- David M. Hale, College football
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It’s tough to gauge too much from spring practices, when installation and fundamentals take center stage. At the same time though, it can be the perfect time for players who had toiled in the background to take a big step forward. That’s certainly true for the players who made our list of the ACC’s most improved this spring.
Reggie Bonnafon (QB, Louisville)
Thrust into the starting lineup in midseason last year, Bonnafon struggled as a passer. Now with some experience under his belt, he looks far more comfortable in the pocket. His footwork and timing have improved, he has gotten better at reading defenses, and he has shown more of a willingness to attack down the field. Match those skills with ample athleticism and Bonnafon could be Bobby Petrino’s most versatile QB in years. There’s no set starter for Louisville yet, but when spring wrapped up, it certainly appeared that Bonnafon was ahead of the pack.
Ja'Vonn Harrison (WR, Florida State)
The Seminoles entered spring looking for plenty of help at the offensive skill positions, and perhaps no one made more of a name for himself than Harrison. As a freshman last season, Harrison caught just one pass, but he spent ample time working with the second-team offense in practice and developed a nice chemistry with QB Sean Maguire. That paid dividends this spring as Harrison wowed coaches throughout, earned raves from Jimbo Fisher, then closed with a breakout spring game in which he racked up five catches for 94 yards.
A.J. Wolf (DT, Duke)
The Blue Devils had some major holes up front on defense, but they found one surefire answer this spring in Wolf, the fourth-year junior who solidified a starting job this spring. “He has just become more and more powerful and has done a nice job of improving himself,” David Cutcliffe said. “He's played a lot of football, but he's ready and showed that.” Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said he feels as good about his defensive tackles this spring as he has in years, and Wolf’s emergence is a big reason why.
Kearse already was an established starter last year, but he stepped into a more versatile role this spring, working at corner, safety and nickel. He also moved into a more significant leadership role, and coach Dabo Swinney raves about Kearse's potential impact in 2015. Alongside Kearse, Green has emerged as a star in the making, and Swinney noted Green's improvement as one of the most noticeable this spring. Green (6-foot-3) and Kearse (6-4) will give Clemson one of the biggest safety tandems in the country, and while the turnover up front has some doubting the Tigers’ defense this year, things are looking really good for the secondary.
Eric Gallo (C, Virginia Tech)
The Hokies figure to have a terrific defense in 2015, and the skill positions on offense are loaded with young talent. But whether Virginia Tech can finally put things together after three straight down years likely depends on how much a revamped offensive line can improve. The spring results were encouraging, particularly on the inside where, Gallo stepped into a starting role at center and has meshed well with Wyatt Teller and Augie Conte and shown a quick aptitude on the field. Tech has struggled mightily in short-yardage situations the past few years, but this year’s crop of interior linemen has hopes high in Blacksburg.
Marcus Allen (B-back, Georgia Tech)
The Yellow Jackets return star QB Justin Thomas, but beyond that, their next four leading rushers from 2014 have all moved on. Myriad spring injuries meant the competition at B-back was limited, but Allen made the most of his opportunity. It had been a roller-coaster career for Allen, who’d played at A-back, B-back, linebacker and receiver before finding a home this spring. He was impressive throughout practice, capping things with a stellar effort in the spring game, running for 77 yards and a touchdown. He’ll get more competition for carries in fall camp, but he appears to have secured a key place on Tech’s offense moving forward.
Other notables: Boston College QB Darius Wade, Wake Forest WR Tabari Hines, Pitt WR Dontez Ford, North Carolina LB Joe Jackson, Louisville DB Josh Harvey-Clemons, Clemson DE Ebenezer Ogundeko, NC State DT Kentavius Street, Virginia S Kelvin Rainey, Syracuse NT Kayton Samuels, Miami RB Gus Edwards.
QB Reggie Bonnafon took steps to lead Louisville; FSu might have found its next great receiver in Ja'Vonn Harrison.