NCF Nation: Jerrard Tarrant
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are the players who will represent the ACC:
BOSTON COLLEGE (3)
- Anthony Castonzo
- Rich Lapham
- Mark Herzlich
- Da'Quan Bowers
- Marcus Gilchrist
- Chris Hairston
- Jamie Harper
- Jarvis Jenkins
- Byron Maxwell
- DeAndre McDaniel
- Rodney Hudson
- Christian Ponder
- Markus White
- Anthony Allen
- Mario Butler
- Jerrard Tarrant
- Allen Bailey
- Damien Berry
- Matt Bosher
- Orlando Franklin
- Graig Cooper
- Leonard Hankerson
- Brandon Harris
- Colin McCarthy
- DeMarcus Van Dyke
- Marvin Austin
- Kendric Burney
- Bruce Carter
- Greg Little
- Shaun Draughn
- Robert Quinn
- Da'Norris Searcy
- Quan Sturdivant
- Johnny White
- Deunta Williams
- T.J. Yates
- Nate Irving
- Owen Spencer
- Danny Aiken
- Ras-I Dowling
This has been a curious offseason in the ACC:
- Two coaches with winning records, clean programs and bowl-bound players were fired. North Carolina's Butch Davis, who is still tangled up in an NCAA investigation that derailed the season for at least half his starting lineup, continues to coach.
- Maryland AD Kevin Anderson made a "business decision" to fire the ACC's Coach of the Year and replaced him with the Big East Coach of the Year.
- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney fired his young offensive coordinator and hired one with one year of collegiate experience. He fired a running backs coach and replaced him with a former receivers coach who has never coached running backs.
- Miami coach Al Golden hired an offensive coordinator -- Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch -- with the same amount of collegiate experience as Clemson's new coordinator, and even most NFL experts don't know a thing about him. (And P.S., that one season Fisch was Minnesota's offensive coordinator? The Gophers ranked No. 111 in rushing offense, No. 109 in total offense, and No. 100 in scoring offense).
- Wait, Miami hired Temple's coach?
- Boston College has a chance to inject some life into its offense, but instead it is more likely to promote somebody from within as its offensive coordinator.
- Three players -- Georgia Tech offensive tackle Nick Claytor, safety Jerrard Tarrant, and Clemson running back Jamie Harper have all decided to leave school early to enter the NFL draft. If you're not a first-round pick, stay in school -- unless you're Darren Evans and have a wife and kid, or some other special circumstance. If any of those guys do, I apologize because I'm not aware of it.
Am I the only one really scratching my head over these moves? Now, I could be wrong and all of these decisions and hires might raise the ACC to unprecedented heights. Two new head coaches, four new offensive coordinators -- maybe they'll be just the spark the conference needs to push it into national relevance. Maybe all of those unheralded NFL hopefuls will go on to have long, lucrative professional careers and donate to my kid's college fund.
Right now, though? One word comes to mind: Gamble.
QB: E.J. Manuel, Florida State: The Gator Bowl MVP completed 17 of 24 passes for 189 yards, had 73 rushing yards on 14 carries and one touchdown with zero turnovers. He led the Noles to 415 total yards in their 33-21 win over No. 18 West Virginia.
RB: Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech: Williams ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Tennessee. He finished the season with 1,655 rushing yards and broke Kevin Jones' single-season school record (1,647).
RB: Jermaine Thomas, Florida State: He had 121 yards rushing on 25 carries and two touchdowns. He also had one catch for nine yards and posted his fourth 100-yard game of the season. He led FSU back from a 14-3 first quarter deficit against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.
WR: Rich Gunnell, Boston College: Gunnell finished with six catches for 130 yards, breaking Pete Mitchell's school record for yards receiving with 2,659 in his career. His 61-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter closed the gap to 14-13 against USC in the Emerald Bowl.
