NCF Nation: Cannon Smith

When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.
If you think Miami's quarterback competition is interesting now, it should only get better next season.

As to whether or not the 2012 starting quarterback is actually an upgrade? Well, that remains to be seen, but Miami took another step towards building the position's depth recently when it announced the addition of transfer quarterback Ryan Williams, who played for one season at the University of Memphis.

[+] EnlargeRyan Williams
AP Photo/Kerry SmithRyan Williams, competing to be the starting quarterback at Miami, showed effectiveness as Memphis' starter in 2010.
While Williams -- a record-setter who led nearby Miramar High to its first state title -- obviously wasn't an attractive prospect for the previous staff, Miami coach Al Golden and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch just got a steal in a 6-foot-6, 225-pound prototypical drop-back passer who fits in perfectly with what the Canes want to do offensively. The reason he left Memphis is because of the program's switch to a spread offense.

And the fact that Williams took the starting job from a former Hurricane, Cannon Smith, who suffered a concussion in the second game, is just too ironic to ignore. (Current Cane Jacory Harris suffered a concussion in the Virginia game last year, opening the door for Stephen Morris and leading to the current ongoing competition.) Williams started 10 games last year and completed 165 of 290 passes for 2,075 yards and 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He'll have a wee bit more talent to help him out at Miami.

If, of course, Williams actually wins the starting job.

Once Harris leaves, the Canes will have Morris, Michigan transfer Tate Forcier and Williams to choose from, along with whomever they land in the 2012 recruiting class -- and that is where Golden needs to make his biggest impact. While Morris and the transfers will have an opportunity to compete for the starting job, Miami still needs to land some stud quarterbacks in its next recruiting class -- a position Golden swung and missed on in 2011 due in large part because of the timing of his hire. So far, the Canes are off to a good start with two, including David Thompson, and ESPNU 150 watch list member Gray Crow.

Miami's depth is getting better, but the talent must improve, too, and while Williams will help the Canes in both areas, the 2012 recruiting class should help more.

Spring QB competition: C-USA

February, 8, 2011
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We continue our look at spring quarterback competitions with a look at Conference USA. This league is actually pretty solid when it comes to its top quarterbacks, with Case Keenum coming back and joining G.J. Kinne of Tulsa, Austin Davis of Southern Miss and Dominique Davis of East Carolina among others. But a few others have some question marks:

UTEP

[+] EnlargeTrevor Vittatoe
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinUTEP is replacing school record-holder Trevor Vittatoe and has to find a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2006.
Who’s out: Trevor Vittatoe, the school’s all-time leader in passing yards (12,439), passing touchdowns (97) and total offense (12,291).

Who’s competing: The Miners will also have a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2006 after Vittatoe started every game since 2007 (49 total). Redshirt freshman Javia Hall, sophomore Carson Meger, senior Tate Smith and junior college transfer Nick Lamaison are the candidates. Meger and Smith saw limited action last season, but Lamaison is the most intriguing candidate. Lamaison was the Offensive Player of the Year for both the All-California and All-American teams after leading Mt. San Antonio College to a 13-0 record. He went 300-of-499 for 3,993 yards with 30 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season and has two years of eligibility remaining.

Marshall

Who’s out: Brian Anderson.

Who’s in: A.J. Graham and Eddie Sullivan return. Graham was a redshirt freshman last season and Sullivan a true freshman and both played. But the most intriguing candidate could be Conelius Jones, a January enrollee who will be eligible to play in the spring. Jones signed with Michigan out of high school last season but did not qualify academically. He sat out this last year but was able to get his test score and should be in the mix to compete for the starting job.

Memphis

Who’s competing: Nobody is really out, but the job will be open again. Ryan Williams started the last 10 games last season as a true freshman but struggled with consistency. Coach Larry Porter will want to take another look at Cannon Smith, who went into the season as a starter before sustaining a concussion and then playing sporadically. There also Andy Summerlin, a junior college transfer who signed in 2010 but injured his shoulder last spring and was out for the fall. Memphis is considering moving back to the spread, but there's nothing definitive on that just yet.

