ACC: Sean Renfree

Let's face it: Not too many preseason Heisman lists in recent years featured Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton. And while there are plenty of returning stars among this year's Heisman hopefuls, it's always safe to bet on at least one or two unfamiliar faces ending up in New York in December.

Who could rise out of nowhere this year? Let's take a look at some candidates in the ACC.

Jameis Winston, Florida State QB: There is an awful lot of hype for a guy who has yet to take a college football snap. Then again, Winston was the No. 1 quarterback recruit from the Class of 2012, eclipses 100 mph on the baseball diamond as a Seminoles reliever, throws footballs over fraternity houses and starred in FSU's spring game. The redshirt freshman steps into an ideal situation, surrounded by experienced guys on an offense that is coming off an Orange Bowl win. And, well, he absolutely owned FSU's media day Sunday.

Taquan Mizzell, Virginia RB: The Cavaliers struggled running the ball last season, finishing 96th nationally in rushing yards per game (128.5). They have also said goodbye to Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims. Enter "Smoke" -- or, as coach Mike London has called him since a victorious 1-on-1 hoops game, "Mist." ESPN's No. 9 running back prospect from the Class of 2013 notched 1,231 yards and 39 total touchdowns last season at Bayside (Va.) High, and he figures to make his presence felt early at Virginia.

Anthony Boone, Duke QB: Yes, Boone is a redshirt junior. But he was behind school record-setter Sean Renfree the past two seasons, as he watched Renfree take Duke to a bowl game last year while receiving spot duty here and there. He relived an injured Renfree and rushed for a go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown in a win at Wake Forest, then started a week later in a rout of Virginia. For his career, Boone has completed 53.4 percent of his passes in 22 games for 839 yards with six touchdowns and three picks. He also adds another dimension on the ground, having rushed for 211 yards and six more scores. Boone now has the starting job to himself, and teammates have said there is little indication that they are playing with a first-year starter.

Duke Blue Devils spring wrap

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
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Duke Blue Devils

2012 record: 6-7

2012 conference record: 3-5, Coastal

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

WR Jamison Crowder, RB Juwan Thompson, DE Kenny Anunike, CB Ross Cockrell

Key losses

QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, S Jordan Byas, S Walt Canty

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Jela Duncan* (516 yards, 4 TDs)

Passing: Renfree (260-of-392 for 2,755 yards, 18 TDs, 8 INTs)

Receiving: Crowder* (1,025 yards, 8 TDs)

Tackles: Canty (102)

Sacks: Anunike* (5)

Interceptions: Cockrell* (5)

Spring answers

1. Anthony Boone is for real. People will still wonder how the Blue Devils are going to do without Sean Renfree, but Anthony Boone proved this spring he is the real deal. Boone was impressive as he took over the starting quarterback job, and allows the Blue Devils to add more option principles to the offense, which will make them much more unpredictable.

2. Receivers step up. Here is another question that coach David Cutcliffe believes has been answered this spring. The Blue Devils do lose Conner Vernon, but leading receiver Jamison Crowder returns and Cutcliffe had special praise for the way Max McCaffrey came on this spring. “The receiving corps, I thought, had a tremendous spring,” Cutcliffe said.

3. Defensive front. The Blue Devils went back to the drawing board on defense and decided to simplify the scheme, in order to have their players do less thinking and more attacking. The result, Cutcliffe believes, could be a much better group -- particularly up front.

Fall questions

1. Secondary. This unit has to be completely rebuilt, with Ross Cockrell the only returning starter in the group. And even he missed the second half of spring with an injury. Jeremy Cash, Dwayne Norman and Corbin McCarthy are the new faces that are expected to take their spots in the starting lineup, but don’t be surprised if true freshmen Evrett Edwards and Quay Mann play as well.

2. Can the run game improve? The Blue Devils appear to have great depth in their backfield with their top four rushers back. So the hope is they can have a much more consistent running game this season. Last year, Duke ranked No. 98 in the nation in this category. Boone should factor in here as well.

3. Inexperience. Though the Blue Devils do return a good many of their starters, the ones who are gone are at the key positions on the football field -- quarterback, two receivers, center and three players in the secondary. They will have to rely on players without much game experience at all those positions so how quickly they grow up will be a huge key for this team.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 29, 2013
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Catching up on the draft ...
Florida State followed up its big first round with a huge NFL draft weekend, as the Seminoles led every program in the nation with 11 total picks, setting a new school record.

