ACC: Robert Francois

BC in need of leaders, linebackers

May, 15, 2009
5/15/09
10:34
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Football is the furthest thing from Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich's mind right now, and understandably so, but there is still a team in Chestnut Hill, and it's in dire need of leadership now more than ever.

With Herzlich's future uncertain because of his recent diagnosis of cancer, the Eagles' linebacking corps -- and the entire team -- will need somebody besides coach Frank Spaziani and defensive coordinator Bill McGovern to keep the players pushing forward.

The best candidate to do that would be linebacker Mike McLaughlin, but he missed the entire spring because of a torn Achilles he suffered during a conditioning session prior to spring practice. Without McLaughlin, whose return time remains a question, the linebackers are a very young, inexperienced group.

There is no veteran quarterback on this roster to take charge -- Spaziani has yet to name a starter there -- but the team is not without leaders.

Defensive end Jim Ramella, who started all 14 games last season on the right side, impressed the coaches this spring and will be a senior. And senior Matt Tennant has started the past 28 games at center and is the anchor of the offensive line. Both are blue-collar players from Ohio poised for breakout seasons. While they might not have asked for it, that trio of McLaughlin, Ramella and Tennant have now been tasked with keeping the Eagles together.

McLaughlin was slated to be the starter at middle linebacker, but in his absence this spring, Will Thompson was able to improve. Thompson got a decent amount of snaps last fall behind Robert Francois after Brian Toal's season was lost to a broken leg. Herzlich's backup at strongside linebacker is sophomore Dominick LeGrande, who saw action off the bench last year as a strong safety and played sparingly on special teams. His backup is Kevin Distaso, whose experience has been limited to the scout team. The starting weakside linebacker is redshirt freshman Nick Clancy.

"None of them have played a great deal except for Mark," McGovern told ESPN.com in April. "We're just trying to keep pushing them out there. They all have ability, they all have plusses, but they're making a lot of mistakes, too. A lot of them have to learn how to practice and prepare."

The summer now becomes even more important for that to happen.

Two more ACC players signed as free agents

May, 4, 2009
5/04/09
2:43
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Former Duke linebacker Michael Tauiliili and former Boston College quarterback Chris Crane have both been signed by the Colts as free agents.

Tauiliili, who might have been the most underrated player in the ACC last year, led the conference and finished third nationally with 11.7 tackles per game. Crane was an average quarterback who threw 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He could run better than some might think, though, and could have developed into a better quarterback had he started for more than just one season.

Crane isn't the only former Eagle who will continue his career. Linebacker Robert Francois and receiver Brandon Robinson have both signed free-agent contracts with NFL teams. Francois was signed by the Minnesota Vikings while Robinson joined the Philadelphia Eagles.

Checking in with BC's new DC

April, 3, 2009
4/03/09
3:03
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Longtime Boston College assistant Bill McGovern is in the midst of his first year as the Eagles' defensive coordinator. The transition has been smooth, considering McGovern is entering his 10th season in Chestnut Hill, and he replaced former defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who is now the head coach. Spaz and McGovern have a great relationship, and the system stayed the same, so no major headaches there.

Finding linebackers, though, is a different story.

McGovern has coached BCs linebackers since 2000, and he's had the luxury of coaching talented players like Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Brian Toal, Mark Herzlich, Mike McLaughlin and Robert Francois.

This spring, Herzlich, the ACC's defensive player of the year, is the only name remaining ACC fans would recognize. McLaughlin is out this spring with a torn Achilles and the others have since graduated. 

"Right now we're in the process of trying to find who the next best players are," McGovern said. 

Among those auditioning for it are sophomores Will Thompson, Dominick LeGrande and redshirt sophomore Nick Clancy, along with a host of others. 

"Right now the biggest issue for the new guys is the learning curve," McGovern said. "They've got to speed it up. Nothing substitutes for reps and playing experience. These guys don't have that luxury, and we don't have the luxury to wait for them to get it. They have to get it this spring."