Non-AQ quarterback injury report

September, 14, 2010
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Injuries to quarterbacks at several non-AQ schools have started to mount. Here is a primer:

Houston

Injured: Case Keenum has mild concussion symptoms after getting hurt following an interception he threw against UTEP last week. His status is day-to-day.

Who's in: If Keenum can't play against UCLA on Saturday, Cotton Turner would get the nod. Turner went 9-of-10 for 69 yards with a touchdown in relief of Keenum against UTEP. "Our players, when he hit the field, there’s a confidence level in him and Friday night can only help everybody’s confidence level in him," coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Memphis

Who's injured: Cannon Smith sustained a concussion against East Carolina and is out for this week's game against Middle Tennessee.

Who's in: Ryan Williams, a true freshman, played well in relief of Smith last week, going 18-of-25 for 293 yards and three TDs. Williams has played in both games this season.

Middle Tennessee


Who's injured: The Blue Raiders are actually down to their third quarterback, following the suspension of starter Dwight Dasher. Logan Kilgore, who replaced him, missed last week's game against Austin Peay with a toe injury and is still in a walking boot.

Who's in: Jeff Murphy started last week and went 23-of-36 for 301 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Both he and Kilgore are junior college transfers playing their first season at Middle Tennessee.

North Texas

Who's injured: Nathan Tune dislocated his hip in a loss to Rice, and is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Who's in: Derek Thompson. He has played sporadically and doesn't have much experience, but there isn't much depth here. Riley Dodge, the starter last season, moved to receiver because of elbow troubles but will go back to quarterback to help with depth.

Rice

Who's injured: Taylor McHargue sustained a mild shoulder separation against North Texas last week and is out for Saturday's game against Northwestern.

Who's in: Nick Fanuzzi, who started last season but lost his job to McHargue in the fall. Fanuzzi came in against the Mean Green and led the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and finished 12-for-23 for 189 yards and a touchdown.

Utah

Injured: Jordan Wynn sprained the thumb on his throwing hand in the season opener against Pittsburgh and is listed as day to day. He missed last week's game against UNLV and his status is unclear for Saturday's game at New Mexico.

Who's in: Terrance Cain. He is a capable player, having started eight games last season. Against UNLV, Cain went 13-of-20 for 207 yards with two touchdown passes. "We’re fortunate to have Terrance Cain as our backup," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We had no panic, no concern because we knew Terrance was going to step in and get the job done."
Memphis will start Ryan Williams at quarterback aginst Middle Tennesse on Saturday after Cannon Smith suffered a concussion in a loss to East Carolina this past weekend.

Williams, a true freshman, played well after Smith went down in the third quarter against the Pirates. He finished 18-of-25 for 293 yards and three TDs in the 49-27 loss. Williams has played in both games, going 28-of-42 for 378 yards and the three scores.

"Ryan prepares every week as if he’s the starter," coach Larry Porter said Monday. "He's very thorough in his approach, he expects to play, but the thing that really and truly gives him an opportunity to perform well is his poise. Being able to step in and feel comfortable out there, that has really served him well. He still made some mistakes, but as we go through this week, this game here could be better."
Cannon Smith was named the starting quarterback at Memphis on Monday, winning the job over Tyler Bass.

Smith, who transferred from Miami, gets his first test Saturday at Mississippi State.

"We had three criteria: 1. was decision making, 2. the ability to manage the offense and 3. productivity," coach Larry Porter said on the Conference USA conference call. "Throughout all of spring and fall camp it was a very competitive race, very close. At the end of the day, we decided to go with Cannon. We just felt Cannon was the guy.

"He's athletic, has a strong arm, been exposed to major college football," Porter said. "I think his leadership ability has grown over the course of the last eight months, so it was all those things that we saw starting to grow and come to life in his play."
One of the biggest questions heading into Memphis’ spring football under new head coach Larry Porter was at quarterback.

