ACC: Vance Walker

Georgia Tech spring wrap-up

May, 7, 2009
5/07/09
9:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2008 overall record: 9-4

2008 conference record: 5-3, Coastal Division Co-Champions

Returning starters

Offense: 9, defense: 8, kicker/punter 2

Top returners

RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Demaryius Thomas, QB Josh Nesbitt, RB Roddy Jones, C Dan Voss, DE Derrick Morgan, S Morgan Burnett, S Cooper Taylor, K/P Scott Blair

Key losses

OT Andrew Gardner, DE Michael Johnson, DT Darryl Richard, DT Vance Walker, CB Jahi Word-Daniels

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing:
Passing: Josh Nesbitt* (808 yards)
Receiving: Demaryius Thomas* (627 yards)
Tackles: Morgan Burnett* (93)
Sacks: Michael Johnson (9)
Interceptions: Burnett* (7)

Spring answers

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Jacksonville State
Sept. 10 Clemson
Sept. 17 at Miami
Sept. 26 North Carolina
Oct. 3 at Mississippi State
Oct. 10 at Florida State
Oct. 17 Virginia Tech
Oct. 24 at Virginia
Oct. 31 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 7 Wake Forest
Nov. 14 at Duke
Nov. 21 BYE
Nov. 28 Georgia

1. Significantly more depth at the skill positions. With the addition of Louisville transfer Anthony Allen, plus Marcus Wright and Embry Peeples, who played as true freshmen, and a few redshirt freshmen wide receivers, the Jackets have a lot of answers off the bench. Unlike last year, the Jackets now go three-deep at quarterback, as Tevin Washington, who redshirted last year, has shown this spring he can play.

2. Leadership on defense. Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett have clearly established themselves as leaders and arguably the top defenders on the roster. Burnett wasn't noticed as much last season because of his supporting cast, but that should change this fall. Both could be among the best defenders in the ACC this fall.

3. Unprecedented depth in the secondary. Jerrard Tarrant was cleared from his suspension, and redshirt freshman Kamaron Riley should give the secondary a boost. Plus, the Jackets have three returning starters in the secondary. Cooper Taylor and Rashaad Reid were impressive as true freshmen and now they've got legitimate experience.

Fall questions

1. The offensive line. It remains the biggest concern, in part because injuries slowed the progress this spring. Senior guard Cord Howard missed most of the spring, starting center Dan Voss missed all of the spring after shoulder surgery, Nick Claytor, who started at tackle last year after David Brown went down with an injury, missed all of spring and had back surgery, and the line was the weak link last year.

2. The kicking game. In the spring game, the kickers were 1 of 5 on field goals, including Blair, who was 0-for-3. There are a few walk-ons, but they are his only competition. Blair handled both kicking and punting duties last year and Chandler Anderson missed all of spring practice after bout with appendicitis.

3. Defensive changes. Because the staff knows it's going to be thin there, it tweaked the defense a little a bit and made one of linebacker positions a hybrid defensive back/linebacker position called the wolf. How the players grasp that will be a question, as will whether or not it will help take some pressure off the new players up front.

All eyes on Georgia Tech's defensive line -- again

March, 23, 2009
3/23/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, and from the football-rich state of Alabama, massive Georgia Tech redshirt freshman T.J. Barnes wowed a lot of college coaches during his recruiting process as a potential offensive tackle or guard -- two positions he had absolutely no interest in playing anymore. Alabama and Louisville were among his suitors, as was Auburn, where his father, Terry Jones, was a defensive lineman and his cousins, Fred Baxter and Randy Hart both played.

"All my offers were for offense," Barnes said. "Nobody really believed I could play defense except for Auburn and Georgia Tech."

Georgia Tech had no doubt he'd have a future as a defensive tackle.

"That's all I wanted to do," Barnes said, "play defense."

That and make a name for himself somewhere other than Auburn, where expectations to continue the family legacy would be high.

This spring, Barnes will get his chance to do both.

Georgia Tech only lost six starters from last year's nine-win team that tied with Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division title, but three of them were on the defensive line and had combined for 87 career starts. That leaves the door wide open for Barnes -- and several other young players -- to win starting jobs this spring and summer. The unit lacks both depth and experience, and is easily the Yellow Jackets' biggest question mark heading into the fall, as junior defensive end Derrick Morgan is the only player returning with any starting experience.

