NCF Nation: Chris Drager

Overheard at the Sugar Bowl

December, 31, 2011
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Here are a few of the more interesting quotes from this morning's media availability with the players:

"One time, during the summer, we were doing 7-on-7 drills, he brought a really fast dog with him to practice. He was literally just chasing the dog around the field while keeping up with it. Everybody was like, I don't know how he does it." -- Virginia Tech tight end Chris Drager on running back David Wilson.

"It started in high school, I was a senior in high school getting ready for church before the season started and looked in the mirror, noticed how spiffy I looked. Right then, I knew what I would be wearing to school the next week." -- Wilson on wearing a shirt and tie to class every day.

"Their quarterback is bigger than some of our defensive linemen. This guy, he's an athlete." -- Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison on Logan Thomas.

"He's the biggest quarterback we've faced. He's going to be tough to bring down. We have to get bodies on him. He's going to have to pay taxes if he wants to run the ball." -- Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin on Thomas.

"No, I've never made one, so why start now?" -- Thomas on his New Year's resolution.
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- The career of Virginia Tech redshirt senior Chris Drager has officially come full circle, as he will spend his final season where his collegiate career began -- as a tight end.

Drager, who spent the past two seasons as a defensive end, has returned to the top of the offensive depth chart almost by default, as the graduation of tight end Andre Smith left the Hokies with just one returning tight end who has caught a pass in a game, Randall Dunn (one). Redshirt freshman Eric Martin was the second tight end when the Hokies used two-tight end sets, but he missed three games midseason with an injury.

Enter Drager.

“It’s not like discouraging,” he said of the volley between offense and defense. “It’s like, ‘I’ve got to learn another playbook,’ even though I kind of know it. It wasn’t as bad as the last move, since I have an idea of what’s already going on.”

Drager played 11 games at tight end in 2008, including one start. He caught three passes for 37 yards, but moved to defense the following fall. He fared well and started 11 games last year. He finished with 31 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and two sacks. He also had four pass breakups, 20 quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said he expects Drager to make a smooth transition this spring.

“I think he’s going to be fine,” Beamer said. “He’s such a smart guy. He’s been there, so he’ll be coaching Coach [tight ends coach Bryan] Stinespring for two or three days.”

Drager said he probably enjoys playing defensive end more, but both he and Beamer agreed that his skills are best suited for the tight end position, especially when it comes to NFL potential.

“I’ve always been a team player,” Drager said. “If they needed me at defensive end, I’d be playing defensive end right now. But it’s definitely nice that our last year, I get to play the position that I’m most likely going to be playing -- if I play -- in the NFL.”

Spring preview: Coastal Division

February, 15, 2011
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We've already looked at who and what to watch in the Atlantic Division this spring. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Spring practice starts: Feb. 16

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Jim Knowles taking over as defensive coordinator. After coaching the safeties last season, Knowles was promoted in late January following the departure of Marion Hobby to coach Clemson’s defensive line. It’s not a complete overhaul on defense, but for the third time in as many seasons, a different person will be calling the plays. Knowles has also assumed the lead role with Duke’s practice scheduling and weekly preparation.
  • New faces at linebacker. Duke graduated its leading tackler from 2010, Abraham Kromah, and freshman All-American Kelby Brown is out while recovering from knee surgery. Those two slots will be wide open this spring and the competition will be among Austin Gamble, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Kevin Rojas.
  • Offensive line shuffling. The Blue Devils return four starters up front, but they’ll be missing the glue of the line in Bryan Morgan, who graduated. Brian Moore, who has started the past two seasons at right guard, will make the transition to center. John Coleman and Laken Tomlinson are expected to compete for the right guard spot.
GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 28 (tentative)

