NCF Nation: Michael Strauss

There are two second-year coaches in the ACC this season who, despite their similar tenures, are at totally different points in their careers. Expectations are soaring for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and tempered for Virginia coach Mike London. Here’s a closer look at how far the ACC’s Year 2 coaches have come and what to expect in their second seasons:

FLORIDA STATE

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireExpectations are high for Florida State's Jimbo Fisher after a successful rookie campaign.
Rewind: There’s not much that the Seminoles didn’t do in Fisher’s first season. They ended a six-game losing streak to rival Florida, and Fisher became the first FSU coach to beat the Gators in his first season. Fisher finished with a 10-4 record, the Atlantic Division title and a Chick-fil-A Bowl win over SEC East champ South Carolina. FSU finished the season ranked No. 16 by the Associated Press. The 10 wins were the most the program had seen since 2003, and Fisher’s record was the third-best in ACC history for a first-year head coach. He built upon that success with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, which bodes well for the future. Speaking of which ...

Fast-forward: Considering Florida State’s head-coach-in-waiting plan and the success he had last season, it seems that Fisher is in his fourth season instead of his second. As a member of Bobby Bowden’s staff, Fisher had the luxury of recruiting players he knew were going to be his, and this is the first season fans will see his first hand-picked quarterback, EJ Manuel. If Manuel flourishes in his first season as full-time starter, the sky is the limit for these Noles. FSU returns 17 starters, including what could be the top punter/kicker duo in the country in Dustin Hopkins and Shawn Powell. FSU is loaded at the skill positions, and there is plenty of talent in the freshman class that could contribute immediately if needed. Manuel has already started in the ACC championship game. He and his teammates know what it takes to get there. Last month, the media picked the Noles to win this year’s ACC title. The question this season is whether they’re capable of even more.

Quotable: “I think we’re very capable,” Fisher said of winning the ACC title. “I think it’s our goal. We want to have a winning season, we want to be a state champion, we want to be the division champion, we want to be the ACC champion and a BCS bowl and hopefully a national championship. I think we’re very capable, and I’m anxious to see how our team takes that challenge.”

VIRGINIA

[+] EnlargeMike London
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIAfter a tough rebuilding season, Mike London returns the most starters of any ACC team.
Rewind: It was a rebuilding year for Virginia, where London finished 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the ACC. The lone conference win, though, was a big one. Virginia knocked off No. 22-ranked Miami, 24-19, in a game that changed the course of Miami’s season. Three of Virginia’s losses last season were by seven points or fewer, including a three-point loss at No. 16 USC. Off the field, what separated London from his predecessor was his gregarious personality and how approachable he was not only within the football building, but also within the community. He made a concentrated effort to rebuild bridges with in-state high school coaches, made dozens of public appearances, spoke at clinics and was readily available to the media. He also placed an emphasis on academics, and in his first spring, the team posted its best cumulative GPA in a decade. He also lured in the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation, according to ESPN Recruiting.

Fast-forward: Nobody in the ACC returns more starters than Virginia (19), but that experience has been overshadowed by the lack of a proven quarterback. The biggest storyline moving forward for Virginia is who will replace Marc Verica, and four candidates entered summer camp with an equal opportunity: Ross Metheny, Michael Rocco, Michael Strauss and David Watford. How that position unfolds will determine how much closer the Cavaliers can get to the postseason. They also need to find a playmaker to compensate for the loss of production from Keith Payne, who led the ACC in touchdowns last season with 16 and was the league leader in scoring. Defensively, the front seven should be strong and show significant improvement from a season ago. The Hoos also have one of the top players in the country in cornerback Chase Minnifield, who tied for fifth nationally last year in interceptions. Virginia’s schedule is conducive to improvement, as a road trip to Indiana is the toughest nonconference game, but until consistent playmakers emerge and a dependable quarterback is named, a bowl season will be out of reach.

Quotable: "Every year you’re a different team, you’re a new team. And after having gone through a season of changes, personnel-wise and schemes and things like that, we have the same staff back basically intact, the same terminology, the same things are being talked about over and over again, concepts, techniques and things we want to see in terms of improving play and also self-evaluating ourselves as coaches, the schemes we use, the plays we call. Are we utilizing our best players? We spent an extensive amount of time addressing that, so as we go into this season, a new season, hopefully we’ll put those things together. With the familiarity of the coaches and everything we’ve done, improvement will be made in all areas just because of that fact. We all know there’s a tremendous amount of things that can be accomplished with continuity, and going into the second year we’ve experienced that, and now we’ll have an opportunity to capitalize on it." -- Mike London

ACC's top quarterback battles

August, 9, 2011
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There are three programs in the ACC facing uncertainty at the quarterback position, and this month the competition will determine who the starter is at Virginia, Miami and Georgia Tech. Of the three, Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington has the most job security and currently sits atop the depth chart.

