ACC: Tyler Rouse

The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-American honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference -- the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

[+] EnlargeMyles Willis
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesWith Andre Williams gone, Myles Willis will be counted on to carry the load in Boston College's running game.
First up: Boston College

Class recap: Steve Addazio’s first signing class at Boston College didn’t crack ESPN’s top 75, and no member of the signing class earned a starting job as a true freshman.

Second-year star: RB Myles Willis (5-9/192)

Recruiting stock: Willis was a three-star prospect rated as ESPN’s No. 94 athlete in the 2013 class and was the top-ranked member of BC’s signing class.

2013 in review: The backbone of Boston College’s 2013 season was running back Andre Williams, and his 2,177 yards rushing didn’t leave much room for Willis. Still, the true freshman carried 60 times for 346 yards (both second on the team) and his two best rushing performances (77 yards vs. NC State, 70 yards vs. Syracuse) came in BC’s final four games.

2014 potential: Williams is gone to the NFL, but Boston College still wants to run the ball. That’s good news for Willis, who figures to be in line for a sizable increase in carries. He’s not alone in the backfield competition, but his speed and ability to catch the ball make him a dynamic weapon. BC’s offense will undergo a major overhaul from a year ago, but Willis has the tools to be a major part of the new-look Eagles.

Also watch for: Willis’ backfield mate Tyler Rouse projects to see more work this year, too. And on defense, Matt Milano played in all 13 games a year ago, largely at safety. He had a strong spring practice, and Addazio said Milano could be a great fit this year in a nickel/strongside linebacker role.

Boston College spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
11:00
AM ET
Three things we learned in the spring about the Boston College Eagles:

1. Tyler Murphy is the starting QB. Surprised? Well, you shouldn't be. The Florida transfer, who was recruited to Gainesville by Steve Addazio when the coach was an assistant there, always seemed like the front-runner to win the No. 1 job, and the second-year BC head coach raved about Murphy's poise and pocket presence throughout the spring. His SEC experience should prove beneficial for the Eagles.

2. More dynamic offense on the way. Replacing Andre Williams will definitely be tough for one man to do. But Addazio is confident that the rushing attack as a whole could be very productive, as having a quarterback such as Murphy will help stretch the field and give defenses more to look out for from the backfield. Running backs Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse had strong springs as well.

3. Secondary makes some strides. BC took several hits among its front seven, but Addazio is confident that the defensive backs are slowly but surely on their way to leading this defense. While the pass defense struggled last season, ranking last in the ACC, the secondary brings back all of its starters from 2013, led by Manuel Asprilla.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who steps up at linebacker? Stalwarts Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto leave behind a massive hole. Mike Strizak and Sean Duggan bring some experience, and the staff liked what Josh Keyes brought to the table this spring. But will it all be enough to replace the combined 220 tackles that Pierre-Louis and Divitto made last year?

2. Where are the pass-catchers? BC's leading returning receiver is a running back, as David Dudeck caught 10 passes last season for 84 yards and a touchdown. The passing game was overly reliant on Alex Amidon last season, and the Eagles return just two receivers who made catches in 2013: Dan Crimmins and Harrison Jackson, who totaled 15 grabs for 107 yards and a touchdown last season.

3. Are there enough proven bodies on the roster? Addazio has said he loves the collective attitude, but BC said goodbye to a deep and talented senior class last year and will still be roughly six scholarship players short of the max. Summer enrollees might have to take on bigger roles than the staff would probably prefer.

One way-too-early prediction:

BC's progress will not be reflected in its record in 2014. That might be a tough reality for a program that absolutely shattered expectations in Addazio's first year, and he certainly has the Eagles ahead of schedule, but BC probably loses too much veteran production on both sides of the ball to win eight or more games in 2014.
Steve Addazio knows better than anyone that one man will not have the kind of production for Boston College in 2014 that Andre Williams provided the Eagles last season. The ingredients in the run game this year will feature several more surprises, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the collective production will take a dip.

