NCF Nation: Earl Wolff

ACC at the combine

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
11:12
AM ET
The poking, prodding, interviews and drills have wrapped up at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Now let's take a quick look at who stood out from the ACC during the all-important event.

  • The defensive backs were the last group to go, wrapping up Tuesday. And there were some pretty good performances. Miami cornerback Brandon McGee posted one of the fastest 40 times at the combine, running a 4.40 to rank him No. 13 among all participants. He also was a top performer in the bench press and 20-yard shuttle run. Those numbers will not do anything but help his draft stock.
  • [+] EnlargeDavid Amerson
    AP Photo/Dave MartinNC State cornerback David Amerson showed off his speed at the NFL combine, clocking a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash.
  • NC State cornerback David Amerson was out to prove himself at the combine after an up-and-down 2012 season. He definitely opened eyes with his performance, which NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock described as "excellent." Amerson ran a 4.44 in the 40 and was also a top performer in the vertical jump.
  • Those two guys were not the only fast defensive backs at the combine. Of the players with the top 15 times at the position, six have ACC ties. Rod Sweeting of Georgia Tech (4.42), Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse (4.42), Xavier Rhodes of Florida State (4.43) and Earl Wolff of NC State (4.44) were among the fastest.
  • Speaking of Rhodes, his vertical leap was incredibly impressive, at 40.5 inches to tie for first among all defensive backs and rank No. 3 overall. He also was a top performer in the broad jump, and certainly helped himself with his day. So did Thomas, one of the most underrated players in college football last year. Though Thomas made some headlines after he fell at the end of his 40, he had a huge day. He also leaped 40.5 inches and was a top performer in the 20-yard shuttle and broad jump.
  • The ACC had several top performers in the bench press as well. Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohanon tied for No. 4 overall with 36 reps and was also a top performer in the vertical jump and 60-yard shuttle. Also in the top 15 overall for bench: North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper (35), NC State guard Zach Allen (32) and Virginia Tech offensive tackle Vinston Painter (32). Speaking of Cooper, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said the lineman "had one of the more impressive workouts."
  • Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel had a nice combine himself, though he was inconsistent with his throws. Manuel was a top performer in the broad jump, ranking No. 3 among all quarterbacks after jumping 9 feet, 10 inches. He also was a top performer in the 40 (4.65), vertical jump (34), 3-cone drill (7.08) and 20-yard shuttle (4.21) to rank among the top 5 in each category.
  • The folks at Scouts Inc. had this to say about Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a top performer at his position in the bench press and vertical jump (36): "His 4.57 in the 40 is about what we expected. His game is more about being physical, though, and Hopkins showed good ball skills. He is was one of the most natural pass-catchers on the field, with good focus in the gauntlet drill and the ability to extend fully for balls." He's got a second-round grade.
  • Virginia Tech receiver Marcus Davis put up some good numbers as well, topping his position with a vertical jump of 39.5 inches, while also posting good numbers in the 40 (4.56) and bench press (19 reps). It's never been about physical talent for Davis, so the numbers aren't much of a surprise. He has to put it all together on the field.
  • Now for running back: North Carolina's Giovani Bernard was a top performer in various categories. He ran a 4.53 in the 40; and was a top performer in the 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle. Miami running back Mike James also put up some good numbers.

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.

2012 ESPN.com ACC all-conference team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
11:26
AM ET
Despite the abundance of hype surrounding the quarterback position heading into this season, there was one player who quickly distanced himself from the rest. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd had a record-setting season and he was surrounded by several all-conference-caliber teammates. With five Tigers on the first-team offense, it’s no wonder Clemson was No. 6 in the country in scoring offense at 42.33 points per game. There was no running back in the ACC more electrifying than UNC’s Giovani Bernard, though, and to leave off his lead blockers in James Hurst and Jonathan Cooper would be unjust. Surprisingly, not one player from Florida State’s two-deep made the cut for first-team offense. There’s no question, though, the ACC champs dominated the defensive lineup with four first-team selections. Imagine a dream team made up of Clemson’s offense and Florida State’s defense.