None of them, though, should feel comfortable.

Here’s a look at the top three quarterback battles in the ACC:

1. VIRGINIA

The candidates:
  • Ross Metheny: He played in five games last year and completed 13 of 17 passes for three touchdowns, one interception and 171 yards. He had a career-best day against Florida State when he completed 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown and he was 2-for-2 for 50 yards and a touchdown against Virginia Tech.
  • Michael Rocco: He played in six games as a true freshman last year and was the first option off the bench in four games. He has completed 13 of 25 pass attempts for one touchdown, two interceptions and 143 yards.
  • Michael Strauss: He enrolled in January 2010 and redshirted last year.
  • David Watford: The true freshman enrolled in January and was inconsistent this spring. He was rated the No. 58 quarterback in the nation by ESPN.com.
The skinny: None of them emerged as a true leader this past spring. Coach Mike London said the first few weeks of summer practice will be spent watching their fundamentals, their drops, their throws and reactions to the defense. London said he would like to determine who’s No. 1 and No. 2 by game week.

The quote: “We’ll be able to tell early on where these guys are and how far they’ve moved ahead, stayed the same or taken a step backwards,” London said. “… They touch the ball 100 percent of the time. You want to make sure there’s enough evaluation to assess where they are. I would say about midway through practices as we’re still going good-on-good we’ll make some type of determination on that.”

2. MIAMI

The candidates:
  • Jacory Harris: Despite a concussion that sidelined him for three games, Harris finished last season with 6,340 career passing yards, the third most in program history. His 14 passing touchdowns gave him 50 for his career, the second most of any Miami quarterback. Yet despite his cemented place among the program’s career leaders, Harris’ 32 interceptions over the past two seasons are reason for concern.
  • Stephen Morris: He enrolled in January 2010 and grew up quickly last season when he played in six games, including starts in the final four regular-season games. He threw for 1,240 yards on 82-of-153 passing and had a team-high 125.01 quarterback efficiency rating. His 206.7 yards per game average was the highest on the team.
The skinny: Last year’s disappointing season can be attributed in large part to the unraveling of the quarterback position. Harris had been plagued by poor decision-making all season, and then took a major step back when he was injured. Morris played admirably considering the circumstances, but as expected made some rookie mistakes. The competition between them began in the preparation leading up to the bowl game last year and will continue until one of them separates himself. Will first-year coach Al Golden go with Harris, the veteran, or Morris, who has shown promise despite having to learn two offensive systems in as many seasons?

The quote: Golden said he wouldn’t completely rule out the idea of a two-quarterback system, but “it’s something I haven’t been comfortable with.” Golden said Harris’ experience isn’t necessarily an edge over Morris. “Either one could very easily lead our team right now.”

3. GEORGIA TECH

The candidates:
  • Tevin Washington: He started the final four games of the season after replacing injured starter Joshua Nesbitt in the Virginia Tech game. He rushed for 514 yards and is the team’s second-leading returning rusher. He completed 25 of 61 pass attempts for 417 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He was voted by his teammates as “most likely to surprise” in 2011.
  • Synjyn Days: He rushed for more than 100 yards and accounted for two touchdowns in the spring game. He redshirted last year and played an option-type offense at Hillgrove High School in Georgia.
  • Vad Lee: He’s a true freshman from Durham, N.C., who led Hillside High to the state championship. He rushed for 1,300 yards and passed for 3,223 last year. He rushed for five touchdowns in one game with Paul Johnson watching in the stands.
  • Demond Smith: A true freshman from Monroe, Ga., Smith led his high school team to an 11-2 record and state playoff appearance. He rushed for a school-record 1,795 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior.
The skinny: Washington has earned his place atop the depth chart entering the fall. It’s his job to lose, it’s that simple, but coach Paul Johnson has made it very clear that there will be competition this summer. Washington is 1-3 as a starter, but the Jackets’ offensive woes weren’t entirely his fault last year. The season changed with Nesbitt’s injury. Washington was the most consistent performer this past spring, but he really struggled during the spring game and was outperformed by Days.

The quote: “We’re going to play the guy who gives us the best chance to win. Sometimes winning the game is not losing it, being able to manage and do those kinds of things.” -- Johnson.
We’ve already taken a look at the ACC’s Dream Team, which was comprised of the top position groups across the league. Now it’s time to go a little bit deeper and rank every position group for each team. We’ll start with the most difficult position -- the quarterbacks. More than half of the teams in the conference will usher in quarterbacks who are in their first season as a full-time starter, and many of the teams in the ACC are struggling with depth and experience at the position. This is not solely a ranking of the best quarterbacks in the ACC (stay tuned for that, it will look different), so backups are an important part of the equation.