"Coach (Giff) Smith instills in us we have to be the best group on the team," said Morgan, who cracked the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2007. "That's what we strive for. I know we're losing four seniors, but we're not looking at it as a lack of talent. We have talent. We don't want to lower our expectations coming into next year just because we're losing four seniors. We're setting the bar high."

Morgan has set the standard high for himself. He was second on the team and eighth in the ACC with seven sacks last year. He had 9.5 tackles for loss and was tied for second nationally in fumble recoveries with four. He led all of Tech's linemen with 51 tackles, but soaked up his teammates' knowledge on a daily basis.

Former starters Vance Walker, Michael Johnson and Darryl Richard often shared different pass rush techniques and how to see blocks. Morgan said he's still learning from the trio as they audition for NFL scouts, and give him advice on going through the NFL combine and handling his post-collegiate career. They've also added to the growing list of voices telling him he has to be a leader this season.

"I'll probably have a bigger leadership role amongst my teammates," said Morgan, a junior who recently turned 20 years old. "I'm ready for that. A couple of coaches have said I have to step up and become one of the leaders of our team, and I have no problem doing that."

He'll be anchoring a group that includes defensive end Robert Hall and defensive tackle Ben Anderson, both who played significant snaps last year. Defensive end Jason Peters returns, along with defensive end Anthony Egbuniwe, who played sparingly last season after transferring from Tulsa. Defensive end Emmanuel Dieke (D-A-K) enrolled early and has impressed the staff, and defensive end Antonio Wilson is a redshirt freshman who didn't start playing football until his junior year in high school. There's no shortage of bodies at end, but experience and the interior line is another matter.

"Anytime you lose guys that have played as much football as they have, there's an adjustment," Smith said, "but I think we've done a good job of keeping talent coming in. Although it will be a little bit inexperienced, I think it's a great challenge. It's like I told them last year, all the eyes were on us for one reason, now all the eyes are on us again for a different reason. I think they're excited about the challenge and I think people will be surprised when they see the caliber of players we have at Georgia Tech."

Morgan said he's heard all off-season about what the Yellow Jackets don't have coming back on the defensive line.

"I kind of expected that," Morgan said. "We're just going to take that with a grain of salt, work hard, and use it as motivation, which is kind of an advantage. Teams are going to probably underestimate our d-line and not take as much time to game-plan for us like they did last year. We're going to have to go out there and prove ourselves, which is no problem for us."

Like Barnes, Morgan, too, has something to prove. He said he wants to silence come critics who don't think he can be as effective as he was last year without the veteran lineup beside him.

"God-willing that's what I'm aiming for, that's what I'm working for," he said of a breakout season. "I know there are going to be skeptics who say, well, can he do the same thing he did last year without the three veterans? I want to go out there and prove I can do everything I did last year and more."

There's no doubt the Yellow Jackets will need him to.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 3, 2009
2/03/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The official invitation list for the NFL scouting combine is out, and there are plenty of ACC players who will participate in the four-day job interview in Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24. Just because a player didn't make the list doesn't mean he won't be drafted, but here are the ACC players by school who were invited to the combine:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Kevin Akins, cornerback/linebacker