That's right. The Noles had more picks than national champion Alabama (nine) and SEC power LSU (nine), two schools that played for the national championship following the 2011 season. More than in-state rival Florida (eight), too.

Those numbers are clear validation the Seminoles have restocked their cupboards with an inordinate amount of talent as they re-emerge in the national conversation.

"It’s a great indication of how the program is truly developing," coach Jimbo Fisher said in a statement. “I think it shows we’re getting back to national prominence. Our players are doing a great job of representing themselves on and off the field leading to chances at the next level. I’m happy for all of these guys and want to thank them for helping return this program back to the national spotlight."

Overall, the ACC had 31 players taken for the ninth straight season, finishing second behind the SEC.

Here is a quick look back at all the selections:

First round
  • No. 7 Jonathan Cooper, OG, Arizona
  • No. 16 EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo
  • No. 24 Bjoern Werner, DE, Indianapolis
  • No. 25 Xavier Rhodes, CB, Minnesota
  • No. 27 DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston
  • No. 28 Sylvester Williams, DT, Denver
Second round
  • No. 37 Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
  • No. 40 Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, San Francisco
  • No. 42 Menelik Watson, OT, Oakland
  • No. 51 David Amerson, CB, NC State
Third round
  • No. 73 Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay
  • No. 89 Brennan Williams, OT, North Carolina
Fourth round
  • No. 127 Malliciah Goodman, DE, Atlanta
Fifth round
  • No. 136 Earl Wolff, S, Philadelphia
  • No. 141 Oday Aboushi, OG, New York Jets
  • No. 143 Jonathan Meeks, S, Buffalo
  • No. 149 Brandon McGee, CB, St. Louis
  • No. 154 Chris Thompson, RB, Washington
  • No. 162 Brandon Jenkins, LB, Washington
Sixth round
  • No. 171 Corey Fuller, WR, Detroit
  • No. 173 Vinston Painter, OT, Denver
  • No. 177 Dustin Hopkins, PK, Buffalo
  • No. 180 Nick Moody, LB, San Francisco
  • No. 187 Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona
  • No. 189 Mike James, RB, Tampa Bay
  • No. 206 Vince Williams, LB, Pittsburgh
Seventh round
  • No. 214 Travis Bond, OG, Minnesota
  • No. 215 Tommy Bohanon, FB, New York Jets
  • No. 224 Kevin Dorsey, WR, Green Bay
  • No. 229 Everett Dawkins, DT, Minnesota
  • No. 249 Sean Renfree, QB, Atlanta

Incoming member Syracuse had three players drafted as well: tackle Justin Pugh in the first round to the New York Giants; quarterback Ryan Nassib in the fourth round to the Giants; and safety Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round to Pittsburgh.

And now a few notes:
  • North Carolina had the second-most picks from the ACC with five -- its highest total since five were picked in 2011. The Tar Heels had three offensive linemen selected, the most from UNC in the draft since 1967.
  • Miami had its NFL draft streak extended to 39 consecutive seasons with Brandon McGee and Mike James both getting selected.
  • Virginia also had its draft streak extended to 30 straight seasons with Aboushi's selection.
  • Tommy Bohanon Bohanon became just the third Wake Forest fullback to have his name called in the draft, joining Ovie Mughelli (Ravens, 2003) and Neil MacLean (Eagles, 1958).
  • With four selections in this year's draft, Clemson has now had 23 players chosen over the last five years, and at least four every year Dabo Swinney has been head coach. It is the first time in history Clemson has had at least four players drafted each of the last five years.
  • Georgia Tech did not have a player selected for the first time since 2005. Three players with draft hopes ended up with free agent deals: T.J. Barnes (Jacksonville), Izaan Cross (Buffalo) and Rod Sweeting (New Orleans).
  • Pitt did not have a player drafted for the second consecutive season. Running back Ray Graham, who was the Panthers' best hope for selection, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Texans.
  • Here are a few other notable free-agent signings: Conner Vernon (Oakland), Chibuikem “Kenny” Okoro (San Diego), Marcus Davis (New York Giants), Lonnie Pryor (Jacksonville).