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Starting quarterback competition. Tevin Washington enters the spring at No. 1 on the depth chart, and it's his job to lose, as he has the most experience after taking over for injured starter Joshua Nesbitt in 2010. Synjyn Days will give him legitimate competition this spring, though, and it will increase this summer with the addition of standout recruit Vad Lee to the roster. For now, though, it’s between Washington and Days, as David Sims is expected to move to B-back.
  • Offensive line reshuffling. Georgia Tech will have to replace three starters in all-conference center Sean Bedford, right tackle Austin Barrick and left tackle Nick Claytor, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft. Phil Smith, Barrick’s backup last year, is the only one with any experience at tackle. The staff will likely have to move a player or two from guard to tackle, and only it knows who those candidates might be right now.
  • Revamped secondary. Jerrard Tarrant's decision to leave school early and enter the NFL draft left the Jackets without any returning starters in the secondary. Junior cornerback Rod Sweeting, sophomore cornerback Louis Young, redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Ayers and sophomore safety Fred Holton are front-runners, but they all have a lot to prove this spring. Holton and Young played sparingly as true freshmen and combined for 21 tackles. Sweeting played in all 13 games and had one fumble recovery and eight passes defended, including one interception. Senior cornerback Michael Peterson may help, and safety Jemea Thomas played as a true freshman in 2009 but redshirted last year. There’s some talent, but the inexperience makes it a question mark.
MIAMI

Spring practice starts: March 5

Spring game: April 9 or 16

What to watch:
  • New staff, new schemes. Defensively, first-year coordinator Mark D’Onofrio will work with two other assistants who were with him and first-year coach Al Golden at Temple, so there is familiarity there. Linebackers coach Michael Barrow has to learn D’Onofrio’s system, but the players tend to pick it up faster if the majority of the staff is already acclimated to it. Offensively, everyone will be working together for the first time. Jedd Fisch wants to run a pure pro-style offense based on matchups, and the good news is that several of the assistants, because of their respective backgrounds, are already schooled in at least a version of it.
  • Quarterback battle. Golden has said he would like to name a starter by the end of the spring, making these practices critical auditions for both Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Harris has both flourished and flopped as a starter for the Canes, and his injury last year gave Morris the opportunity he needed to win the people’s choice award. Has a new era of quarterback begun, or will Harris finally have the breakout season Miami fans have waited for in his final year as a Cane?
  • Corner competition. Following the departures of Ryan Hill, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Brandon Harris, Brandon McGee is the only corner remaining on the roster with any significant experience. He played in 11 games, started one, and had 15 tackles. Redshirt freshman Devont’a Davis, sophomore Kacey Rodgers, and redshirt sophomore Jamal Reid will also compete for playing time. There are also several incoming freshmen who could be immediate contributors.
NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • The rookie quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee that Bryn Renner will be the Tar Heels’ starter in 2011, but he enters the spring slightly ahead of the race, as he was No. 2 on the depth chart last season and was pushing T.J. Yates for the starting job at this time a year ago. The staff would also like to see what true freshman Marquise Williams, who enrolled in January, has to offer. Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue will also compete for playing time. Blue was injured two years ago and redshirted last season.
  • Running backs race. The Tar Heels graduated three key players from 2010: Johnny White, Anthony Elzy and Shaun Draughn. Ryan Houston is back for his fifth year after redshirting last year and is the most experienced of the returnees. Giovani Bernard was a true freshman last year and had been expected to get some playing time, but he tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. It’s not clear yet how much he’ll be able to participate this spring. Hunter Furr played sparingly last year and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, are also in the mix.
  • Another strong defensive line. If Quinton Coples was an all-conference selection as a defensive tackle, he could be scary good at his natural position, defensive end. Coples played there as a freshman and sophomore, but switched to tackle out of necessity last season. The defensive line should once again be the strength of the team, but it will be reconfigured again, as Coples’ move will leave a defensive tackle spot up for grabs. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams, who enrolled in January, could fill that role.
VIRGINIA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • The search for a new starting quarterback. With Marc Verica graduated, the lead contenders to replace him are the ones who saw the field last year -- Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny. Neither of them started, but Rocco played in six games and Metheny five. Nobody has thrown the ball more than Rocco’s 25 times. The staff will also look at Michael Strauss, who redshirted last year, Miles Gooch, and David Watford, who enrolled in January.
  • Competition at running back. With leading rusher Keith Payne graduated, the question becomes what can Kevin Parks do after redshirting last year? There’s a lot of depth at the running back position, but Parks, the No. 56 running back in his class by ESPN.com and national prep record-setter out of the state of North Carolina, came to Charlottesville facing high expectations. With Payne gone, this could open the door for him to meet them, but returning starter Perry Jones will also be competing for carries.
  • Development of the receivers. In January, Jared Green Tweeted that he had decided to transfer after finishing his degree in Charlottesville this spring, according to a school spokesman. His departure, coupled with the graduation of Dontrelle Inman, leaves the Cavaliers without two of their top wideouts from 2010. With Tim Smith coming off an injury, the development of other receivers will be critical -- especially with a new starting quarterback.
VIRGINIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Quarterback Logan Thomas. The Tyrod Taylor era is over, and Thomas is the front-runner to succeed the winningest quarterback in school history. Ju-Ju Clayton is the only other quarterback on the roster who’s ever taken a snap, and he’ll push Thomas this spring. It’s Thomas’ job to lose, but the staff is looking for him to improve his accuracy. He played quarterback in only his final two high school seasons and was projected as a tight end. He’s still raw and learning the position, but physically, he’s a clone of Cam Newton. If he develops some poise in the pocket, look out.
  • Competition on the defensive line. The Hokies have to replace starters John Graves (defensive tackle) and Steven Friday (defensive end), who both graduated. They’ve got Antoine Hopkins and Chris Drager back, but it’s possible Drager could move back to tight end after starting 10 games at defensive end last year. Tackle Kwamaine Battle, who started the first two games before he tore his ACL and Hopkins took over, is another front-runner. Hopkins’ younger brother, Derrick, will also be in the mix, along with James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray, the cousin of Logan Thomas, has also impressed the staff so far.
  • Tight end auditions. The graduation of Andre Smith leaves the Hokies with only one returning tight end who’s caught a pass in a game, Randall Dunn (one). Redshirt freshman Eric Martin was the second tight end when the Hokies used two-tight end sets, but he missed three games mid-season with an injury.
This morning we looked at the main recruiting needs for the Atlantic Division. Here are the priorities for each team in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Offensive line: The Blue Devils will have to replace one starter in center Bryan Morgan, and it’s still a relatively young group, but with several redshirt sophomores on the roster, the staff wants to load up two grades behind them to fully stock the position for the future.