Ron Brace, defensive tackle

B.J. Raji, defensive tackle

CLEMSON

Chris Clemons, safety

James Davis, running back

Michael Hamlin, safety

Cullen Harper, quarterback

Aaron Kelly, receiver

Dorell Scott, defensive tackle

FLORIDA STATE

Everette Brown, defensive end

Graham Gano, punter/placekicker

GEORGIA TECH

Andrew Gardner, offensive tackle

Michael Johnson, defensive end

Darryl Richard, defensive tackle

Vance Walker, defensive tackle

Jahi Word-Daniels, cornerback

MARYLAND

Kevin Barnes, cornerback

Moise Fokou, outside linebacker

Dan Gronkowski, tight end

Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver

Jaimie Thomas, offensive guard

Edwin Williams, center

MIAMI

Bruce Johnson, cornerback

NORTH CAROLINA

Brooks Foster, wide receiver

Hakeem Nicks, wide recevier

Richard Quinn, tight end

Garrett Reynolds, offensive tackle

Brandon Tate, wide receiver

NC STATE

Andre Brown, running back

Anthony Hill, tight end

VIRGINIA

Eugene Monroe, offensive tackle

Kevin Ogletree, wide receiver

Cedric Peerman, tailback

John Phillips, tight end

Clint Sintim, linebacker

VIRGINIA TECH

Victor "Macho" Harris, cornerback

Orion Martin, defensive end

WAKE FOREST

Stanley Arnoux, linebacker

Aaron Curry, linebacker

Alphonso Smith, cornerback

Sam Swank, punter/placekicker

Chip Vaughn, safety

Georgia Tech recruiting needs

January, 15, 2009
1/15/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Coincidently, Georgia Tech recruiting coordinator Giff Smith also coaches the defensive line, and that's where the Yellow Jackets' most pressing need was during this recruiting class -- up front.

Georgia Tech will lose three starting defensive linemen -- all of whom are projected to go onto successful careers in the NFL -- in Darryl Richard, Vance Walker and Michael Johnson. So far, the Yellow Jackets have five commitments from defensive linemen. Aside from that unit, this was one of the youngest teams in the ACC.

Despite Georgia Tech's success running the football in the first year of Paul Johnson's triple-option offense, the Yellow Jackets were in need of an overhaul on the offensive line. They're looking to recruit big, fast, athletic linemen, not small and quick players. Georgia Tech is expecting commitments from at least three guards and a tackle.

Johnson expects to bring in two or three A-backs and one B-back, but with Jonathan Dwyer and Roddy Jones returning, the coaches aren't too concerned with those positions.

The staff was also looking to add two or three quarterbacks and more depth at the position. With so many injuries in 2008, young players were forced into roles they weren't necessarily ready for, and the Jackets are working hard to make sure that doesn't happen again. Getting closer to the 85 scholarship limit this year will certainly help.

ACC will have 18 in Under Armour Senior Bowl

January, 12, 2009
1/12/09
4:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

I just received the final list of ACC players who will participate in the Under Armour Senior Bowl on Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala., and the newest release includes four players from Virginia. It's only fitting that more than half of these bowl-bound players are defenders.

Here is the final list:

Boston College: defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace

Clemson: Cullen Harper, quarterback; James Davis, running back; Michael Hamlin, safety

Georgia Tech: Vance Walker, defensive tackle; Michael Johnson, defensive end

North Carolina: Brooks Foster, wide receiver

North Carolina St.: Anthony Hill, tight end; Andre Brown, running back

Virginia: Eugene Monroe, left tackle; Cedric Peerman, running back; John Phillips, tight end; Clint Sintim, linebacker

Virginia Tech: Macho Harris, corner

Wake Forest: Aaron Curry, linebacker; Alphonso Smith, cornerback; Chip Vaughn, safety

ACC represents in Senior Bowl

January, 5, 2009
1/05/09
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The ACC will be well-represented in the Jan. 24 Under Armour Senior Bowl in Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. From what I know, the only school with players yet to be announced is Virginia, and those names should be released in about a week. Here is the most current ACC list:

BC: Defensive tackle B.J. Raji

CLEMSON: Running back James Davis, safety Michael Hamlin, quarterback Cullen Harper

GEORGIA TECH: Defensive end Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Vance Walker

NCSU: Running back Andre Brown, tight end Anthony Hill

UNC: Wide receiver Brooks Foster

VIRGINIA TECH: Cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris, and possibly one more.

WAKE FOREST: Linebacker Aaron Curry, cornerback Alphonso Smith, safety Chip Vaughn

ACSMA All-Conference ACC team announced

December, 1, 2008
12/01/08
4:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

The Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association announced its All-Conference teams today. Please note that this is not ESPN.com's list. This is the 2008 Associated Press all-ACC football team as voted on by 67 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association.

NOTE: A first-team vote was worth two points and second team vote one. An asterisk denotes unanimous selection.