Actually, the ACC’s dream team would look more like this, your 2012 ESPN.com ACC All-Conference team:

Offense First Team

QB -- Tajh Boyd, Clemson

RB -- Giovani Bernard, North Carolina

RB -- Andre Ellington, Clemson

WR -- DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson

WR -- Conner Vernon, Duke

TE -- Brandon Ford, Clemson

T -- James Hurst, North Carolina

T -- Oday Aboushi, Virginia

G -- Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

G -- Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech

C -- Dalton Freeman, Clemson

Defense first team

DE--Cornellius Carradine, Florida State

DE--Bjoern Werner, Florida State

DT--Joe Vellano, Maryland

DT--Sylvester Williams, North Carolina

LB--Nick Clancy, Boston College

LB--Steve Greer, Virginia

LB--Kevin Reddick, North Carolina

CB--Ross Cockrell, Duke

CB--Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

S--Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

S--Earl Wolff, NC State

Specialists

PK--Dustin Hopkins, Florida State

P--Will Monday, Duke

SP--Giovani Bernard, North Carolina

Tajh Boyd headlines All-ACC team

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
3:30
PM ET
Clemson had the best offense in the ACC this season, so it comes as no surprise that the Tigers dominated the All-ACC first team released Monday.

Quarterback Tajh Boyd and five teammates won first-team honors on offense, the first time Clemson has ever place six players on the All-ACC first-team offense and the first time any team has done it since Florida State in 1995.

Florida State and North Carolina each placed five players on the all-conference team, determined by a vote of 46 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association.

Boyd is joined on the first team by running back Andre Ellington, receiver DeAndre Hopkins, tackle Brandon Thomas, center Dalton Freeman and tight end Brandon Ford. Boyd led the ACC with 34 touchdown passes while Hopkins had league-bests of 16 total touchdown catches and an average of 104 yards receiving.

Nine teams had at least one first-team selection. There were no unanimous picks to the first team, but North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard was chosen as a first-teamer on 45 ballots. Bernard, who had an ACC-leading 1,228 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns, joins Boyd as repeat first-team selections.

Bernard, a punt returner who also was picked as the first-team specialist, was joined by guard Jonathan Cooper, linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams.

Four Florida State defensive players -- ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Lamarcus Joyner -- join kicker Dustin Hopkins on the first team.

Boston College (receiver Alex Amidon and linebacker Nick Clancy), Virginia (offensive tackle Oday Aboushi and linebacker Steve Greer) and Duke (cornerback Ross Cockrell and punter Will Monday) were the only other schools with multiple first-team picks.

You also should note that Virginia Tech and Miami did not have a first-team selection for the first time since they joined the ACC in 2004. Defensive end James Gayle, linebacker Jack Tyler and cornerback Antone Exum made the second team for Virginia Tech; Miami's Duke Johnson made the second team as a running back and specialist.

The league coaches will announce their all-conference team next week.

FIRST-TEAM OFFENSE
  • QB-Tajh Boyd, Clemson
  • RB-Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
  • RB-Andre Ellington, Clemson
  • WR-DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
  • WR-Alex Amidon, Boston College
  • OT-Oday Aboushi, Virginia
  • OT-Brandon Thomas, Clemson
  • OG-Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
  • OG-Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
  • C-Dalton Freeman, Clemson
  • TE-Brandon Ford, Clemson
  • K-Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
  • Specialist- Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE
  • DE-Bjoern Werner, Florida State
  • DE-Cornellius Carradine, Florida State
  • DT-Joe Vellano, Maryland
  • DT-Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
  • LB-Nick Clancy, Boston College
  • LB-Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
  • LB-Steve Greer, Virginia
  • CB-Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
  • CB-Ross Cockrell, Duke
  • S-Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
  • S-Earl Wolff, NC State
  • P-Will Monday, Duke

For the second-team and honorable mention selections, you can click here.

