NCF Nation: Kendal Thompkins
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1. Virginia Tech: With Jarrett Boykin and Coale returning, the Hokies’ passing game has a chance to flourish this fall. Boykin, Coale and Dyrell Roberts were the team’s top three receivers last year for the second straight season, combining for 113 catches, 1,882 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add to that Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, E.L. Smiling -- it’s a bottomless cup of depth and talent.
2. Duke: Conner Vernon has 128 catches in his first two collegiate seasons and Donovan Varner ranked fourth in the ACC in pass receptions (60) and seventh in yardage (736). Their combined 274 receptions are the most of any active duo in the ACC. They are the top two returning leaders in catches per game, and Vernon is the ACC’s returning leader in receiving yards per game. The Blue Devils also have sophomore Brandon Braxton (14 catches), who could make a name for himself as the third option this year.
3. Florida State: Every Seminole who caught a pass last season returns. Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith return with a combined 50 career starts. Reed ranks second among all returning ACC receivers with 141 career receptions. Willie Haulstead had 38 catches last season, Smith had 31, and there’s plenty of rising talent like Christian Green.
4. North Carolina: Like Florida State, North Carolina returns all of its receivers, including two who redshirted last season. Dwight Jones, who had 946 yards and 62 receptions, leads the group, but Erik Highsmith (25 catches, 348 yards and three touchdowns) must be accounted for as well. Defenses also can’t forget about Jheranie Boyd, who is a deep threat.
5. Miami: The Canes will miss the production of Leonard Hankerson, but they don’t have to if one or two of the other players show more consistency. Travis Benjamin has big-play capabilities and averaged 17.3 yards on his 43 catches last season. There is no shortage of other options with LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Tommy Streeter, Allen Hurns and Kendal Thompkins. Which one will rise to the occasion?
6. Clemson: It was the DeAndre Hopkins show last season, and he should again highlight the Tigers’ passing game. As a true freshman, Hopkins had 52 catches, the most by a first-year player in school history. Jaron Brown returns with 10 career starts, and the Tigers also have Marquan Jones (21 catches) and Bryce McNeal (19).
7. Maryland: The Terps have to replace their top two receivers from a year ago in Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, and no clear frontrunners emerged this spring. Quintin McCree leads all returners with 16 catches, followed by Kevin Dorsey (15), Ronnie Tyler (13), Kerry Boykins (10), and Tony Logan.
8. Boston College: True freshman Bobby Swigert led the Eagles last year with 39 catches and four touchdowns in five starts. The Eagles are hoping to get a significant boost from the return of Colin Larmond Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the young group should be better regardless because of the experience gained last season.
9. Virginia: The Cavaliers will miss Dontrelle Inman, who averaged 16 yards per catch on 51 receptions, but returning starter Kris Burd finished fifth in the ACC last season in pass receptions (58). The group will also get a boost from the return of Tim Smith, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, and Matt Snyder (30 catches) and Ray Keys (three catches).
10. NC State: NC State has to replace its top two receivers from a year ago, and T.J. Graham is the team’s leading returning receiver with 25 catches. Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton all have experience, and redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood, Tobias Palmer and Everett Proctor have also been competing for playing time.
11. Wake Forest: Chris Givens (35 catches, 13.7 average), Michael Campanaro (10 catches) and Danny Dembry are the lead candidates to start, but the Deacs are missing a spark like Kenny Moore (2007) and D.J. Boldin (2008) provided. There were too many dropped passes in the spring game, so this group has some work to do in summer camp.
12. Georgia Tech: Yes, Georgia Tech throws the ball, just not often enough or efficiently enough to be anywhere but last place on this list. Stephen Hill led the Jackets last year with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He should show progress this fall now that there’s no pressure on him to be the next Demaryius Thomas. If he doesn’t show more consistency, the Jackets could turn to Daniel McKayhan, Tyler Melton or Jeremy Moore.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
When Miami coach Randy Shannon took over the program three seasons ago, there were only about three or four scholarship receivers on the roster -- far below the usual eight to 10 most schools carry. So this offseason, when receivers coach Aubrey Hill faced the popular question, ‘You’ve got so many receivers, wouldn’t you rather just have one guy?’ his response was logical:
“I said, ‘If you’re at Christmas, would you rather have one toy, or as many toys as you can?”
|AP Photo/J. Pat Carter, File|
|Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has plenty of options.|
Now, after building depth with recruiting classes that included some of the elite talent in the country, and players who could contribute immediately, the Hurricanes’ toy box overfloweth.