OFFENSE
FIRST TEAM
QB: Russell Wilson, N.C. State (106)
RB: Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech (134)*
RB: Da'Rel Scott, Maryland (76)
WR: Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina (130)
WR: D.J. Boldin, Wake Forest (76)
TE: John Phillips, Virginia (88)
OT: Eugene Monroe, Virginia (117)
OT: Andrew Gardner, Georgia Tech (107)
OG: Rodney Hudson, Florida State (99)
OG: Cliff Ramsey, Boston College (78)
C: Edwin Williams, Maryland (62)

SECOND TEAM
QB: Thaddeus Lewis, Duke (28)
RB: Darren Evans, Virginia Tech (58)
RB: C.J. Spiller, Clemson (50)
WR: Eron Riley, Duke (57)
WR: Aaron Kelly, Clemson (56)
TE: Ryan Purvis, Boston College (45)
OT: Garrett Reynolds, North Carolina (42)
OT: Anthony Castonzo, Boston College (41)
OG: Sergio Render, Virginia Tech (48)
OG: Cord Howard, Georgia Tech (45)
C: Thomas Austin, Clemson (48)

DEFENSE
FIRST TEAM
DE: Everette Brown, Florida State (131)
DE: Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech (99)
DT: B.J. Raji, Boston College (103)
DT: Vance Walker, Georgia Tech (62)
LB: Mark Herzlich, Boston College (118)
LB: Michael Tauiliili, Duke (110)
LB: Aaron Curry, Wake Forest (106)
CB: Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest (134)*
CB: Victor Harris, Virginia Tech (125)
S: Trimane Goddard, North Carolina (105)
S: Michael Hamlin, Clemson (89)

SECOND TEAM
DE: Orion Martin, Virginia Tech (61)
DE: Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech (39)
DT: Ron Brace, Boston College (52)
DT: Darryl Richard, Georgia Tech (50)
LB: Clint Sintim, Virginia (79)
LB: Alex Wujciak, Maryland (43)
LB: Mark Paschal, North Carolina (40)
CB: Ras-I Dowling, Virginia (49)
CB: Tony Carter, Florida State (34)
CB: Kendric Burney, North Carolina (34)
S: Morgan Burnett, Georgia Tech (85)
S: Myron Rolle, Florida State (55)

SPECIAL TEAMS
FIRST TEAM
K: Graham Gano, Florida State (127)
P: Travis Baltz, Maryland (105)
Specialist: C.J. Spiller, Clemson (66)

SECOND TEAM
K: Matt Bosher, Miami (34)
P: Matt Bosher, Miami (60)
Specialist: Michael Ray Garvin, Florida State (41)

HONORABLE MENTION

OFFENSE: Riley Skinner, qb, Wake Forest (26); Antone Smith, rb, Florida State (33); Cedric Peerman, rb, Virginia (30); Darius Heyward-Bey, wr, Maryland (34); Kevin Ogletree, wr, Virginia (32); Dan Gronkowski, te, Maryland (41); Scott Burley, ot, Maryland (34); Thomas Claiborne, og, Boston College (38); Calvin Darity, og, North Carolina (34); Jaimie Thomas, og, Maryland (33); Nick Marshman, og, Virginia Tech (24); Ryan McMahon, c, Florida State (35); Matt Tennant, c, Boston College (33); Ryan Shuman, c, Virginia Tech (23).

DEFENSE: Derrick Morgan, de, Georgia Tech (26); Willie Young, de, N.C. State (25); Vince Oghobaase, dt, Duke (40); Boo Robinson, de, Wake Forest (31); Jeremy Navarre, dt, Maryland (29); Nate Irving, lb, N.C. State (28); Paul Anderson, s, Boston College (35); Anthony Reddick, s, Miami (23).

SPECIAL TEAMS: Dustin Keys, k, Virginia Tech (25); Brandon Tate, spec., North Carolina (33); T.J. Graham, spec., N.C. State (31).

GT defensive tackle Walker will not start

November, 20, 2008
11/20/08
7:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Talk about a bummer for a senior on senior night. It looks like defensive tackle Vance Walker's nagging ankle injury will keep him from starting on senior night, breaking a streak of 23 consecutive starts. Walker is dressed, but if he plays, it will only be because he guts it out. Senior Elris Anyaibe will make his first career start.