Especially if the Eagles want to uphold their tradition as a strong defensive team. Boston College finished 2008 season fifth in the nation and first in the ACC in total defense, No. 1 in the ACC in pass efficiency defense, and No. 1 in the ACC in rushing defense.

"Spaz has set the bar high here, obviously, on defense, and everybody here, we've talked about it at every position," McGovern said. "We're trying to get the best group of guys we can on the field."

None of the young linebackers have any significant playing experience, which makes Herzlich's return that much more valuable.

"Mark obviously is an outstanding talent," McGovern said. "He's in that meeting room every day with the kids, and he's watching with them. He's taken a few guys under his wing, trying to get them to understand the importance of doing everything right every time."

Boston College recruiting needs

January, 14, 2009
1/14/09
10:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

As we get closer to signing day, recruiting moves to the forefront of the discussions, and this week I'll be breaking down each school's recruiting needs. Today we'll hit the Atlantic Division, tomorrow the Coastal.

Let's kick it off with BC:

This staff has arguably one of the toughest challenges in the league because of the timing of the coaching change, and its recruiting needs appear to be where games are won and lost -- up front.

The biggest losses on defense will be defensive tackles Ron Brace and B.J. Raji, and filling their gaping 324-pound holes won't be easy. The defensive line should be a priority for this recruiting class, as Brace's backup, Jerry Willette, is also a senior, and next season's starting defensive line will have two senior defensive ends.

The good news is the Eagles don't have to replace the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Mark Herzlich, but they will lose starter Robert Francois to graduation, and both Herzlich and starting middle linebacker Mike McLaughlin will be seniors next season. BC will also have to replace two of its four starters in the secondary.

The Eagles have a reputation for developing offensive linemen, and this season's unit was one of the best. They'll lose starting left guard Clif Ramsey, and center Matt Tennant will be a senior, as will two backups, so the staff needs to build some depth there.

Tight end Ryan Purvis and receiver Brandon Robinson are also graduating, and starting receiver Rich Gunnell and his backup, Justin Jarvis, will both be seniors, so the Eagles also need to load up on some receivers.

Rosters announced for East-West Shrine Game

January, 6, 2009
1/06/09
4:07
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The East-West Shrine game rosters have been released and the ACC has plenty of representatives. For Seminoles fans wondering why Graham Gano is not in the Senior Bowl, I've got a call in seeking an explanation for that.

Meanwhile, here are the players on the East team:

  • Ron Brace, defensive tackle, Boston College
  • Jaimie Thomas, offensive line, Maryland
  • Aaron Kelly, wide receiver, Clemson
  • Jahi Word-Daniels, defensive back, Georgia Tech
  • Anthony Hill, tight end, NC State
  • Robert Francois, linebacker, Boston College
  • Orion Martin, defensive end, Virginia Tech
  • Graham Gano, punter/placekicker, Florida State
  • Darryl Richard, defensive tackle, Georgia Tech

BC's instinctive defense has eyes on the end zone

December, 3, 2008
12/03/08
3:23
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

When Boston College linebacker Robert Francois jumped to grab his fourth-quarter interception last weekend against Maryland, he only had one explanation for the game-changing 36-yard touchdown return.

"Instincts," Francois said, "just instincts."

Call it football IQ or whatever you want, the Eagles have the knack for scoring on defense, and it's a major reason why they're playing in the ACC title game for the second straight season. The Eagles have had five interception returns for touchdowns, and have also scored on a punt return, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt. BC leads the nation with eight non-offensive touchdowns and 25 interceptions.

"It's our goal every time to get a three-and-out, and we want points on the board as well," said linebacker Mark Herzlich, who has accounted for two interception returns for touchdowns this season. "There's something about a defense that can score, and consistently score. We've done that over the past couple of weeks. ... The pride is there. Every time we go on the field, it's not the offense messed up, or we made a bad play on special teams. It's another chance for us to go out there and show what we can do and make plays."