The Tigers lost all three of their starting quarterbacks to graduation, and while there were five competent competitors, only one -- Tyler Bass -- had actually taken a collegiate snap.

Many believed the competition would ultimately be between Bass and Miami transfer Cannon Smith, but freshman early enrollee Ryan Williams surged ahead late in the spring and could be the starting quarterback for the season opener in September.

Williams made his best case during Memphis’ spring game this past weekend where he completed 15-of-17 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Williams completed his first 14 attempts.

But Porter remained noncommittal about starting quarterback stating that despite the fact that Williams was named the Offensive MVP of the game, the quarterback question had not yet been answered.

“I thought Ryan stepped in there and had a good day,” Porter said. “Cannon probably didn’t play as well as he is supposed to, but I think if you look at his consistency throughout the spring, you can’t make a judgment at that position based just on one practice.”

Williams, Smith and Bass have been the top competitors for the starting quarterback role, though none of them had a consistent spring. In the Tigers’ scrimmage prior to the spring game, Smith threw three interceptions and the other two both had a pick. Williams was the only quarterback with a touchdown pass.

"At the quarterback position, it's all about decision making," Porter said after that scrimmage. "Today, there were too many bad decisions. These are things that I have seen us execute throughout the week, so I know we can get better in that aspect."

The quarterback competition has become even more important with the loss of several of the team’s running backs including Lance Smith, who suffered a broken leg during spring practices. That’s probably why Porter is inclined to take his time. He’s learning his quarterbacks and they’re learning him and a new offensive system.

It will make for an interesting race in August.

“I think we have created a great foundation,” Porter said. “Offensively, we are starting to settle in. We are not where we need to be simply because we started with five quarterbacks. Just the rhythm and the continuity of the offense, we need to put ourselves in position to be better.”

Quarterback transfers to watch

March, 3, 2010
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As spring football begins to hit its stride (most teams will open this month), it’s important to look at some of the key contributors that were sitting on the bench last year. I’m talking about the transfers, the guys who left schools from automatic qualifying conferences to help a non-AQ find success.

There are a lot of major transfers on non-AQ teams that are eligible to play this season, but none are more important than the quarterbacks. Several teams are looking to replace starters or just get some new blood under center.

Here’s a look at my top five quarterback transfers from AQ teams:

Wesley Carroll, FIU: Carroll comes to FIU after a pretty fantastic start at Mississippi State and is the favorite to replace graduated starter Paul McCall. Carroll started nine games as a true freshman in 2007 (played in all 13) and was named SEC freshman first-team. He started four games as a sophomore for the Bulldogs before deciding to transfer after he lost his job to junior college transfer Tyson Lee. During the FIU spring game last year, Carroll completed 11-of-17 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown. FIU had a down year in 2009, mostly because of injuries, but with a couple key transfers and two strong recruiting classes, this could be the year the Golden Panthers reverse their fortunes.

Taylor Cook, Rice: The Owls will actually have two transfers vying for the starting quarterback position this year. Cook came over from Miami last year and sat out, and Nick Fanuzzi, who started eight games last season, transferred from Alabama after the 2007 season. Fanuzzi put up nice numbers last year, but didn’t have a lot of help. Cook enters the spring with a nice pedigree but doesn’t have any collegiate experience. Cook actually entered Miami’s 2009 spring practices as the No. 2 quarterback before opting to transfer.

Phil Bates, Ohio: Bates came over from Iowa State and was actually a wide receiver as a true freshman before switching to quarterback his sophomore year. He completed 14-of-24 passes for 137 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and he ran 24 times for 166 yards. He’s the type of dual-threat quarterback coach Frank Solich likes in his system and the battle with Boo Jackson, who missed last year with an injury, will be interesting. Bates’ versatility (he did catch five passes for 73 yards) will make it tough to keep him off the field.