Bottom line: Who's got the depth and talent to make it through a full season -- and win -- if more than one quarterback is needed?

Here’s a look at who’s stocked and who’s not at quarterback this year:

1. Miami: The Hurricanes have a proven albeit embattled option in Jacory Harris, and Stephen Morris also has significant starting experience. Whoever doesn’t win the job will be a more than capable backup. The Canes still need to add depth to the position, but they landed transfer Ryan Williams from Memphis.

2. Boston College: Starter Chase Rettig should be better in his second season as starter, but he’s not the only one on the roster with playing experience. Dave Shinskie has started 13 games, and Mike Marscovetra should be a familiar name to BC fans by now.

3. Duke: It’s possible coach David Cutcliffe could use three quarterbacks this year. He’s got one of the best in the league in starter Sean Renfree, backup Brandon Connette has seen significant playing time, and the emergence of redshirt freshman Anthony Boone this offseason could give the offense yet another option.

4. Wake Forest: Tanner Price is the undisputed starter, but Ted Stachitas had a better spring than coach Jim Grobe had anticipated, and Brendan Cross has always been in the mix to earn some playing time.

5. Florida State: The Seminoles haven’t settled yet on a backup to EJ Manuel, but depth isn’t a problem with both Clint Trickett and Will Secord competing for the No. 2 spot. It’s not like it was last year, though, when there was a Gator Bowl MVP sitting on the bench.

6. North Carolina: Not only is Bryn Renner unproven, so are his backups. Renner clearly distanced himself from the rest of the competition this spring. True freshman Marquise Williams will continue to compete with Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue, who was injured two years ago and redshirted last season, for the No. 2 spot.

7. Virginia Tech: Logan Thomas had an impressive spring and drew rave reviews from those within the program, but the backup situation remains a question. Redshirt freshman Mark Leal really pushed Ju-Ju Clayton for the No. 2 job and that competition will continue this summer.

8. Georgia Tech: It’s Tevin Washington’s job to lose, but Synjyn Days had the better spring game and made the competition a bit more interesting heading into fall camp. True freshmen Vad Lee and Demontevious Smith would have to have stellar performances in camp to make a move, but there’s definitely talent in the wings.

9. Clemson: Tajh Boyd was the only scholarship quarterback even on the roster until the early enrollees, Cole Stoudt and Tony McNeal, joined the team. The good news for Clemson fans is that Cole Stoudt, the son of former NFL quarterback Cliff Stoudt, had a productive spring and earned the No. 2 job.

10. Virginia: If there’s one problem the Hoos don’t have, it’s depth at the quarterback position. Mike London has yet to name a starter, and all of them lack significant game experience. Ross Metheny, Michael Rocco, Michael Strauss and David Watford all have a shot. Since they’re all preparing as starters now, they should all have a good grasp of the offense if needed.

11. Maryland: First-year coach Randy Edsall had five quarterbacks to work with when he was hired, and now he’s down to two. He’s got one of the best quarterbacks in the league to work with in Danny O'Brien, but he’s got to keep him healthy. C.J. Brown and walk-on Troy Jones are the only other quarterbacks on the roster.

12. NC State: If Mike Glennon gets hurt, the Wolfpack is in trouble. Redshirt freshman Tyler Brosius has a strong arm but no experience, and he’s not ready for prime time yet. The departure of Russell Wilson might not affect the win-loss record, but it definitely hurt the depth.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- When spring practices first began at Virginia, there were four quarterbacks splitting the reps fairly evenly. When spring practices ended on Saturday, Ross Metheny still didn’t know where he stood on Mike London’s depth chart.

He’s not the only one.

“I’ve been trying to get a beat on the rotation,” he said with a laugh, “but we just go in when coach tells us to go in. We just do what we’re told to do.”

[+] EnlargeMike London
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireMike London said the competition to be starting quarterback could continue into the season.
Virginia’s biggest question this year remains unanswered, as none of the quarterbacks separated themselves this spring enough to earn the starting job. Metheny and Michael Rocco are the only two on the roster who have any game experience (a combined 42 pass attempts, four touchdowns and three interceptions). Michael Strauss and true freshman David Watford will also continue to push for the starting job. London said it’s possible the competition could extend into the season, but that he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of separation this spring.

“To me, the competition of all of those guys has raised all of their levels,” London said. “Obviously young David Watford is dropping the ball and doing things like that, but that’s part of his growth and development, understanding that when you’re down in the red zone, make sure you get the snap more than anything else. He’ll learn those things. The other three guys, all of them are working at it to make sure no one separates themselves from each other.”