ACC pro days wrap

March, 27, 2013
3/27/13
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Every school in the ACC has now completed its pro day. You can look back on what happened at Clemson, Miami Pitt and Syracuse. Andrea Adelson had the wrap on the other eight schools. Duke and North Carolina were the last to finish, as they both held their pro days this week. Here are their highlights:

DUKE
NORTH CAROLINA

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
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#DunkCity.

Contender or pretender: Duke

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
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If you’re just joining us, this series is categorizing the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. We’re leaving out Florida State and Clemson because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders.

We move on to Duke.

SportsNation

What do you expect out of Duke in 2013?

  •  
    11%
  •  
    89%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,464)

Why they're a contender: Sure, the Blue Devils lose Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon. But this is a team that is going to have a vastly different look on offense in 2013, one that could make it quite powerful on the ground. And any time you can run the ball successfully, you are going to give yourself a shot to win every game. Anthony Boone takes over at quarterback, and the Blue Devils plan on using more option principles with him behind center. They have great depth in the backfield as well, as their top six rushers return. That group includes their top three running backs -- Jela Duncan, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson -- who combined for 1,401 yards on 283 attempts. The offensive line should be a strength as well, as center Brian Moore is the only starter lost. Duke should also be better up front defensively with the return of seniors Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento. Depth should be improved as well, as 11 defensive linemen who earned varsity letters in 2012 are back. If Duke is able to be strong in the trenches, watch out.

Why they're a pretender: Let's be real. Losing guys like Renfree and Vernon is going to hurt. Boone is a first-year starter who has only played spot duty. This is an offense that has featured a pro-style scheme for years. At this point, Boone is a question mark behind center, considering who he is replacing. At receiver, Vernon was about as clutch a receiver as there was in the entire country. Jamison Crowder returns but there are some serious depth concerns at the position. As for the running game, Duke may have its top rushers returning but this group ranked No. 98 in the country in rushing offense. Can the Blue Devils actively rely on the run this season, when Renfree isn't around to pass them out of trouble? As for the defense, this is a group that showed inconsistency last season and now has to rebuild its secondary, where three starters are gone. Questions linger about whether this group as a whole can take the next step.

Final verdict: Pretender. Duke has a tall task to replace some of the most prolific players in school history while playing a more difficult schedule and trying to continue its upward trajectory. Given how strong the Coastal Division looks as a whole heading into 2013, it is tough to envision the Blue Devils in contention for a division crown with a first-year starter at quarterback.
Earlier this morning we started a conversation with Duke coach David Cutcliffe to help preview the Blue Devils' spring practices, which begin today. Here is the second part of our interview:

Even though you have so many big shoes to fill, how confident are you that you can still be a better team next year?

David Cutcliffe: Oh I feel very good about that. All of our run game is back. Our line, for the most part, is back. We’re adding youth to it, and we’re continuing to get better at every position. Once we get Braxton Deaver back and get a tight end that can play in or out -- Issac Blakeney can play in or out, Erich Schneider can play in or out -- we’ve got slots, we’ve got wideouts. ... And we’re bringing a group in here that I think is real special, so I think the 2013 version of playmakers will be the best we’ve had at Duke. We just have to produce at quarterback like Sean was. All of the people who were kind of naysayers at times about Sean are realizing how consistent he was. We have to find consistency and big-play ability at quarterback.

How is Anthony [Boone] different from Sean [Renfree]?

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY SportsAnthony Boone can extend plays better than Sean Renfree could.
DC: He is the new era of quarterback. Anthony is going to change our run game a good bit. He can prolong plays better. Just watch football, I don’t care what level -- it’s not just the zone read. Ben Roethlisberger is not that kind of guy, but he prolongs plays really well for the Steelers through the years. That’s how a lot of big plays occur. That wasn’t Sean’s strength. It is Anthony’s. Anthony is always dangerous back there. I think that adds a little bit of life to your offense.

What does he need to work on?

DC: Just accuracy, consistency that we had with Sean. He’s just got to be consistent. I want him to be able to throw the ball for 60 percent plus and be aggressive. You can’t afford to be aggressive if you’re not in that range. I’m using 60. It can be 58, 59, but it can’t be 50. We’re not a 50-50 proposition in our pass game, that’s not good enough.

How do you compensate for the loss of [Conner] Vernon?