WR: Greg Little, UNC: He finished with seven catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Pitt in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
WR: Jarrett Boykin, Virginia Tech: His 64-yard reception to the Tennessee 3 in the final seconds of the first half was a major turning point in the game. The Vols had already begun to head to the locker room, but officials determined there were still two seconds left on the clock. The play led to Matt Waldron’s 21-yard field goal and a 17-14 halftime lead. Boykin finished with four catches for 120 yards.
TE: Jimmy Graham, Miami: He had three catches for 30 receiving yards against Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl and became the seventh Hurricane to record at least 200 receiving yards this season. Graham closed out his only season with the Canes with 15 catches for 213 yards and five touchdowns.
OL: Ed Wang, Virginia Tech: In his final performance, Wang paved the way for a career-day for Williams, and helped the Hokies rack up 438 total yards of offense.
OL: Sergio Render, Virginia Tech: Like Wang, Render was impressive in his final performance as a Hokie, and helped Virginia Tech use a balanced offense and gave quarterback Tyrod Taylor the time he needed to make plays.
OL: Rodney Hudson, Florida State: The All-American returned to the lineup after missing two games with knee sprain and helped FSU rack up 415 total yards, 37 minutes time of possession and he did not allow a sack.
OL: Andrew Datko, Florida State: He teamed with Hudson on the left side (where two of three rushing touchdowns came) and kept a WVU team averaging 2.6 sacks per game without one.
OL: Dalton Freeman, Clemson: He graded out at 80 percent with seven knockdowns. Freeman was key to Clemson averaging 5.5 yards per rush and a Clemson bowl record 6.8 yards per play against Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.
K: Dustin Hopkins, Florida State: He tied a school bowl record converting 4 of 5 field goal attempts and scoring a season-high 15 points on a windy day. His 42-yarder at the end of the first half pulled FSU within 14-13.
P: Chandler Anderson, Georgia Tech: He had a career-high seven punts with an average of 49.1 yards and a long of 59 yards. Three of his punts were downed inside the 20 and only one was returned.
Spc: C.J. Spiller, Clemson: Spiller finished his career with 172 all-purpose yards (68 rushing, 57 receiving), giving him an ACC record 2,670 for the season and 7,588 for his career. He finished his career in second place in FBS history in all-purpose yards.
Turning point: Jerrard Tarrant's 40-yard interception return for a touchdown with 24 seconds remaining in the first quarter single-handedly changed the momentum of the game and kept the Jackets in it.
Stat of the half: Iowa's defense has held the Yellow Jackets to just 32 yards of total offense in the first half. That's the fewest the program has produced in the first half in at least 20 years.
Best player in the half: Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi. He's made an impressive comeback after missing the final two and a half regular season games with an ankle injury. Although he's thrown one interception -- and a costly one at that -- he's done the Hawkeyes more good than harm. Stanzi has completed 12 of 17 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns, and he's beat the Yellow Jackets deep on several occasions.
There are no lineup changes for Georgia Tech, but Jerrard Tarrant will start at corner over Rashaad Reid. I'm still waiting on Iowa's lineup changes. The officials are an SEC crew.
With Georgia Tech ranked No. 9 and Iowa No. 10, it's the first time the Jackets have played in a game involving two top 10 teams since 1999, when No. 1-ranked Florida State beat No. 10 Georgia Tech, 41-35, in Tallahassee. That helps put into perspective just how big this game is for the program, which is making its first appearance in a major bowl since 1967.
The underlying matchup we've talked about at length is Iowa's defense against Georgia Tech's offense, but there are a few intangibles at play here, too. How rusty will Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi be after missing the last two games with an ankle injury? How much progress has Georgia Tech's defense made during this long layoff? With both teams proven winners in close, fourth-quarter games, who has the edge if it's close? All questions that will soon be answered. We should know early who sets the tone in this game. If Iowa's defense doesn't figure out Paul Johnson's offense quickly, it could be a long night for the Hawkeyes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Much of the attention Georgia Tech has received this preseason has been focused on Jonathan Dwyer and the Jackets' stable of running backs. If they're going to contend for the Coastal Division title, though, the defense will have to hold its weight, too, and the Jackets have to replace three of four starters up front. I caught up with defensive coordinator Dave Wommack to check in on the defense heading into summer camp.
|Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI|
|Entering 2009, Dave Wommack has some holes to fill on his defensive line.|
Are you changing anything? I've heard some rumblings about maybe a different scheme this year.
