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ACC post-spring position battles

5/7/2015

Spring practice usually doesn’t satisfy fans’ natural desire for definitive answers at every position by the end of camp, which means the more concerned fans will eagerly await preseason camp for position battles to restart.

At this point in the 2015 calendar, every single ACC team has questions. Multiple questions. Some will define a team’s preseason camp, while others will define a team’s entire 2015 season.

Here are some of the biggest position battles in the ACC:

Clemson starting cornerback: Redshirt sophomore Mackensie Alexander has one side of the field locked down. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables is not going to have to worry about the budding star and five-star talent. Alexander’s partner from last season, Garry Peters, has graduated, though, leaving a void in the secondary that a rebuilding front seven might have trouble masking. There is junior Cordrea Tankersley, who is looking to rebound after struggling in fall camp and losing out on a starting spot in 2014. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Tankersley has the frame to pose a threat to the taller receivers whom football’s trending aerial-based offenses have endorsed. Youngsters Adrian Baker, Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond are likely next in line behind Tankersley heading into preseason camp. ESPN 300 cornerback Mark Fields could eventually become a factor as a freshman.

Florida State pass-rushers: Colleague David Hale has written previously about the Seminoles’ struggles sacking the quarterback last season, and exiting spring practice, Florida State still isn’t quite sure which of its linemen and linebackers will satisfy a defense’s innate need to hit quarterbacks in 2015. Coach Jimbo Fisher hopes he doesn’t have to rely on just one player who can get to the passer, so it’s good news he has a lot of talent the Seminoles haven't even really tapped into yet. Along the line, Chris Casher, Lorenzo Featherston, Rick Leonard, Josh Sweat and DeMarcus Walker are the candidates. Casher (shoulder) and Sweat (knee), a five-star early enrollee, missed all of spring practice. Former five-star signee Matthew Thomas has yet to make a significant impact, having been saddled with injuries -- he also missed nearly all of spring -- and a suspension, but he has rare athleticism. Jacob Pugh flashed as a true freshman at times, and Fisher has pegged him as one of the rising stars at DE/LB. He also missed time this spring with an injury.

Georgia Tech running backs: The Yellow Jackets are tasked with rebuilding their backfield around quarterback Justin Thomas after enduring significant graduations at running back following the Orange Bowl win. At A-back, Dennis Andrews could be the favorite to start, but Broderick Snoddy did not participate this spring as he recovers from a broken leg. Clinton Lynch, Qua Searcy and Isiah Willis are also in the discussion. At B-back, Stanford graduate transfer Patrick Skov joins talented second-year player C.J. Leggett.

Louisville starting quarterback: There is still a question as to who will start for the Cardinals against Auburn in the season opener, but the situation received a little clarity last month. Sophomore Reggie Bonnafon was superb in the spring game, leading the first-team offense with 238 yards in the first half alone. The local product took every first-team snap before sitting the second half, a clear indicator Bonnafon is the projected starter entering fall camp. He also has the best rapport with the Cardinals’ top receiver, James Quick, a high school teammate. Coach Bobby Petrino won’t make any determination based on a spring game, however, and QB combatants Kyle Bolin and Tyler Ferguson will push Bonnafon this summer. Will Gardner is still recovering from an ACL tear in his left knee.

Miami starting running back: The Hurricanes are losing out on the most prolific running back in school history, and they are still waiting to see which of their stable of backs will replace Duke Johnson’s production. Gus Edwards and Joe Yearby are the two most likely candidates, and each presents a different running style. Edwards is more of a bruiser with surprising speed, while Yearby, a high school teammate of FSU star Dalvin Cook, is a big play waiting to happen. Yearby, however, was suspended for the spring game for violating team rules. The staff is also excited about sophomore Trayone Gray. With a shaky offensive line, the Hurricanes will need a consistent running attack and at least one backfield member to emerge alongside QB Brad Kaaya. “It may not be just one; it may be more of getting several guys the same amount of touches,” coach Al Golden said recently. “But if one of those guys separates himself as Duke did, then he’ll get the majority of the touches.”

Virginia quarterback: When Greyson Lambert won the job as a sophomore last spring and started all but three games in 2014 -- an ankle injury sidelined him -- it seemed as if Lambert would be the Cavaliers’ option going forward in 2015. Yet, coach Mike London named Lambert’s former backup, Matt Johns, the starter following spring camp, and he said the competition was not close. That gives Johns the clear path to the starting job for the season opener, but London is not married to the idea of sticking with a single quarterback if Johns struggles. This is going to be a fluid situation, and unless Johns blossoms in the fall, it seems likely Lambert will get an opportunity to earn the starting job back.

Virginia Tech starting running back: “Running back by committee” entered football’s glossary a few years ago, and more teams than ever are relying on a rotation of backs rather than the traditional bell-cow ball carrier. So maybe it’s immaterial who actually starts the game for Virginia Tech, but there is still a logjam even for playing time at the position. This battle was never going to be settled this spring, as two of the Hokies’ top candidates, Shai McKenzie (also serving a suspension) and Marshawn Williams are each rehabbing ACL tears. There is a chance both could be redshirted, which would clear the picture some. Ideally, however, Virginia Tech coaches will have their full complement of backs to pick from. J.C. Coleman ran admirably late last season and might have been the favorite to start if not for the return of Trey Edmunds, who is finally healthy after a string of injuries last season. Former four-star athlete Travon McMillian has been converted to running back, and he could become a dynamic threat for a Hokies offense that needs a little flash.