Twelve different players have caught at least one pass for the No. 9-ranked Hurricanes heading into Saturday’s showdown at No. 11 Virginia Tech. And six of them have at least five catches. Seven different players have scored touchdowns in wins over two ranked ACC opponents. Three different receivers have run a reverse. Miami returns nine of its top 10 leaders in all-purpose yards from 2008. Running backs Graig Cooper and Javarris James have helped the Canes to a 7-2 record when they combine for at least 25 carries. And, of course, they’ve finally got a quarterback to lead them all in Jacory Harris.
“This Miami team we’re getting ready to play,” said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, “Wow.”
Receivers Travis Benjamin, Thearon Collier, Davon Johnson and Kendal Thompkins bring straight speed, quickness, elusiveness and big-play capabilities. Leonard Hankerson and Aldarius Johnson are talented possession players with great hands who move the chains. LaRon Byrd and Tommy Streeter can stretch the field deep with their speed and height. Cooper is elusive, while James is the power back, and Lee Chambers and Mike James provide dependable depth at the position. Tight ends Jimmy Graham and Dedrick Epps have both given the offense a boost, while the offensive line makes it all possible.
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Graig Cooper has averaged 5.2 yards per carry so far.|
Miami’s versatility is not only in its athletes, but also in its playbook. The addition of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, coupled with the wide array of abilities, size and speed on the roster, has made Miami’s offense the total package and extremely difficult to defend.
“He’s just so creative, bringing so many different offenses and making it Miami’s offense,” Hill said. “He’s been one of the most creative offensive coordinators I’ve been around and knowing how to set-up plays, run and pass. That’s been really good for the whole coaching staff and also the players because they’re really, really excited to come into the meeting room to see what the mad scientist is creating next.”
In fact, some of the Canes have gotten into it so much some have tried to write their own plays on the board.
“Some have had consideration,” Hill said with a chuckle, “and some haven’t.”
Almost all of the players, though, have had their moments in the spotlight.
“We spread the wealth around to each guy,” Shannon said. “They know that they have to run their routes and everything full speed because they don’t ever know when Jacory is going to throw the football to them. That’s the difference in this team.
“The best thing about it is the competition in practice. You don’t have to worry about a guy getting too extreme as far as thinking he’s the guy who makes the offense run, or he’s the guy who makes the defense run. We’ve got depth at those positions to say, ‘You know what? You don’t want to work hard? OK, fine. We love you, and you’re part of this program, but we’re going to go with somebody else.’ That’s a big help.”
And it’s a nightmare for opposing defenses -- even ones as renowned as Virginia Tech's.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for them,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “They’re just right now, really a complete football team.”
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
You got to know some of them better than others this spring, but all of the following newcomers (in no particular order) established themselves as players' whose names you should remember come fall:
Virginia Tech TB Ryan Williams -- He quickly earned the spotlight with an 80-yard run on the first carry of his first spring scrimmage. In the spring game he had 10 carries for 85 yards, and two receptions for 66 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown on a middle screen.
Boston College TE Chris Pantale -- The 6-foot-5, 238-pound redshirt freshman from Wayne, N.J., had five catches for 45 yards - including a long of 17 yards in the spring game.
Florida State DE Brandon Jenkins -- He made plays every day, and probably had the most sacks of any of the Noles this spring. He also was constantly in the backfield. He probably won't start but may help replace some of the sacks Everette Brown took with him.
Maryland LB Demetrius Hartsfield -- The redshirt freshman is expected to be the starting Will linebacker in 2009. He's quick, athletic, and big enough (230 pounds) to be effective in the run game and yet fast enough to cover receivers coming out of the backfield. He was in the two-deep the second half of last season and nearly played, but held his redshirt. He ended a solid spring with seven tackles for the White team in the spring game.
UNC TB Jamal Womble -- He's a powerful runner built low to the ground who earned the No. 3 spot behind Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston. He was the leading rusher in the spring game with 50 yards on seven carries and caught three passes for 12 yards. He proved this spring he could give the starters a breather.
UNC LB Zach Brown -- He reportedly ran a 4.26 with the strength and conditioning staff last week. He will be the starter at outside linebacker now that Quan Sturdivant has moved inside to middle.
Duke QB Sean Renfree -- He earned the confidence of coach David Cutcliffe and some playing time this fall with his strong performance this spring behind starter Thaddeus Lewis. Renfree threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.