DW: We may change up some things a little bit, but I think it may be based [more] on personnel than it will anything else. We'll see when we get into two-a-days, but there's not going to be any drastic changes.
Are there things you saw in the spring on the defensive line that give you concerns that are forcing you to tinker with it?
DW: [He laughed]. Just inexperience. When you lose three guys to the draft, it's just a matter of inexperience. I think we've got some good, young guys that are coming up. They just haven't played very much. That's the biggest thing, but no, that's not why we're changing. It's really our experience is more in the secondary, maybe get more five DBs on the field more than anything else.
Yeah, tell me about that group a little bit. You have a lot of guys coming back, especially with Morgan Burnett.
DW: It kind of flips. Now your most-experienced players are guys that have played one year. I'm looking forward to the secondary. I think it will be a strength for us with Morgan leading the way.
What more can he do? What are you expecting from him this year?
DW: Really that's the thing that concerns me as much as anything, because Morgan wants to make every play. It's really, Morgan, stay within the framework of your defense. Don't let your eyes get you in trouble. The play is going to come your way. You're a featured stop for us on defense, so don't try to do more than what you need to do because the defense will break down. So I don't think it's so much asking him to do more, just really do what you've done. Don't try to do too much.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There are some teams in the ACC that are stacked at a particular position or positions -- meaning there's not just depth there, but depth and legitimate all-conference talent. Here's a quick look at who in the conference is simply loaded:
UNC front seven: All four starters return on the defensive line, and there is outstanding depth both there and in the secondary. On the line, tackle Cam Thompson is coming off his best season at UNC, tackle Marvin Austin and end E.J. Wilson both started the majority of games last season, and Robert Quinn had 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant both started every game last season, and the position is the deepest it's been in recent years. Carter led the team with 11 tackles for loss and Sturdivant led the nation with 87 solo tackles.
Georgia Tech secondary: Morgan Burnett, Rashaad Reid, Mario Butler, Dominique Reese, and Cooper Taylor all have experience, and the group also welcomes back Jerrard Tarrant from a suspension.
Boston College secondary: The Eagles return DeLeon Gause, Wes Davis and Roderick Rollins, who have combined for 32 career starts. This should be the best group BC has had in a while.
Clemson defensive line: The Tigers return three starters across the front, and coach Dabo Swinney has said this unit could be the strength of the entire team. Ricky Sapp is the leader, senior Kevin Alexander is a returning starter, and there are really three starters returning for the two defensive end positions, including DaQuan Bowers, who started six games last year and finished with 47 tackles, the most among the linemen.
Miami wide receivers: Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson, Thearon Collier, LaRon Byrd, Kendal Thompkins, Tommy Streeter ... the Hurricanes could field a team that consists entirely of receivers.
Florida State offensive line: The Noles are oozing with talent here. Tackle Andrew Datko, guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon combined to start all but one game last season. What was the youngest offensive line in the FBS last season could be one of the best this year. For the first time since 2004, all five starters return.
Wake Forest offensive line: The Demon Deacons return eight offensive linemen with a total of 118 career starts among them. Jeff Griffin and Joe Birdsong are Wake's returning starters at tackle while Barrett McMillin and Joe Looney each started at guard in 2008. Russell Nenon, who started the season at guard, moved to center at midseason following an injury to Trey Bailey. Bailey returns after fully healing from a broken ankle. The Deacons also welcome back Chris DeGeare who missed the 2008 season while getting his academics in order.
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.