Q&A with NCSU S Earl Wolff

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
2:00
PM ET
NC State’s secondary entered this season as a veteran group. It’s still a veteran group, but it hasn’t performed up to its potential yet this season. That will have to change on Saturday if the Wolfpack is going to have a chance to upset No. 3-ranked Florida State. I spoke with senior safety Earl Wolff earlier this week to get his take on the season so far. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

What’s happened to you guys? What’s going on?

Earl Wolff: We had a lot of breakdowns in our pass coverage that usually doesn’t happen. Things like that went wrong our freshmen year. We didn’t expect it to happen against Miami and it did. We watched film and we handled everything we needed to handle. We made adjustments and I feel like we’re ready to go this Saturday.

[+] EnlargeEarl Wolff
J Pat Carter/AP PhotoNC State's Earl Wolff tracks down Miami quarterback Stephen Morris in the two teams' Week 5 game.
Do you feel like you guys have fallen below your own expectations, considering what a veteran group the secondary is?

EW: Absolutely. 565 yards, that really hurt. Deep balls over our heads, things that don’t usually happen. We feel like we can be the best secondary in the nation, athletically and mentally. When it comes to experience, we’re one of the more experienced groups in the ACC, also. That 565 yards, it hurt us. I don’t want to say we needed it, but we’ll build off of that and try to be better this week. As a matter of fact I can promise you that won’t happen again.

I read you called a team meeting. How important was it for you guys to do that?

EW: Honestly it was very important. I feel like we should’ve done that last week, before the Miami game. Everybody’s heads weren’t where they needed to be. People had different things on their minds. I don’t know the exact number of penalties, but especially with coach O’Brien, we’re not used to that many penalties in a game. I just feel like guys, I don’t know if the heat was getting to them, I don’t know exactly what it was, but that team meeting we had, we didn’t name any individuals, we just talked about what we need to work on as a team. We talked about what we need to do to get better at our weaknesses. Mostly everything that happened was mentally. The staff was in there for part of the meeting and then they left. We just went in there and a couple of guys stood up and said what they had to say. I feel like it was a much-needed meeting and we’ll build off of that and get ready for this great game Saturday.

The No. 3 team in the country is coming to your house. How do you get better quickly enough to be ready for this game?

EW: Just preparation. I feel like a lot of people didn’t prepare the way they should have last week. As a matter of fact, we usually call meetings individually on Thursday, we call it ourselves, the players, and honestly, a lot of guys didn’t show up. I felt like in the game it showed. When we talked to everybody we said if you’re not all in then you can leave right now. A lot of guys have buckled down and they’re going to be all in. That’s exactly what we need this week. We’re going to play one of the best teams in the nation. Luckily we get to play them at home in front of our crowd. We’re going to get all this energy from our crowd. We’re going to need all the energy we have. We have to go all out to beat Florida State.

What do you feel like the attitude is right now? Do you feel like you guys can truly beat them?

EW: Honestly we do. A lot of people outside of here even some fans probably think we can’t. But I feel like as long as the coaches believe in us and we believe in ourselves, that’s really all that matters. For example, last year we played Clemson. A lot of people thought we were going to lose. They were ranked. We came in, we beat them, and it was our crowd. Our crowd gives us energy that we need. Luckily we played them at home. We get to feed off our crowd. We’re going to put up a fight for all four quarters.

Have you had to console David Amerson at all?

EW: Honestly, I did that during the game. Dave doesn’t talk a whole lot. He’s never been one who does a whole lot of talking. But sometimes you can just look at him and see there’s something wrong. At the game I could tell, I don’t know what’s going on, but this is not like him. I said something to him during the game and then basically afterwards, I was like, ‘Man, Dave, it’s not just you, brother, we all played bad. We can’t point the finger at you. If our pass coverage skills are on point, they don’t throw the ball like that. It’s not just you. Just stay up.' Dave said thank you. He’s a competitor. He’ll continue to compete, regardless of what happens. It won’t happen again.