Willy Korn, Marshall: Korn was a surprise pick up for new head coach Doc Holliday. Korn is graduating in May and will have two years of eligibility remaining. Since he won’t be around until the fall, it will be hard for him to wrestle the starting role away from Brian Anderson. Anderson threw for more than 2,600 yards and 14 touchdowns, but he also had 13 interceptions. In three seasons at Clemson, Korn completed 46-of-66 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns. He also battled a shoulder injury.

Cannon Smith, Memphis: Smith was a big pickup for Memphis, especially since the Tigers graduated three senior quarterbacks. Cannon played in one game as a true freshman at Miami in 2008, but was injured and ultimately took a medical redshirt. Smith will challenge sophomore Tyler Bass, who played in four games and had three starts last year, and sophomore Will Gilchrist. The starting role will probably come down to Smith and Bass.
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

Central Florida Knights
Spring practice starts: March 19
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The Knights will need to develop offensive line talent after allowing 2.54 sacks per game and failing to block for a rushing offense that ranked 82nd in the country. The Knights return all but two offensive linemen and have one coming in the spring.
  • The quarterback battle will heat up with early enrollee Jeffrey Godfrey, who already has impressed coach George O’Leary. Godfrey will compete against Rob Calabrese for the starting role.
  • The Knights will have to find replacements for three key members of the defensive line -- DE Jarvis Geathers, RT Torrell Troup, LT Travis Timmons. The defense was the main reason the Knights finished 8-5 and won their final five games.
East Carolina Pirates
Spring practice starts: March 22
Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • With a new coach, a new system, and a crop of new starters, East Carolina will have its work cut out for it this spring. New head coach Ruffin McNeill needs to replace 15 players with starting experience, which won’t be easy with just a month to work.
  • The most underrated positions the Pirates have to fill are punter and kicker. All-American Matt Dodge is gone as is kicker Ben Hartman, who set the school record for career scoring. Finding replacements for those two is a top priority.
  • New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will be implement Texas Tech’s offensive system with just two scholarship quarterbacks and a team that relied on its running game. Riley is confident he can install all of his spread offense this fall, but there’s no telling how quickly the Pirates will pick it up.
Houston Cougars
Spring practice starts: March 27
Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The one thing that really kept Houston from an undefeated season was its defense. Brian Stewart, who was named the defensive coordinator in January, inherits a young team with a lot of talent, but he has some work to do to catch the defense up to the offense by September.
  • Quarterback Case Keenum returns for his senior season, but his center, Carl Barnett, does not. Barnett started 39 games, so Keenum will have to establish a good rapport with his new center this spring. Blake Sargent, who was the backup last year, appears to be the front-runner.
  • Even though the Cougars did not lose many starters on offense, coach Kevin Sumlin will look for more athletic players to rotate into the mix. Last season, 19 players had at least one catch and 12 had double-digit catches.

(Read full post)

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


Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


It’s a good thing for the ACC that backup quarterbacks weren’t needed in September the way they were needed throughout the rest of the country (SEE: Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin, just to name a few). Had Miami’s Jacory Harris or Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor gone down early against the ranked opponents each of those teams faced -- including each other -- the ACC would be in big trouble right now. (Remember the panic, Miami fans, when FSU’s Greg Reid whacked Harris’ funny bone in the opener?)

Here’s to a healthy season in the ACC, and here’s a look at which backup quarterbacks are ready to roll after one month of football:

READY TO ROLL

Sean Renfree, Duke: He’s Duke's quarterback of the future and has already been groomed as such. Renfree has appeared in 13 series, completing 29-of-43 pass attempts for 286 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.

Mike Glennon, NC State: He played in every game except last weekend against Pittsburgh, and has completed 10 of 13 passes for 85 yards. He’s a much more dependable option than the Pack had in the past.

Vic Hall, Virginia: He was actually the starting quarterback in the season opener, and is arguably the most athletic player the Cavaliers have, but injured his hip and hasn’t played since the William & Mary game. He’s a veteran leader who has already proven himself in a multitude of roles. Hall, Jameel Sewell and Marc Verica could all be backups any given Saturday, and they're all experienced and ready to roll. If Sewell is the starter, Hall can play just about anywhere else.

