ACC: Sydney Sarmiento

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?

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    11%
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    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.

Duke spring wrap

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
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2011 overall record: 3-9
2011 conference record: 1-7 (6th, Coastal)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
WR Conner Vernon, WR Brandon Braxton, RT Perry Simmons, RG Laken Tomlinson, C Brian Moore, QB Sean Renfree, DE Justin Foxx, DT Sydney Sarmiento, DE Kenny Anunike, LB Kelby Brown, LB Austin Gamble, CB Ross Cockrell, S Jordon Byas, S Walt Canty

Key losses
WR Donovan Varner, LT Kyle Hill, NG Charlie Hatcher, CB Johnny Williams, S Matt Daniels, PK Will Snyderwine, P Alex King

2011 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Juwan Thompson* (457 yards)
Passing: Sean Renfree* (2,891 yards)
Receiving: Conner Vernon* (956 yards)
Tackles: Matt Daniels (126)
Sacks: Kenny Anunike* (4)
Interceptions: Matt Daniels (2)

Spring answers

1. Sean Renfree keeps improving: Coach David Cutcliffe has talked about a pro future for Renfree. Getting to pick the brain of Cutcliffe's pupil, Peyton Manning, probably doesn't hurt. Neither does turning in another strong spring, as Renfree returns for his third year as a starter hoping, once again, to help the program take the next step.

2. Offensive line is cohesive: Much of the production from last season's unit is back, and the group will only grow closer with an offseason volunteer trip to Ethiopia, where 11 of Duke's offensive linemen currently are. The unit could help pave the way for a talented incoming running back class, along with returning starter Juwan Thompson.

3. Conner Vernon ready to make plays: Cutcliffe has said it will take playmakers for Duke to take the next step, and he certainly has one in Vernon, who enters 2012 within striking distance of the ACC receiving record. Having an experienced quarterback such as Renfree throwing to him should help him in the pursuit.

Fall questions

1. Will the defense step up? It is Year 2 under coordinator Jim Knowles and his 4-2-5 scheme, and plenty of talent is back. Still, the unit loses safety Matt Daniels and ranked near the bottom of most defensive categories among ACC schools last season.

2. Can the Blue Devils handle this schedule? FIU and Stanford aren't exactly nonconference cupcakes, especially for a school that has traditionally been an ACC bottom-feeder. Time will only tell if those first two games, regardless of outcome, serve the Blue Devils well before jumping into their conference slate.

3. Is this The Year? Duke holds the longest current bowl-less drought, having not played in the postseason since 1994. Three of Duke's nine losses last season came by a combined seven points, perhaps suggesting that the team was closer to breaking through than many would think. There is plenty of returning talent in key spots, but a tough schedule and recent history suggest that it will still take a huge effort for the Blue Devils to extend their season.
Duke's spring season will end at 1 p.m. this Saturday, when the Blue Devils take the field at Wallace Wade Stadium for their spring game. I caught up with coach David Cutcliffe over the phone earlier this week to talk about injuries, expectations and the next step for the program.

What would count as a successful spring for you guys, and how close do you think you are to that with just a few days left?

David Cutcliffe: We've had an unusual spring. We've had a lot of starters that have missed the entire spring. So it put us in a little different light. Brian Moore, Conner Vernon, Braxton Deaver, Kenny Anunike, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, Kelby Brown, August Campbell, all guys that were returning starters. Desmond Scott on offense. So they've miss the entire spring and it's been difficult in that regard. So what was successful was to go out and kind of think players. Not plays, not systems. And see if we could go from kind of Point A to B with a lot of younger players and some of our more experienced players that are out there just being able to go to another level. So kind of really evaluated our team by evaluating individuals. So to this point I would tell you we've had a very successful spring in that regard. I think we've made more improvement with more players than any spring since we've had since we've been here. Hopefully when we get everybody available that computes to a much better football team, because with our schedule, Matt, it's going to take that.

[+] EnlargeDuke's David Cutcliffe
Mark Dolejs/US PRESSWIRE"This is a good team," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said, "now you just got to go win games, and that sounds simple, but that's about how simple it is."
That was going to get to my next point. Injuries aside, you obviously return a lot of starters. How important was it to build depth this spring and how much did you learn about some of those younger guys?

DC: I think it's been good. Right now we've got a good football team. And what we have learned here, at this point, we've been really, pretty good here. The record hasn't indicated anything. We've played a lot of good football. So there's another level we're hunting, and that's the next step for Duke football. Everybody asks you all the time: When is it going to come through? Well it already kind of has come through. This is a good team, now you just got to go win games, and that sounds simple, but that's about how simple it is.