Defensive line: This has always been Duke’s deficiency, which means it will always be a priority to catch up and build depth. The Blue Devils will have to replace two starters in Wesley Oglesby and Patrick Egboh. Noseguard Charlie Hatcher will be a redshirt senior.

Cornerback: Duke only loses one starter, cornerback Chris Rwabukamba, but it’s another position that has been weak and needs better athletes.

GEORGIA TECH

Offensive line: The early departure of Nick Claytor to the NFL didn’t help the depth, but there were still several young players who gained valuable experience and others who redshirted to help the depth. While no true freshman is likely to make an immediate impact, the staff is still looking to build the numbers up front.

Linebacker/defensive line: The Jackets need to find more athletes who are suited for Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. Fast athletes who are versatile enough to play a hybrid role, with the ability to move in space, will be a priority in this class.

MIAMI

Quarterback: With Jacory Harris being a senior, A.J. Highsmith moving to defense, and Spencer Whipple struggling in what little time he has played, the position needs a boost. It didn’t help that Teddy Bridgewater reneged on his commitment.

Linebacker: This is a position former coach Randy Shannon had put an emphasis on building, and there are young players and depth, but it was also a veteran group in the 2010 two-deep, with mainly juniors and seniors.

Wide receiver: The upperclassmen did all of the work in 2010, with Leonard Hankerson leading the way. Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Laron Byrd will all be seniors. An influx of young talent is needed.

Defensive end: The staff is looking to improve the depth here, get stronger up front, and build upon the success from 2010. Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, and Micanor Regis will all be seniors.

NORTH CAROLINA

Tailback: Injuries depleted this group in 2010, and Anthony Elzy, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn were both seniors. Ryan Houston was able to redshirt and will return as a fifth-year senior, but the Tar Heels need more dependable runners and a foundation for the future.

Defensive line: The Tar Heels have to prepare for some departures, especially on the interior, where all four players on the two-deep roster in 2010 were juniors.

Secondary: UNC will have to replace three starters in the secondary this spring, and three backups this year were juniors. Because of the NCAA investigation, this is a group in which backups had to develop quickly, so there are some experienced younger players, but the group still needs to reload.

Tight end: The loss of Zach Pianalto and his backup, Ed Barham, leaves the position thin.

VIRGINIA

Offensive line: With starting right guard B.J. Cabbell gone, starting center Anthony Mihota a senior, and starting left guard Austin Pasztor a senior, the staff has to prepare for some departures. Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi are talented young players, but the rotation needs more of them.

