ACC: Ryan Rodwell

From Florida State's veteran line to Clemson's fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country's best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we're looking at the ACC's best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Next up: Special teams

Best of the best: Florida State

There is no shortage of ACC teams with playmakers on special teams, but in the end, the Seminoles' talent overwhelms. They bring back sophomore Kermit Whitfield after a historic rookie campaign that was the best in school history. He had a nation-best 36.4 yard kick return average (an ACC record) and a 100-yard touchdown return late in the fourth quarter of the national title game. On top of that, there's reigning Lou Groza Award winner and All-American Roberto Aguayo, whose redshirt freshman season saw him nail 21 of his 22 field goal attempts and all 94 of his extra point tries. His 157 points set a new national record for a kicker as well. FSU also brings back punter Cason Beatty, in addition to the more-than-capable Rashad Greene at punt returner, where the Seminoles have a number of precocious speedsters behind him.

Next up: Duke

North Carolina certainly has a strong argument in returning Ryan Switzer, but the nod here ultimately goes to rival Duke, which brings back all of the key pieces from a special teams unit that played no small role in helping the Blue Devils win the Coastal Division title. There's Jamison Crowder, one of the most versatile players in the country, who amassed 401 yards and two touchdowns last season on 25 punt returns. There's DeVon Edwards, who thrived all over the field as a redshirt freshman, returning 19 kickoffs for 574 yards and two sores. And there's kicker Ross Martin and punter Will Monday, both of whom put forth stellar efforts last season, with Martin connecting on 2 of 3 tries from 50 yards or longer and Monday pinning 21 punts inside the 20.

Possible sleeper: Georgia Tech

Jamal Golden is back after a one-year absence because of a shoulder injury. But don't count out the junior, as he was the only player in 2012 to rank in the top 10 nationally in both punt returns (14.6) and kick returns (28.4). His time away has given way to more film study, and if fully healthy, Golden's numbers figure to be right up there with the rest of the talented specialists returning in the ACC this season. Harrison Butker impressed as a true freshman last season, hitting 10 of 14 field goal attempts and missing just one extra point. Punter Ryan Rodwell, meanwhile, figures to be the main guy after redshirting in 2013.

Problem for a contender: Virginia Tech

Beamer Ball has undoubtedly taken a hit, most notably with the team's kicking woes (VT missed 11 field goals last season) and the dismissal of Cody Journell. Freshman Michael Santamaria may be the answer at starter, for better or worse. Kyshoen Jarrett is back after averaging 5.3 yards per punt return last season. So, too, is Demitri Knowles, who averaged 21.8 yards per kick return in 2013. Something needs to be done about coverage, as the Hokies surrendered three touchdown returns last season.

Jackets put on the pads

April, 1, 2013
4/01/13
5:00
PM ET
Georgia Tech had its first day in full pads on Saturday, and it was a chance for new defensive coordinator Ted Roof to get a better look at the defense.

"We've got a long way to go," he said.

The standards have been raised, and that's a good thing -- Georgia Tech struggled defensively in the first half of 2012, and former coordinator Al Groh was fired midseason. The Jackets showed significant improvement, though, in their Sun Bowl win over USC, and there have been positive reviews following the hire of Roof.

The challenge now is to get some positive reviews out of Roof.

"There were some good things, some mistakes, obviously," he said. "Things we've got to clean up. We’ve just got to be a lot more consistent, a lot more consistent from angles of pursuit, to finishing tackles, to finishing plays. We’ve got a lot of work to do in that area, but that's something we can correct."

A few other notes from Georgia Tech, according to the team's practice reports:
  • Injuries have created some opportunities for backups, especially at wide receiver, where Anthony Autry and Travin Henry are sitting out all spring, and returning starter Darren Waller was in red on Saturday. That leaves redshirt freshman Micheal Summers, who has impressed the staff, and junior Correy Dennis.
  • The A-back competition is heating up, as a number of players are working to take Orwin Smith’s starting job. Among those competing this spring: Deon Hill, Synjyn Days, B.J. Bostic, redshirt freshman Dennis Andrews and others. Tony Zenon will also be in the mix when he returns in August.
  • Sophomore Ryan Rodwell is the only experienced, healthy punter in camp, as senior Sean Poole is recovering from shoulder surgery. Poole initially injured his shoulder trying to make a tackle against Miami last September, but held off on surgery until the offseason. Poole and Rodwell, who had identical 39.7-yard averages in 2012, should compete deep into August for the starting job.

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