NCF Nation: Brendan Cross

We’ve already taken a look at the ACC’s Dream Team, which was comprised of the top position groups across the league. Now it’s time to go a little bit deeper and rank every position group for each team. We’ll start with the most difficult position -- the quarterbacks. More than half of the teams in the conference will usher in quarterbacks who are in their first season as a full-time starter, and many of the teams in the ACC are struggling with depth and experience at the position. This is not solely a ranking of the best quarterbacks in the ACC (stay tuned for that, it will look different), so backups are an important part of the equation.

Bottom line: Who's got the depth and talent to make it through a full season -- and win -- if more than one quarterback is needed?

Here’s a look at who’s stocked and who’s not at quarterback this year:

1. Miami: The Hurricanes have a proven albeit embattled option in Jacory Harris, and Stephen Morris also has significant starting experience. Whoever doesn’t win the job will be a more than capable backup. The Canes still need to add depth to the position, but they landed transfer Ryan Williams from Memphis.

2. Boston College: Starter Chase Rettig should be better in his second season as starter, but he’s not the only one on the roster with playing experience. Dave Shinskie has started 13 games, and Mike Marscovetra should be a familiar name to BC fans by now.

3. Duke: It’s possible coach David Cutcliffe could use three quarterbacks this year. He’s got one of the best in the league in starter Sean Renfree, backup Brandon Connette has seen significant playing time, and the emergence of redshirt freshman Anthony Boone this offseason could give the offense yet another option.

4. Wake Forest: Tanner Price is the undisputed starter, but Ted Stachitas had a better spring than coach Jim Grobe had anticipated, and Brendan Cross has always been in the mix to earn some playing time.

5. Florida State: The Seminoles haven’t settled yet on a backup to EJ Manuel, but depth isn’t a problem with both Clint Trickett and Will Secord competing for the No. 2 spot. It’s not like it was last year, though, when there was a Gator Bowl MVP sitting on the bench.

6. North Carolina: Not only is Bryn Renner unproven, so are his backups. Renner clearly distanced himself from the rest of the competition this spring. True freshman Marquise Williams will continue to compete with Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue, who was injured two years ago and redshirted last season, for the No. 2 spot.

7. Virginia Tech: Logan Thomas had an impressive spring and drew rave reviews from those within the program, but the backup situation remains a question. Redshirt freshman Mark Leal really pushed Ju-Ju Clayton for the No. 2 job and that competition will continue this summer.

8. Georgia Tech: It’s Tevin Washington’s job to lose, but Synjyn Days had the better spring game and made the competition a bit more interesting heading into fall camp. True freshmen Vad Lee and Demontevious Smith would have to have stellar performances in camp to make a move, but there’s definitely talent in the wings.

9. Clemson: Tajh Boyd was the only scholarship quarterback even on the roster until the early enrollees, Cole Stoudt and Tony McNeal, joined the team. The good news for Clemson fans is that Cole Stoudt, the son of former NFL quarterback Cliff Stoudt, had a productive spring and earned the No. 2 job.

10. Virginia: If there’s one problem the Hoos don’t have, it’s depth at the quarterback position. Mike London has yet to name a starter, and all of them lack significant game experience. Ross Metheny, Michael Rocco, Michael Strauss and David Watford all have a shot. Since they’re all preparing as starters now, they should all have a good grasp of the offense if needed.

11. Maryland: First-year coach Randy Edsall had five quarterbacks to work with when he was hired, and now he’s down to two. He’s got one of the best quarterbacks in the league to work with in Danny O'Brien, but he’s got to keep him healthy. C.J. Brown and walk-on Troy Jones are the only other quarterbacks on the roster.