Defensive line: End Zane Parr’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft hurt the position’s depth, and the Cavs will also have to replace John-Kevin Dolce at tackle. Three other players in the two-deep will be rising seniors, and with Virginia switching back to a 4-3 defense under Mike London, the Cavs have to rebuild up front.

Secondary: Cornerback is of particular concern, as Chase Minnifield will be a senior, and starter Mike Parker will graduate.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: The early departures of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans to the NFL left David Wilson as the only tailback with any significant experience. Overall, the Hokies have four tailbacks on their current roster.

Defensive line: The Hokies will have to replace redshirt senior starters Steven Friday and John Graves, and starting left end Chris Drager will be a redshirt senior this year.

Wide receiver/tight end: Starters Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale will be seniors, and tight end Andre Smith will graduate.

Secondary: Half the players on the two-deep roster against Stanford were either juniors or seniors, and the Hokies will have to replace rover Davon Morgan and cornerback Rashad Carmichael.
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- One of Stanford's biggest strengths this season has been its unheralded offensive line. It's paved the way for one of the nation's top rushing games and protected a star quarterback.

Virginia Tech's defensive line will have to win the matchups up front if the Hokies are going to have a chance to beat No. 4 Stanford in Monday night's Discover Orange Bowl. Stanford has allowed just five sacks all season and is currently tied with Air Force in fewest sacks allowed per game at .42. The Hokies' defensive line has matured this season and is tied at No. 20 in the country in sacks with 2.54 per game and 33 overall.

“We definitely have to win it [the game] up front," said defensive end Steven Friday. "We have to take it upon ourselves to win it up front every play and get pressure on Andrew Luck.”

Luck has thrown 28 touchdown passes this season, breaking the single-season school record previously held by John Elway and Steve Stenstrom. He has also thrown for a school-record 3,489 yards in total offense. He can run the ball, too, and his 438 rushing yards is the highest single-season total by a Stanford quarterback.

"Obviously he is a [very good] quarterback," defensive end Chris Drager said. "He will make some throws that you cannot really defend, but we are going to do our best to pressure him; that is what we do as a defensive line.”
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Yes, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer plays favorites, and his 1995 team and national title runner-up squad are among them.

This year’s team could play its way onto his list of favorites with a victory against Stanford in the Discover Orange Bowl.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer
Jeff Blake/US PresswireFrank Beamer is proud of the way the Hokies have rebounded from a rough start to the season.
“The reality of it, I said, I thought this was the most important game we have played beside [the national championship game and the Sugar Bowl the 1995 team played in],” Beamer said. “Those were two good football teams that you like a lot. But, I think this game comes in there as terms of being very, very important toward the history of Virginia Tech football.”

The last time Virginia Tech started out 0-2 was in 1995, when the Hokies went on to win the final nine games of the regular season and beat Texas in the Sugar Bowl to finish 10-2.

“That’s one of coach Beamer's favorite teams, and he always lets us know, because he is so proud of them, that it’s not over until it’s over,” said defensive tackle John Graves. “It’s a great message, and I think a lot of people really bought into it.”

This team is also comparable to the 1999 team in that they both won 11 in a row. Only three previous times in school history has Virginia Tech had a winning streak of 10 games or more. The current streak, 1999 and a 13-game streak that started in 1995 and carried over into 1996.

Has this been Beamer’s best coaching job?

Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring compared it to the 1995 season.

“He's had a lot of great coaching jobs, I think,” Stinespring said. “I've been privy to many of them. I go back to '95 when we started 0-2 that year, and how he handled that situation I thought was special. I think there was a -- there's not a procedure, there's not a book, there's not a manual that says, step one, in case of crisis. It's not like you get on the plane and all of a sudden an oxygen mask comes down and all those type things that you do from a step-by-step process. There's not one of those deals.”

Despite the start, the Hokies still have a chance to make their mark in school history. A 12-game winning streak would be the longest single-season winning streak in school history. Virginia Tech would have won three straight bowl games for the first time in school history.

“I think a lot of people doubted us because of the first two games; it was definitely two downers,” defensive end Chris Drager said. “Obviously we have come back and gone 11-0 after [the first two games]. We are on a momentum swing, but it does really come down to this game.”

Hokies looking ahead, not back

November, 13, 2010
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has usually been one to support the current BCS system.