Between his ankle and quarterback Josh Nesbitt's, things do not look good for the Yellow Jackets, and the game hasn't even started yet. Here are a few other quick notes before kickoff:

  • Either senior Jahi Word-Daniels or true freshman Rashaad Reid will start at cornerback. That's a game-time decision.
  • Senior Andrew Smith will make his first career start at wide receiver in place of Correy Earls. He will also handle punt return duties.
  • Late arriving crowds aren't uncommon here, but a six-car accident on I-85 might have something to do with this one.
  • The temperature isn't unbearable. It's 48 degrees. I'm ok in my sweater, since I know you were all concerned.
  • Miami's Laron Byrd will start in place of Travis Benjamin at wide receiver. Benjamin will play, only in certain situations, and he won't return kicks. Thearon Collier will handle that.

Georgia Tech injury update

November, 16, 2008
11/16/08
3:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt and defensive tackle Vance Walker haven't practiced since their loss to North Carolina because of ankle injuries. The staff is hopeful they'll return to practice on Monday. No doubt the Yellow Jackets will need both of them if they're going to have a chance against Miami.

Halloween in the ACC

October, 31, 2008
10/31/08
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Happy Halloween, ACC fans! Do you think airport security will let me through any faster today if I'm in my Bobby Bowden costume? I'm willing to try. Here's a Halloween edition of who's hot, who's not in the ACC:

Scariest offense: Virginia Tech. When you're down to your third-string quarterback -- I don't care how athletic he is -- it's a little scary. Especially when you're ranked 113th in the nation in total offense to begin with.

Most frightening D: Florida State. Defensive end Everette Brown has been scary good this season (he had three sacks against the Hokies), and the Noles are third in the nation in total defense, allowing just 247.29 yards per game.

Most haunting loss: Florida State's loss to Atlantic Division opponent Wake Forest. In retrospect, that was huge, and it's going to haunt the Seminoles all season.

Best costume: Dabo Swinney. He's dressed as Clemson's head coach!

Frankenstein after a loss: Paul Johnson. He's smart, but he can be surly, especially after a turnover or six.

Best coach to get candy from: Jim Grobe. Rumor has it he gives his players Snickers in their hotel rooms the night before games.

Your worst nightmare: Georgia Tech's defensive line. Seniors Vance Walker, Darryl Richard, Michael Johnson, and sophomore Derrick Morgan have combined for 81 career starts, 311 tackles, 87.5 tackles for loss, 42 sacks and 13 forced fumbles.

The ACC's ghosts: You can't see them, but they're there. North Carolina quarterbacks Cam Sexton and T.J. Yates aren't ranked among the league's most efficient passers because neither has played the minimum requirement of 75 percent of a team's games. But combined, Yates and Sexton have a pass efficiency of 147.8, more than 20 points ahead of the league leader.

Midseason report: Georgia Tech

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
1:36
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

GEORGIA TECH (5-1, 2-1 ACC)

OVERVIEW: The Yellow Jackets are in the midst of a three-game winning streak, but would arguably have had a different season had it not been for their defense. Georgia Tech leads the nation in tackles for loss and the four starting defensive linemen have combined for 29 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and two blocked field goals. The new offense developed quickly in large part because of Josh Nesbitt, Jaybo Shaw and Jonathan Dwyer, but the entire coaching staff is to be credited for bringing the young team along so quickly in new offensive and defensive schemes.

OFFENSIVE MVP: B-back Jonathan Dwyer. He's been involved in 10 plays of 20 yards or more. He is averaging 95.83 rushing yards and 133.5 all-purpose yards per game. Dwyer, having played in only 18 career games, has flourished in his new role this season. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in four games.

DEFENSIVE MVP: Defensive tackle Vance Walker. On a line comprised entirely of NFL prospects, Walker has had the most consistent and productive first half of the season. Defensive stats don't always tell the entire story, but Walker, a projected first-round pick, has seven tackles for loss and sacked Chris Crane in the end zone for the safety at Boston College.

WHAT'S NEXT: Because two of their wins came against FCS opponents, the Yellow Jackets will need seven wins to be bowl eligible. It's less a question of will they get two more than it is which teams will they beat? They've got a good chance this weekend at Clemson, as they will be catching the Tigers in a time of transition. After losing to Coastal Division leader Virginia Tech, the Nov. 8 game at North Carolina will be critical.