Jagodzinski said he has never seen a defense make so many game-changing plays and score as much has the Eagles have this season.

"No, no I haven't," he said. "I really haven't. But when you look through the years at Virginia Tech's defense, they've won a lot of ball games doing that, scoring defensive touchdowns and special teams touchdowns."

A special teams touchdown was critical in BC's 28-23 regular-season win over the Hokies on Oct. 18. Junior wide receiver Rich Gunnell returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown to help the Eagles overcome five turnovers and win. With Francois' interception return for a touchdown against Maryland last weekend, the Eagles extended their streak to seven games with a non-offensive touchdown, the longest streak in the nation.

It's only the second time in school history the program has recorded as many as eight non-offensive touchdowns. The last time was in 1999. Jagodzinski said he's not too concerned about his offense depending too heavily on the defense to score.

"We're trying to score every time we get it, but it's been great to have those defensive scores," he said. "It obviously makes a big difference in the outcome of the game. I'm really happy with the way our defense is playing right now. I think we're playing with a lot of confidence right now on that side of the football."

BC finds winning more with less works

November, 29, 2008
11/29/08
9:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

 
 Elsa/Getty Images
 Billy Flutie, the Boston College backup quarterback and nephew of Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie, threw for a 9-yard touchdown on a fake field goal to help Boston College to a a 28-21 victory over Maryland.

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Not only isn't this Matt Ryan's team, it's not even Chris Crane's team anymore.

What Boston College doesn't have, though, has never mattered this season, and it didn't matter in Saturday's 28-21 win over Maryland.

Boston College won the Atlantic Division without Ryan, without a veteran running back, and with its backup quarterback. The Eagles did it with one of the nation's stingiest defenses and a group effort on the day it mattered most. For the second straight season, the Eagles will face Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game.

It's the same result, but this year is much different.

There are no Ryan-esque superstars on this Boston College roster, which is why those within the program agreed this year's trip to the ACC title game is even more gratifying than last year's.

It's also why nobody outside the Yawkey Athletics Center expected Boston College to be here.
"That's the best part of it," said coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who is in his second season. "The guys believed they could. That's the whole thing about coaching, getting your guys to believe they can do it. It doesn't matter who's on the field. They're all wearing gold helmets. We had four starters out and it didn't matter. They didn't flinch, they just kept playing.

"When they believe, and the coaches believe, you've got a chance," Jagodzinski said. "Our kids fought. We didn't have to count on anybody this year to help us get into the game. They kept earning themselves into the championship game by winning."

The Eagles closed their regular season with four straight wins. It's the second straight season for Jagodzinski with at least nine wins, as last year's team finished 11-3, the first team to win 11 games since 1940. They can reach that mark again with an ACC title and Orange Bowl win.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Alumni Stadium, there was one fan behind the BC bench holding out an orange, a symbol that once seemed highly unlikely for this undermanned offense.

Starting quarterback Chris Crane, a fifth-year senior in his first season leading the offense, broke his collarbone last week in the win at Wake Forest. He was the fourth starter the Eagles lost to injury this season, along with linebacker Brian Toal, defensive end Alex Albright and receiver Clarence Megwa. It was up to backup quarterback Dominique Davis to lead the offense to the Atlantic Division title in his first career start. He managed the offense well without turning the ball over and finished with a career-high 134 yards passing and two touchdowns.

And as usual, he got some help.

BC scored on offense. They scored on defense, and they scored on special teams. There was even a player named Flutie involved. Billy Flutie, the nephew of BC legend Doug Flutie, completed the first pass of his career -- a nine-yard touchdown on a fake field goal. It was something they had practiced all week.

(Read full post)

ACC's lunchtime links: New tune for BC's defense

October, 23, 2008
10/23/08
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The Eagles have a new hit, and no, it's not those Eagles. Boston College fans, meet Robert Francois, the replacement for Brian Toal and the subject of a new song called "Ro Fran Don't Touch Me." It's a soft rock tune comprised by your very own Billy Flutie and Will Thompson. I can't make this stuff up, folks.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson has known Duke's defensive coordinator "since he was a little kid," which is why it will be a homecoming of sorts for Mike MacIntyre on Saturday.