“This particular year,” he said with a smile, “a playoff wouldn’t be bad.”

After two losses to start the season, there’s nothing Virginia Tech can do to change its fate in the national picture. The Hokies are doing everything imaginable, though, to redeem themselves and change the perception of them after their 0-2 start.

With its 26-10 road win over North Carolina, Virginia Tech has now won eight straight games. The Hokies have left no doubt they are the best team in the ACC, even if the watered-down conference isn’t giving them any ranked competition. They are the only team still undefeated in conference play heading into Saturday’s game at Miami, and with a two-game lead in the division, are heading towards the best-case scenario: their third appearance in the ACC title game in the past four years.

[+] EnlargeTyrod Taylor
Bob Donnan/US PresswireVirginia Tech has had much to celebrate since dropping its first two games of the season.
“I think we’re getting to be a really good football team right now,” Beamer said. “At the beginning of the year, we were just a little too young to be a real, good, consistent football team. Too young.”

Consistency over the long haul, though, is the one thing that has separated Beamer’s program from the rest of the pack. Virginia Tech is now 44-10 in conference games since joining the ACC in 2004, including a 22-5 road record. The Hokies are 22-2 in November games since 2004 (20-2 against the ACC).

They’re even dependable in slow starts and fast finishes. The Hokies have come from behind to win four times this season. Virginia Tech trailed 10-9 at the half on Satudrday, but outgained the Tar Heels 141-19, and outscored them 17-0 in the third quarter.

If there was any benefit to the way the season started for this team, it’s that Virginia Tech learned a lesson: Not to get complacent. Despite its control of the Coastal Division, the Hokies did not clinch the title on Saturday because Miami beat Georgia Tech. Though unlikely, it's still possible Virginia Tech can close the season with two losses to Miami and Virginia, leaving the Hurricanes atop the Coastal Division.

“I don’t think there’s a time when you can get comfortable because when you’re comfortable, that’s the time when you’re most vulnerable of getting beat,” said linebacker Bruce Taylor. “I feel good with the lead we have. It’s in our control. If we win out, we’re in the ACC championship game. It’s in our hands. That’s the fun part about it. Everyone is going to give us their best shot, that’s what I love, playing against the best competition.”

Sure, quarterback Tyrod Taylor said, he thinks about what could have been had the Hokies won their first two games. But he said he spends more time thinking about the possibilities that still remain -- an ACC title and Orange Bowl win.

“I think that we’re playing at a high level right now, and as long as we continue to play that way, people will eventually respect it,” he said. “Some people won’t. All we can do is go out there and win games every week. It’s your choice if you’re going to respect us or not.”

It’s hard not to considering how well the Hokies played against a gritty North Carolina team that refuses to quit. The Tar Heels were without leading rusher Johnny White, and a plethora of other injured players, but so were the Hokies. Virginia Tech missed a lot of speed without David Wilson and Dyrell Roberts on the field, and they likely lost another kick returner, Tony Gregory, for the season with a knee injury.

The Hokies were also without starting defensive end Chris Drager, and yet the defense shut out North Carolina in the second half. Standout receiver Dwight Jones, who had 28 catches for 612 yards and three touchdowns in the past four games, was held to just one catch.

North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates, who had thrown four interceptions all season entering the game, threw four against the Hokies. Prior to facing Virginia Tech, UNC had not turned the ball over more than three times in a game. They gave it up six times to Bud Foster’s defense.

There’s not much more Virginia Tech could have done over the past 10 weeks -- or against UNC -- to prove it’s a different team than the one that started the season.

“I think a key factor is having great kids,” Beamer said. “I’ve said that a bunch, but I really mean it. I think if you’ve got bad guys on your team, they just fall apart when you have two tough losses in a week. … It wasn’t even a whole week. Two losses that stay with you. I think our leadership, our kids, they went right back to work and here we are. I’m proud of what we accomplished.”

And he should be -- even if the BCS isn’t going to recognize it.

Bud Foster's D just good enough

November, 13, 2010
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Few defenses in the country have been as consistently good as Virginia Tech's has under coordinator Bud Foster, but this season, the Hokies are just good enough.