ACC midseason report

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
11:06
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Three things stand out about the ACC at the midpoint of the season: First, the league isn't as bad as it appeared in Week 1. Second, the defenses are dominating and third, it's time for some separation.

The ACC is 32-10 against its nonconference opponents, and Clemson's woes aside, the loss to Alabama seems less damaging when the Crimson Tide is ranked No. 2 in the nation. No, the ACC is not the best BCS conference, but good luck finding one that's more competitive from one through 12. The league has been impossible to predict, from Maryland's losses to Middle Tennessee and Virginia, to Clemson's utter meltdown.

Youth and quarterback changes have overtaken the league, and Florida State seems to be ahead of Miami in the race to resurrect their once-mighty programs. Still, the Seminoles are one of a handful of teams with a chance to win the Atlantic Division.

None of the teams have emerged as clear frontrunners to win the ACC championship. If the title game were played today, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech would be the Tampa-bound teams, and only the Hokies were predicted as preseason favorites. Even Virginia Tech, though, which holds a comfy 2-0 edge over its Coastal Division opponents, has shown its vulnerabilities. Considering how wide-open the league is, it would have been the perfect opportunity for Clemson to take advantage of it.

Instead, teams like North Carolina and Georgia Tech have. Here's a look at how the league has fared so far:

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson is two wins shy of bowl eligibility in his first season (two wins are over FCS opponents, and only one counts towards bowl eligibility). Johnson is winning with a new offense, a new defense and one of the youngest rosters in the ACC. The Jackets were picked by the ACC media to finish fourth, and instead are off to their first 5-1 start since 1990.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Clemson is easily the biggest bust of the year. Once ranked No. 9 in the nation, the Tigers have since lost three games, their head coach and their offensive coordinator. Injuries to the offensive line made an already tough job even more difficult for assistant coach Brad Scott, and it has had an impact on the entire offense.

MIDSEASON OFFENSIVE MVP: UNC wide receiver Brandon Tate. No, this is not a sympathy vote. He earned it with his ACC-leading 163.7 all-purpose yards per game. Tate finished his injury-shortened career as the NCAA's all-time leader in combined kick return yards with 3,523. Through the first six games, Tate had 376 receiving yards, 305 kickoff return yards, 158 punt return yards and 143 rushing yards.

MIDSEASON DEFENSIVE MVP: Georgia Tech defensive tackle Vance Walker. The spotlight is on Michael Johnson, but Walker has been the top performer on one of the nation's best defensive lines, and is a first-round draft pick. He consistently gets the job done, has six tackles for loss and epitomizes the Yellow Jackets' defense -- underrated.

MIDSEASON COACH OF THE YEAR: Frank Beamer. Few realized just how little the Hokies had to work with this season, and in addition to the depleted roster he started with, Beamer also lost running back Kenny Lewis Jr., safety Davon Morgan, receivers Zach Luckett, Ike Whitaker and Brandon Dillard to suspensions and injuries. He made the right call at quarterback in the face of criticism and has Virginia Tech at the top of the Coastal Division once again.

BOWL BOUND: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Florida State, Boston College, Maryland, Clemson, Miami

Georgia Tech has every right to be confident in the Coastal

October, 4, 2008
10/04/08
6:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

ATLANTA, Ga. -- They're not being cocky.

When Georgia Tech's players talk about their potential to win 11 games, they honestly believe it.

"That's the truth," said defensive tackle Vance Walker. "The only people who can stop us are ourselves."

While 11 wins might be pushing it for any team in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets have every reason to consider themselves in the mix for the Coastal Division crown.

With its upcoming game against Gardner-Webb, Georgia Tech should head into Clemson with a 5-1 record. It's arguably the most complete team in the Coastal Division -- and that includes division leader Virginia Tech, which is also 5-1 after its 27-13 win over Western Kentucky.

Yes, the Yellow Jackets lost to Virginia Tech 20-17 on Sept. 13, but midway through the season Georgia Tech's offense is one of the trickiest to stop, and nobody matches the NFL potential on their defensive line.

"I think we just believe in each other," said true freshman quarterback Jaybo Shaw. "The offense believes the defense is going to stop them and get us the ball back, and the defense believes we're going to put points on the board. When you have that, I think things can go your way a lot."