12. NC State: If Mike Glennon gets hurt, the Wolfpack is in trouble. Redshirt freshman Tyler Brosius has a strong arm but no experience, and he’s not ready for prime time yet. The departure of Russell Wilson might not affect the win-loss record, but it definitely hurt the depth.
Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price is the Demon Deacons' returning starter, but all five quarterbacks had a chance to make their case on Saturday in the second spring scrimmage. Price, Brendan Cross, Ted Stachitas, Patrick Thompson and redshirt freshman Keenon Rush each had at least one completion of 35 yards or longer in the hour-long scrimmage. Each of the top four quarterbacks either accounted for a scoring drive or drove the team into field goal range.

Offensive highlights:
  • Lovell Jackson scored on a 65-yard swing pass from Cross.
  • Brandon Pendergrass scored on a 12-yard run and led all rushers with 52 yard on four carries, including a 34-yard run.
  • Price drove the Deacons to the 11 and 29 while Stachitas had a drive that ended at the 9. Thompson led Wake to the 1 before a fumble at the goal line.
  • Michael Campanaro led all receivers with six receptions for 77 yards. Jackson had five catches for a team-high 91 yards while Matt James finished the scrimmage with 67 yards on three receptions.
Defensive highlights:
  • Zachary Allen, Riley Haynes and Mike Olson all recorded sacks during the scrimmage.
  • Kris Redding and Gelo Orange each recovered fumbles.
Quotable: “Last season doesn’t cut it,” coach Jim Grobe said of delivering a message to his players. “It’s not like we have a season like we had last year, we can’t all get together at Chuck E. Cheese and hand out trophies. At this level, it just doesn’t happen and our guys have to understand it. If you don’t practice, it’s going to be hard for us to be a good football team. We have to have durable and dependable guys.”
Wake Forest senior center Russell Nenon had a decision to make this offseason -- either get an internship and go to work or continue his football training.

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” said Nenon, who has been in Franklin, Tenn., training at D1 Sports Training for five weeks. “I just wanted a challenge. We had some misfortunes last fall, so I have to make sure I do my best to not sit at home for Christmas.

[+] EnlargeRussell Nenon
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIWith the turnover on the offensive line, Wake Forest will be leaning on Russell Nenon's leadership.
“I think I was asked about 500 times how my season went when I was home for Christmas,” he said. “I don’t really like explaining why I’m not at a bowl game.”

Nenon is tired of sitting out. He missed this spring while recovering from January surgery on his torn left labrum. Part of the reason he chose extra training this summer was to help gain the strength back in his shoulder. Nenon has been working with a few free agents from the Titans, and a few players from Tennessee. Nenon’s health, his leadership and his contributions up front will be invaluable to an offense in transition.

Not only did the Demon Deacons graduate six offensive linemen, but they are also ushering in a new quarterback. Wake Forest must replace three starters who combined for 104 starts up front, leaving Nenon and guard Joe Looney as the veterans of the group.

“We’re really close, we work really hard,” Nenon said. “We’re going to try our hardest to be a strong point of our offense. Joe Looney is a great guy, a great player. Doug Weaver has improved a lot since he was younger. Steven Chase (former defensive tackle) came over this spring, he had a great spring. Dennis Godfrey had a great spring. They know they have a lot to learn, and Joe and I are going to try to make it as calm as an atmosphere as possible. We’re going to work hard and hopefully be ready for Presbyterian come the first game.”

Nenon said he’s confident in all three of Wake’s quarterback candidates.

“Being a spectator this spring, I kind of got a different view,” he said. “My confidence level with Skylar [Jones], Ted [Stachitas] and Brendan [Cross] is very high. I’m not worried about them. I’ve seen them play on the practice field all the time. I have no worries with them. As soon as they get that first snap, they’ll remember it’s just football. As far as the offense, it’s definitely different from having Riley [Skinner] back there, but I’m excited. It’s something different we’re bringing to the table. I know coach [Steed] Lobotzke is giving us the best chance to win, so hopefully we can turn things around this fall.”

Nenon is doing his part this summer.