It sounds like that meeting helped. Maybe it will be a turning point for you guys.

EW: Oh yeah, I feel like that meeting really was what we needed. We’ll probably call another one before the game on Saturday, just to make sure. We’ll probably call one Thursday, honestly. Make sure everybody gets their rest and just prepares right.

Where is the leadership coming from this year besides yourself?

EW: I don’t really do a whole lot of talking, but I feel like a lot of people aren’t talking. So, sometimes I have to speak up and say what I’ve got to say. In the secondary, it’s me, Brandan Bishop, C.J. Wilson throws his input in sometimes. He doesn’t say too much, either. Linebackers it’s really just Sterling [Lucas]. On the d-line, Darryl Cato-Bishop. He holds everyone on that d-line accountable. I really like that guy. Just leading. Offensively I would say it’s Mike Glennon. Mario Carter sometimes. But I feel like we still have to do a better job when it comes to that. Everybody’s still just not on board yet. We have a lot of young guys, and I feel like sometimes they’re in the mindset of, ‘Shoot, I have two more years, three more years, so if we don’t do it this year, than maybe next year.’ We’re trying to instill in their minds that it has to happen now. We need it now. Imagine if it was your senior year, how would you feel about it? That’s how I felt when I was playing. At first I was like, I have this year, and this year. Even though I always gave it my all. I remember Nate [Irving], Audie [Cole], all them boys, saying, it’s our senior year. We want to win this. We want you to help us win this. I’m just trying to instill that in their minds and help everybody buy in.”

ESPN.com's preseason All-ACC team

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
9:00
AM ET
ESPN.com is announcing its all-conference teams today. Offensively, there was only one difference from what the media chose in July at the ACC football kickoff in Greensboro, N.C., but it was a big difference -- at quarterback. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas got the nod over Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. Defensively, there also were a few tweaks, as Florida State swept the defensive end position and Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu earned his spot at linebacker. With the dismissal of former FSU cornerback Greg Reid, though, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins was promoted to the top return man.

Here’s a look at ESPN.com’s preseason All-ACC team:

OFFENSE

WR Conner Vernon, Duke

WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson

TE Matt Furstenburg, Maryland

T James Hurst, North Carolina

T Oday Aboushi, Virginia

G Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech

G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

C Dalton Freeman, Clemson

QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina

RB Andre Ellington, Clemson

DEFENSE

DE Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State

DT Joe Vellano, Maryland

DT Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest

LB Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech

LB Kevin Reddick, North Carolina

LB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech

CB David Amerson, NC State

CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

S Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

S Earl Wolff, NC State

SPECIALISTS

PK Dustin Hopkins, Florida State

P Dalton Botts, Miami

SP Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Boyd/Renner/GlennonUS PresswireTajh Boyd, Bryn Renner and Mike Glennon are among six returning ACC quarterbacks who have passed for more than 3,000 yards in a season.

The way North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner tells the story, he and NC State quarterback Mike Glennon were playing against each other in a JV basketball game when Renner was a freshman and Glennon a sophomore. Renner hit a 3-pointer and Glennon hit him in the nose and broke it.

“I had 45 (points),” Renner said with a smile. “You ask him about it. I was on fire.”

The two rivals are still friends, and they’re just as competitive now as they were then. The difference this year is that they’ve got company -- lots of it.

For the first time in league history, the ACC returns six quarterbacks who have thrown for 3,000 yards in a season. No other conference in the country can claim that. What makes this group special, though, is its combination of talent, competitiveness and camaraderie. These guys are good -- collectively good enough to raise the profile of the entire conference -- but they also genuinely like each other. They text each other, and many of them share a history, much like Renner and Glennon. Half of the teams in the ACC will have a starting quarterback from the state of Virginia.