Virginia WR Kris Burd and DB Rodney McLeod -- They're two players who showed the potential for breakout seasons. Burd saw action in all 12 games last year but caught only seven passes. With Kevin Ogletree gone, odds are that number increases.
McLeod was a true freshman last year and played almost exclusively in the nickel/dime packages from scrimmage. This year he's likely to be a starter at safety. He has great athleticism to complement h his football instincts.
Georgia Tech RB/SB Anthony Allen -- The junior transfer from Louisville is almost certain to figure into the crowded backfield this fall. He and Embry Peeples led all rushers in the spring game with 69 yards each.
Georgia Tech DL T.J. Barnes -- With three starters gone from last year's nine-win season, Barnes proved this spring he could become a dependable replacement. He had eight tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble in the spring game.
Clemson QB Kyle Parker -- The dual sport athlete juggled his baseball responsibilities while competing with Willy Korn for the starting job, and wowed Tigers fans with his performance in the spring game. He completed 13-21 passes for 171 yards and a score, and also ran for a score.
NC State QB Mike Glennon -- He showed significant improvement this season and took advantage of the fact that starter Russell Wilson dedicated half of his spring to baseball. Glennon was 28-46 for 338 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the spring game.
Wake Forest corner Kenny Okoro -- He's a long, tall athlete with the potential to replace Alphonso Smith. He made play after play this spring, tackles well and handles calls well. He'll continue to battle with Josh Bush this summer, but at the minimum will be used as a nickle back.
Miami WR Kendal Thompkins -- He's a smaller, speedy deep threat who caught two passes for 45 yards and has the potential to truly separate himself from the crowded group of receivers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Virginia Tech hasn't even started spring practices yet (Wednesday is the Hokies' first) and Miami has already wrapped things up. What's next in Coral Gables? The Canes will get back in the weight room for six more weeks, but coach Randy Shannon said the staff won't push them too hard physically. They'll meet for 45 minutes twice a week to help the players retain everything they learned from their new coordinators. The staff will now use the mornings to watch practice tape and the afternoons to watch recruiting tape.
Shannon said both coordinators, Mark Whipple and John Lovett, brought a lot of excitement, enthusiasm and confidence with them, and the staff is on the same page. They kept some of the same terminology. The two areas they'd like to see more improvement in summer camp are building the depth on the offensive line and at linebacker. Colin McCarthy will be back in the fall, but Shannon is looking for four or five linebackers that are interchangeable.
As expected, there were a few bumps in the road, but overall the players picked things up quickly.
"Are we better than we were last spring? Definitely," Shannon said. "Are we better than we were at the end of the season last year? Definitely."
Here were a few highlights from spring ball at Miami:
• Taylor Cook finished the spring with a bit of an edge over Cannon Smith at backup quarterback.
• C.J. Holton's move from safety to linebacker should give him a better chance to get on the field and was a step in helping the depth. Sean Spence and Arthur Brown played well this spring and Shannon said Jordan Futch came around the last two weeks.
• Brandon Washington became an offensive lineman the staff can depend on. They've got seven guys they're comfortable with up front, but Shannon said he is still looking for the eighth guy. That could be Ben Jones, Jermaine Johnson or Tyler Horn.
• Tight end Richard Gordon did a great job while all of the other scholarship tight ends were out with injuries. Shannon said the staff put a lot of pressure on him, and he got a lot of reps. "He should be in great shape," Shannon said. "He responded. When those guys come back, there will be a great competition to see which guy is going to step to the forefront and be that guy."
• Shannon said the media is making too much of Miami's lack of interceptions last year (they had four, the fewest of all 119 FBS schools). Shannon said their priority is to stop the run first, which they got better at this spring as a result of depth and maturity. He also said the Canes had about eight to 10 interceptions minimum this spring. He was particularly impressed with the "unbelievable" transition Sam Shields made from wide receiver to the secondary and considers him a starter who can "step in and play right away."
• The players who made a big impression on Shannon this spring were: Shields, Brown, Washington, Mike James, and Olivier Vernon. He said Vaughn Telemaque and Kendal Thompkins "put their stamp on where they want to be." Also, running back Damien Berry did a "tremendous job."
"Those guys have really taken that next step," Shannon said. "That's the biggest improvement, when you see guys who didn't play last year, see if they can really take that next step and be a guy we can say wow, he's going to be a guy we can depend on. That group of guys has really taken that next step of doing what we want them to do."