Famous fathers in the ACC

June, 18, 2010
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On Monday, NC State quarterback Russell Wilson buried his father. Our thoughts and prayers are with him this weekend as our fathers are celebrated. Wilson’s father, Harrison, died on Friday after a long illness, but at his funeral, his son remembered fondly what an impact he had on his athletic career. Russell’s father played football at Dartmouth and then made it to the last cut for the San Diego Chargers AFTER completing his law degree.

According to school spokesman Annabelle Myers, Russell and his brother spoke at the funeral and told countless stories about their dad waking them to throw baseballs to them, and how the three of them would go out and one would play quarterback, one would play wide receiver, and one would play running back.

These are the moments and memories our dads deserve a big thanks for this weekend. In honor of Father’s Day, here’s a look at some of the ACC’s ‘Famous Fathers,’ and the players who share their legacies. Thanks to the sports information directors in the league and Mike Finn in the Greensboro office for making this post possible:

BOSTON COLLEGE
  • Redshirt freshman defensive end Max Holloway’s father (Brian) played 10 seasons in the NFL (with Patriots and Raiders). His maternal grandfather, Johnny McKenzie, played 19 seasons in the NHL, winning two Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins.
  • Junior wide receiver Chris Fox’s father (Tim) was an All-American at Ohio State under Woody Hayes and played 10 years in the NFL (with the Patriots, Chargers and Rams).
  • Redshirt freshman wide receiver Hampton Hughes’ father played for six years for the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Junior linebacker Mike Morrissey’s father (Jim) played nine seasons in the NFL for Chicago and Green Bay.
CLEMSON
  • QB Mike Wade, LB Chris Richardson and Landon Walker: Their fathers, Mike Wade Sr., Chuckie Richardson and Gary Walker, played on the national championship team in 1981.
DUKE
  • Kicker Paul Asack’s father Phil Asack was a 1971 Duke graduate who lettered for three seasons before joining the San Diego Chargers.
  • Redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Conor Irwin’s father Tim Irwin played football at the University of Tennessee and in the NFL from 1981-94 with the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins. As an aside, his uncle, King Irwin, played football at Georgia Tech.
  • Wide receiver Matt Pridemore’s father Tom Pridemore played at West Virginia and for the Atlanta Falcons.
  • Receiver Brandon Braxton’s father David Braxton played for the Minnesota Vikings, Phoenix Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals.
FLORIDA STATE
  • QB Christian Ponder's father, David, was a defensive lineman at FSU from 1980-83.
  • Redshirt freshman defensive end Dan Hicks’ father is former FSU standout and NFL veteran Dan Footman.
  • Incoming freshman linebacker Christian Jones’ father, Willie Jones Sr., was a standout defensive end for the Seminoles (1975-78) and a second-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders in 1980 and returned to FSU as a graduate assistant football coach in 1988.
  • Quarterback Clint Trickett, who enrolled as a freshman in January and took part in spring practice, is the son of FSU assistant head coach/offensive line coach Rick Trickett. Travis Trickett, another son who has been a videographer in the FSU football program, will be the graduate assistant on offense this season.
GEORGIA TECH
  • Junior safety Cooper Taylor’s father, JimBob Taylor, played quarterback at Tech.
  • Senior wide receiver Kevin Cone’s dad, Ronnie, played running back at Tech.
  • Senior running back Lucas Cox’s brother, Michael, was a three-year starter at fullback for Tech and now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.