Although the ACC fairly recently has produced several elite quarterbacks, like Florida State’s Christian Ponder and Boston College’s Matt Ryan, the defensive conference isn’t exactly known for its quarterback play.

This season could change that perception.

“From top to bottom, there’s going to be so many quarterbacks deserving of getting all-conference that it’s going to be hard to give it out to one, two or three, but I don’t worry about that,” Glennon said. “I just worry about NC State and us winning games, but definitely this is a great quarterback conference. It’s going to be fun to watch other teams and I think defenses are going to see how good some of the quarterbacks are this year.

“There’s definitely been talent that's come through here, but this is probably stronger than other years.”

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photo/David GoldmanVirginia Tech's Logan Thomas received the most votes of any quarterback for ACC preseason Player of the Year honors.
Which quarterback is the best? It depends on whom you ask. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas got the most votes of any quarterback for the league’s preseason Player of the Year (19), but he only got two more votes than Florida State's EJ Manuel and three more than Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.

Boyd (3,828), Renner (3,086), Glennon (3,054), Thomas (3,013) and Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price (3,017) all threw for more than 3,000 yards last year. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree threw for 3,131 in 2010.

“It was either my first or second year and I was sitting here and somebody was talking about how bad the ACC quarterbacks were, that we didn’t have any,” NC State coach Tom O’Brien said at ACC media days. “Now all of a sudden we’ve got them all.”

NC State safety Earl Wolff said he was most impressed with Manuel last year.

“Last year, EJ Manuel kind of killed us,” Wolff said of the 34-0 loss to the Seminoles. “That was a bad game overall. But I don’t expect that to happen this year.”

Manuel returned the respect to Glennon, whom he has known since the 10th grade.

“Mike has definitely grown from when we were at the Elite 11 in the 11th grade until now,” Manuel said. “Obviously he’s a great friend of mine. Mike is great. Tajh Boyd is great. He kind of torched us last year. Logan Thomas, a big guy, he got better each and every game last year. If you go back and watch his first games and at the end of the season, he got a lot better as a quarterback.”

Manuel has known Boyd since the sixth grade. He met Thomas last year and they’ve kept in touch. Manuel also knows Alabama transfer Phil Sims, who has a chance to play at Virginia this year. Cavaliers starter Michael Rocco is also from the state of Virginia.

“I think we’ll be a very strong conference,” Thomas said. “We’ll have strong quarterback play, and we’re always known for strong defensive play. I think it’s going to be fun to see what we do. We’re just going to try to outplay each other every week.”

Manuel enters this season with a streak of 121 passes without an interception. Wake’s Price has thrown 173 straight passes without an interception, the seventh-longest such streak in ACC history.

“I think it’s great,” Price said of the position’s depth in the conference. “I think it’s fun to see how successful all of these quarterbacks have been and it’s fun to compete against such great players and talented athletes. It’s fun to get to brag about how many good quarterbacks there are in the ACC and how I get to play against them.

"Typically if your quarterback is good, your team will be successful. Being that there are so many good, talented quarterbacks in the league, it’s going to make the conference a lot better.”

video
The ACC today announced its preseason all-conference team, which was chosen by media members this week at the ACC Football Kickoff on Sunday and Monday at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C. Florida State, Clemson and North Carolina led all schools with four players each.

Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who was named by the media as the ACC preseason Player of the Year on Monday, was the only unanimous selection on the team, being named on all 68 ballots.

With national signing day quickly approaching, we’re going to take a look at the recruiting needs of each school in the ACC, starting with the Atlantic Division. These needs are based on current rosters and anticipated departures in the near future. Here’s a look at who has what holes to fill in the 2012 class:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Linemen: The depth here continues to be a priority on both sides. The decision of defensive end Max Holloway to declare early for the NFL draft was an unexpected loss, and tackle Dillon Quinn will be a senior. Offensively, the Eagles will have to replace two veterans and leaders in center Mark Spinney and guard Nate Richman.