DC: Jamison Crowder is the first thing you say. He had 79 catches, and we’re going to use him in a lot of different ways. I don’t think he’s a good player, I think he’s a great football player. I hope he’s capable of me saying that publicly, but he’s a great football player, one of the better ones I’ve had. He’s going to show up in a lot of places. [Braxton] Deaver, who was out all last year, certainly Brandon Braxton -- two experienced players who can make plays for you. Our running backs are going to show up in different places because we’re better there than we’ve been. I expect our completion number to escalate, but I also really expect our yards rushing to escalate. It may not be that we have a guy just like Conner opposite of Jamison, but we’re going to have more weapons, and that’s how you compensate for one guy that had such a spectacular career.

What was the attitude of the team in winter conditioning given how the season ended?

DC: The season didn’t end well. The bowl game didn’t end in a victory. We know the circumstance, but I’ll tell you what happened. Every one of them realized they belonged where they were. We were in November, and we were in the hunt to go to Charlotte and it was real. If we would have played as well as we could have played, we would have had a real opportunity to be there. In the bowl game, to most people who watched it, we looked like the better team. We really did. We made that statement early and often. But 15 bad plays cost us the game. What it’s done, the mentality is we know we can, but they’re hungrier. I like the edge we’ve got now. Had we won, it could have gone either way. Had we won, would we really be any better than we are right now? Would we be as hungry? I don’t know. But I like the mentality of our squad right now. They believe in themselves, but they also understand that more good things have to happen. They understand they best be hungry.
Duke starts spring practices today and it does so with plenty of questions as the program tries to build upon last year’s postseason success of making it to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. Gone are quarterback Sean Renfree and his favorite target, record-setting receiver Conner Vernon, and there have also been several staff changes. I spoke with coach David Cutcliffe to get his take on the state of the program heading into spring ball, and we talked at length about a variety of topics. Here are the highlights of the first part of our interview:

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Peter Casey/US PresswireCoach David Cutcliffe has his hands full this spring season, as new coaches and new players get acclimated to Duke football.
From an insider’s perspective, how big of a deal are these staff changes and what kind of an impact do you hope they make?

David Cutcliffe: We lost two great people in Ron Middleton and Matt Lubick. You can trade different, but you can never trade down when you make staff hires. That’s one of my rules. I don’t have to have an identical match. In this case, we certainly traded a little different, as you look at it, but we did not trade down. I think the impact, we have two North Carolinians, two former Duke football players there (Re’quan Boyette and Scottie Montgomery). They’ve invested their athletic careers here at Duke, both of them great players in this state, groomed in this state. They will have a lot of energy and enthusiasm on the practice field. Scottie is 34, Re’quan 26. When you’re getting as old as I am, you need to surround yourself with young people. I love it. I truly do. I think their energy is going to be infectious to our squad.

What are your top priorities heading into practices?

DC: We’ve got to look at the offensive side first, and get our people in the right place to replace playmakers, a guy who started at quarterback for three years. Our all-time leading receiver in the history of the ACC. And an unusual athlete in Desmond Scott, a guy who produced a lot of yards in receptions and rushing, one of the top three in the history of the league in that regard -- rushing yards, return yards, and reception yards. You can’t ignore that. We’re going to look at people. We’re going to move Brandon Braxton back to offense, who started for us two years ago and played as a true freshman. We’ve got some other people who mix in there well. We will certainly accentuate Jamison Crowder. We’ve got to solidify our circumstances at quarterback. Anthony Boone comes in this spring as the starter. We have some talented people around him, so I expect this team to be a very athletic team on offense.

On defense, certainly the attention goes first to the secondary, where we have to replace three starters there, Tony Foster at corner, Jordon Byas and Walt Canty at safety. I think we’ve got a good start there. The biggest concern I have other than the secondary is building quality and depth. It’s going to be interesting. On both sides of the ball, we’ve gotten better. We’ve run it a little better, and we’ve got to continue that path offensively, but we’ve got to stop the ball being run against us, particularly in big plays. And then we certainly have to stop explosives on the defense in the passing game. That’s our areas of biggest emphasis.

Check back in a bit for Part II.

Duke QB Anthony Boone ready to lead

February, 25, 2013
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Duke quarterback Anthony Boone said he isn’t nervous about taking over the starting job this spring for former veteran Sean Renfree, who finished his career ranked third on the ACC’s career completions list.