Jaybo Shaw, Georgia Tech: Shaw was finally cleared to play and could make his first appearance of the season this weekend at Mississippi State after breaking his collarbone this summer. He began throwing again on Sept. 7, and proved last year he’s a tough player who can run and pass well.

HAS THE HYPE

E.J. Manuel, Florida State: He’s definitely gotten more hype than he has playing time this fall, as Manuel played in two games and has completed just 1-of-2 passes for four yards. Manuel, recruited by Jimbo Fisher, was an ESPNU 150 prospect and the No. 6 ranked quarterback in the class of 2008.

Willy Korn, Clemson: Well, it’s more like he HAD the hype. It’s hard to believe Korn was the No. 12 quarterback in the class of 2007. Korn was relegated to the bench this summer in favor of Kyle Parker and has only played in two games. He’s also expressed his displeasure in the fact he’s only thrown two passes this year.

A.J. Highsmith, Miami: He earned a quick promotion after Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith both transferred, but all Highsmith has so far is hype and pedigree. He’s the son of former Miami and NFL running back Alonzo Highsmith, and was the No. 24-ranked quarterback in the class of 2009.

WHO KNOWS?

Ju-Ju Clayton, Virginia Tech – The former scout team quarterback was in on 23 snaps against Marshall, but threw three incompletions. Clayton won the job over Marcus Davis this past spring, who was moved to wide receiver. If Taylor is injured, uncertainty is the only thing behind him.

Jamarr Robinson, Maryland – The fact that Chris Turner has been sacked 14 times and hasn’t missed a snap makes you wonder about the confidence Ralph Friedgen has in his backup. Robinson, who was promoted after Josh Portis transferred, hasn’t seen the field yet.

Ryan McManus, Wake Forest – The redshirt senior is also a holder and backup longsnapper. He played against Elon and completed 1-of-4 passes, the only four plays he was in on as quarterback.

Justin Tuggle, Boston College – There wasn’t much separation between Tuggle and Dave Shinskie until the Wake Forest game, as both of them started with zero experience. Both have been used in every game, but it’s unclear where Tuggle’s future is headed. He has 229 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions so far.

Braden Hanson, North Carolina – He was given a shot ahead of Mike Paulus this year, and was 0-for-2 with one interception in his only chance against The Citadel, but they’re both listed as the backups this week. Neither has proven anything yet.

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson


Miami's loss is Conference USA's gain.

For the second time in the past four days, a former Miami backup quarterback has transferred to a Conference USA school. Redshirt freshman quarterback Cannon Smith, who told Miami coach Randy Shannon he was transferring last Monday, will play for the Memphis Tigers.

On Friday, Taylor Cook, who also left Miami last week, enrolled at Rice.

Both players will sit out the 2009 season per NCAA transfer rules, but will be available in 2010.

Smith, son of FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith, is from the Memphis area.

"We're excited about him coming here," coach Tommy West said Monday. "We had recruited him before when he decided to leave and go to Miami. He sees an opportunity here."

Memphis has become a sanctuary for transfers looking for a fresh start. The Tigers have nine major college transfers on their roster, eight of which are eligible this year. Several come from SEC schools, but the Tigers also boast players from the ACC and the Big Ten. Wide receiver Jermaine McKenzie, who will sit out this season, came from Miami and tight end DajLeon Farr also came from Miami.

As a senior at Olive Branch High School in 2006, Smith completed 130 of 273 passes for 2,314 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also played in Miami's season opener in 2008 and completed his only passing attempt for 2 yards.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

One of the major themes this fall in the ACC will be keeping starting quarterbacks healthy because of the lack of experience behind them. Virginia Tech, which saw both Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor get hurt against Florida State last year, knows this scenario all-too well. How will the Hokies fare this season if Taylor's ankle fails him again? Based in large part by experience and some on recruiting hype, here's a look at who's got the best backup situations in the ACC -- and who doesn't.