MARYLAND
  • Defensive lineman Joe Vellano’s father, Paul, played for Maryland (1971-73). He was an All-American defensive lineman in 1972 and All-ACC in 1972-73.
  • Defensive back Austin Walker and defensive lineman Alex Walker are the sons of Doc Walker, who starred at UCLA from 1974-77 before being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. He also started at tight end from 1980-85 for the Washington Redskins, playing for the 1982 Super Bowl championship team. Their father is currently a local sports-talk radio host for Sportstalk 980 and also covers ACC football for Raycom television.
  • Running back Davin Meggett’s father, Dave, played in the NFL for three different teams -- the New York Giants (1989-1994), the New England Patriots (1995-1997) and the New York Jets (1998).
MIAMI
  • Backup quarterback A.J. Highsmith’s father, Alonzo Highsmith, and running back Damien Berry’s father, Kenny Berry, played for Miami. Highsmith played at Miami from 1983-86 and in the NFL for seven years. Berry was at Miami from 1987-89.
  • Backup quarterback Spencer Whipple is the son of assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.
NORTH CAROLINA
  • Punter C.J. Feagles’s father, Jeff, is currently the New York Giants punter and has played 21 seasons in the NFL.
  • Backup quarterback Bryn Renner’s father, Bill, was a punter at Virginia Tech and for the Green Bay Packers.
  • Offensive tackle Brennan Williams’ father, Brent, played in the NFL from 1986-93 with the Patriots, Seahawks and Jets.
  • Linebacker Shane Mularkey’s father, Mike, is the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.
NC STATE
  • R.J. Mattes' father, Ron, played at Virginia, where as a senior in 1984 he was an all-ACC defensive tackle for George Welsh. He also played offensive tackle in the NFL for the Seahawks, the Bears and the Colts. He is now coaching at Virginia as offensive line coach.
VIRGINIA
  • Wide receiver Jared Green is the son of Darrell Green, who was a standout cornerback for the Washington Redskins and a 2008 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jared gave his father’s induction speech at the ceremony.
  • Cornerback Chase Minnifield is the son of Frank Minnifield, a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Cleveland Browns, playing from 1984-92.
VIRGINIA TECH
  • Zac Evans is the son of George Evans, who was a starter on the Hokies’ offensive line and lettered from 1979-82.
  • Kenny Lewis, Jr., is the son of Kenny Lewis, Sr., a standout running back for the Hokies who is enshrined in the Tech Sports Hall of Fame.
  • Beau Warren’s father, Donnie Warren, played 14 years in the NFL for the Washington Redskins.
  • Freshman linebacker Chase Williams, who entered school in January, is the son of Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.
  • Linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is the son of Kurt Gouveia, who was also a starter for the Redskins.
  • Wiley Brown’s father, Chuck Brown was deemed the Godfather of GoGo music.
WAKE FOREST
  • Quarterback Brendan Cross is the son of former 49ers center Randy Cross.
  • Linebacker Joey Ehrmann is the son of Joe Ehrmann, who played for the Colts and Lions.
  • Center Chance Raines’ father, Mike, was an All-American at Alabama under Bear Bryant.
  • Quarterback Ted Stachitas’ father, Len, is vice president of the National Football Foundation and the executive director of the NFF’s Play It Smart Program, a highly successful youth development program.
Now that spring is over and teams throughout the ACC have learned a little bit more about themselves, it’s time to re-evaluate the conference hierarchy heading into summer camp. The very top stayed the same as the pre-spring rankings, as did the bottom of the barrel, but there were some tweaks in between. Here’s a look at how the ACC shakes out heading into summer camp:

1. Virginia Tech: The Hokies were encouraged by the rookie performances on defense this spring, but coach Frank Beamer has said he’s still looking for the young players to get stronger this offseason and spend some significant time in the film room. Offensively, the Hokies will be as good as the revamped offensive line, and that’s still a work in progress.

2. Florida State: What separates the Seminoles right now is the fact they only have to replace one starter on offense, and veteran quarterback Christian Ponder will be protected by one of the best lines in the country. The defense is better suited for the personnel under coordinator Mark Stoops, but overall remains a question.

3. Miami: The Hurricanes’ depth at running back should make the offense more productive in the second year under coordinator Mark Whipple. The Canes’ defensive line was also a highlight of the spring under first-year assistant Rick Petri, but they need to replace three starters up front offensively.

4. Clemson: Defense was the strength this spring, but running backs Andre Ellington and James Harper should ease the loss of C.J. Spiller. With four starters returning, the offensive line should improve. The key to Clemson’s run at a second straight Atlantic Division title will be the return of quarterback Kyle Parker to football instead of baseball.

5. Georgia Tech: Yes, they’re the defending ACC champs, but the Jackets were hurt the most by the NFL draft and are making the biggest transition defensively. There were positive reviews about the addition and style of coordinator Al Groh, and if the Jackets can replace three starters on the offensive line, they’ve got the skill players to defend their title.

6. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have an NFL-caliber defense, but this spring revealed little about how much progress they made offensively. Quarterback play remains a concern, as Butch Davis must choose between inexperience and inconsistency.

7. Boston College: The quarterback competition continues, and nobody is sure just how effective linebacker Mark Herzlich will be upon his return. The Eagles do have one of the better offensive lines, though, and a schedule conducive to another appearance in the ACC title game.

8. Maryland: Coach Ralph Friedgen was pleased with his spring practices, specifically the progress of the offensive line, which will be critical to Maryland's comeback this fall. The Terps have settled on quarterback Jamarr Robinson as their starter and have plenty of talent at running back and receiver to help him.

9. Wake Forest: Skylar Jones finished the spring atop the depth chart, but his main competitors -- Ted Stachitas and Brendan Cross -- were both injured. The Deacs will reveal a more run-based, option offense under their new quarterback. The interior defensive line remains a concern.

10. NC State: Coach Tom O’Brien just can’t seem to get through an offseason without a setback. The misdemeanor charges against four of his players -- including two starters from 2009 -- revealed poor decision-making from veterans.

11. Duke: Quarterback Sean Renfree is expected to be fully recovered from his torn ACL and be the starter this fall, but the Blue Devils’ running game is still in need of an upgrade and the defensive line remains a question.

12. Virginia: It’s still too early for first-year coach Mike London to put his stamp on the program, as he needs more recruiting classes to do that. This will be a transition year with a new staff, new philosophies and possibly a new quarterback.

QB uncertainty looms in the ACC

February, 15, 2010
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At Duke, former scout team quarterback Sean Schroeder has been reciting the names of plays so he can spit them out a little easier in the huddle as the No. 1 signal-caller this spring. At Wake Forest, coach Jim Grobe would like nothing more than to say he feels good about his quarterbacks, but he hasn’t seen any of them play significant game time yet. And at NC State, backup Mike Glennon plans on working to unseat his friend and teammate Russell Wilson as the starter this spring.

[+] EnlargeMike Glennon
AP Photo/Gerry Broome Mike Glennon will get extra reps under center this spring while incumbent starter Russell Wilson plays baseball.
Bring on the competition in the ACC.

All across the conference, uncertainty looms at quarterback heading into spring practices. The biggest transitions will occur at Duke and Wake Forest, where two of the ACC’s most accomplished quarterbacks -- Thaddeus Lewis and Riley Skinner -- have graduated. Virginia is also starting from scratch to replace Jameel Sewell, and nobody on the roster but Marc Verica has experience. Maryland's Jamarr Robinson has two starts ahead of the competition. Some schools, like North Carolina and Boston College, have experienced starters returning, but have welcomed an audition from the backups. At NC State and Clemson, the position’s future depends on whether or not starters Kyle Parker and Wilson decide to pursue their baseball careers.

“My goal is to prepare to be the starter, regardless of what decision [Wilson] makes, whenever he has to make a decision,” Glennon said. “… Once spring comes around, I’ll be getting all of those extra reps I wouldn’t have been given if he was there. Every ball I throw is really an advantage to me.”

Florida State is the only school in the Atlantic Division without any questions about who the starter is, as Christian Ponder will return from a shoulder injury and has the potential to factor into the Heisman race. The Coastal Division is a little more secure, with Georgia Tech’s Josh Nesbitt, Miami’s Jacory Harris, and Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor all established and on the brink of their best seasons yet. Whether or not that gives them an edge in the conference race will depend upon how quickly the league’s rookies can catch up.

