introducing first-year starting quarterbacks, there's not enough on tape yet to determine how this group will fare. There is enough evidence, though, to pinpoint which position groups -- based on past performances and future potential -- enter this fall as the strongest and weakest in the ACC:

STRONGEST/OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeDwight Jones
AP Photo/Steve HelberDwight Jones had 62 receptions for 946 yards last season, both good for fourth in the ACC.
Wide receivers: The ACC overfloweth this year with veteran receivers. Virginia Tech, Florida State and Duke come to mind first, but don't forget about North Carolina. The Tar Heels didn't lose any receivers from last year, and Dwight Jones had 946 yards last year. Colin Larmond Jr. at Boston College, who is making his way back from a season-ending knee injury, Kris Burd at Virginia and Miami's fast and talented group will also highlight ACC passing games. With Leonard Hankerson gone at Miami, somebody is going to have to emerge as the go-to receiver, and Tommy Streeter gets my vote, but he must be more consistent.

WEAKEST/OFFENSE

Center: There are three above-average centers in the league this year: Cam Holland at North Carolina, Tyler Horn at Miami, and Dalton Freeman at Clemson. Beyond that, it's a thankless yet vital position that's in transition throughout the conference. Brian Moore is replacing a three-year starter at Duke, Florida State loses one of its best players in center Ryan McMahon, the same with Georgia Tech and Sean Bedford, Virginia Tech and Beau Warren, and Wake Forest and Russell Nenon. With the exception of Freeman (22), and Holland (20), no returning starter at center in the league has more than 13 career starts.

STRONGEST/DEFENSE

[+] EnlargeFlorida State's Brandon Jenkins
AP Photo/Steve CannonFlorida State's Brandon Jenkins had 13.5 sacks as a true sophomore.
Defensive ends: The ACC has had a reputation as a defensive conference, and this year shouldn't be any different. Conference fans should be excited about the talent up front. Brandon Jenkins at Florida State and Quinton Coples at North Carolina should be two of the best pass-rushers in the country, but they're not the only players with all-league potential. Andre Branch at Clemson, UNC's Donte Paige-Moss, Virginia's Cam Johnson, and Miami's Adewale Ojomo and Olivier Vernon are all going to cause opposing quarterbacks some pain.

WEAKEST/DEFENSE

Cornerbacks: Unless, of course, you're Florida State, where Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes should be one of the best duos in the country. Chase Minnifield at Virginia and Jayron Hosley should also be candidates for national honors, but that's about where the confidence in corners comes to a halt. North Carolina has to replace its entire secondary, and so does Georgia Tech. Clemson also lost two starting corners in Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell, and Miami lost two starters in Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill.

Hope and concern: Miami

June, 3, 2011
6/03/11
5:00
PM ET
The hope and concern series continues today with Miami.

Biggest reason for hope: Strength up front

The offensive line will have a veteran look, led by senior center Tyler Horn, senior guard Harland Gunn and junior guard Brandon Washington, and if Seantrel Henderson is a backup? That’s some legitimate depth. With nine of the top 10 players returning and Joel Figueroa granted a sixth season of eligibility, this should be one of Miami’s better lines in recent years. Defensively, Miami was good last year and should be even better this season with juniors and seniors leading the way. Adewale Ojomo, Marcus Robinson, Micanor Regis, Marcus Forston and Olivier Vernon should prove to be one of the best defensive lines in the ACC.

Biggest reason for concern: Uncertainty at quarterback

The fact that Al Golden still doesn’t know who his starting quarterback will be for the season opener should be unsettling to fans, as should the fact that Miami quarterbacks combined for 27 interceptions last year. Whether it’s Jacory Harris or Stephen Morris, Miami needs a dependable leader to emerge this summer. Harris had 15 interceptions to 14 touchdowns last year, and it seems as if he’s never been the same since he’s suffered various injuries over the past few years. Both quarterbacks made progress this spring, but not enough was revealed in the spring game to convince anyone that 2011 will be any different or better than last year.

More in this series:

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