NCF Nation: Dontae Johnson

ACC's spring position battles

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
2:11
PM ET
There are going to be position battles this spring at every school in the ACC, but some will be in the spotlight more than others. If you’re just tuning in to ACC football, here are some of the biggest competitions in the conference this spring:

OFFENSE

1. Florida State quarterback: This is arguably the most intriguing competition in the entire conference, as the Seminoles have to replace veteran EJ Manuel. Clint Trickett enters the spring at the top of the depth chart, but consider this job open. Sophomore Jacob Coker is the total package, but redshirt freshman Jameis Winston was the nation’s No. 1 quarterback and could be the answer, too.

2. North Carolina running back: The Tar Heels have to find a way to replace leading rusher Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL draft. Not only will his loss be felt in the running game, but probably even moreso in the return game, as Bernard was one of the nation’s top punt returners. UNC returns A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, who combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

3. Syracuse quarterback: The Orange enter the ACC with a new coach and in need of a new quarterback. Record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib is gone, leaving behind a wide-open competition. Backup Charley Loeb, junior John Kinder, and dual-threat Terrel Hunt are the top candidates. Ashton Broyld, who moved to running back in 2012, could be in the mix as well.

DEFENSE

1. Florida State defensive ends: The cream of the crop is gone, as Tank Carradine, Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins all have to be replaced. Enter Mario Edwards Jr., who has a leg-up on the competition because he played in 11 games as a true freshman, and started the final two games of the year in place of the injured Carradine. Don’t forget about Giorgio Newberry, though, and Chris Casher, who is now healthy after a knee injury. Casher will start spring ball on the two-deep depth chart. Dan Hicks, who was Jenkins’ backup two years ago, had a knee injury and missed all of last season. He had moved to tight end, but was in the rotation at defensive end earlier in his career and could come back.

2. NC State secondary: This group will have an entirely new look this spring, as three starters have to be replaced, including Earl Wolff, Brandan Bishop and David Amerson, the school’s career interception leader. Cornerback Dontae Johnson returns, along with Juston Burris, who played in the nickel package. There are also several redshirts and younger players who will compete.

3. Virginia Tech cornerback: Virginia Tech’s defensive backfield lost its star last month when cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. Several young players will compete for his reps this spring, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller will join the team in the summer.

Welcome to the Georgia Dome

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
6:30
PM ET
ATLANTA -- And we’re off in one of the country’s best college football cities and one of the sport’s best venues.

We’re just about ready to get things started here at the first game of this weekend’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff, with Tennessee taking on NC State inside the Georgia Dome.

TGIF, indeed!

This should be one of the more exciting games of the first weekend, especially with the matchup between Tennessee’s passing game and the Wolfpack’s secondary. The interesting storyline is that both groups are down solid players.

Da’Rick Rogers has made his exit from Tennessee’s football team, while NC State cornerback C.J. Wilson, who has started 29 games in his career, is dealing with an NCAA eligibility issue.

The good news for the Wolfpack is that junior cornerback Dontae Johnson had already beaten out Wilson before he was ruled out of Friday night's game.

Oh, and cornerback David Amerson, who led the ACC in interceptions last year, is still around for NC State, and he might be a future first-round pick.

It’s not like the Vols are down and out at wide receiver without Rogers, who led the SEC in receptions (67) last year and was second in receiving yards (1,040). Justin Hunter is back after his ACL injury that he suffered early last season. At 100 percent, he might be the SEC’s top deep threat. Helping him will be junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson, who received a boatload of hype heading into fall camp.

Highlight reels show that Tennessee should be fine in the passing game, especially with quarterback Tyler Bray slinging the ball, but coach Derek Dooley’s still a little worried. He expects Hunter to be a bit rusty in his return and isn’t sure if Patterson will have the breakout performance fans are banking on against NC State’s talented secondary.

“I’m very concerned because we have very little experience and they’ve got a lot of experience,” Dooley said earlier this week. “What those guys do best is they make you pay for any mistakes, whether it’s a poor route, whether it’s an inaccurate football, a bobbled ball. Whatever it is, they’re going to make you pay.”

Bray’s natural ability will play a big part in helping limit the mistakes. He’s got all the skill to make his guys look good, but he’s had issues with the mental part of the game in the past.

Both teams are trying to prove that they can compete in their respective conferences. Tonight we’ll get a glimpse of things to come for both squads.

NC State a team on the rise

August, 28, 2012
8/28/12
2:00
PM ET
The talk is growing louder again about NC State. Given all the talent returning, given how close it has come to winning an ACC title before, could this be the season the Wolfpack finally puts it all together?

Some folks say yes.

[+] EnlargeNC State's Tom O'Brien
Jeremy Brevard/US PRESSWIRENC State coach Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack are a sleeper pick in the ACC this season.
So the dark horse label has been firmly affixed onto this team as it gets ready for a huge opener against Tennessee on Friday night in the Georgia Dome.

"We’ve always been a sleeper team," receiver Tobais Palmer said in a recent phone interview."I feel as though there's certain teams in the ACC that get respect, like Clemson, Florida State, those type of guys. Nobody gives us the respect we deserve, but that's OK. We use it as motivation and it helps us out. Going into the first game, I’m excited to see what this season brings."

Just look at what the Wolfpack have going into the season. The best cornerback in the nation in David Amerson, who set an ACC record with 13 interceptions last season. A veteran leader in Mike Glennon, one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC. Major depth at running back -- so much so that coach Tom O'Brien may deviate from his normal two-back rotation and play starter Tony Creecy, James Washington and Mustafa Greene against the Volunteers.

And one of the most experienced offensive lines in all of college football, with four starters who each logged over 700 snaps last season. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Tuesday on a media call for the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game that this is the best team NC State has had in a while, though O'Brien was a little more reserved when asked what he thinks of the team he has for 2012.

"Right now you get to the end of camp and you look forward to playing the opening game because after practicing against yourself, you're not sure what you have," O'Brien said. "A lot of the questions we might have about ourselves, when you go against an SEC powerhouse like Tennessee will be answered."

There are some question marks to be sure. The entire starting linebacker unit is new. Depth has to be developed at receiver, where projected starter Bryan Underwood is out with an injury. And starting cornerback C.J. Wilson has been held out of practice because of an NCAA eligibility issue and is not listed on the depth chart for the game. Junior Dontae Johnson is expected to start in his place.

NC State also plays in the tough Atlantic Division, featuring preseason favorite No. 7 Florida State and reigning ACC champ No. 14 Clemson, the two highest ranked teams in the ACC. For NC State to truly have a shot at the ACC title, the Wolfpack are going to have to beat both teams, something they have not done in the same season since 2002.

They have split against them the last two seasons. Last year, NC State lost to Florida State 34-0, the first time since 2008 the Wolfpack had been shutout. But after a devastating loss to Boston College, the Wolfpack went into their home game against No. 7 Clemson without anybody giving them much of a shot, mostly because they were fighting for bowl eligibility. But they pulled off the major shocker, winning 37-13.

Go back to 2010. NC State beat Florida State but lost to Clemson 14-13 after blowing a fourth-quarter lead. Still, the Wolfpack had a shot at winning the ACC heading into their season finale against Maryland. But they lost 38-31, blowing their chances. They had to watch Florida State get to the ACC championship game instead.

"For the past two years, we've had a shot at it," Palmer said. "The year before, we gave the game away losing to Maryland. Last year, we gave the league away. We've always been so close every year. We feel this year is the year everyone is going to dial in. We’ve been getting after each other. We're holding each other accountable. As long as we keep doing that, we should be a hard team to stop."

Report: NCSU LB Green out for season

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
11:23
AM ET
NC State linebacker D.J. Green is ineligible to play this season after testing positive for a banned substance, according to J.P. Giglio of the Raleigh News & Observer.

According to the report, Green said he took a supplement in an attempt to gain weight. It was an unfortunate decision for Green and his team, as the linebacker position was already thin. With Audie Cole and Terrell Manning gone, the linebacker position is one of the biggest questions facing the Pack entering spring practices. Cole was the team’s leading tackler each of the past two seasons, and Manning was one of the defense’s most disruptive players last year.

Green was the only returning starter. He was having a great 2011 before he injured his knee and wound up starting seven games. The position will now be in the hands of young players like Brandon Pittman and Michael Peek, both sophomores. Dontae Johnson has some starting experience at linebacker, but he’s more of a safety and played a crossover role last year.

The good news for NC State's defense is that the entire secondary returns, including one of the top cornerbacks in the country in David Amerson, but the Wolfpack will need to find some answers at linebacker this spring and summer in order to solidify the front seven.
Moving on to the safeties …

[+] EnlargeRay-Ray Armstrong
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireRay-Ray Armstrong is among the leaders of a strong Miami secondary.
1. Miami: Vaughn Telemaque and Ray-Ray Armstrong return, but JoJo Nicolas moved to corner. Even though Armstrong wasn’t a starter last year, he still ranked third on the team with 79 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

2. Florida State: The Seminoles return both starters in Nick Moody and Terrance Parks. Moody had 79 tackles last season and Parks had 44 and six deflections. The group was strengthened with the addition of Lamarcus Joyner, who moved from cornerback and proved this spring he’s capable of being a safety.

3. NC State: The Wolfpack has two of the best in Earl Wolff, the team’s leading tackler last season with 95, and Brandan Bishop, who had 56 tackles and a team-high four interceptions. Dontae Johnson (22 tackles), also returns.

4. Virginia Tech: Eddie Whitley is the lone returning starter, but he should be one of the best in the ACC. Antone Exum, who was the No. 2 free safety last season, moved to rover this spring. He played in every game last season and had five starts when Tech went to its nickel defense.

5. Virginia: The Cavaliers return veteran starters in Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley, who have combined for 41 career starts. Mosley had 52 tackles and two interceptions last season, and McLeod had 54 tackles and four pass breakups. Safety Dom Joseph (34 tackles) also returns.

6. Duke: The Blue Devils return both starters in Matt Daniels and Lee Butler. Daniels, a senior, has started 25 career games and is one of the top returning tacklers in the ACC. Butler had 58 tackles and nine passes defended last season.

7. Boston College: The Eagles return juniors Jim Noel, who had four interceptions in eight starts, and Okechukwu Okoroha, who started the final six games last fall. Noel, Okoroha, and Dominick LeGrande combined for 90 tackles last season.

8. Wake Forest: Both starters return in Daniel Mack and Cyhl Quarles. Mack had 45 tackles and two interceptions last season. Duran Lowe (30 tackles) could unseat Quarles, who is Wake’s leading returning tackler with 71 hits. Redshirt freshman Desmond Cooper is also competing for playing time.

9. Clemson: Rashard Hall has 19 career starts and made 62 tackles and two interceptions last season. Safety Jonathan Meeks (28 tackles, one start) also returns, along with Carlton Lewis.

10. Maryland: Just as Kenny Tate’s move to linebacker bumped the Terps up in the ranking in that category, his departure from safety drops them a few notches as they now don’t have any returning starters there. They do, however, have experience. Eric Franklin played in 11 games, with 23 tackles and three interceptions (tied for second on the team). Matt Robinson played in all 13 games and posted 29 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles. The Terps have plenty of depth with Austin Walker, Titus Till, Anthony Green and Desmond Haynes.

11. North Carolina: Matt Merletti had five starts and Jonathan Smith, who lettered in 2008 and 2009 but missed all of last season, are the projected starters. They will be pushed by junior Gene Robinson (four starts, 30 tackles, one interception) for playing time.

12. Georgia Tech: The Jackets had to replace both of their safeties in Mario Edwards and Jerrard Tarrant. Safety Fred Holton (11 tackles) and Isaiah Johnson (46 tackles, one interception) are the two most likely front-runners to start this fall.

SPONSORED HEADLINES