NCF Nation: Izaan Cross

During winter workouts and spring practices, Georgia Tech senior defensive end Izaan Cross and senior nose tackle T.J. Barnes stuck to what they called the “Firehouse diet.” After weighing in on Wednesdays, the linemen would walk up the street to Firehouse Subs and celebrate their weight loss for that week.

Despite the weekly indulgence of a foot-long sub, bag of chips and a soda, Barnes said he lost between 25-30 pounds since last season -- and he’s still the biggest guy on the team at 6-foot-7, 342 pounds. Barnes is the most experienced nose tackle returning to a defensive line that must replace two starters from last season’s 3-4 scheme. He is expected to become a full-time starter for the first time in his career this fall after being the backup to Logan Walls. Barnes said his weight loss has helped him prepare for his new role.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Barnes
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesGeorgia Tech defensive lineman T.J. Barnes said he has lost 25-30 pounds since last season.
“I’m already starting to see the game slow down for me,” he said. “It’s a lot easier, from me taking steps, to me just not being as tired as everybody else in the latter part of the game. It’s helped me in all different types of aspects.”

Georgia Tech’s defense was No. 60 in the country last season in scoring defense at 26.08 points per game, and was No. 66 in rushing defense and No. 44 in total defense -- averaging in the lower half of the ACC. If the Jackets are going to improve in the third season under coordinator Al Groh, the linemen will have to adjust to their new responsibilities quickly.

“It’s not much of a concern, because we’ve all had our roles in the past few years,” Barnes said. “We’ve been around each other a lot and used to room together. We have a lot of chemistry, so there’s really no worries between us. We just believe in each other and that we’re going to get the job done."

Barnes is tied with teammate Rod Sweeting with the most career games played (39) of any returning player. Last season he had 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and one sack. Barnes said in order for the defense to improve, the players have to start believing in each other. He said the entire team has been building good chemistry this offseason.

“Right now the sky is the limit,” he said. “It just depends on how good we want to be, really. If we put in the work this summer, we’ll see the results this fall.”
We’ve already taken a look at what the recruiting needs were for the Atlantic Division. Let’s shift our attention to the Coastal Division. Here’s a look at where each school’s biggest holes will be in 2012 or are anticipated to be in the near future:

DUKE


Offensive skill positions: After last year’s rare class that didn’t include either a quarterback or running back, both positions are needed in this group. Quarterback Thomas Sirk -- the MVP of the 57th annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Football Classic last December -- has already enrolled in school while Shaquille Powell -- a PARADE All-American running back from Las Vegas -- has committed to the program. In addition, with David Cutcliffe’s offense, wide receivers and tight ends also are a priority.

Kicker: Will Snyderwine, who earned first team All-America honors as a junior before struggling through a sub-par season in 2011, graduated, but Duke has a commitment from Ohio native Ross Martin, considered the No. 2 placekicking prospect in the country by ESPN.com.

Safety: With the transition to a 4-2-5 alignment that utilizes three safeties, this becomes an annual point of emphasis. The Blue Devils lose All-American Matt Daniels to graduation.

GEORGIA TECH


Defensive line: This is the most glaring need in the current class. The Yellow Jackets have to replace senior starters Logan Walls (DT) and Jason Peters (DE), but return Izaan Cross (DE) and solid backups T.J. Barnes (DT), Emmanuel Dieke (DE) and Euclid Cummings (DE). The Jackets are expected to sign about 18 players in this year’s class, and five of them should be defensive linemen.

Wide receiver:This is another glaring need after the departures of Stephen Hill, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft, and Tyler Melton. Darren Waller and Jeff Greene, who both played last season as true freshmen, have lots of potential, but the position still needs depth.


MIAMI

Defensive backs: There’s still a lot of depth with this group, and the return of Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque helps, but the Canes have to replace two starters in the secondary and have six commits in the current class to help do that.

Defensive line: The Canes have to replace Adewale Ojomo, Micanor Regis, Andrew Smith and Olivier Vernon from last year’s two-deep. The defensive end position was a particular focus in this class.

Receiver: This position lost a lot with the departures of Tommy Streeter, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. Allen Hurns is now the veteran of the group, along with redshirt senior Kendal Thompkins. There are five receivers currently committed in this class.

Quarterback: Beyond Stephen Morris, Miami has a lot of questions at the position and not a lot of experience. True freshmen Gray Crow and Preston Dewey are already on the roster, along with redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams.

NORTH CAROLINA

Defensive line: This is one of the biggest areas of concern after the departures of Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell.

Receivers: Larry Fedora’s offense will make good use of this group, but he needs to replace standout Dwight Jones.