Boone isn’t exactly a novice.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Anthony Boone, who played against Wake Forest on Sept. 29, 2012, has been preparing this offseason to lead the Blue Devils in 2013.
In his first career start, Boone threw four touchdown passes to help the Blue Devils clobber Virginia, 42-17, last October. The previous week, Boone replaced an injured Renfree late in the third quarter against Wake Forest and scored the game-winning touchdown on a four-yard run early in the fourth quarter.

“I’ve played a good bit of football,” said Boone, who played in 11 games last year and completed 51.6 percent of his passes for 531 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. “I feel like the two-quarterback system prepared me for being able to take control of the whole game and lead the team in the right direction and try to win football games and try to win championships.”

Last year, Duke shocked the ACC by being in contention for the Coastal Division title in November, but even with Renfree at the helm, the Blue Devils faded down the stretch and lost their final four regular-season games. Still, the program was lauded for playing in a bowl game for the first time since 1994, and coach David Cutcliffe was named the ACC’s Coach of the Year. Duke’s six wins last year were as many as Duke had had in the entire five years before Cutcliffe was hired. If Duke is going to build upon that success this fall, Boone must adjust quickly to the starting role. While he did make a splash in his first career start, it was also his only start.

Boone said there are some intangibles he’s been working on this offseason to become more of a leader.

“I have to be way more accountable than I was last year, and being vocal in the weight room and on the field, when we did conditioning and agility drills, being more vocal and leading by example,” he said. “I don’t have much room for error. I can’t slack off or be the guy called back for not doing a drill right.”

Boone said this spring he plans to “hop to the front of the line,” and break everything down before going into individual drills.

Duke’s passing game has been its forte under Cutcliffe. Renfree finished seventh on the ACC’s career passing yardage list with 9,465, and those within the program say Boone has a stronger arm and is more of a threat outside the pocket. Last year, Duke set a school single-season record for most games scoring 34 or more points with seven.

Much of the luster of those accomplishments faded with Duke, though, in November. Boone said he is determined not to let that happen again.

“I’ve been preaching to our team throughout winter workouts that our main goal is to finish,” he said. “We lost the last five games. Last year I felt like once we got that sixth win, it was like we weren’t pressing anymore. It was like a relaxed feeling, which we don’t want this year. We want to keep pressing. We want to win eight or nine games this year and put ourselves in position for a nice high bowl game in Florida maybe or in Atlanta, but we’re definitely looking for more than six wins, that’s for sure.”

And the Blue Devils will be looking to Boone to help get them.

Top 25 countdown: Who missed the cut

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
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We just finished our Top 25 countdown of the best players in the ACC in 2012.

But as with any list, there are always guys who just miss the cut. Heather and I went back and forth on this list many times before solidifying our Top 25, weighing performance, postseason accolades, records set and overall impact on each player's respective team. There were many tough decisions to make, none tougher than some of the guys we had to leave off.

So who are our next five?

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. There is no doubt Watkins is one of the most talented players in the entire ACC. Expect him to be in the preseason 2013 countdown. But he did not have the type of performance in 2012 to merit inclusion in our revised list, which takes into account performance over the course of the season. Some of that was out of his control; some of it was in his control. Bottom line: he had a down year with 708 yards receiving and three touchdown catches.

Nick Clancy, LB, Boston College. Clancy was the most productive linebacker in the league in terms of tackles, leading the league with a whopping 145 tackles. But the Eagles' defense was one of the worst in the ACC and had a hard time stopping teams.

Sean Renfree, QB, Duke. Renfree put together his best season, throwing for 3,113 yards with a career-high 19 touchdown passes while completing 67.3 percent of his passes. He was a big reason why Duke got to a bowl game, but the Blue Devils also struggled down the stretch.

Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia. Aboushi made the All-ACC first team and was no doubt one of the best tackles in the ACC. But the UVa ground game also took a step back in 2012, and the Hoos gave up 12 more sacks than a season ago.

Steve Greer, LB, Virginia. Greer finished second in the ACC with 122 tackles and finished as a media first-team All-ACC selection and coaches' second-team selection. But the Hoos also struggled on defense this past season.

On the outside looking in

Here are several other players worthy of mention for solid 2012 seasons

Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech. Ranked third in the ACC with 10 sacks and finished with 69 tackles.

Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke. Set career highs with 76 receptions for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns, and ranked No. 5 in the ACC in receptions per game and tied for No. 3 in receiving yards per game.

Stephen Morris, QB, Miami. Set school single-season total offense record with 3,415 yards, and ranked No. 4 in the ACC in passing yards per game and pass efficiency and No. 3 in total offense.

