NCF Nation: Kerry Boykins

You asked, I answered. Readers (particularly @AsylumGodfather) were calling for more position rankings, so the receivers are up next. This could be the strongest position group in the conference, and one of the more difficult to rank, so I looked back on a few stats to help me separate them, including how some of these guys did against their best competition (i.e. Danny Coale versus FSU, wow). Here’s the final verdict of which teams in the ACC have the best combination of depth and talent:

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.
Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien had his best scrimmage to date on Saturday, coach Randy Edsall said earlier today on his weekly spring teleconference.

With two practices and a spring game remaining this week, Maryland is getting closer to developing its offensive identity under Edsall, and much of that can be attributed to O’Brien’s progress under first-year coordinator Gary Crowton. Edsall said Maryland has made significant progress installing the schemes this spring, and the staff has been able to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the personnel.

[+] EnlargeDanny O'Brien
AP Photo/Nick WassDanny O'Brien's efficiency rating of 134.5 last season is the best in the ACC among returning quarterbacks.
So far, O’Brien has been one of the Terps’ biggest strengths.

“I just see him getting more comfortable with what we’re doing,” Edsall said. “I’m very comfortable with Danny from the standpoint that when you’re putting something new in, it’s not going to come overnight, but what I like to see and those very good players are the guys who get better with each practice, with each week, and you can see that progression taking shape with him. I think that’s going to continue.”

Edsall said O’Brien and the receivers are “more on the same page” now, and Kevin Dorsey, Ronnie Tyler and Kerry Boykins have been the top three targets. Tyler and Boykins shared time at slot receiver last season and combined for 23 receptions.The competition still remains within the group, though, heading into Saturday’s spring game.

The one position that is undisputed is O’Brien’s. He had a 7-3 record as a first-year starter in 2010, and despite not starting the first three games, his 22 touchdown passes were third in the country among freshmen and second in school history.

With so many new faces at quarterback throughout the ACC this year, it's been overshadowed that O'Brien's efficiency rating of 134.5 last year is the best in the conference among returning quarterbacks.

While this spring has been a transition for O’Brien in the new offense, he has been watching film on his own and asking the staff countless questions to learn the playbook. He has also acted as a second coach on the field, pointing out corrections to his teammates and leading by example.

“You explain it once to him and he gets it,” Edsall said. "... He grasps it, he understands it, and then when he gets into that situation the next time, there is no hesitation. He gets it done."

Odds 'n' ends:

  • Freshman receiver Nigel King has made some progress with the NCAA clearinghouse and is able to practice while his appeal works its way through the system, Edsall said.
  • Offensive tackle R.J. Dill is the only player expected to miss Saturday's spring game, but Edsall said tailback Gary Douglas tweaked his hamstring and didn’t practice all week. Tailback Jeremiah Wilson “took a shot on the leg” and might not practice tomorrow, Edsall said. Dorsey has a hip/groin strain that might hinder him this week.
  • Fullback Taylor Watson told Edsall he’s going to graduate this summer and won’t be on the team.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland began spring practices on Tuesday with a new coach, new schemes and enough new terminology that quarterback Danny O'Brien compared it to learning a foreign language.

Many of the players, though, are the same ones who brought the Terps within two wins of clinching the Atlantic Division title last year.

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AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaMaryland quarterback Danny O'Brien and 13 other starters return to the Terps in 2011.
There are plenty of questions surrounding the program as Maryland begins its first week of spring practices under first-year coach Randy Edsall, but the players are confident there is enough talent remaining on the roster to build upon the success of last year’s nine-win season.

“The reality is all of those things are outside the box,” running back Davin Meggett said of the coaching transition. “The box is the white lines and the grass fields. We’re all the same. We lost a few key playmakers, but there’s no doubt in my mind we can’t match up, or replace them, or match up even better in between those lines. That really gives us a good look on how well we’ll play as far as next season.”

There’s reason for confidence in College Park. The Terps return 14 starters, including O’Brien, the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year. Four offensive linemen return along with Meggett, the team’s leading rusher (720 yards). Defensively, seven of the top 10 tacklers return.

Maryland’s biggest holes to fill are at linebacker, where Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten have graduated, and at receiver, where standout Torrey Smith left early for the NFL.

The biggest reason for concern, though, isn’t in College Park. It’s in Tallahassee, where Florida State is seemingly on cruise control heading into coach Jimbo Fisher’s second season. The Seminoles eliminated Maryland from the division race last year with a 30-16 win in Byrd Stadium.

Despite Florida State’s success and Maryland’s transition year, the Terps agree there’s no excuse not to be in hunt again.

“As players we feel like we’re contenders for the ACC championship,” said receiver Kerry Boykins. “We’re just buying into what the coaches say and what the coaches believe because we know they want what’s best for us. They’re here to win championships just as well.”

Boykins said the receivers and O’Brien met separately throughout the season and then had seven-on-seven drills every Wednesday, when O’Brien would help them grasp the concepts of what they were studying. They watched film of LSU, where offensive coordinator Gary Crowton was hired from. The biggest change in the offense will be the tempo, and the Terps will run more no-huddle, but how much is yet to be seen by even the players.

O’Brien said the offensive players are “not anywhere close to where we were last year by any means as far as familiarity with the offense,” but that they’re still probably further along than one might expect.

“There’s been a lot of change, but I think we’re really excited because it’s the same team coming back,” O’Brien said. “We might have a new scheme, new terminology, but it’s a lot of the same guys, and we’re a really tight family here at Maryland. We’re excited about what we’re going to put on the field this fall.”

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