Linebackers: All-American Luke Kuechly’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft was expected, but the staff is looking for about two or three more linebackers in this class.

Receivers: This was a young group to begin with, as Alex Amidon and Bobby Swigert were both true sophomores, but the staff could use one or two more in this class.

CLEMSON

Linemen: The Tigers will lose three starters on the defensive line and three more on the offensive line from the 2011 ACC championship team. Center Dalton Freeman is a returning starter, but he will be a senior. Six players on the final two-deep depth chart on the offensive line were either seniors or graduate students in 2011, and four on the defensive line two-deep must be replaced.

Running back: Andre Ellington is entering his senior year, and while Mike Bellamy is back in school and in the good graces of coach Dabo Swinney, the future of the position is uncertain. Rod McDowell played well in the bowl game, and D.J. Howard has been a backup.

Defensive backs: The Tigers could start three seniors in the secondary in 2012: Xavier Brewer, Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks.

Kickers: The Tigers will lose punter Dawson Zimmerman, opening up an opportunity for a true freshman to play immediately.

FLORIDA STATE

Pick and choose: The Noles have built up enough depth that they can now be selective. Instead of building a class heavy on offensive linemen, Florida State can now pick and choose the best at each position. The Noles need at least one running back, one or two quarterbacks, a few offensive tackles, a linebacker to help replace Nigel Bradham and a safety or two.

Kickers: The Noles have big shoes to fill with the graduation of punter Shawn Powell, and kicker Dustin Hopkins is entering his final season.

MARYLAND

Running back: This is a position where a true freshman could see some playing time this year. Justus Pickett returns, along with Brandon Ross, who redshirted last year.

Quarterback: The Terps ended the 2011 season with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster in Danny O’Brien and C.J. Brown. Both will be juniors and nobody is behind them.

Cornerback. Maryland has to replace Trenton Hughes and Cameron Chism at cornerback, leaving Dexter McDougle the only one with any significant playing time.

NC STATE

Defensive line: The staff already has about six linemen committed and ends were a particular focus. Half of the linemen in the two-deep depth chart for the Belk Bowl were either juniors or seniors.

Secondary: This should be a strength for NC State in 2012, but the staff needs to prepare for the future here. Cornerback C.J. Wilson will be a senior, along with safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop.

Quarterback: Mike Glennon is already listed as a graduate student, and his backup, Tyler Brosius, redshirted this past season. The position is thin and the future uncertain behind Glennon.

WAKE FOREST

Offensive line: The Deacs will lose four starters up front, but coach Jim Grobe has only played one true freshman there in 11 years. He has several redshirt freshmen and sophomores who are expected to fill in, but the staff wants to continue to build the depth at the position.

Tight end: Wake Forest will graduate its top two tight ends and will turn to two redshirt sophomores in Neil Basford and Johnny Garcia who have yet to catch a pass. It’s possible this could be a spot where an exceptional freshman could see playing time.

Defensive backs: The Deacs have to replace starting free safety Josh Bush and starting strong safety Cyhl Quarles. Cornerback Kenny Okoro will be a redshirt senior.
Your top safeties ...

1. Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami: He was a second-team all-conference selection last year, despite starting only four games. He was third on the team with 79 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, and had three interceptions, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery.

2. Eddie Whitely, Virginia Tech: He had 80 tackles and two interceptions last year at free safety. He also broke up six passes and forced two fumbles. He’s a smart player who can line up anywhere in the secondary.

3. Earl Wolff, NC State: He led the team in tackles last year with 95, including 4.5 TFLs and two sacks. He had one interception, two pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.

4. Nick Moody, Florida State: In his first year starting at free safety, Moody ranked third on the team with 79 tackles, including four tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. He finished the season with one interception, two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.