“It’s always difficult to replace a guy who had the ability [Lewis] had,” said Duke offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper. “He’s obviously very, very talented, and then the experience factor. You don’t have a four-year starter very often ever at many positions, especially at quarterback.”

Boston College is in a much better position than it was this time a year ago, as the staff had no idea who its quarterback would be until 25-year-old Dave Shinskie arrived on campus. Shinskie is the front-runner heading into the spring, but Mike Marscovetra and two true freshmen -- Chase Rettig and Josh Bordner -- are on campus and will be given a chance.

“I think there should always be competition,” said offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Gary Tranquill. “It’s Shinskie’s job, and if they can unseat him, then they can unseat him.”

Duke’s quarterback depth took a hit after Lewis graduated and his backup, Sean Renfree, tore his ACL. Renfree is expected to be the Blue Devils’ starter this fall, but he will miss all of spring drills while he recovers.

Next man up? Schroeder.

“I’m expecting to really get a hold of the offense,” he said. “I’ve got a year under my belt as a redshirt freshman. That helped a lot. I’m looking to grow from that and master the offense and different schemes we have.”

Wake Forest has to replace the winningest quarterback in school history in Skinner. Truth is, there really is no front-runner. Not when the most experienced player, Ted Stachitas, has one series against Elon to fall back on.

“It is legitimately wide open,” said quarterbacks coach Tom Elrod.

The contenders include Skylar Jones, who was moved to wide receiver last year; Stachitas, who has had two shoulder surgeries on his right shoulder but said he feels almost 100 percent; Brendan Cross; walk-on Turner Faulk; and true freshman Tanner Price.

“I can’t tell you that I’m very confident, just because we haven’t seen the guys in live fire,” Grobe said. “I don’t know that we’ll feel good about them until they get a real game under their belt. I like what we’ve got – I like the kids who are playing quarterback for us, but even in practice and the scrimmages, it’s just really hard to tell who the guys are until they get out in games that really mean something.”

The one thing Grobe can take some solace in? He’s hardly alone this spring in the ACC.

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 15, 2010
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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.
Tags:

ACC, Russell Wilson, Darren Evans, Marc Verica, Boo Robinson, Phil Costa, Jamarr Robinson, Al Groh, Mike Glennon, David Wilson, Jimmy Graham, Jamie Harper, Michael Carter, Sean Renfree, Mikell Simpson, Austin Barrick, E.J. Wilson, Jacory Harris, Joe Joseph, Skylar Jones, T.J. Yates, Sean Bedford, Jonathan Dwyer, John Russell, Nate Irving, Thaddeus Lewis, E.J. Manuel, Ryan Williams, C.J. Spiller, Eric Moncur, Bruce Campbell, Jeff Luc, Demaryius Thomas, Rashawn Jackson, Cannon Smith, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan McManus, Chris Turner, Dave Shinskie, Cordarrow Thompson, Richard Gordon, Christian Ponder, Johnny Williams, Morgan Burnett, Riley Skinner, Derrick Morgan, Jameel Sewell, Allen Bailey, Mike London, Mark Herzlich, Taylor Cook, Leon Wright, Vic Hall, Ted Stachitas, Jim Ramella, Jonathan Cooper, Mark Stoops, Cameron Chism, A.J. Highsmith, Braden Hanson, Bryn Renner, Paul Pinegar, Austin Giles, Kaleb Ramsey, CHris Chancellor, Andre Ellington, Luke Kuechly, Cam Thomas, Marcus Gilchrist, Chase Rettig, Michael Strauss, Tanner Price, Anthony McCloud, Debrale Smiley, Brendan Cross, Alan Pelc, Antoine Hopkins, Bill Lazor, Brad Newman, C.J. Brown, Charlie Hatcher, Chris Drager, Chris Hazelton, Chris Ward, Clay Belton, Crezdon Butler, Danny O\'Brien, DeAndrew McDaniel, Dexter McDougle, Dominique Wallace, Duan Perez-Means, Isaiah Hamlette, J.R. Collins, James Gayle, Joseph Gilbert, Josh Bordner, Josh Holmes, Justin Gilbert, Kevin Parks, Kyle Paker, Michael Lockett, Ochuko Jenije, Quinton Coples, Rahsard Hall, Rick Petri, Rodney Smith, Roko Smalls, Ross Metheny, Sean Schroeder, Stephen Morris, Sydney Sarmiento, Torrey Mack, Trenton Hughes, Tydreke Powell, Tyrel Wilson, Wesley Oglesby, Willie Haulstead