You've said before publicly that good isn't good enough. What will it take for Duke to make the next step?

DC: I think that where you get into making critical plays. We need maybe some great playmakers that can do that to that level on a consistent basis, if you think about the teams winning in our league, there's a number of great playmakers. You just take the two teams that played for the championship. They had guys, both of them, had guys that just made great plays at critical times in critical opportunities, and they did it time and time again. We played Virginia Tech. We know at quarterback and at running back and [Jarrett] Boykin at receiver, and there were defensive players that made those critical plays. And you certainly look at Clemson, and they had the most playmakers in the league. And I think we've made great strides there in the recruiting parts of things and for us to go from being just a good team, we've got to have guys make some great plays for us at critical times that win games, and we haven't had enough of that, quite frankly. I think we have more of those guys and we're more equipped -- I don't think it, I know we're more equipped than we've ever been. I'm really excited and looking forward to seeing this team play.

Sean Renfree, Conner Vernon -- you have a lot of skill players returning. How high offensively do you set the bar?

DC: I would expect us to play very high. All of our backs have played. We have three quarterbacks that have played a lot. Not many people have that — certainly a starter in Sean Renfree that's very, very experienced. But [Anthony] Boone and [Brandon] Connette are as well. With Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder and Blair Holliday, it allowed us to move Brandon Braxton to safety. But all of our receivers have played, and played well. Deaver at tight end, and we get him back. But we've got some young tight ends that are exciting, that have made plays all spring. I think our weapons are far deeper, and I think the beauty of all that is our line is kind of maturing at the same time those other guys are maturing. So I look for us to be much better offensively in production.

What did you take away from the scrimmage this past weekend?

DC: Again, thinking players, we had on both sides of the ball some huge plays made. Walt Canty in the secondary, [Lee] Butler and [Ross] Cockrell, people that have played again. Jordon Byas is playing the best football. Our secondary made some big plays. Up front Jamal Bruce and Dezmond Johnson and Sydney Sarmiento, and guys made big plays in the game. And then on offense just about everybody got in on the look. All the quarterbacks. Renfree had a big day, but David Reeves and Issac Blakeney, these young tight ends. Then Holliday, Crowder, Tyree Watkins -- just the people we had available to us made huge plays. And then our backs. Having Josh Snead back healthy, and Juwan Thompson, those two really got your attention Saturday. So I just felt good about the number of people that were contributing, and it was pretty well-played on both sides of the ball.

What would a bowl game mean for your players?

DC: There's no question that's part of the goal. What it would mean for me is not just these players but there's some vindication for the amount of work that's gone in to what we've done here with all the players that we've had in recent times. And certainly this staff, who, they're very close to each other. And this is an exceptional staff. All of the staff and the families, and then certainly the people, the fans of Duke football that have endured a long drought. It's a big deal, and it should be a big deal around here. And I don't think an average team with this schedule can be a bowl team. We can't be average; we've go to be well above average. You've got the schedule, you know what I'm saying is accurate. I'm not making an excuse, I'm just stating a fact: We're not going to be good enough if we're average.

How do you tell your players that? How do you get them to buy into that and know that it will take more than a typical performance from them this season?

DC: I've told them that. All I had to do was kind of just put the schedule, and just start writing up on the board and tell them that a lot of lesser people than them would crumble under this. You start looking at, we're playing Clemson, Florida State, not to leave anybody out. Miami and Florida State are two of the more talented teams in the country every year. Stanford. North Carolina's been as talented as anybody I know of in the country the last few years. Virginia Tech, Virginia. I could go on. Opening up with an FIU team that's a bowl team the last two years, all kinds of talent on that team. South Florida talent. We've got a lot of people that have played a lot of football. They know what's in front of them. And you've got to push and strive and do what you got to do to get past it. And I think this team is really looking forward to that challenge. Rather than worrying about it, I think they're looking forward to the opportunity that exists with it.

ACC team position rankings: Defensive lines

June, 27, 2011
6/27/11
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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.

Practice reports: Miami, Duke

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
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There are only two teams practicing right now, but that will change soon. Meanwhile, here's a recap of what happened at Duke's scrimmage and Miami's practice on Wednesday, according to each school's sports information department.

DUKE

The defense led the way as safety Jordon Byas and defensive end Justin Foxx scored defensive touchdowns and the defense forced five turnovers in a 75-play scrimmage at the Brooks Practice Field. Byas intercepted Brandon Connette for a 41-yard touchdown return. Foxx later scooped up a fumble and ran 35 yards for a score. Duke will take a spring break before resuming practice on March 17.