1. Virginia -- Say what you will about the Cavaliers' chances this fall, but no team has more experience at quarterback right now. Jameel Sewell, Marc Verica and Vic Hall have all started a game. That, in itself, is progress from last season. And they all have different strengths. Sewell is an elusive runner, Verica is more of a drop-back passer, and Hall, well, he was a cornerback with tremendous athletic ability.

2. Georgia Tech -- If need be, the Yellow Jackets can also go three deep, as starter Josh Nesbitt has experience behind him in Jaybo Shaw and a talented newcomer in redshirt freshman Tevin Washington. Shaw quarterbacked the Yellow Jackets almost exclusively in two games last season -- a 38-7 win over Mississippi State and a 27-0 victory over Duke. When Nesbitt hurt his hamstring eight snaps into the Mississippi State game, Shaw took over and promptly threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. By the final buzzer, Georgia Tech had accumulated 500 yards of total offense.

3. NC State -- The Wolfpack finally have a prized recruit to fall back on should Russell Wilson need some help. Mike Glennon, who is perfectly suited for Tom O'Brien's Matt Ryan-esque style, made significant progress this spring and could see some playing time even if Wilson is 100 percent. Glennon was rated the No. 3 quarterback in his class and No. 32 player overall in the ESPN 150.

4. Duke -- Sean Renfree earned himself some playing time behind Thaddeus Lewis this fall and will use this season to ease into the role of next year's starting quarterback. Renfree had originally committed to Georgia Tech, but was also recruited by Tennessee when David Cutcliffe was there. He's the real deal.

5. Florida State -- The Seminoles probably would have been moved up a notch or two on this list had E.J. Manuel actually made it through more than one spring practice without hurting himself. But FSU offensive coordinator/head coach in waiting Jimbo Fisher has high hopes for his first hand-picked quarterback.

6. North Carolina -- The Tar Heels have the Paulus who actually IS a quarterback, and he's even got some experience at it. The problem is, Mike Paulus was 4-for-13 for 33 yards with two interceptions in four games last year. Paulus entered the Virginia Tech game when T.J. Yates was injured and was 3-for-8 for 23 yards and two picks. There's a reason Cam Sexton took over last year, but Sexton has since transferred.

7. Clemson -- If by chance Kyle Parker wins the starting job, then Willy Korn will be like 1a. Korn played two games as a true freshman in 2007 then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. He played in six games last year, including a start against Georgia Tech in Dabo Swinney's first game as a head coach. His career efficiency rating is 132.9 and he has completed 69.4 percent of his passes. Those are starter stats, but Parker had an impressive spring.

8. Wake Forest -- The Demon Deacons at least have depth. They had a competition between Ryan McManus, Ted Stachitas and Skylar Jones this spring, and McManus came out on top heading into summer camp. McManus is a former walk-on who has seen most of his playing time as a holder and on special teams, Stachitas is dealing with a shoulder injury, and Jones finished his first spring working exclusively at quarterback.

9. Miami -- At least Randy Shannon made a decision and decided Taylor Cook earned the No. 2 spot at the end of the spring, but it's not a done deal. Cannon Smith will continue to push Cook this summer, but neither one of them have taken a collegiate snap yet. Cook, though, was a very highly touted recruit, ranked the No. 9 quarterback in his class and No. 108 in the ESPN 150.

10. Virginia Tech -- Joseph Ju-Ju Clayton won the backup job over Marcus Davis, but he's still a redshirt freshman who hasn't been tested when the lights come on. Clayton was projected by some to be a better defensive back in college. He wasn't as highly touted a recruit as Manuel, Cook, Glennon or Renfree, but the Hokies are known for finding talent and making the most of somewhat unheralded recruits.

11. Maryland -- The Terps' depth took a hit when Josh Portis decided to transfer, but sophomore Jamarr Robinson had an impressive spring. He completed 15 of 19 passes, including his final 12 attempts, for 253 yards and four touchdowns.