"Well let's say this: When I took this job a year ago, people didn't even know if Andre Williams would even start here," Addazio said recently. "Then all of a sudden Andre went on and had a great season and became a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. … We're a gap-scheme team. [We] had a really good offensive line last year, we've got a really good offensive line here, and all those factors will go hand-in-hand and we'll be able to achieve productivity.

"We might be more diversified in our run game. Our quarterbacks now are dual-threat quarterbacks, so the defense will have more to worry about in the run game than just one tailback, so that'll open up some opportunities."

The one player who did outclass the others on Saturday, though, was a running back. And he did it in more ways than one.

Myles Willis opened the Jay McGillis spring game with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He added 75 yards on the ground. Tyler Rouse was no slouch himself, piling up 68 rushing yards, 41 of which came on a touchdown run.

Florida transfer Tyler Murphy threw for 78 yards in his public debut as a BC quarterback.

Addazio said last week that he was pleased with the intensity of practices, where the Eagles were missing a number of key components due to injury. Like most coaches at this time of the year, he would like more depth. But he knows his offense will be far from the one-trick pony it was for much of his first year in Chestnut Hill, Mass., when Williams seemingly came from out of nowhere to rush for an ACC-record 2,177 yards en route to a surprising 7-6 campaign.

Willis was the primary No. 2 back last season, rushing for 346 yards and two touchdowns. Rouse had 125 yards last season with two touchdowns.

Add to the mix three starters returning on an offensive line that helped pave the way for Williams' historic campaign, and it is easy to see why the Eagles are confident in their different look heading into Addazio's second year.

"I think our diversity in our run game will help us, so I think all those things will factor in," Addazio said. "You're never exactly the same, but you just keep tweaking things, and all that matters is what the output is in the end. It doesn't matter how you get there."
Setting up spring in the ACC Atlantic.

Boston College

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Big shoes to fill: Steve Addazio helped BC make huge strides in 2013, but the task of keeping the momentum going gets much harder without star running back and Heisman finalist Andre Williams, who rushed for an NCAA-best 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns. Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis will attempt to fill the vacancy this spring, and both have potential. Willis averaged nearly 6 yards per carry as Williams’ primary backup last year. The real intrigue might wait until fall, however, when four freshmen running backs arrive on campus.
  • Murphy makes the move: It’s an open competition at quarterback after Chase Rettig’s departure, but there’s no question the most intriguing player in the race is Florida transfer Tyler Murphy. The fifth-year senior worked with Addazio at Florida, and he’ll open the spring competing with redshirt freshman James Walsh and early enrollee Darius Wade. That’s a deep enough bench that BC didn’t worry about moving Josh Bordner, last year’s backup, to tight end. With both of last year’s starting tackles gone, too, Murphy’s experience could be even more important in determining the outcome of the QB battle.
  • Restocking the LBs: Even at its low points in recent years, Boston College managed to churn out plenty of talented linebackers, but the position gets a massive overhaul this year. First-team All-ACC star Kevin Pierre-Louis (108 tackles in 2013) is gone, as is Steele Divitto (112 tackles). That leaves junior Steven Daniels (88 tackles, 5 sacks) as the lone returning starter. Josh Keyes adds some experience, but it’ll be a group in transition this spring.
Clemson

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Replacing Boyd: The talk of Clemson’s spring camp will no doubt surround the quarterbacks, as senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and early enrollee Deshaun Watson vie for the job. Stoudt’s experience makes him the early favorite, but it’s Watson, a dual-threat QB with immense talent, who could steal the show. Coach Dabo Swinney has already lauded Watson as perhaps the most talented quarterback Clemson has signed, so all eyes will be on the freshman to see if he can back up all that hype with a strong spring.
  • Skill-position shuffling: If the QB battle is the headliner, there are plenty of significant sideshows on offense this spring. Clemson waved goodbye to receivers Sammy Watkins (1,464 yards, 12 TDs) and Martavis Bryant (828 yards, 7 TDs) and tailback Roderick McDowell (1,025 yards, 5 TDs). That means a massive overhaul on offense, where there’s no clear-cut bell cow at running back (Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard return as potential options) and the receiving corps will be looking for some new top targets.
  • Dominance up front: On offense for Clemson, there’s plenty of concern for what the Tigers lost. On defense, however, the excitement is all about what they’re bringing back. Clemson’s defensive line, in particular, could be one of the nation’s best. When All-American Vic Beasley announced his return for his senior season, the Tigers knew they could have something special. Add sophomore lineman Shaq Lawson and senior Stephone Anthony at linebacker and Clemson has all the makings of a dominant pass rush.
Florida State