Despite the lack of official practices between now and summer camp, London said the rest of the offseason will be critical to how the depth chart shakes out because he wants to see who takes the lead role when it comes to training, watching film and organizing the voluntary seven-on-seven workouts.

Part of the problem in the evaluation of the quarterbacks was injuries that sidelined six wide receivers for all or part of the spring, including returning starters Kris Burd and Tim Smith, and team captain Matt Snyder. With walk-ons filling some of the spots, the timing was often thrown off.

“It’s hard to evaluate your quarterbacks throwing that out-route when he’s supposed to go one-thousand one, one-thousand two, and let it go, and the receiver might not be as fast,” London said. “… With that being said, throw to the open guy, regardless. Be in the right gaps, be in the right position.”

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said it helped the staff evaluate the tight ends and running backs instead because they were more involved in the passing game because of the low numbers at receiver.

“We have two rules for the receivers -- be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there and never fool the quarterback,” Lazor said. “Obviously they have a lot of things they have to know, but those are the overriding rules, and when the guy isn’t out there practicing, it’s hard. The first day he comes out, it’s hard to judge depth when you’re running full speed, it’s hard to be in the right spot. There will be some makeup time when all those guys come back.”

Once the season starts, there’s not a lot of time for auditions. Virginia will face former North Carolina backup quarterback Mike Paulus and William & Mary in the season opener before back-to-back road trips at Indiana and North Carolina.

“You may not know until the first or second game,” London said, “but right now, all of them know that wherever their game is, they need to improve upon it, and they’ve got to be doing it right now with a sense of urgency.”
The focus at Virginia this spring has been on the quarterbacks, as coach Mike London needs to name a new starter, and Michael Rocco led the group on Saturday in the Cavaliers' spring game at Scott Stadium.

Rocco completed 10 of 22 passes for 95 yards for the Blue team and seven of 10 throws for 57 yards for the Orange team. Ross Metheny, who also played for both teams, combined to complete 3 of 6 passes for 60 yards. True freshman David Watford completed 1 of 5 passes for 6 yards with both teams. Michael Strauss completed 6 of 14 attempts for 85 yards.

The teams played four 10-minute quarters in a standard game format that included special-teams play. The Blue team featured the majority of the Cavaliers’ returning starters on offense while the Orange team included the returning starters on defense. The Blue team won 17-7. Veteran receivers Kris Burd, Matt Snyder, Tim Smith and Bobby Smith did not play because of injuries. Snyder, Jones, strong safety Rodney McLeod and defensive tackle Nick Jenkins were named team captains for the 2011 season.

Offensive highlights:
  • Perry Jones scored on a 15-yard reception from Rocco and had a game-high five receptions for 35 yards and 7 yards on 11 carries.
  • Rocco threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brendan Morgan.
  • Robert Randolph made a 40-yard field goal.
  • Jones Khalek Shepherd had 15 yards on 10 attempts.
Defensive highlights:
  • No player had a run longer than 8 yards.
  • Steve Greer led all defenders with nine tackles, a pair of sacks and one pass breakup. The two teams combined for 19 sacks since quarterbacks were whistled down when touched by a defensive player. Billy Schautz accounted for three solo sacks.
  • Mike Ahunamba and Henry Coley both had five tackles to lead the Blue team.
  • Chase Minnifield intercepted Rocco on the opening drive when the receiver slipped while running his route.
  • Dom Joseph intercepted Strauss and returned it 65 yards for a score.

Spring preview: Coastal Division

February, 15, 2011
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We've already looked at who and what to watch in the Atlantic Division this spring. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

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.
GEORGIA TECH

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.
MIAMI

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.
NORTH CAROLINA

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.
VIRGINIA

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.
VIRGINIA TECH

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.
Are Marc Verica’s interceptions going to be the anomaly or the trend this fall?

In 2008, the last time he had any significant experience at the position, Verica threw eight touchdown passes and 16 interceptions for Virginia. This past spring, he appeared to have made significant progress. Verica said he avoided turnovers during every team drill, but he threw two interceptions in the spring game.

Now, during summer camp, coach Mike London said Verica has thrown “a couple of interceptions.” Some were attributed to the defense doing a good job of disguising coverages or receivers breaking off their routes too short or running the wrong depth. Others were just throwing mistakes.

Regardless, London doesn’t want to see any more.

"There's more completions, there's more good balls that he's thrown, which is a positive thing, but you want to get to the point where you don't want to throw any interceptions,” London said. “You've got to read all of the coverages. You can't think this guy was going to do this or that. Marc's getting better at that, but until he throws every ball, every 7-on-7, every team situation where there's not an interception, then that's not good enough. He's working on trying to be good enough to help us win games."

He doesn’t have much of a choice.