Linebackers: This group was thin to begin with in 2011, and now the Heels need to replace outgoing senior Zach Brown. Kevin Reddick is now the main man.

Safety: UNC will have to replace two starters in Matt Merletti, Charles Brown and Jonathan Smith, so this position will have to be rebuilt for the future.

VIRGINIA

Defensive back: This should be the main priority in this class. The Cavaliers will lose four DBs, including two starting safeties in Rodney McCleod and Corey Mosley, and standout cornerback Chase Minnifield. They’ll also miss Dom Joseph, who came in for the nickel packages. Demetrious Nicholson, who started as a true freshman last year, is suddenly the veteran of the group.

Offensive line: The Hoos will have to replace their starting center and left guard. Redshirt freshman center Cody Wallace could get a promotion, and sophomore right guard Luke Bowanko started in the bowl game. They’ve got some big bodies waiting in the wings, but they’ll have some questions to answer here this spring.

Kickers: This position needs to be rebuilt, as the Cavaliers lose Robert Randolph, who finished sixth all time in scoring at UVa, kickoff specialist Chris Hinkebein, and four-year punter Jimmy Howell. The position is wide open heading into the spring.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: This one is a no-brainer, as the Hokies have lost four players here in the past two years. David Wilson and his backup, Josh Oglesby, were the latest to depart, and Tony Gregory just had ACL surgery and is out for the spring. The staff likes Michael Holmes, who redshirted last year, and J.C. Coleman enrolled last week.

Receiver: The Hokies will miss Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, and next year’s class has three seniors in Dyrell Roberts, D.J. Coles, and Marcus Davis. The future of the position is young, and the staff is still going after several uncommitted players pretty hard.

Defensive line: This year’s class already includes at least five committed defensive linemen, and the Hokies will be particularly thin at noseguard. They had some players graduate early who didn’t play a lot, but at least provided depth.

Linebacker:The Hokies have four committed, and are still chasing another just to build the depth. The staff missed on some recruits at this position last year and would like to make up for it in this class.

Position of power in the ACC

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
1:00
PM ET
Heading into the 2010 season, there was an abundance of talent at the running back position in the ACC, as five 1,000-yard rushers returned for the first time in league history. This season, the ACC is deep and talented at several positions, but not so much so that there is one overwhelming strength. Offensively, the receivers are probably the deepest, most proven group, and defensively, the defensive ends could be the most fearsome group.

Which one, though, will be the position of power in the ACC this fall?

Defensive ends:The ACC has earned a reputation as a defensive conference, and these players will do their best to uphold that tradition. Brandon Jenkins at Florida State and Quinton Coples at North Carolina should be two of the best in the country, but they’re hardly alone in their pass rushing abilities. Izaan Cross at Georgia Tech is a name ACC fans will know by the end of the season. He’s underrated and has a chance to finish the season with all-conference accolades. His teammate, Jason Peters, can do the same. Together they should help bring noticeable improvement to the Jackets’ defense this year.

North Carolina also has Donte Paige-Moss at the other end position, another player who has already caught the attention of NFL scouts. Adewale Ojomo and Olivier Vernon at Miami are two veteran standouts, and NC State’s Jeff Rieskamp and Virginia’s Cam Johnson are also among the best in the league. Andre Branch at Clemson should get more recognition this fall, especially with the early departure of Da’Quan Bowers, and Max Holloway at Boston College hasn’t reached his potential yet but began to make a name for himself last season.

There aren’t a lot of veteran quarterbacks in the ACC this year, but there are plenty of defensive ends ready to give the rookies a not-so-warm welcome.
Georgia Tech and Air Force run similar option offenses, and they enter the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl with the nation’s top two rushing offenses, respectively. They’re not mirror images, though. Air Forces uses a tight end, lines up in the I-formation on occasion, and has a few more “bells and whistles,” according to Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who defeated the Falcons five straight times when he was coaching at Navy.

In order to make it a sixth, who needs to step up?

Georgia Tech’s defensive line: The Jackets’ size advantage won’t be much help in this game because Air Force is quick and athletic up front. They don’t have to double team a lot because they can wrap the legs of bigger defenders. Georgia Tech is determined to get a hand on the offensive tackles to keep them from getting to the linebackers. Defensive end Izaan Cross told Sting Daily he expects to be left unblocked at times, and hopes to get numerous chances to make plays. Somebody is going to have to if they’re going to stop Air Force, which averages 317.92 rushing yards per game. The Jackets have struggled to stop the run and rank No. 78 in the country at 169.67 yards per game. Georgia Tech’s defense has struggled some to adjust to first-year coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme, but if the Jackets are going to snap their five-game bowl losing streak, it has to start up front.

SPONSORED HEADLINES