Highlights

  • Defensive end Kenny Anunike had one fumble recovery while defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento and cornerback Ross Cockrell carded one interception each.
  • Linebacker Abraham Kromah had four tackles for loss, including one quarterback sack. Anunike, Foxx, linebacker Austin Gamble and linebacker Tyree Glover also made sacks while noseguard Curtis Hazelton was credited with two tackles for loss.
  • Running back Patrick Kurunwune rushed 13 times for a game-high 82 yards with one touchdown while Josh Snead added 56 yards and two touchdowns on 10 attempts.
  • Quarterback Sean Schroeder completed 10 of 20 passes for 116 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to wideout Conner Vernon. He was intercepted once and added a 7-yard touchdown run.
  • Austin Kelly caught a scrimmage-best four passes for 36 yards while Tyree Watkins had three grabs for 33 yards.
Quotable

“We had good work today; a lot of things happened. We made it very game-like; played field position; played the game. The best thing that happened was our defense taking the ball away. Jordon Byas intercepted a pass early, took it back for a score, and kind of set the tempo of the game.” -- Coach David Cutcliffe

MIAMI

The Canes went two hours in full pads and will practice again on Friday before having a closed scrimmage on Saturday. Miami finished practice working in 9-on-9 situations with some special teams work sprinkled in between the two periods. UM also worked on field goal protection before ending practice working in 11-on-11, blitz and third-down team situations.

Highlights

  • Senior defensive back DeMarcus Van Dyke had an interception during the blitz period.
  • Junior quarterback Spencer Whipple found Kendal Thompkins for a nice gain of more than 20 yards over the middle.
  • Junior wide receiver LaRon Byrd ended the blitz period with a grab as he snatched a ball thrown by Stephen Morris out of the air over three defenders.
Quotable

"We have more depth. I’m not worried about five offensive linemen making practice or seven offensive linemen or five defensive linemen. We have depth now. You feel good about your team. You feel good about the progress you’ve made. You also just feel good, because you have numbers to work with. You see guys that have grown and gotten bigger. You look at LaRon Byrd and how big he is. You look at offensive line with big physical guys. The defensive line is big and physical. When I first took over, we were very small. Right now, we can do the things we need to get done." -- Coach Randy Shannon

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 15, 2010
2/15/10
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Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Spring practice starts: March 18

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• How linebacker Mark Herzlich progresses. Herzlich, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer last May, has been going through winter conditioning with his teammates, and he plans on participating in spring drills. How quickly he regains his form will be worth watching, as he and sophomore Luke Kuechly could give the Eagles one of the most formidable linebacking corps.

• The quarterback battle. After one season, Dave Shinskie has the most experience on the roster, but he’ll get some competition from Josh Bordner and Chase Rettig, two early enrollees. There were times last season when Shinskie looked like the future of the position and there were others when he looked like any other freshman.

• Defensive linemen. For the second straight year, BC is looking for some stability up front. The Eagles have to replace left tackle Austin Giles and defensive end Jim Ramella. They return Kaleb Ramsey, Giles’ backup, and Brad Newman, Ramella’s reserve, but some young faces are likely to be seen in the rotation.

CLEMSON

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Life without C.J. Spiller officially begins. The backs behind him had a pretty good year, so there’s no need for full panic mode. Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington actually combined for a higher yards per carry average (6.1 to 5.6 yards). Clemson will also be looking to replace Spiller’s lost kickoff return yardage. The Tigers had a 13-yard advantage in average starting field position, as their start was their own 37-yard line compared to opponents’ 24-yard line. Ellington is a candidate in the return game.

• Kyle Parker’s batting average. No, really. How well Parker does this spring with the baseball team will help determine whether he remains Clemson’s quarterback or turns to the MLB draft. He didn’t have a great 2009 season, but he was still the fastest player to 25 home runs in school history. It remains to be seen this spring if he’ll become a high enough draft choice to give up college football.

• Secondary shuffling. It seems like eons ago since Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor weren’t the Tigers’ starting corners, as Butler started 40 straight games and Chancellor started 42. Butler finished his career second in school history in interception return yards. Now it’s time for a new duo. Will Marcus Gilchrist move to corner, which he’s capable of doing? Might Rashard Hall move to safety with DeAndre McDaniel?