Verica is the only player on the roster who has attempted a pass in a game. There’s no question he’s the starter, but London is still working on establishing the depth chart behind Verica. Ross Metheny, Michael Rocco and Michael Strauss are still competing for the No. 2 job.

Quarterback depth isn’t a concern at Virginia, but interceptions still are.
Virginia's first spring practice of the Mike London era is in the books, and today the team issued its post-spring depth chart.

A few quick points:

  • Three positions on defense feature co-starters, including two of the three linebacker spots. Junior Aaron Taliaferro and Steve Greer are listed as co-starters at middle linebacker, while senior Jared Detrick and sophomore Ausar Walcott are the co-starters at weak side linebacker. Junior Chase Minnifield and sophomore Devin Wallace are listed as co-starters at one cornerback spot, opposite co-captain Ras-I Dowling.
  • As expected, senior Marc Verica tops the depth chart at quarterback, while Ross Metheny and Michael Strauss are listed as co-backups.
  • Offensive line will continue to be a position to monitor during preseason camp, but here are the starters coming out of spring ball: left tackle Landon Bradley, left guard Austin Pasztor, center Anthony Mihota, right guard B.J. Cabbell, right tackle Oday Aboushi.
  • Sophomore Perry Jones is listed as the top running back ahead of senior Keith Payne, who rejoined the team after a one-year leave of absence.
  • The depth chart doesn't include specialists, but the competition at kicker will spill into the fall after a poor showing at the spring game April 10.

What to watch in the ACC this spring

February, 15, 2010
2/15/10
10:00
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Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Spring practice starts: March 18

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• How linebacker Mark Herzlich progresses. Herzlich, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer last May, has been going through winter conditioning with his teammates, and he plans on participating in spring drills. How quickly he regains his form will be worth watching, as he and sophomore Luke Kuechly could give the Eagles one of the most formidable linebacking corps.

• The quarterback battle. After one season, Dave Shinskie has the most experience on the roster, but he’ll get some competition from Josh Bordner and Chase Rettig, two early enrollees. There were times last season when Shinskie looked like the future of the position and there were others when he looked like any other freshman.

• Defensive linemen. For the second straight year, BC is looking for some stability up front. The Eagles have to replace left tackle Austin Giles and defensive end Jim Ramella. They return Kaleb Ramsey, Giles’ backup, and Brad Newman, Ramella’s reserve, but some young faces are likely to be seen in the rotation.

CLEMSON

Spring practice starts: March 7

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Life without C.J. Spiller officially begins. The backs behind him had a pretty good year, so there’s no need for full panic mode. Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington actually combined for a higher yards per carry average (6.1 to 5.6 yards). Clemson will also be looking to replace Spiller’s lost kickoff return yardage. The Tigers had a 13-yard advantage in average starting field position, as their start was their own 37-yard line compared to opponents’ 24-yard line. Ellington is a candidate in the return game.

• Kyle Parker’s batting average. No, really. How well Parker does this spring with the baseball team will help determine whether he remains Clemson’s quarterback or turns to the MLB draft. He didn’t have a great 2009 season, but he was still the fastest player to 25 home runs in school history. It remains to be seen this spring if he’ll become a high enough draft choice to give up college football.

• Secondary shuffling. It seems like eons ago since Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor weren’t the Tigers’ starting corners, as Butler started 40 straight games and Chancellor started 42. Butler finished his career second in school history in interception return yards. Now it’s time for a new duo. Will Marcus Gilchrist move to corner, which he’s capable of doing? Might Rashard Hall move to safety with DeAndre McDaniel?

DUKE

Spring practice starts: Feb. 14

Spring game: March 27

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Somebody has to take over for the graduated Thaddeus Lewis, but his backup – Sean Renfree – will miss the spring with a torn ACL. Redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder should be heavily in the mix to be the starter, pending Renfree’s recovery.

• Defensive line makeover. It’s wide open. Charlie Hatcher is entrenched at nose guard, but it’s really anyone’s game. The staff might move redshirt senior Wesley Oglesby, who played the majority of his career at defensive end, inside. Other options are defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento, a redshirt freshman, and Curtis Hazelton, who played sparingly last season.

• Johnny Williams’ move from wide receiver to cornerback. He had 31 catches in 2009 – the fourth-best on the team. Now they need his help in the defensive backfield. Duke will lose starter Leon Wright and his 10 career interceptions, and the pass defense, which allowed 215.75 yards per game, could use a boost.

FLORIDA STATE

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Christian Ponder’s return from shoulder surgery. Ponder is expected to practice this spring, though it could be on a limited basis, at least early. He’s ahead of schedule, but the coaches won’t subject him to any risks now. Yes, E.J. Manuel is talented and played well at the end of the season, but make no mistake – Ponder is FSU’s starter and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.