While the quarterbacks at Miami might continue to smile and nod and say all the right things to reporters this week, at least one of their teammates is sick of this story.

Receiver D.J. Boldin has been one of the bright spots for Wake Forest's struggling offense this season, but he had to first shake the shadow of his older brother.

Check out the numbers on Chuck Amato's last recruiting class at North Carolina State. Or, rather, what's left of it.

ACC position rankings: linebackers

July, 18, 2008
7/18/08
6:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

1. Virginia: Senior captain Clint Sintim started all 37 games in his career and was third on the team with 77 tackles last season. His nine sacks last year were the most of any linebacker in the nation. Inside linebacker Jon Copper is UVA's active leader in tackles with 200, and Antonio Appleby is third on that list with 155.

2. Wake Forest: All three returning starters are back, including strongside linebacker Aaron Curry, a two-time defensive player of the week who had three interception returns for touchdowns and led the nation in interception return yards with 256. He also led the team with 13.5 tackles for a loss. Middle linebacker Stanley Arnoux also returns, along with weakside linebacker Chantz McClinic, who had 42 tackles.

 
 Ned Dishman/Getty Images
 Senior linebacker Brian Toal, who has 180 career tackles despite missing last season, is healthy again for Boston College.

3. Boston College: The Eagles lost two key starters, but senior Brian Toal's shoulder is healed and he has 180 career tackles despite missing last season with a medical redshirt. His primary competition at weakside linebacker will come from senior Robert Francois, who finished last season with 39 total tackles. Junior Mark Herzlich, who started all 14 games last year and finished second in total tackles with 97 should anchor this unit. Junior Mike McLaughlin started three games at middle linebacker last season when Jo-Lonn Dunbar was injured and is the heir apparent there.

4. Maryland: This could be one of the Terps' deeper positions, even with the loss of Erin Henderson to the NFL. Seniors Dave Philistin and Moise Fokou each started all 13 games last season, and Adrian Moten, who played all three positions as a freshman, tied for the team lead in sacks (5.5) and had 50 tackles even though he didn't start a game. Philistin ranked fourth in the ACC with 9.5 tackles per game.

5. Florida State: These guys have talent, it's just a matter of when it will all come together. Geno Hayes is gone, and so is Marcus Ball, who was expected to fill in for Hayes but was booted off the team. Still, the Seminoles' leading tackler is back. Underrated middle linebacker Derek Nicholson made 99 stops last year and was the only linebacker to start all 13 games. Strongside linebacker Dekoda Watson started every game but the bowl game because of the academic scandal and will miss the first three, leaving the job to sophomore Kendall Smith. The 'Noles are also excited about freshman Nigel Bradham.

6. Miami: The Hurricanes lost their leading tackler in Tavares Gooden, a third-round NFL draft pick by the Ravens, but are still better off than the way they ended last season -- with three healthy linebackers. Senior Glenn Cook is back after missing last season with a foot injury, and the freshmen -- Arthur Brown and Sean Spence -- didn't waste any time impressing the staff while Coin McCarthy was out this spring. Darryl Sharpton and Spencer Adkins are possible starters in the middle.

7. Virginia Tech: The Hokies will obviously miss Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, but middle linebacker Brett Warren played well last year when Hall got hurt and earned the confidence of defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Purnell Sturdivant is No. 1 heading into the fall, but should be challenged by veteran Jonas Houseright and redshirt freshman Hunter Ovens. Redshirt junior Cam Martin started 13 of 14 games last season at weakside after being moved from free safety and finished fifth on the team with 78 tackles and was third in sacks with 4.5.

8. Duke: Senior Michael Tauiliili is the top active player in the league in terms of career tackles, and finished last season with 108. He also had four sacks and three interceptions. Vincent Rey led the Blue Devils with 111 tackles. The third slot will be between Marcus Jones and Adam Banks. There's not a lot of depth here, but there's talent.