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The running backs: After leading FSU in rushing three straight years, Devonta Freeman is gone. So, too, is James Wilder Jr. But the Seminoles enter spring with a quartet of intriguing options to replace their departed stars, led by Karlos Williams (730 yards, 11 TDs in 2013) and Dalvin Cook (No. 21 on the 2013 ESPN300). Mario Pender, who missed last year with academic issues, also figures to be in the mix.
  • The defensive front: There are a wealth of question marks here, both in terms of personnel and scheme. With Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, there are plenty of jobs up for grabs. The development of Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman and Terrance Smith will be key, but with Charles Kelly taking over the defense, it’s also still a bit unclear how much the scheme will deviate from what Jeremy Pruitt ran with so much success in 2013.
  • Jameis Winston’s swing: A year ago, the big question was who would win the QB battle. Now, Winston’s got a Heisman Trophy and will be a favorite to win it again in 2014. So the intrigue surrounding the FSU star QB is more on the baseball field, where once again, he’ll be splitting time this spring. Perhaps the bigger question is how the rest of the QB depth chart shakes out, with Sean Maguire the elder statesman and John Franklin III looking to make his move.
Louisville

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:
  • Bobby’s back: After a seven-year hiatus that included an abrupt departure from the Atlanta Falcons and a damaging scandal at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino is back in charge at Louisville insisting he’s a changed man. Fans will be watching closely to see if he has changed his stripes away from the field, but also whether he can rekindle the same offensive fireworks he delivered in his first stint with the Cardinals.
  • Replacing Bridgewater: It’s an open QB battle, and for Petrino, it’s among the first chances he’ll have to see the players vying to replace departed star Teddy Bridgewater in action. Sophomore Will Gardner is perhaps the favorite, but he has just 12 career pass attempts. Redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin is close behind, while Reggie Bonnafon is set to arrive in the fall.
  • New look on D: Louisville finished the 2013 season ranked second nationally in scoring defense, trailing only national champion Florida State. But this spring, things will look a bit different for the Cardinals, as Todd Grantham takes over as the new defensive coordinator after being lured from Georgia. Grantham figures to bring a 3-4 scheme to Louisville, which will certainly shake things up a bit. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin missing the spring with a shoulder injury only clouds the situation further.
NC State

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Brissett takes the reins: The sting of last year’s winless ACC season was barely in the rearview mirror before coach Dave Doeren named Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett his new starting quarterback. Brissett spent last year on the sideline, but apparently Doeren saw enough during practice to comfortably wave goodbye to Pete Thomas, who announced his transfer. There will be ample spotlight on Brissett this spring as he tries to revive the underperforming NC State passing game.
  • The new faces: If 2013 was about cleaning house, this spring begins the far more difficult project of rebuilding. For NC State, that means plenty of new faces, including a whopping seven early enrollees headlined by safety Germain Pratt. While there are ample holes for Doeren to fill in Year 2, these incoming freshmen could certainly push for starting jobs and bring an influx of depth that the Wolfpack sorely missed last year.
  • Shoring up the lines: NC State’s 2014 signing class included 11 offensive and defensive linemen, and that’s just the start of the overhaul at the line of scrimmage. Last season, the Wolfpack allowed the second most sacks in the ACC (35) on offense while its defensive front recorded the fewest sacks in the conference (20). That’s a formula for disaster, and Doeren understands NC State must get much better in the trenches. Brissett’s arrival at QB could help, but the bottom line is NC State needs to see improvement on both sides of the line, and it needs to start this spring.
Syracuse