12. Boston College -- The Eagles don't know who their starting quarterback is, let alone their No. 2. Dominique Davis struggled in the ACC championship game and the bowl game -- both losses -- but he has the most experience among Justin Tuggle and Codi Boek.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia Tech hasn't even started spring practices yet (Wednesday is the Hokies' first) and Miami has already wrapped things up. What's next in Coral Gables? The Canes will get back in the weight room for six more weeks, but coach Randy Shannon said the staff won't push them too hard physically. They'll meet for 45 minutes twice a week to help the players retain everything they learned from their new coordinators. The staff will now use the mornings to watch practice tape and the afternoons to watch recruiting tape.

Shannon said both coordinators, Mark Whipple and John Lovett, brought a lot of excitement, enthusiasm and confidence with them, and the staff is on the same page. They kept some of the same terminology. The two areas they'd like to see more improvement in summer camp are building the depth on the offensive line and at linebacker. Colin McCarthy will be back in the fall, but Shannon is looking for four or five linebackers that are interchangeable.

As expected, there were a few bumps in the road, but overall the players picked things up quickly.

"Are we better than we were last spring? Definitely," Shannon said. "Are we better than we were at the end of the season last year? Definitely."

Here were a few highlights from spring ball at Miami:

• Taylor Cook finished the spring with a bit of an edge over Cannon Smith at backup quarterback.

• C.J. Holton's move from safety to linebacker should give him a better chance to get on the field and was a step in helping the depth. Sean Spence and Arthur Brown played well this spring and Shannon said Jordan Futch came around the last two weeks.

• Brandon Washington became an offensive lineman the staff can depend on. They've got seven guys they're comfortable with up front, but Shannon said he is still looking for the eighth guy. That could be Ben Jones, Jermaine Johnson or Tyler Horn.

• Tight end Richard Gordon did a great job while all of the other scholarship tight ends were out with injuries. Shannon said the staff put a lot of pressure on him, and he got a lot of reps. "He should be in great shape," Shannon said. "He responded. When those guys come back, there will be a great competition to see which guy is going to step to the forefront and be that guy."

• Shannon said the media is making too much of Miami's lack of interceptions last year (they had four, the fewest of all 119 FBS schools). Shannon said their priority is to stop the run first, which they got better at this spring as a result of depth and maturity. He also said the Canes had about eight to 10 interceptions minimum this spring. He was particularly impressed with the "unbelievable" transition Sam Shields made from wide receiver to the secondary and considers him a starter who can "step in and play right away."

• The players who made a big impression on Shannon this spring were: Shields, Brown, Washington, Mike James, and Olivier Vernon. He said Vaughn Telemaque and Kendal Thompkins "put their stamp on where they want to be." Also, running back Damien Berry did a "tremendous job."

"Those guys have really taken that next step," Shannon said. "That's the biggest improvement, when you see guys who didn't play last year, see if they can really take that next step and be a guy we can say wow, he's going to be a guy we can depend on. That group of guys has really taken that next step of doing what we want them to do."

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 13, 2009
3/13/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Some are old, some are new, all are borrowed, none Carolina blue ... 

If BC holds its NFL pro day and no one is around to report on it, did it really happen? It did at Maryland ...

Maryland linebacker Moise Fokou took a long, hard road to a potential career in the NFL. Darrius Heyward-Bey is the one who has stolen the spotlight in College Park, though. The Ravens will visit him on March 23 and bring quarterback Joe Flacco to throw to him. Coach Ralph Friedgen thinks former cornerback Kevin Barnes also has a good shot at being drafted.

The backup quarterback competition at Miami won't be too fun for Canes fans to watch develop if Cannon Smith and Taylor Cook keep fumbling the snaps. Here is a further breakdown from Miami Herald blogger Manny Navarro. Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun Sentinel saw the same.

In case you missed it, my colleague Bruce Feldman raised the question "What's wrong with FSU football?" earlier this week. According to his answers, plenty.

Not every recruit gets an offer just because they visit, and Denzel McCoy learned that after he went to Clemson last weekend.

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