DUKE

Spring practice starts: Feb. 14

Spring game: March 27

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Somebody has to take over for the graduated Thaddeus Lewis, but his backup – Sean Renfree – will miss the spring with a torn ACL. Redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder should be heavily in the mix to be the starter, pending Renfree’s recovery.

• Defensive line makeover. It’s wide open. Charlie Hatcher is entrenched at nose guard, but it’s really anyone’s game. The staff might move redshirt senior Wesley Oglesby, who played the majority of his career at defensive end, inside. Other options are defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento, a redshirt freshman, and Curtis Hazelton, who played sparingly last season.

• Johnny Williams’ move from wide receiver to cornerback. He had 31 catches in 2009 – the fourth-best on the team. Now they need his help in the defensive backfield. Duke will lose starter Leon Wright and his 10 career interceptions, and the pass defense, which allowed 215.75 yards per game, could use a boost.

FLORIDA STATE

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Christian Ponder’s return from shoulder surgery. Ponder is expected to practice this spring, though it could be on a limited basis, at least early. He’s ahead of schedule, but the coaches won’t subject him to any risks now. Yes, E.J. Manuel is talented and played well at the end of the season, but make no mistake – Ponder is FSU’s starter and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.

• The defense under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. His secondary, in particular, will be interesting to watch, as will how quickly he can help the front seven generate a pass rush and plug the middle. Stoops has been a secondary coach, and the Noles lost three starters there. The fourth, Ochuko Jenije, could be pushed to retain his job.

• New faces, new opportunities. In addition to the fab freshmen who are coming in, FSU has a handful of unfamiliar players already on the roster who played sparingly or not at all. We'll see how they fit in this spring. RS-So DT Anthony McCloud and RS-So RB Debrale Smiley are both junior college transfers and former teammates. Physically, freshman linebacker Jeff Luc is already a man, but how quickly can he mature on the field? Two young wide receivers worth watching are Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead.

GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The defensive transformation. The Jackets will switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under first-year coordinator Al Groh. In addition to learning the new scheme, the staff has to figure out who goes where. Linebackers might play defensive end and vice versa, safeties might play outside linebacker. It’s anyone’s guess as to how this team lines up in the spring.

• The replacements. From Georgia Tech’s coaching staff to the new faces who will be tasked with filling in for the Fab Four -- Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett and Demaryius Thomas -- the Jackets will need some “Hello My Name Is” tags this spring.

• The offensive line. Three offensive linemen redshirted who could start, and Georgia Tech might need them to, especially if guard Joseph Gilbert decides to transfer to pursue his MBA. The Jackets lose two starters on the offensive line, and Gilbert, who graduates this spring, would be a third if he leaves. Center Sean Bedford and tackle Austin Barrick return as seniors.

MARYLAND

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. Chris Turner has graduated, leaving Jamarr Robinson the top option going into the spring, but he has limited experience. The staff liked what he did when Turner was injured, but Danny O’Brien, Miami (Ohio) transfer Clay Belton and C.J. Brown will all be given an opportunity. Look for O’Brien to start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart.

• Cornerback: Cameron Chism is the only returning starter in the secondary, but right now the staff has fewer concerns about the safeties. Maryland will have to find some bodies at corner, and Dexter McDougle, who redshirted as a true freshman last year, is one option. Michael Carter and Trenton Hughes, who was the third corner last year, are also among a handful of candidates.

• The offensive line. Losing Bruce Campbell to the NFL hurt, but the Terps also lost starter Phil Costa. Justin Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore, could inherit Campbell’s job. And there’s always Mr. Versatility -- Paul Pinegar. He has helped the Terps at both tackle spots and left guard, and this spring he’ll likely be given a shot at center.

MIAMI

Spring practice starts: Feb. 23

Spring game: March 27 (tentative)

What to watch:

• Tight end/offensive line: Jimmy Graham is gone, and the Canes don’t return any tight ends with any experience other than Richard Gordon, who was injured the majority of last season. Miami signed four tight ends in this recruiting class, but none of them were early enrollees. Miami has to replace three starters up front, including both tackles and the center.

• How the two young quarterbacks perform: The health of Jacory Harris was precious last year, as he had nobody behind him with any experience after the transfers of Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith. The depth has improved a bit with A.J. Highsmith, who played sparingly last year, and Stephen Morris, one of the early enrollees.