Chris Thompson, RB, Florida State. Made the coaches' All-ACC second-team in a nod to his efforts before his knee injury, when he averaged a whopping 7.5 yards per carry. In eight games, he had 935 of total offense and five touchdowns.

Jack Tyler, LB, Virginia Tech. Tyler made the coaches' All-ACC first team, finishing the season with 119 tackles -- 13 of them for loss.

Tevin Washington, QB, Georgia Tech. Washington was No. 4 in the ACC in scoring and No. 2 in scoring touchdowns with 20, all rushing. He ends his career with more rushing touchdowns (38) than any quarterback in ACC history.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
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Have a great weekend!

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
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The 2013 NFL combine began on Wednesday in Indianapolis and runs through next Tuesday as players get one final audition for the next level. A total of 333 prospects will go through drills at Lucas Oil Stadium in front of NFL scouts, and they will also take part in medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews with NFL teams.

You can find the full schedule of events here.

The ACC will be well-represented with 42 players at the event.

Among the ACC players who could be a surprise there is Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson, according to Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc. Here's a snippet of his evaluation:
A former Marist College basketball player, Watson (6-4, 317) has natural feet, and his ability to open up and run in space stands out on tape. He gets deep in his pass sets, and he can redirect and mirror pass-rushers. Watson also appears to have long arms, so I'm interested to see how he measures up.

Weidl also has Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas as a potential surprise:
With his compact build (5-8^, 217) and low center of gravity, Thomas should do well in the short shuttle and three-cone drills. He shows good change-of-direction skills on tape and is likely to back that up in those agility tests, and his vertical jump should be good.

One ACC player who shouldn't have too much more to prove is former FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner, who is listed at No. 5 on Mel Kiper's latest Big Board.

Some of the ACC's most interesting storylines are with the quarterbacks, who could boost their stock with a strong combine:
  • Mike Glennon, NC State: There have been some mixed reviews about Glennon's pro potential, but Kiper still has him as the No. 3 quarterback in this class, despite 17 interceptions last year.
  • Sean Renfree, Duke: Coach David Cutcliffe has insisted all along that Renfree is an NFL-caliber quarterback. This is his chance to prove his biggest fan right.
  • EJ Manuel, Florida State: Manuel took some heat from FSU fans last year, and he wasn't the best QB in the ACC, but he finished with a strong performance in the Senior Bowl. It will be interesting to see how he fares on his own instead of under coach Jimbo Fisher.

Best of luck to all of the former ACC players at the combine.
DUKE

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Boone is up. Duke loses three-year starter Sean Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Anthony Boone is the next man up, and has plenty of game experience. But coming in for spot duty is vastly different from taking over the starting quarterback job. He has to get a jump on becoming the leader of this offense in the spring.

2. Receiver spots open. The Blue Devils lose the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Conner Vernon, plus the versatile and athletic Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is back, but Duke is going to need to find two more starters and several more to step up and help with depth.

3. Handling success. This is the first time since 1994 that Duke goes into a spring with 15 bowl practices already under its belt and a taste of success. That should presumably give the Blue Devils an advantage. But it is much harder maintaining, as many coach will tell you. How does this new success impact the mind-set in spring practice?

GEORGIA TECH

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

1. Ted Roof takes over. What is the Georgia Tech defense going to look like with Ted Roof in charge? He has not really given out specifics about the type of scheme he wants to use as his base, so it will be interesting to see how he fits his personnel to what he likes to do best. The Jackets do return eight starters to a unit that improved in the second half of the season.

2. Vad Lee time. We saw glimpse of what Lee could do as he began to share quarterback duties with Tevin Washington last season. Now, the show is all his, so we get to see how he develops as a full-time starter.

3. So long, Orwin. The Jackets lose one of their most dynamic playmakers in Orwin Smith, who finished his career ranked among Georgia Tech’s all-time leaders in kickoff returns (76), kickoff return yards (1,624) and career all-purpose yards (4,278). Georgia Tech has to find somebody to replace that productivity.

MIAMI

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. D in Defense? The No. 1 spring priority has got to be improving a defense that was one of the worst in the nation in every NCAA statistical category (No. 112 rushing defense, No. 102 passing defense, No. 116 total defense, No. 82 scoring defense). If Miami is going to be a favorite to win the Coastal, it needs better play out of this group.

