NCF Nation: Dan Voss
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
It was a downright miserable 20th birthday for Georgia Tech offensive tackle Nick Claytor, who spent April 1 in an Ohio hospital where he underwent surgery for a ruptured disc in his back. It was still better, though, than going through another season with the scary pain and numbness on his left side.
Claytor was in the hospital for about four days, and he wasn't the only starting offensive lineman at Georgia Tech who spent more time this offseason recovering than he did playing football. Center Dan Voss, who fell awkwardly on his shoulder against Mississippi State last year and said "it just popped out," was also held out of spring drills, along with senior guard Cord Howard, who missed most of the practices.
Even though Georgia Tech featured the No. 4 rushing offense in the country last year, there was still room for improvement up front, and the offensive line remains a concern heading into summer camp. Some of the progress was slowed by the absences caused by injuries, but those within the program say it gave the backups some valuable reps that will in turn make the unit better and deeper in 2009.
"Last year we didn't play nearly as well as we needed to and had a lot of room for improvement," Voss said. "It was almost like there was nowhere to go but up for us. In the spring we really built a lot of depth, and although Nick and Cord and I were out for a lot of it, we were getting better in the film room, just by watching plays and taking a different point of view. And the guys who did play definitely got better with the reps. I think overall it will be a lot better offensive line next year."
The last thing Claytor is worried about is healing.
"I really, really, really want a championship," he said. "Getting healthy and getting back in shape, that's not even a goal -- that's going to happen. The goal is to win games."
Because Claytor's injury kept him sidelined for so long, though, he said he might be a little tentative until he gets hit for the first time this summer.
"When it's time to start hitting again, it will probably take a day, or one good shot from a linebacker or one of our ridiculous D-linemen," said Claytor, who has been lifting again, but isn't back to a full sprint yet. "Our D-linemen are so good. It will probably take one good shot from one of them to get me angry and back into it."
Voss wasn't allowed to do any lifting with his left arm, and spent most of the spring wearing a red jersey running on the practice field sideline affectionately known as "muscle beach." He said he expects to shake off the rust within the first two weeks of summer camp, and that he benefited from his time as a "player-coach" this offseason.
"With coach [Paul] Johnson, you're going to get better, especially during the spring," Voss said. "The O-line improved a lot. There were some people who didn't play much last year that got a lot of reps this spring. You could see a difference in how people move and how people react. It was bad for us to get hurt; it's never fun to get injured like that and get surgery, but the fact the rest of the line got better, it's good for everybody."
It's not like Georgia Tech's offensive line couldn't execute at all last year -- the Jackets averaged 273 rushing yards. But the front five didn't always give quarterback Josh Nesbitt enough time to throw, wasn't consistent about protecting him well or cutting down the linebackers and opening up lanes for the talented backfield.
Jonathan Dwyer can make defenders miss, but if the line makes its blocks, he can be that much better. Voss said there's no ceiling for the Yellow Jackets this fall, as long as everyone executes their assignments, starting up front.
"As an offensive line, the team will go as we do," he said. "If the offensive line plays well, we could have one of the great seasons at Georgia Tech. And if we don't do well, it could be a huge disappointment. We understand that."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Each team is going to need a little bit of help this fall (some more than others). Here's a look at where everyone in the ACC needs the most help heading into summer camp:
BOSTON COLLEGE -- Quarterback. It's easily the biggest question mark in Chestnut Hill, and it will also be one of Frank Spaziani's first major decisions as head coach. Regardless of whom he picks -- Dominique Davis, Codi Boek or Justin Tuggle -- experience will be at a minimum.
CLEMSON -- Wide receivers. Somebody needs to help Jacoby Ford, and Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham are no longer around to do it. Xavier Dye didn't quite have the consistency he'd hoped for this spring. Marquan Jones and Terrence Ashe could also be factors.
DUKE -- Offensive line. The Blue Devils lost three starters there and moved a fourth (Kyle Hill from left guard to left tackle), so it will have an entirely new look. The one player back in his original position is center Bryan Morgan.
FLORIDA STATE -- Receivers. FSU is waiting until the legal process unfolds to determine the length of Rod Owens' suspension, and it's uncertain how quickly Taiwan Easterling will be cleared to play after an injury to his Achilles. Bert Reed, Louis Givens and Jarmon Fortson will be heavily depended upon.
GEORGIA TECH -- Linemen. The Yellow Jackets have to replace three of four starters on the defensive line, and injuries to Cord Howard, Dan Voss and Nick Claytor slowed the progress on the offensive line this spring.
MARYLAND -- Offensive line. The Terps lost three starters and will have four players in new positions. Phil Costa should be the leader of an otherwise inexperienced group.
MIAMI -- Linebacker depth. There were a few position changes, and Colin McCarthy missed the spring. Sean Spence is proven, but depth remains a concern.
NORTH CAROLINA -- Receivers. This group had to be completely rebuilt, as UNC lost players who accounted for 17 of 21 receiving touchdowns last year. Greg Little had a good spring and should be the leader now, and freshman Joshua Adams benefitted from enrolling early.
NC STATE -- Safety. This is coach Tom O'Brien's biggest concern, and the Pack need Javon Walker, who tore his ACL and missed the spring, back and healthy. Clem Johnson played well last year despite being hindered by several injuries. O'Brien is looking for more from Jimmaul Simmons and Justin Byers.
VIRGINIA -- Linebackers. The backups to Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim rarely played, as Al Groh wanted to keep his best players on the field. Darren Childs, Steve Greer, Aaron Taliaferro, Cam Johnson, and Darnell Carter will have to grow up quickly.
VIRGINIA TECH -- Kicker. For the third straight year, Frank Beamer is in search of a new kicker, this time to replace Dustin Keys. Matt Waldron was the leading candidate out of the spring, but the competition is wide open.