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Hunt’s next step: 2013 was a roller coaster season for Terrel Hunt. He lost the QB battle in fall camp, stepped in as starter after two weeks and was dominant, struggled badly through the midsection of the season, then closed strong with back-to-back come-from-behind wins. Now that he has experience, it will be interesting this spring to see how much he’s progressed. The talent is there, and spring practice should give Hunt a chance to refine it a bit more.
  • The defensive front: Syracuse finished its first ACC season ranked fourth in rushing defense and third in sacks despite myriad personnel issues entering the year, but more questions remain as the Orange look toward 2014. With star lineman Jay Bromley and veteran linebacker Marquis Spruill gone, the Orange are looking to fill sizable holes. Robert Welsh figures to be the anchor of the Syracuse pass rush, and the Orange could benefit from the return of Donnie Simmons, who missed 2013 with a knee injury.
  • Secondary concerns: Syracuse got a chance to learn what life was like without top cover corner Keon Lyn after the senior fractured his kneecap late last year, but while Brandon Reddish did an admirable job as his replacement, a whole new set of questions crops up in the secondary this spring. Syracuse figures to have openings at both corner and safety, and while Julian Whigham, Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir offer options, there’s a lot to be decided on the practice field this spring.
Wake Forest

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Clawson’s early impact: It’s been 14 years since Wake Forest opened a spring camp with someone other than Jim Grobe calling the shots, so there’s no question this will be an intriguing few weeks in Winston-Salem. Dave Clawson takes over after leading Bowling Green to a MAC championship, and he inherits a major rebuilding job. First up for the coach will likely be creating an offensive identity -- something Grobe couldn’t do in 2013.
  • Identifying some offense: If 2013 was an offensive slog for Wake Forest, 2014 threatens to be much, much worse. As bad as things got at times last year, the Deacons at least had veterans to rely on. This season, Wake’s leading passer (Tanner Price), rusher (Josh Harris), receiver (Michael Campanaro) and top tight end (Spencer Bishop) are all gone. On the plus side, plenty of younger players saw action in 2013. The job this spring is to figure out who can take a big step forward entering the 2014 campaign.
  • The defensive scheme: Wake appears to be moving away from the 3-4 that was a hallmark of recent seasons, as new coordinator Mike Elko tries to maximize the talent remaining on the roster. Without veteran lineman Nikita Whitlock, Wake’s defensive front will have a far different look in 2014, and this spring will largely be about Elko identifying playmakers and tweaking his system to fit their skill sets.
Despite having to replace record-setting running back Andre Williams, the 2013 Doak Walker Award winner, Boston College offensive coordinator Ryan Day said he is encouraged by the group of running backs he will have on the roster this summer.

With six talented players to choose from, the staff used its past two recruiting classes to help bolster the depth and skill at the position.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Hilliman
Jared Shanker/ESPNESPN 300 tailback Jonathan Hilliman could see immediate playing time in 2014.
“Those six guys we feel good about,” Day said. “We feel like we upgraded our skill level. You can’t replace Andre, but we’re doing the best we can.”

There’s only one problem: none of them have started a college game, and four of them just signed their letters of intent earlier this month.

Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis received some valuable reps last season as backups to the nation’s top running back, and they’ll be joined by four players in the 2014 recruiting class who could also give the Eagles a boost. Jonathan Hilliman, an ESPN 300 player and the No. 25 player at his position, was the top recruit in the class. Day said Hilliman is physically comparable to Williams, and that fellow incoming freshman Marcus Outlow is “versatile, big and strong.” Day called Richard Wilson “a good, all-around back,” and said Sherman Alston is a hybrid receiver/running back who will add speed to the group.