• The defense under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. His secondary, in particular, will be interesting to watch, as will how quickly he can help the front seven generate a pass rush and plug the middle. Stoops has been a secondary coach, and the Noles lost three starters there. The fourth, Ochuko Jenije, could be pushed to retain his job.

• New faces, new opportunities. In addition to the fab freshmen who are coming in, FSU has a handful of unfamiliar players already on the roster who played sparingly or not at all. We'll see how they fit in this spring. RS-So DT Anthony McCloud and RS-So RB Debrale Smiley are both junior college transfers and former teammates. Physically, freshman linebacker Jeff Luc is already a man, but how quickly can he mature on the field? Two young wide receivers worth watching are Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead.

GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The defensive transformation. The Jackets will switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under first-year coordinator Al Groh. In addition to learning the new scheme, the staff has to figure out who goes where. Linebackers might play defensive end and vice versa, safeties might play outside linebacker. It’s anyone’s guess as to how this team lines up in the spring.

• The replacements. From Georgia Tech’s coaching staff to the new faces who will be tasked with filling in for the Fab Four -- Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett and Demaryius Thomas -- the Jackets will need some “Hello My Name Is” tags this spring.

• The offensive line. Three offensive linemen redshirted who could start, and Georgia Tech might need them to, especially if guard Joseph Gilbert decides to transfer to pursue his MBA. The Jackets lose two starters on the offensive line, and Gilbert, who graduates this spring, would be a third if he leaves. Center Sean Bedford and tackle Austin Barrick return as seniors.

MARYLAND

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. Chris Turner has graduated, leaving Jamarr Robinson the top option going into the spring, but he has limited experience. The staff liked what he did when Turner was injured, but Danny O’Brien, Miami (Ohio) transfer Clay Belton and C.J. Brown will all be given an opportunity. Look for O’Brien to start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart.

• Cornerback: Cameron Chism is the only returning starter in the secondary, but right now the staff has fewer concerns about the safeties. Maryland will have to find some bodies at corner, and Dexter McDougle, who redshirted as a true freshman last year, is one option. Michael Carter and Trenton Hughes, who was the third corner last year, are also among a handful of candidates.

• The offensive line. Losing Bruce Campbell to the NFL hurt, but the Terps also lost starter Phil Costa. Justin Gilbert, a redshirt sophomore, could inherit Campbell’s job. And there’s always Mr. Versatility -- Paul Pinegar. He has helped the Terps at both tackle spots and left guard, and this spring he’ll likely be given a shot at center.

MIAMI

Spring practice starts: Feb. 23

Spring game: March 27 (tentative)

What to watch:

• Tight end/offensive line: Jimmy Graham is gone, and the Canes don’t return any tight ends with any experience other than Richard Gordon, who was injured the majority of last season. Miami signed four tight ends in this recruiting class, but none of them were early enrollees. Miami has to replace three starters up front, including both tackles and the center.

• How the two young quarterbacks perform: The health of Jacory Harris was precious last year, as he had nobody behind him with any experience after the transfers of Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith. The depth has improved a bit with A.J. Highsmith, who played sparingly last year, and Stephen Morris, one of the early enrollees.

• Upgrade on the d-line? Progress up front began with the hire of Rick Petri as defensive line coach, and it’s up to Petri to help the Canes become better pass rushers. Miami will depend upon its two mainstays -- Allen Bailey and Josh Holmes. The right end position was a group effort last year, and Miami has to replace Joe Joseph and Eric Moncur.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback T.J. Yates. It’s his job to lose, and the coaching staff still has confidence in him, but Bryn Renner is waiting in the wings, and Braden Hanson will also be given an opportunity. The staff is looking for the offense to improve its passing efficiency and cut down on turnovers.

• The offensive line. It was a patchwork effort in 2009, thanks to injuries and inexperience, and will be a major key in how much UNC improves offensively this year. The Heels have to replace two starters, and Jonathan Cooper is likely to move from guard to center, and right guard Alan Pelc will miss spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery.

• Defensive line tweaks. There aren’t many questions on a defense that should be one of the best in the country, but somebody has to replace Cam Thomas and defensive end E.J. Wilson. Tydreke Powell is the frontrunner to take over at defensive tackle and Quinton Coples at defensive end. Both were backups last year at their respective positions.

NC STATE

Spring practice starts: March 9

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• Backup quarterback Mike Glennon. Russell Wilson is the starter, but he’s going to be playing baseball all spring. Keep an eye on his backup to see if Glennon can make it any more of a competition in Wilson’s absence.

• Chris Ward at punter. No, it’s not usually, the highlight of the spring, but in this case, it’s necessary. Ward is it -- he’s their only option right now, and it’s a position the Pack struggled with last year. Ward was expected to be the starter last season, but he was inconsistent. He’s definitely got the talent to be the guy.