(Read full post)

ACC in the Tallahassee morning

September, 18, 2008
9/18/08
7:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Good morning from the Sunshine State, where the Seminoles are confident they're going to win. (In addition to Christian Ponder, who high-fived me yesterday for my motivational o-line ranking, Preston Parker also made the declarative statement they're going to win this game).

The Seminoles know, though, that this is their first true test. There are so many veteran players on the Wake Forest defense that even a veteran can get overshadowed.

While there is plenty to write about here, don't forget about that other important divisional game.

Whomever wins the Virginia Tech-North Carolina game is going to come out looking like the early frontrunner of the Coastal Division. Don't forget about those Hurricanes, though. Randy Shannon has had his team working on turnovers this past week. The question on defense, though, is if Eric Moncur will play.

Georgia Tech got a key piece of its defense back, as Vance Walker is back from a head injury.

Speaking of getting hit ...

- The effects of Kevin Barnes' hit on Cal running back Jahvid Best are still resounding in College Park. Imagine how Best feels. Really. It's all over the Internet.

- Clemson receiver Tyler Grisham is now tied with Maryland quarterback Jordan Steffy at five concussions. Seriously. Not all bad news in Clemson, though. What was once a weakness for the Tigers is now a strength.

- Has Boston College mended its bruised ego?

- UVA has plenty to work on during its bye week.

- Duke has a bye week. And there is a story in the paper about their defensive line. Yes, things have changed in Durham. 

Georgia Tech's defensive line leading the way

September, 11, 2008
9/11/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech sophomore defensive end Derrick Morgan has no problem playing in the shadows of a senior-laden defensive line that includes Michael Johnson, Vance Walker and Darryl Richard.

The attention on them is the very thing that has allowed Morgan to shine.

"You know how good a player Michael Johnson is, so they're just double teaming him which is going to leave me with some one-on-one battles," Morgan said. "It frees me up a lot more in the pass rush and all the attention and focus has been on Mike and the other d-linemen because they already know about them. It's definitely been helpful."

Morgan enters Saturday's game at Virginia Tech leading the ACC in sacks (2.5) and has one fumble recovery. Richard leads in tackles for loss (four), and Walker earned the Yellow Jackets' first safety since 2004 last weekend when he tackled Boston College quarterback Chris Crane in the end zone.

"If there is a strength of our football team," coach Paul Johnson said, "it's probably the front four."

Georgia Tech's pressure on former LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux and Crane contributed to its 2-0 start and rising expectations. Regardless of who takes more snaps for Virginia Tech on Saturday -- Sean Glennon or Tyrod Taylor -- more of the same can be expected.

"I'm very impressed with Georgia Tech, that front four," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said, rattling off their jersey numbers. "I mean they're good up front. They're very, very good up front."

"They're not afraid to blitz," he said. "They come all out. They're not shy about that."

The defense doesn't zone blitz as much as it did under former defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, and can rush more and get pressure on the quarterback while keeping seven in coverage instead of six.

"This is more diverse," Beamer said. "You get more fronts and coming at you out of all the fronts. I think this is tough."

In the Yellow Jackets' 19-16 win against the Eagles, it was four-man pressure most of the time, sometimes five. Very seldom do they bring six or seven. Not only is this arguably the best defensive line in the ACC, it's also one of the most experienced. Richard, who graduated in three years, should have his master's by the end of the season. Their leadership has had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the team.

"You've got to have senior leadership and I think he puts that on the defensive line that they've got to be leaders when they're out there," defensive line coach Giff Smith said. "I think the difference in us right now is we play together as a team. Everybody believes in each other whether you're a senior or a true freshman, you've got GT on your helmet and everybody has to carry their own load."

Walker has been a consistently good player for the Yellow Jackets, and Johnson, an extremely gifted athlete, is still adjusting to his new role. He was a pass-rush specialist and special teams contributor last year. Now he is in his first season as a starter and playing more than 20 snaps a game. Richard might have been the most impressive of the group at Boston College, but Morgan has the most sacks.

"Derrick, he can hold his own in any situation," Smith said.

Morgan said he's learned a lot from playing alongside his veteran teammates, watching game film with them and discussing Xs and Os in the locker room.

"I feel privileged," Morgan said. "We like to think we're one of the best in the nation but we've got to go out there and prove it."

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