Each team has plenty of questions to answer heading into spring practice, so let the competition begin. Here are five position battles worth watching in the ACC this spring:

1. Wake Forest quarterback -- Replacing Riley Skinner, the winningest quarterback in school history won’t be easy. The job is wide open, and the candidates include Ted Stachitas, Skylar Jones, Brendan Cross, walk-on Turner Faulk, and true freshman Tanner Price.

2. Virginia Tech defensive ends -- Experience is at a premium here after the early departure of Jason Worilds to the NFL. Chris Drager and Steven Friday are now the veterans of the group, but there are also several redshirt freshmen in the mix. The staff has high hopes for Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins, but could also make some position changes to fill the need.

3. Virginia’s quarterback -- The Cavaliers are also starting from scratch after the departure of Jameel Sewell, and Marc Verica is the most experienced of the bunch. There were four quarterbacks in this year’s recruiting class, but only Michael Strauss enrolled early. The Cavs also have Ross Metheny and Riko Smalls.

4. BC defensive line -- The Eagles have to replace left tackle Austin Giles and defensive end Jim Ramella, who was one of the top leaders. They return Kaleb Ramsey, Giles’ backup, and Brad Newman, Ramella’s reserve, but several newcomers should work their way into the mix.

5. Miami tight ends/offensive line -- The Canes have to replace three starters up front, and tight end Jimmy Graham has graduated. Miami brought in four tight ends in this recruiting class, but none of them were early enrollees. Richard Gordon, who was injured the majority of last season, is the only returning tight end with experience.

Five newcomers to watch

February, 8, 2010
2/08/10
2:00
PM ET
It would be easy -- and accurate -- to name five ESPNU 150 players Florida State just signed as the newcomers to watch in the ACC this year, but let’s spread the wealth a little bit. There will be plenty of opportunities and position battles throughout the conference worth watching this spring and summer, but here are five players who should have a chance to make an immediate contribution:

FSU freshman linebacker Jeff Luc: The Seminoles need an upgrade on defense, and they didn’t bring an influx of talent in to sit and watch. Luc is a five-star player and the No. 1 overall rated inside linebacker by ESPN.com’s Scouts Inc. He’s the No. 11 overall player in the ESPNU 150 class. Anyone who is that good should be tough to keep off the field.

Wake Forest redshirt freshman quarterback Brendan Cross: The competition is open to replace Riley Skinner, and Cross should be considered a front-runner heading into spring ball. Cross finished his career at Chattahoochee High School in Georgia with 3,540 passing yards and 36 touchdown passes.

NC State freshman offensive tackle Robert Crisp: The Wolfpack are looking for some help up front, and Crisp will be given a chance to give some. He is a four-star, 300-pound tackle whose size will help him work his way in early. NC State lost three starters up front.

Miami redshirt freshman running back Lamar Miller: He didn’t play last year because of the talent in front of him, but with Javarris James graduated and Graig Cooper recovering from a knee injury, the chances are good that Miller will work his way into the rotation. He was a member of the ESPNU 150 and was ranked the No. 12 running back in his class by ESPN.com.

Boston College freshman quarterback Chase Rettig: The fact that he’s already on campus and will go through spring drills means that Dave Shinskie will have some competition. The California native is a four-star player and the No. 10 quarterback in his class, according to ESPN.com’s Scouts Inc.

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