• The recovery of linebacker Nate Irving. After being severely injured in a one-car crash last summer, Irving is hopeful he can go through spring drills. He has been lifting with the team and running with the sports medicine staff, but it’s still uncertain how limited his contact will be.

VIRGINIA

Spring practice starts: March 15

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

• Quarterback competition. Marc Verica is the only one with any experience, and first-year offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor hasn’t been in Charlottesville long enough to evaluate any of the candidates. That’s what the spring is for, and true freshman Michael Strauss is the lone incoming quarterback on campus, so he’ll have a head start on the playbook. Of the four quarterbacks Virginia signed in this year’s class, Strauss is the only one listed as a true quarterback. The Cavs also have Ross Metheny, who redshirted last year, and Riko Smalls, who redshirted in ‘08 and was No. 2 on the depth chart when Verica was out with a concussion.

• Coaching transition. First-year coach Mike London has hired almost an entirely new staff, and they’ll bring changes in philosophy and scheme. London has said he wants to get the defense back to the traditional 4-3, and revert to the tradition of featuring the tight ends, offensive linemen and running backs.

• Running back. The Cavs will have the help up front, but they need to replace their four leading rushers in Mikell Simpson, Rashawn Jackson, Vic Hall and Jameel Sewell. The staff will look at true freshman Kevin Parks, but also have Torrey Mack and Dominique Wallace, who had just seemed to be coming on at Southern Miss when he was injured and missed the rest of the season.

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

• Revamped defensive line. The Hokies have to replace three of four starters up front. The only defensive ends with significant playing time are Chris Drager, who the staff wanted to move back to tight end, and Steven Friday. Redshirt freshmen will be given a chance – Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins – but they’ve never played. Isaiah Hamlette is the only other end who’s played and that was a skinny minute. At defensive tackle, Antoine Hopkins will be the frontrunner to replace Cordarrow Thompson.

• Darren Evans’ comeback. Evans, the team’s leading rusher in 2008, is working his way back from a season-ending ACL injury, and one of the biggest questions in Blacksburg is how the staff will divide the carries in such a talented backfield that includes Ryan Williams. With two returning 1,000-yard rushers, will David Wilson decide to redshirt? The spring will help him in that decision.

• The evolution of Tyrod Taylor. He’s going to be a senior, and with so many questions on defense heading into the season, the offense will be leading the way. This should be a breakout year for Taylor, who by now should have mastered the offense and should consistently be a passing threat to compliment his running abilities.

WAKE FOREST

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

• The quarterback competition. It’s the most glaring hole the Deacs have to fill this spring, as they’re tasked with replacing the winningest quarterback in school history, Riley Skinner, and his backup, Ryan McManus. Redshirt sophomores Ted Stachitas and Skylar Jones, and sophomore Brendan Cross, will compete with rookie Tanner Price for the top spot.

• Offensive line. The Deacs will take a huge hit here, as seven players in the two-deep depth chart were redshirt seniors, including all four tackles. Three starters have to be replaced.

• The interior defensive line. Nose guard Boo Robinson and John Russell have graduated, and Russell’s backup, Michael Lockett, was also a redshirt senior. The Deacs are in good shape at the ends, but will need some help inside.
Tags:

ACC, Russell Wilson, Darren Evans, Marc Verica, Boo Robinson, Phil Costa, Jamarr Robinson, Al Groh, Mike Glennon, David Wilson, Jimmy Graham, Jamie Harper, Michael Carter, Sean Renfree, Mikell Simpson, Austin Barrick, E.J. Wilson, Jacory Harris, Joe Joseph, Skylar Jones, T.J. Yates, Sean Bedford, Jonathan Dwyer, John Russell, Nate Irving, Thaddeus Lewis, E.J. Manuel, Ryan Williams, C.J. Spiller, Eric Moncur, Bruce Campbell, Jeff Luc, Demaryius Thomas, Rashawn Jackson, Cannon Smith, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan McManus, Chris Turner, Dave Shinskie, Cordarrow Thompson, Richard Gordon, Christian Ponder, Johnny Williams, Morgan Burnett, Riley Skinner, Derrick Morgan, Jameel Sewell, Allen Bailey, Mike London, Mark Herzlich, Taylor Cook, Leon Wright, Vic Hall, Ted Stachitas, Jim Ramella, Jonathan Cooper, Mark Stoops, Cameron Chism, A.J. Highsmith, Braden Hanson, Bryn Renner, Paul Pinegar, Austin Giles, Kaleb Ramsey, CHris Chancellor, Andre Ellington, Luke Kuechly, Cam Thomas, Marcus Gilchrist, Chase Rettig, Michael Strauss, Tanner Price, Anthony McCloud, Debrale Smiley, Brendan Cross, Alan Pelc, Antoine Hopkins, Bill Lazor, Brad Newman, C.J. Brown, Charlie Hatcher, Chris Drager, Chris Hazelton, Chris Ward, Clay Belton, Crezdon Butler, Danny O\'Brien, DeAndrew McDaniel, Dexter McDougle, Dominique Wallace, Duan Perez-Means, Isaiah Hamlette, J.R. Collins, James Gayle, Joseph Gilbert, Josh Bordner, Josh Holmes, Justin Gilbert, Kevin Parks, Kyle Paker, Michael Lockett, Ochuko Jenije, Quinton Coples, Rahsard Hall, Rick Petri, Rodney Smith, Roko Smalls, Ross Metheny, Sean Schroeder, Stephen Morris, Sydney Sarmiento, Torrey Mack, Trenton Hughes, Tydreke Powell, Tyrel Wilson, Wesley Oglesby, Willie Haulstead