5. Vaughn Telemaque, Miami: He was one of seven Canes to start all 13 games last year and finished fourth on the team with 59 tackles. He tied for the team lead in interceptions with three.

6. Matt Daniels, Duke: He is Duke’s leading returning tackler with 93 hits. He ranked sixth in the ACC in tackles last year and fourth in career tackles in the ACC among returnees with 198. He forced a team-high three fumbles last year and has six over the past two seasons. He had seven pass breakups last year.

7. Rodney McLeod, Virginia: He has been a two-year starter at strong safety and enters his final season with 133 career tackles. Last year he had 54 tackles and two interceptions.

8. Rashard Hall, Clemson: In two years he has had eight interceptions and five bass breakups in 27 games. He has nine career takeaways. He had 62 tackles and two interceptions last year.

9. Jim Noel, Boston College: He was second on the team with four interceptions and had 36 tackles (27 solo). He earned his first start at Florida State and made a career-high 10 tackles with a pass breakup and two interceptions, one of which he returned 43 yards for a touchdown.

10. Cyhl Quarles, Wake Forest: He finished second on the team with 71 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and he also had one interception and one fumble recovery.
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.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 22, 2009
11/22/09
9:49
AM ET
Here are the ACC's top five performers for Week 12:

UNC’s defense -- It’s impossible to single out one player in such an impressive group effort. Cam Thomas and Kendric Burney each had defensive touchdowns in the Tar Heels’ 31-13 win over Boston College on Saturday. Deunta Williams had three interceptions, returning one 39 yards to the BC 6-inch line with 4:42 left in the game. Boston College finished with six turnovers.

FSU freshman Greg Reid -- His 48-yard punt return set up the game-winning touchdown with 32 seconds remaining and kept Florida State’s streak of 28 straight bowl games alive in a 29-26 win over Maryland. Reid returned three punts for 88 yards and now has 350 yards on 19 returns going into next week's game at rival Florida.

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris -- It wasn’t a flawless performance, but it was gritty, and led the Hurricanes to a 34-16 come-from-behind win over Duke on Saturday. Harris, who played through pain in his thumb, threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns. It was his third 300-yard game in the past four games. Duke was outscored 21-0 in the fourth quarter.

Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams -- Mark this guy down as a future Heisman candidate. He rushed for 120 yards and four touchdowns against a beleaguered NC State defense, sending the Hokies’ seniors out with a 38-10 win over the Wolfpack. Williams broke the school's single-season record for rushing yards with his third straight 100-yard rushing game. He also had one of the more impressive plays of the day, dragging NC State safety Earl Wolff about 12 yards into the end zone.

Clemson’s seniors -- On its final home game in Memorial Stadium, this group left its legacy. Linebacker Kavell Conner finished with a career-high 15 tackles. Receiver Jacoby Ford had a career-high 211 all-purpose yards. C.J. Spiller set the ACC single-season record for all-purpose yards. And together they led the Tigers to a 34-21 win over Virginia and their first-ever appearance in the ACC title game.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


You know the drill. Keep an eye on …

1. Interceptions in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor showed significant progress in the passing game last weekend against Duke, and didn't throw any interceptions in the process, but the Eagles have picked off five passes this year. Both teams have a knack for interceptions. Virginia Tech, in fact, has registered more interceptions (182) since the start of the 2000 season than any program in the country. Oklahoma (174) is second, and BC (173) is third during that time span.

2. Miami running back Javarris James moving up the charts. He’s coming off a career-best 150 yards rushing against Oklahoma and needs just 13 yards to pass Frank Gore for seventh place all-time on Miami’s rushing list and 37 more yards to become just the seventh player in school history to amass 2,000 career rushing yards. With 19 more carries, James (456 career attempts) will pass his cousin Edgerrin (474) to move into sole possession of third place on the school’s all-time rushing attempts list.