2. New OC. James Coley takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Jedd Fisch. Coley served as offensive coordinator at Florida State before arriving at Miami, but did not call the plays. So he has much more responsibility here, and is charged with taking Stephen Morris from great to next-level great.

3. D-Line improvement. If Miami is going to be better on defense, it has to start up front, where the Hurricanes were extremely young and mostly ineffective for 2012. The Hurricanes had to deal with their share of injuries, but they also were not great at stopping the run or putting pressure on the passer -- with only 13 sacks all year. That is the lowest total since at least 2005, the first year NCAA stats began listing team sack totals.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Bye bye, Gio. Life begins without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard, who left school early for the NFL draft. The cupboard is not completely bare, though, as A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both return. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

2. Replacing Williams, Reddick. North Carolina returns nine starters on defense. That is the good news. The bad news is the Tar Heels lose their two best players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, two first-team All-ACC selections. We'll see if Ethan Farmer at tackle and P.J. Clyburn at linebacker emerge to win the starting jobs.

3. Replacing Coop. The Tar Heels have a major hole to fill on their offensive line as they say goodbye to unanimous All-America guard Jonathan Cooper, a stalwart who made 47 career starts. Cooper was the unheralded leader of the offense, so filling his spot is a major priority this spring.

PITTSBURGH

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. QB situation. Tino Sunseri is gone, leaving Arizona transfer Tom Savage, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson to compete for the starting job. Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Panthers, so upgrading this position is an absolute must.

2. Adjusting to DC. Pitt is going into the season with its fourth new coordinator in as many years, as Dave Huxtable left for NC State after only one year on the job. Secondary coach Matt House was promoted to coordinator, so at least there will be some familiarity. But he has to get to work on improving this unit's consistency.

3. Offensive line improvements. Is this the year we finally see a vastly improved Pitt offensive line? The Panthers have to replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson, two key positions to watch during spring practice.

VIRGINIA

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. New coaches. How will the three most high-profile hires Mike London made mesh with the staff and returning players? How will the offense deal with a new scheme under Steve Fairchild? How will the defense deal with a new scheme under Jon Tenuta? How big will Tom O'Brien's role be with the offense? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. QB competition. Fairchild has already said he will open up the quarterback job to a "very spirited competition" this spring. The two front-runners figure to be Phillip Sims and David Watford, who both have game experience. But there will be no shortage of quarterbacks in Charlottesville this year, so there are no guarantees that either of them will win the job.

3. Replacing Greer. The Hoos have some big shoes to fill in the middle of their defense with the departure of linebacker Steve Greer, who ended his career with 376 tackles -- ranking No. 6 in school history. Kwontie Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play in 2012, backed up Greer last season. Will he win the starting job?

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Logan Thomas. All eyes will be on Thomas as he heads into his senior season, especially with new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler in charge. How will the two work together, and what will Loeffler do to get Thomas to cut down on his mistakes and capitalize on the immense potential he has?

2. Rushing attack. Item No. 2 on the agenda for Loeffler is to figure out a way to jump start the Virginia Tech rushing game, which struggled in 2012. The offensive line was inconsistent, and so were the running backs. The Hokies could never really settle on a starter or a clear rotation in the backfield, either. Somebody has to emerge as THE guy.

3. Filling in for Exum. Virginia Tech took a serious hit to its defensive backfield last month when emerging cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. The Hokies will look to several young players to try and fill his void, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Fans will have to wait on highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller, who joins in the summer.

Moving Day: Pittsburgh

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
9:00
AM ET
Syracuse has officially made the move into the ACC football blog. Now it's Pitt's turn. The Panthers will become full members of the ACC on July 1, joining the Coastal Division with former Big East partners Miami and Virginia Tech. As far as we're concerned, here in the blogosphere, the move has been made.

Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich are here to welcome Pittsburgh into the ACC blog. C'mon in, there's plenty of room.

Heather Dinich: Andrea, one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season was Pitt's 35-17 win against Virginia Tech on Sept. 15. It wasn't just that Virginia Tech lost, it was how Pitt won -- convincingly, by manhandling the Hokies up front on both sides of the ball. Few, if any, saw that coming, as Virginia Tech was outworked and outmuscled by a team that had lost its first two games of the season, including to Youngstown State. How concerned should the rest of the Coastal Division be about the 2013 Panthers?