They've earned a bend-but-don't-break reputation, but in typical Foster fashion still find ways to make game-changing plays. They did it last week in the win against Georgia Tech, intercepting Tevin Washington in the end zone on the Jackets' final play of the game, and they're doing it again here tonight against UNC quarterback T.J. Yates. The Hokies have two interceptions tonight, Anthony Elzy hasn't gone anywhere in the second half, and James Gayle, who is filling in for injured starting defensive end Chris Drager, sacked Yates. It's those kinds of plays that are still trademarks of the Hokies' defense.

Can the Hokies clinch the Coastal?

November, 13, 2010
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Enjoy today, ACC fans, because we're quickly running out of college football Saturdays, and if Virginia Tech wins today and Miami loses, the Coastal Division will be wrapped up early.

Can the Hokies pull it off?

That depends, since half of the equation is out of their control. Can Georgia Tech get its offense going without injured quarterback Joshua Nesbitt? Both rookie quarterbacks -- Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington and Miami's Stephen Morris -- have great potential but lack experience. They're going to wow you and frustrate you, which will leave the outcome in the hands of veteran defenders. Somebody on defense will make a play that will change the game or, one defense won't be able to make the stops when it matters most.

In Chapel Hill, both Virginia Tech and North Carolina have to overcome injuries to starters, and the loss of UNC leading rusher Johnny White (collar bone) and Virginia Tech starting defensive end Chris Drager and kickoff returner/tailback David Wilson could be a difference in what should be a close game.

Having seen the Hokies last week against Georgia Tech, they didn't do anything spectacular that made them seem that much better than anyone else in the Coastal Division. What they do have, though, are two talented tailbacks, which immediately gives them an edge over the depleted Heels heading into this game.

There's no reason Virginia Tech can't end the day as Coastal Division champs, but in the ever-unpredictable ACC, it also wouldn't surprise me in the least if UNC and Miami both won. I'll stick with my Thursday prediction, though, and say the Hokies are kings of the Coastal once again by this evening.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 11

November, 11, 2010
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Here’s a look at the top 10 things to keep an eye on this week in the ACC, in no particular order:

Pass-rushers in Tallahassee. Clemson at Florida State will feature two of the ACC’s top pass-rushers in Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and FSU defensive end Brandon Jenkins. They’re No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the ACC in both sacks and tackles for loss. FSU’s offensive line has allowed 2.11 sacks per game (19 total), while Clemson has allowed nine total.

[+] EnlargeSophomore QB Tevin Washington will make his first career start against Miami.
Geoff Burke/Getty Imagestbd by editor
Rookie quarterbacks in Atlanta. Miami rookie Stephen Morris and Georgia Tech backup Tevin Washington will both take center stage Saturday in Bobby Dodd Stadium at the expense of injured starters. Morris already has one start under his belt and played well in last week’s win over Maryland, but Washington has been in the system longer and took the first-team reps this spring when starter Joshua Nesbitt was out with an ankle injury.

Replacements in Chapel Hill. There will be plenty of them. With UNC tailback Johnny White out for the rest of the season, the Tar Heels’ tailback situation remains a question as of now. Will Ryan Houston redshirt? Will Shaun Draughn (ankle) be cleared to play? The Hokies have their own problems, as defensive end Chris Drager, tailback/returner David Wilson and receiver Dyrell Roberts are all out. All of the backups will be forced into key roles.

Scoreboards in Chapel Hill and Atlanta. These are the two games to watch, as a Virginia Tech win coupled with a Miami loss will lock up the Coastal Division for the Hokies. The Atlantic Division race is more complicated, as no outcome will determine the division winner, but a Clemson win in Tally opens the door for a four-team race.

Turnovers in Durham. The one thing that’s been going right for Duke in its two-game winning streak is it hasn’t been turning the ball over like it was in its losses. That could change against a BC defense that ranks third in the country in turnovers gained with 26. The Blue Devils have turned it over just one time in the past two games compared with an average of three per game in the previous seven.

Virginia Tech’s secondary vs. T.J. Yates & Co. Yates has thrown for over 400 yards twice this season, and the Tar Heels are No. 33 in the country in passing offense (258.44 yards per game). Virginia Tech is No. 22 in the country in passing defense (187 yards per game).

Keith Payne and Perry Jones against Maryland’s rushing D. Virginia has two of the ACC’s top 10 leading rushers, as Payne is No. 7 (74.8) and leads the ACC with 14 rushing touchdowns, and Jones is No. 10 (61.9). Maryland is holding ACC opponents to just 2.6 yards per carry, the best in the league.