3. Maryland’s offensive line. It will make a significant difference if left tackle Bruce Campbell is able to play against Wake Forest’s sturdy defensive line after injuring his MCL against Clemson last week. Campbell has missed practice time this week, but hasn’t been declared “out” for this game. Paul Pinegar has been taking the reps at left tackle, though.

4. Upset alerts. It’s an odd weekend in the ACC, where even the most heavily favored teams -- like, say, No. 5-ranked Virginia Tech -- could lose and it wouldn’t exactly be a shock. So far the home teams have had the advantages, and that works in Florida State’s favor against No. 22 Georgia Tech. Can NC State hold off a feisty Duke team, though, that just played four quarters of competitive football against the Hokies?

5. Another record-setting weekend for Skinner. Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner needs just 81 passing yards to become the school's all-time leader. Skinner has thrown for 1,004 yards over his past three games and has thrown at least one touchdown pass in six straight games, dating back to last season.

6. Virginia’s passing defense against Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell. He threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State last weekend, and the Hoosiers are averaging 233.2 passing yards per game. The Cavaliers pass defense, though, is No. 8 in the country, holding opponents to 156.5 yards per game.

7. Running quarterbacks who are starting to throw. Tyrod Taylor earned his first-ever 300-yard passing game last weekend at Duke, the first time a Hokie quarterback has met that mark since Sean Glennon in 2006. Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt is coming off a career-high 266 passing yards against Mississippi State. Was it just a passing fancy, or can they keep it up?

8. NC State’s new secondary lineup. Tom O’Brien said this week he’s swapping potential for experience at both safety positions, as senior Clem Johnson will replace freshman Brandan Bishop, and senior Bobby Floyd will take over for redshirt freshman Earl Wolff. That’s a smart move against accomplished Duke passer Thaddeus Lewis.

9. Carolina’s quarterback of the future. UNC coach Butch Davis told the Raleigh News & Observer he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of playing true freshman Bryn Renner, who was expected to redshirt this season. Renner hasn’t taken a snap yet, but if he’s going to burn his redshirt, Georgia Southern would probably be a good time to do it.

10. Florida State’s will to win. If the Seminoles are going to turn this season around, now is the time. A win at home would stop a two-game losing skid and give them some positive momentum heading into the bye week. Georgia Tech will require their full attention and focus, though, and that’s something that might have been tough to gather amidst the controversy surrounding the program this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

NC State coach Tom O'Brien is facing higher expectations as he heads into his third season with the program. The Pack finished 2008 as one of the hottest teams in the country, as quarterback Russell Wilson helped lead NC State to a 6-7 record. The Pack will wrap up its spring at 1 p.m. on Saturday with the Kay Yow Spring Game. O'Brien gave his thoughts recently on his third spring in Raleigh:

 
  Andrew Synowiez/US PRESSWIRE
  Tom O'Brien knows expectations are higher for his team in 2009.

One of the things I wanted to ask you is what you're looking for out of the spring game, if there are any areas you'll be playing particular attention to?

Tom O'Brien: No, we play a game because something always pops up that even though you try to practice it, it's not the same. It's different when you have people in the stands and coaches aren't on the field telling you what to do. My experience in the past is something happens in the spring game you really can't coach. It's a good learning experience for the team to be put in that situation.

What have you been most pleased with in terms of progress this spring?

TOB: We try to make individuals better, and as we count up the number of guys that we think have improved, it's more than the guys who have stayed the same. We've made strides in a lot of different areas. We'll worry more about team offense, team defense, team special teams as we get into August. We're looking for individuals to become better football players and we've accomplished that.

As far as entering your third season, where do see the program's need for the most improvement?

TOB: I think the whole program, we should be improved. We've had enough injuries the previous two years to last us, so if we stay healthy, then we're in a situation that offensively, defensively and special teams we should be a much better football team.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES