ACC: Rijo Walker

Opening camp: Virginia

August, 7, 2012
As ACC teams begin to start practicing again, Heather and I will have a quick preview of each team to get you caught up on the basics. We are almost done with our trip through the conference. Next up to open camp ...

School: Virginia.

Started: Monday.

Predicted finish at media days: Fourth, Coastal Division.

Biggest storyline: Can Virginia keep up the momentum from its 8-5 season? Coach Mike London has probably been asked that question 1,000 different ways since last season ended, but inquiring minds want to know. If Virginia won eight games last season, what does that mean for this season? London has maintained throughout the offseason that there is plenty to build off, and what his players learned most of all was how to win, after years of losing. But as many coaches will tell you, it is much harder to sustain success than it is to go from losing to winning. There are a variety of questions Virginia must answer this season, with only five starters returning to the defense and just one in the secondary. Losing a player like Chase Minnifield is huge. Offensively, Virginia has to replace leading receiver Kris Burd and now has a quarterback situation on its hands with the transfer of Phillip Sims. The schedule features games against eight bowl teams, including TCU, Penn State and Louisiana Tech. The challenge awaits.

Biggest position battle: Quarterback. Who would have thought when last season ended, we would be sitting here in the fall debating whether the Cavaliers have a bona fide quarterback competition on their hands? Michael Rocco emerged last season to become the unquestioned leader of the offense, throwing for 2,671 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But Sims has transferred in from Alabama and is immediately eligible, throwing a wrench into the quarterback situation. London has maintained Rocco is his starting quarterback, but also allows that Sims will provide a push in the way of accelerated competition.

Who needs to step up: The defensive backs. As mentioned above, Virginia has to replace three starters in the secondary in All-ACC selection Minnifield (50 tackles, eight pass breakups, 5.5 tackles for loss), safety Rodney McLeod (team-leading four interceptions), and safety Corey Mosley (49 tackles, four pass breakups, one interception). Watch for Drequan Hoskey at cornerback, while players like Anthony Harris and Brandon Phelps will be counted on at safety.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 26, 2012
"Mad Men" is back. It's going to be a good day.

Offseason spotlight: Virginia

February, 17, 2012
Our offseason spotlight series continues today with Virginia. A reminder: This series features individual players, position groups and coaches who really need to have big offseasons -- starting this spring.

Spotlight: Secondary

2011 summary: This was a senior-laden group led by CB Chase Minnifield, SS Rodney McLeod, and FS Corey Mosley. They took true freshman Demetrious Nicholson under their wings as he made an immediate impact in a starting role. Virginia’s pass efficiency defense was No. 32 in the country last year and the pass defense ranked No. 45, allowing 212.23 yards per game. Nicholson and McLeod were two of the team’s top five tacklers, and McLeod led the team with four interceptions.

The skinny: This position group will be filled with players who didn’t get a lot of meaningful snaps last year or redshirted. With his 13 starts, Nicholson is now the elder statesman in the secondary. This spring, the staff will most likely turn to Anthony Harris, Brandon Phelps, Rijo Walker, Kameron Mack, and Drequan Hoskey. Phelps, Mack and Harris all played as true freshmen last year on special teams and occasionally in the secondary, including against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Overall, it’s a wide open competition and spring practice will be a good chance for these young players to assert themselves in the pecking order.
As advertised ...

1. Florida State: The Noles have one of the best cornerback duos in the country in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. They combined for 33 passes defended last season, the most of any pair of cornerbacks in the nation. Mike Harris had 41 tackles and four picks as a reserve.

[+] EnlargeGreg Reid
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireFlorida State cornerback Greg Reid is also one of the ACC's top return men.
2. Virginia Tech: Jayron Hosley is one of the top boundary corners in the country, and the Hokies also have Kyle Fuller, who had six deflections last season, and Cris Hill (two deflections) at field corner.

3. Maryland: The Terps return both starters in Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes, who combined for 36 career starts. Chism is a strong cover corner who had 70 tackles and eight deflections last season. Hughes had nine pass deflections.

4. NC State: Both starters return in C.J. Wilson and David Amerson. Wilson had 46 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups, and Amerson had 57 tackles. Justin Byers and Gary Grant also have experience.

5. North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost some remarkable talent in their secondary, including cornerback Kendric Burney, but there is a lot of depth at the position. Jabari Price started four games last season, Charles Brown has 22 career starts but sat out last season, and Mywan Jackson and Tre Boston both have at least four starts each.

6. Boston College: The Eagles will miss DeLeon Gause, but Donnie Fletcher has 17 career starts, 56 tackles last season, and led the team with five picks. C.J. Jones played in 12 games as a backup last season with 16 tackles. Dominique Williams also saw some time and had four tackles, and true freshman Al Louis-Jean, who was the No. 9 cornerback in the nation as ranked by ESPN Recruiting, enrolled early.

7. Clemson: It’s a young group, as the Tigers had to replace Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell. Xavier Brewer had 10 starts with 50 tackles and two interceptions last season, Coty Sensabaugh had 31 tackles in three starts, and senior Mansa Joseph will also be competing for playing time with sophomore Martin Jenkins.

8. Virginia: The Cavaliers return both starters in Chase Minnifield and Devin Wallace, but Wallace was suspended and missed spring ball and is still suspended. Wallace had 38 tackles and six breakups last season. Chris Broadnax, Rijo Walker, Drequan Hoskey and Pablo Alvarez will all compete for playing time.

9. Miami: The Hurricanes have to replace both starters in Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill. Jo-Jo Nicholas moved to corner and Brandon McGee, who was the nickel back last season, will compete along with Lee Chambers, Keion Payne, Nathan Gholston and true freshman Thomas Finnie, who had a great spring.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets had to replace their entire secondary, including cornerbacks Mario Butler and Dominique Reese. They’ve still got several cornerbacks with experience in Rashaad Reid, who started 14 games in 2008 and 2009, Rod Sweeting (38 tackles, seven pass breakups, one interception), Louis Young (10 tackles), and Michael Peterson (six tackles, one pass breakup).

11. Wake Forest: The Deacs have a deep enough secondary that they can live without the experience of cornerback Kevin Johnson, who started five games last season but will sit out this season while academically ineligible. Josh Bush had 33 tackles and four pass breakups last season, Kenny Okoro is a rising star, A.J. Marshall has three starts and Dominique Tate returns after missing last season while on academic suspension.

12. Duke: Ross Cockrell is a returning starter and finished last season with 60 tackles and 10 passes defended. He was only a freshman but he tied for eighth in the ACC with passes defended with 10 in 12 games. Johnny Williams had four pass breakups last season.