Virginia receiver Dontrelle Inman. Against Duke, he caught 10 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. On the season, Inman is sixth in the ACC with 66 receiving yards per game. He’ll face an underrated Maryland secondary that features playmakers Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez.

Cursed kickers. Clemson missed two field goals last week, Florida State’s wide right curse continued in the loss to North Carolina, and NC State will be without senior Josh Czajkowski for the rest of the season after he injured his hamstring in the loss to Clemson. Sophomore Ellis Flint and freshman Chris Hawthorne were competing for the job this week.

Running back rotations. NC State’s Dean Haynes is back after missing the Clemson game with a head injury, but coach Tom O’Brien did not say which of his top three tailbacks will start against Wake Forest. At Miami, Lamar Miller had the best performance of any Miami running back this season against the Terps, but Damien Berry returned to practice. He is still listed as questionable, and Miller, Mike James and Graig Cooper should again carry the load. UNC’s running back situation remains a question, and Ryan Williams and Darren Evans will carry the load without No. 3 tailback David Wilson.

BC's defense deserves credit

September, 25, 2010
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Virginia Tech's offense hasn't been as explosive as many of us thought it would be this summer, but the Hokies are still very good. That's why it's a testament to BC's defense that the Eagles are only trailing 13-0 in the third quarter despite two turnovers. Virginia Tech defensive end Chris Drager sacked quarterback Dave Shinskie, forced the fumble and recovered it, but BC held the Hokies to a field goal. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster gets a lot of praise for being able to reload on D -- and deservedly so -- but coach Frank Spaziani has built and maintained the standard on defense in Chestnut Hill.

Hokies take another hit

September, 12, 2010
9/12/10
5:38
PM ET
Virginia Tech starting defensive tackle Kwamaine Battle will miss the rest ofthe season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in Saturday's 21-16 loss to James Madison.

Battle, who started the first two games for the Hokies and made one tackle, will have surgery on Friday at Montgomery Regional Hospital in Blacksburg.

Battle will be replaced by redshirt sophomore Antoine Hopkins in the starting lineup. The backup spot will be determined this week in practice. It’s another significant loss to a line that was already missing defensive end Chris Drager this past weekend with a knee injury.

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 15, 2010
2/15/10
10:00
AM ET
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.

Scouting Virginia Tech's defense

February, 11, 2010
2/11/10
9:20
AM ET
The Hokies' defense will be one of the biggest questions in the ACC this preseason, as Virginia Tech has to replace six starters. Still, expectations are high heading into 2010 that Virginia Tech will be one of the best teams in the country. Much of that confidence comes from defensive coordinator Bud Foster's proven ability to reload.

Can he do it again?

Bud Foster
AP Photo/Steve HelberBud Foster will have some new pieces to work with this season.
Here's a closer look at exactly what Virginia Tech's situation is on defense heading into spring practice, and how much work the Hokies have to do:

  • Overall, Virginia Tech needs to replace three of four starters up front, outside linebacker, cornerback and free safety.
  • The only defensive ends with any significant playing time are Chris Drager, who the staff wanted to move back to tight end, and Steven Friday. There are a few redshirt freshmen you might get to know: Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Of course, the only problem with redshirt freshmen is that they haven't played yet. Isaiah Hamlette is the only other defensive end who has played, but that was extremely sparingly. It's possible the staff could move tackle John Graves back to end, where he practiced last spring, or possibly look at moving other players.
  • At defensive tackle, Antoine Hopkins will be the front-runner to replace Cordarrow Thompson, and he has experience so that shouldn't be too much of a concern.
  • At outside linebacker, Cody Grimm and Cam Martin have to be replaced, leaving a wide open competition.
  • At cornerback, Jayron Hosley or Cris Hill will likely take over for Stephan Virgil. No worries there.
  • At free safety, Eddie Whitley was Kam Chancellor’s backup, and the staff is confident in him. Antone Exum will also be given an opportunity.
  • The good news? Virginia Tech returns cornerback Rashad Carmichael, rover Davon Morgan, Graves at defensive tackle, and Lyndell Gibson at inside linebacker.
It's a lot to ask for a team that faces Boise State's offense on Labor Day, but the Hokies wouldn't be so highly ranked this preseason if people didn't think they could do it.

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