9. Clemson: This is the least experienced unit on the Tigers' defense. Josh Miller is the only senior in the group and is competing for the starting middle linebacker job. Tommy Bowden was impressed with freshman Stanley Hunter this spring, but Brandon Maye had the top spring among the newcomers and is listed as first team in the middle entering the fall. Junior Kavell Connor is the top option at weakside linebacker and had a career high 15 tackles in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. He had 46 stops for the year, tops among linebackers on the spring depth chart. Sophomore Scotty Cooper also started the Chick-fil-A Bowl at strongside linebacker. He had 33 stops for the season in 183 plays on defense.

10. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace leading tackler Durell Mapp, but return sophomore Bruce Carter and sophomore Quan Sturdivant. Carter played in all 12 games and started seven. He made 18 of his 25 tackles in the final five games. Sturdivant's experience is similar, having played in all 12 games, but started just five. He finished the season with 47 tackles, but also added an interception and a blocked punt. Senior Mark Paschal played in all 12 games and started four at middle linebacker, and Chase Rice was still recovering this spring from a torn tendon in his left ankle. He was the starter in 2007, but got hurt in the season opener and missed the rest of the season.

11. NC State: There's not a lot of experience, as the top candidates have combined for five starts and only four guys have played in a collegiate game. Nate Irving is the lead candidate at weakside linebacker, having started four games. Ray Michel started one game in the middle, and strongside should be wide open. Robbie Leonard, a converted walk-on defensive back, is the starter heading into summer camp. He played in eight games as a strong safety and has seen most of his action on special teams the past two seasons. Thomas Barnes got valuable experience as a backup middle linebacker last season, playing the last 10 games and scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery in only his third career play from scrimmage.

12. Georgia Tech: Two of the three stars from last year -- Philip Wheeler and Gary Guyton -- are now on NFL rosters. Junior Shane Bowen started nine games last season, but sophomore Anthony Barnes has the most potential and started three. Two young rookies, sophomore Brad Jefferson and redshirt freshman Kyle Jackson, are good enough that Bowen may lose his starting job.

ACC position battles: Boston College

July, 8, 2008
7/08/08
11:24
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich 

As we head into summer camp (which couldn't come soon enough), each day I'll break down the top position battles to keep an eye on. Let's start with Boston College since, well, they're at the beginning of the alphabet.

LINEBACKER -- The Eagles are strongest here, so there should be some good competition.

  • Strongside: Kevin Akins and Mark Herzlich. Akins, a senior, had four sacks last season, the biggest coming against Virginia Tech QB Sean Glennon for a loss of 11 yards in the ACC championship game. Herzlich, though, started all 14 games last year and was named to the 2008 Lott Trophy watch list.
  • Middle: Mike McLaughlin and Robert Francois. McLaughlin started three games last year and finished as the team's fourth leading tackler with 64. Francois is a senior who finished with 39 tackles last year.
  • Weakside: Brian Toal and/or Francois. Don't be surprised if one of those guys plays a little defensive end. Toal is eager to get back after redshirting last season because of torn shoulder labrum. He has 24 career starts.

DEFENSIVE END -- At right end, Jim Ramella and Brad Newman will compete to replace Nick Larkin, who was a team captain and started every game. Ramella has started before, and Newman started last season at fullback but moved over.

FREE SAFETY -- It's a toss up between Marty Bowman and Wes Davis. Bowman missed the last five games of '07 with a knee injury, but his second pass breakup of the season played a role in that historical fourth-quarter comeback against Virginia Tech. Davis missed the last 11 games of the season with an injury.

RUNNING BACK -- Actually, it's probably less of a battle than you might think. It's Josh Haden's job to lose since he was the only one there this spring. Jeff Jagodzinski said he's expecting four newcomers at this position for summer camp.

Check back for Clemson tomorrow.

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