Each team has plenty of questions to answer heading into spring practice, so let the competition begin. Here are five position battles worth watching in the ACC this spring:

1. Wake Forest quarterback -- Replacing Riley Skinner, the winningest quarterback in school history won’t be easy. The job is wide open, and the candidates include Ted Stachitas, Skylar Jones, Brendan Cross, walk-on Turner Faulk, and true freshman Tanner Price.

2. Virginia Tech defensive ends -- Experience is at a premium here after the early departure of Jason Worilds to the NFL. Chris Drager and Steven Friday are now the veterans of the group, but there are also several redshirt freshmen in the mix. The staff has high hopes for Duan Perez-Means, Tyrel Wilson, James Gayle and J.R. Collins, but could also make some position changes to fill the need.

3. Virginia’s quarterback -- The Cavaliers are also starting from scratch after the departure of Jameel Sewell, and Marc Verica is the most experienced of the bunch. There were four quarterbacks in this year’s recruiting class, but only Michael Strauss enrolled early. The Cavs also have Ross Metheny and Riko Smalls.

4. BC defensive line -- The Eagles have to replace left tackle Austin Giles and defensive end Jim Ramella, who was one of the top leaders. They return Kaleb Ramsey, Giles’ backup, and Brad Newman, Ramella’s reserve, but several newcomers should work their way into the mix.

5. Miami tight ends/offensive line -- The Canes have to replace three starters up front, and tight end Jimmy Graham has graduated. Miami brought in four tight ends in this recruiting class, but none of them were early enrollees. Richard Gordon, who was injured the majority of last season, is the only returning tight end with experience.

Recruiting rewind: Virginia

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
10:01
AM ET
When coach Mike London arrived in Charlottesville in early December, there were 13 players who were already committed to play for former coach Al Groh. It was up to hold-over assistants Bob Price and Anthony Poindexter to keep the group intact, and they managed to do that, losing just one player. Price and Poindexter visited each of the previously committed recruits, every week.

London came in and added five more.

The timing of the coaching change made it impossible for the new staff to put its stamp on this recruiting class, but by keeping it together, they filled a major need at quarterback and officially began the rebuilding process with a respectable group.

“The message was you choose universities for reasons,” London told reporters at his news conference on Wednesday. “The reasons for these young men were the academic opportunities, the atmosphere here at the school, great college campus. You walk around on [the] grounds and you see it's historic. The facilities are very eye pleasing. Then you add that to the staff, the guys that I hired, 'cause they had a chance to go out and visit with them, go into the homes. I had a chance to talk to them on the telephone, visit with them out at their schools. It kind of reiterated and bolstered all those decisions why they chose it in the first place.

“It's very true that players choose personalities -- they choose coaches,” he said. “But I think in this situation, I'm grateful they chose the university. We just had to add up to it. They liked the fact it had a new staff here, new energy, new focus on things. I think it made it very appealing to them to stay with their commitment.”

The top prospect in this class was four-star offensive tackle Morgan Moses, who had to spend a year in prep school to qualify academically. He was still being recruited until the last hour, so it was a relief to London when the fax finally came through.

Where the staff filled its biggest need, though, was at quarterback, where four have been added to the roster. Michael Strauss came mid-semester, a move that was agreed upon by the previous staff. The other three -- Jake McGee, Mike Rocco and Miles Gooch -- are players London knows well.

“I think looking at the quarterback position where we stand now with a fifth-year senior, coming on his last year, two others that have yet to take a snap, if you're going to be a quarterback at this program, now is the time to be one.

“We'll look at these players as they transition into college,” London said. “Strauss will practice in spring practice. We'll have the other three there. Then the other three young men will come in and bide for time.”

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