WAKE FOREST -- Linebackers. Gone are Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux and Chantz McClinic. Introducing Gelo Orange. Yes, that's his name. Orange, along with Hunter Haynes, Jonathan Jones and a host of others have some big shoes to fill.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Regardless of whether it was for injuries, suspensions, academics -- whatever -- not everyone was present and accounted for this spring. There were a few players who were missing who will be desperately needed to make a comeback this fall. Each team had at least one:
Boston College: Linebacker Mike McLaughlin -- He is still very questionable for the fall, but his return from an Achilles injury would be a huge boost to a position that lacks depth. Wide receiver Clarence Megwa broke his leg in the Clemson game last year and missed the rest of the year and spring, but could be a key returnee.
Clemson: Bandit end Ricky Sapp -- He missed the Gator Bowl and sat out the spring getting over a torn ACL he suffered in the first half against Virginia. He will be a prime pass-rusher for the Tigers and is Clemson's best player when it comes to putting pressure on the quarterback.
Duke: Defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase -- The Blue Devils' leader on the defensive line missed the spring with an injury, but ranks second among active ACC players in both career tackles for loss (29.0) and quarterback sacks (11.5), trailing only N.C. State's Willie Young (32.0 and 12.5). Oghobaase has started all 36 games over the past three years, compiling 128 tackles.
Florida State: Linebacker Dekoda Watson -- He missed the spring after offseason elbow surgery, but should be one of the Noles' top defenders. He ranked fourth on the team with 46 tackles last year.
Georgia Tech: Center Dan Voss -- He was the starter last year, and if his labrum isn't fully recovered (which it should be), aerospace engineer major Sean Bedford moves to the top of the depth chart. Not that there's anything wrong with a super smart center.
Maryland: DT Dion Armstrong -- The Terps had a host of key players miss the spring, but Armstrong, who was out for academic reasons, is at a position in need of some help. It's unclear, though, if Armstrong's academic situation will extend into the summer. Also at defensive tackle for Maryland is Travis Ivey. The coaches raved about his improved play and leadership during the spring, and the offensive line was having a tough time containing him. But he got a concussion in the fourth week and missed the rest of the spring. He also had a scheduled shoulder surgery at the end of the spring.
Miami: LB Colin McCarthy -- Miami needs depth at linebacker and McCarthy was playing well last season before a shoulder injury caused him to miss the remainder of the season, starting with the FSU game. He had shoulder surgery.
North Carolina: Free safety Deunta Williams -- He had wrist surgery in January and missed the spring, but should be ready for the fall. He started all 13 games in 2008 and ranked fifth on the team with 65 tackles (55 solo).
NC State: Strong safety Javon Walker -- He's actually missed the last TWO springs and last season with a knee injury, but will be cleared by the fall and is being counted on very heavily in the secondary.
Virginia: Right guard B.J. Cabbell -- He missed spring ball due to knee surgery, but started 12 games last year. The junior is expected back in August.
Virginia Tech: DE Jason Worilds -- Worilds missed the spring after shoulder surgery for an injury that kept him out of the Orange Bowl. End is one of the few positions the Hokies have that lacks depth. Worilds started in 12 of 14 games last year and had eight sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. The Hokies will also need the return of guard Sergio Render, who missed the spring following shoulder surgery.
Wake Forest: CB Brandon Ghee -- Ghee suffered a sprained knee on the very first day of spring and missed the remainder of practice. The Deacs will need Ghee healthy this fall as he is the only returning starter in the secondary. Starting nose tackle Boo Robinson has also been bothered by a bad back and didn't play this spring.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Last year, expectations were moderate to low for Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who brought a new offense and a new defense to Atlanta for a young team to digest quickly. After winning nine games and tying for the Coastal Division title, the bar has been raised for 2009.
The Yellow Jackets return almost every skill position player on offense and the bulk of the linebacker and secondary units. Still, it's a young group expecting to contend for the Coastal Division title.
With spring practice now underway, Johnson shared some thoughts on this year's team. Here are the highlights of our interview:
|Kelly Kline/Icon SMI|
|Paul Johnson won nine games in his first season at Georgia Tech.|
When you win nine games your first year, you set the bar pretty high. What does this team need to do this spring and summer to take it to the next level and win 10 or 11?
Paul Johnson: We've got to continue to do all the same things we've been doing, work hard and certainly there are a lot of areas we can improve in. We need to be more consistent. There were times last year that we played very well and times we didn't show up. We've got to become more consistent that way. I think most of our guys are going to be a year older, so hopefully they know what we expect from them, and I've been encouraged by the way they're working.
Do you think some of that inconsistency might have stemmed from the fact you had so many young kids?
PJ: Probably some of that is the case, maybe, but it's time to grow up now. We're still going to be young. We still only have six scholarship seniors on the team.
Wow, I didn't realize that. Was from attrition or what?
PJ: There just weren't that many guys in the class when we came. We have lost a few out of the class, probably three or four that would've been in the class, but there just wasn't very many of them. We've actually only got two of them that play.
What's the biggest difference you've noticed heading into your second season?
PJ: I think the attitude and the expectation level. I think everybody understands now what we're asking and what we're trying to do. It's a lot smoother that way. We can go a lot faster.
For those of us who can't break down film, how much better could the offense have been executed last year?
PJ: I think we could've done a lot better. Not just in offense, but in most categories. We certainly have to get better in special teams. I mean, that was awful. We're working hard on that this spring, the return game specifically. We left a lot of things out there offensively that we need to be able to take advantage of. We have to protect the passer better, we need to throw and catch better, the option part of it should get better, too, as we do it more. We've got all those guys coming back, we need to get better.