[+] EnlargePitt's Paul Chryst
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPittsburgh needs head coach Paul Chryst to stabilize a staff that has endured turnover in recent seasons.
Andrea Adelson: Heather, that was a great shock to us all, because up to that point, Pitt had not proven to be very good up front. In fact, the Panthers struggled for much of the season to gain consistency on their offensive and defensive lines. That win was one of their most complete of the season, topped only by their 27-6 win against No. 18 Rutgers later in the year. I am on the record as saying I believe Pitt will have an opportunity to contend for the Coastal Division. First, quarterback play should be improved dramatically, with either former Freshman All-American Tom Savage or four-star recruit Chad Voytik at the helm. Second, the Panthers have a solid running back in Rushel Shell and an unheralded receiver in Devin Street. And third, the Panthers return nine starters on defense, including All-Big East tackle Aaron Donald. I also think this team will be better in Year 2 under Paul Chryst. It's actually the first time since 2009 and '10 that the Panthers have had the same head coach in back-to-back seasons.

Having said that, there are a few concerns. First and foremost is playing consistently week in and week out. Those who follow me on the Big East blog know I referred to this team as "Good Pitt/Bad Pitt" all season because of the Jekyll and Hyde performances. Pitt followed a lose two, win two pattern all season. Chryst needs to find a way to get his team to play at the same level every single week. Second, the offensive line has to be better, because it has been pretty bad the past several years. Pitt won't be able to play the way Chryst wants to play on offense if the line doesn't improve. And third, Pitt is searching for yet another defensive coordinator since Dave Huxtable has gone to NC State. So that's my take. What will Pitt find in the Coastal this year?

HD: A much-improved Virginia Tech team. A Miami team ready to play for the league title (if it's eligible, of course). An eligible North Carolina team ready to contend for the Coastal Division title in the second season under Larry Fedora. A Georgia Tech team that returns the bulk of its playmakers and should get upgrades at quarterback (Vad Lee) and defensive coordinator (Ted Roof). Duke will have something to prove, as it has had some significant staff changes, including the departure of senior quarterback Sean Renfree and record-setting senior receiver Conner Vernon. Virginia had a staff overhaul, but coach Mike London should be feeling some heat to get back to a bowl.

SportsNation

How do you think Pitt will fare in its first season in the Coastal Division?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,360)

Overall, the Coastal Division should be much, much better than it was last year. Heck, it can't get much worse, as the Hokies had their worst season in 20 years, two teams were ineligible, and Georgia Tech needed a waiver just to play in a bowl game. The Coastal Division is more balanced than the Atlantic Division, and Pitt will fit right in, adding to that parity. I'm looking forward to seeing Pitt-Miami and Pitt-Virginia Tech on a more regular basis. Miami has yet to play for the ACC title since joining the league, while Virginia Tech has owned it. Make no mistake -- last season was an anomaly in Blacksburg. What will it take for Pitt to follow the Hokies' path in the ACC?

AA: Great question, Heather. No. 1 on the list has to be coaching stability. The Pitt program has been set back because of the missteps over the past three years with head coaches. Most everybody believes Chryst is a solid football coach, but he is going to need time to get this program where he wants it. And he has exceptional resources to get the job done, with state-of-the-art facilities and extremely fertile recruiting ground in the Pennsylvania area. Pitt does not have to go far to find some of the most talented players in the nation. They finished just outside the top 40 on signing day last week. They can sell their ties to the Steelers, playing in an NFL stadium, and their incredible history, filled with national championships and Hall of Famers. Now, you could come back and say, "Well, Miami has all that, and more, and the Canes have failed to dominate the ACC as predicted." Very true. But you also make my point for me. Miami's weakness has been at the head-coaching position, as well, with Larry Coker and Randy Shannon unable to continue the success Miami had in the Big East. Al Golden now has the Canes in position to be the favorites in the Coastal.

Virginia Tech? Well, Virginia Tech has had Frank Beamer, the picture of coaching stability. After Wisconsin lost coach Bret Bielema, many wondered whether athletic director Barry Alvarez would approach Chryst, a long-time Wisconsin assistant and Wisconsin graduate. But Chryst let it be known he did not have any intention of leaving Pitt after a year on the job. He is committed to the Panthers. Now the administration has to show its commitment by giving him time to build. If he's as good as many think he can be, Pitt will be fine.

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