• Upgrade on the d-line? Progress up front began with the hire of Rick Petri as defensive line coach, and it’s up to Petri to help the Canes become better pass rushers. Miami will depend upon its two mainstays -- Allen Bailey and Josh Holmes. The right end position was a group effort last year, and Miami has to replace Joe Joseph and Eric Moncur.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback T.J. Yates. It’s his job to lose, and the coaching staff still has confidence in him, but Bryn Renner is waiting in the wings, and Braden Hanson will also be given an opportunity. The staff is looking for the offense to improve its passing efficiency and cut down on turnovers.

• The offensive line. It was a patchwork effort in 2009, thanks to injuries and inexperience, and will be a major key in how much UNC improves offensively this year. The Heels have to replace two starters, and Jonathan Cooper is likely to move from guard to center, and right guard Alan Pelc will miss spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery.

• Defensive line tweaks. There aren’t many questions on a defense that should be one of the best in the country, but somebody has to replace Cam Thomas and defensive end E.J. Wilson. Tydreke Powell is the frontrunner to take over at defensive tackle and Quinton Coples at defensive end. Both were backups last year at their respective positions.

NC STATE

Spring practice starts: March 9

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• Backup quarterback Mike Glennon. Russell Wilson is the starter, but he’s going to be playing baseball all spring. Keep an eye on his backup to see if Glennon can make it any more of a competition in Wilson’s absence.

• Chris Ward at punter. No, it’s not usually, the highlight of the spring, but in this case, it’s necessary. Ward is it -- he’s their only option right now, and it’s a position the Pack struggled with last year. Ward was expected to be the starter last season, but he was inconsistent. He’s definitely got the talent to be the guy.

• The recovery of linebacker Nate Irving. After being severely injured in a one-car crash last summer, Irving is hopeful he can go through spring drills. He has been lifting with the team and running with the sports medicine staff, but it’s still uncertain how limited his contact will be.

VIRGINIA

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Marc Verica is the only one with any experience, and first-year offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor hasn’t been in Charlottesville long enough to evaluate any of the candidates. That’s what the spring is for, and true freshman Michael Strauss is the lone incoming quarterback on campus, so he’ll have a head start on the playbook. Of the four quarterbacks Virginia signed in this year’s class, Strauss is the only one listed as a true quarterback. The Cavs also have Ross Metheny, who redshirted last year, and Riko Smalls, who redshirted in ‘08 and was No. 2 on the depth chart when Verica was out with a concussion.

• Coaching transition. First-year coach Mike London has hired almost an entirely new staff, and they’ll bring changes in philosophy and scheme. London has said he wants to get the defense back to the traditional 4-3, and revert to the tradition of featuring the tight ends, offensive linemen and running backs.

• Running back. The Cavs will have the help up front, but they need to replace their four leading rushers in Mikell Simpson, Rashawn Jackson, Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell. The staff will look at true freshman Kevin Parks, but also have Torrey Mack and Dominique Wallace, who had just seemed to be coming on at Southern Miss when he was injured and missed the rest of the season.

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• Revamped defensive line. The Hokies have to replace three of four starters up front. The only defensive ends with significant playing time are Chris Drager, who the staff wanted to move back to tight end, and Steven Friday. Redshirt freshmen will be given a chance – Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins – but they’ve never played. Isaiah Hamlette is the only other end who’s played and that was a skinny minute. At defensive tackle, Antoine Hopkins will be the frontrunner to replace Cordarrow Thompson.

• Darren Evans’ comeback. Evans, the team’s leading rusher in 2008, is working his way back from a season-ending ACL injury, and one of the biggest questions in Blacksburg is how the staff will divide the carries in such a talented backfield that includes Ryan Williams. With two returning 1,000-yard rushers, will David Wilson decide to redshirt? The spring will help him in that decision.

• The evolution of Tyrod Taylor. He’s going to be a senior, and with so many questions on defense heading into the season, the offense will be leading the way. This should be a breakout year for Taylor, who by now should have mastered the offense and should consistently be a passing threat to compliment his running abilities.

WAKE FOREST

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. It’s the most glaring hole the Deacs have to fill this spring, as they’re tasked with replacing the winningest quarterback in school history, Riley Skinner, and his backup, Ryan McManus. Redshirt sophomores Ted Stachitas and Skylar Jones, and sophomore Brendan Cross, will compete with rookie Tanner Price for the top spot.

• Offensive line. The Deacs will take a huge hit here, as seven players in the two-deep depth chart were redshirt seniors, including all four tackles. Three starters have to be replaced.

• The interior defensive line. Nose guard Boo Robinson and John Russell have graduated, and Russell’s backup, Michael Lockett, was also a redshirt senior. The Deacs are in good shape at the ends, but will need some help inside.
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