None of them, however, enrolled early, so Rouse and Willis will get the bulk of the work this spring. Willis played in 11 games last season and was second on the team in rushing with 346 yards and two touchdowns. Rouse was right behind him, having played in nine games. He totaled 125 yards and two touchdowns.

Running back is one of several position groups in which BC fans will see some new, young faces this fall, along with wide receiver.

“There’s no question,” Day said. “They’ll have a lot of opportunities. We have about 30 kids coming in, new in the program, which is about 30 percent of your roster, so 30 percent of our team is going to be first-year kids. We’re going to be really young.”

Still, the staff is confident it can build off of last season's success. Under first-year coach Steve Addazio, Boston College made one of the biggest turnarounds in the country, going from 2-10 to 7-5, including a 4-4 record in ACC play. The Eagles advanced to the AdvoCare V100 Bowl -- their first bowl appearance in the last three seasons.

“Every team is different,” Day said. “We’ve just got to find a way to put the right pieces together, just like we did last year. Find the leaders. We lost some good leaders. Once we can find the leadership, it’s our job as coaches to find the right scheme to put it all together and get them to play hard.”
Boston College rode Andre Williams all the way to a 2,000-yard campaign and postseason berth in 2013, successfully going back to its roots as a smash-mouth, physically tough football team.

But the Eagles will most certainly have a different identity when the 2014 season rolls around. The power run game will still be there, but many more spread principles will be featured on offense because the Eagles will likely have a dual-threat quarterback under center.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertFormer Florida QB Tyler Murphy will be in the mix for BC's starting job this fall.
Chase Rettig did an admirable job as the quarterback this past season despite being a less-than-ideal fit for what coach Steve Addazio likes to run. Rettig emerged as a leader, and the ability to run play-action helped keep opposing teams off balance. The spread, however, was almost completely ignored because Williams and the run game gave the Eagles the best chance to win every week.

Williams and Rettig are both gone now, opening up other possibilities for the offense. Addazio has always preferred a dual-threat quarterback to run his system, and now he has several on the roster: Florida transfer Tyler Murphy and early enrollee Darius Wade headline the group and will compete for the starting job, along with Josh Bordner and James Walsh.

“The ability to keep our power run offense but to be able to diversify a little bit and spread it out a little bit will be great for us,” Addazio said in a recent phone interview. “We’ll be a little different. It’s early right now, but there will be more diversity in terms of quarterback runs and tailback runs. We won’t have one guy getting 42 reps.

“While there will be some elements that will look similar, we might be more in the shotgun, we might be camouflaging and diversifying with the power run game with the option, there could be a tempo component. We’ll be gravitating a little more toward where I’d like to get to.”

Murphy is the only quarterback on the roster with extended game experience and was recruited to Florida by Addazio. He is familiar with the type of offense the Eagles want to try and run. But Wade, a three-star prospect out of Delaware, also provides tantalizing possibilities. Addazio described him as a “dynamic athlete,” a player with a strong arm who can also run and extend plays. The hope is for Wade to be able to contribute as a true freshman this fall.

Without Williams, Boston College will split the rushing load more evenly. Tahj Kimble is expected back after rehabbing a torn ACL, while Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse look to build off freshman seasons in which they spelled Williams.

Addazio also expects the offensive line to be as strong as it was this past season. The Eagles do have to replace both starting tackles, but getting Florida transfer Ian Silberman into the program will help.

The biggest concern moving forward is developing playmakers on the outside. Addazio hopes Bobby Swigert can fill the role Alex Amidon had in the offense, but Swigert is returning from a knee injury so his status remains up in the air.

“We’ve got to get better out on the edge in terms of blocking the perimeter, catching the ball, winning one-on-one matchups,” Addazio said. “That’s not a quick-fix area. We’ve got to recruit and build.”

Addazio already showed what he has the potential to build after an impressive first season. The Eagles might look a little different on offense next season, but that is a good thing. What you see in 2014 will be closer to the vision Addazio has for this group in the years to come.

ACC lunch links: Band banned

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
12:00
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Game night! AA in Raleigh ...

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