NCF Nation: Pat Gamble


Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:

Duke

Spring practice over

What we learned:
  • Momentum rolls on. It's hard to believe the Blue Devils are already done with spring ball, but coach David Cutcliffe opted to open practice in February to capitalize on the momentum that was created last season. After the spring game ended Saturday, he praised the way his players handled the practices. There was a great deal of retention and not a lot of re-teaching, so coaches were able to get much more out of their players this spring.
  • Max McCaffrey emerges. Jamison Crowder had a spectacular 2013 season, but it was essentially him and then everybody else in the receiver group. That may not be the case this season. McCaffrey earned praise from coaches and teammates for the way he improved during the spring. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said McCaffrey made as many plays as anybody else on the offense this spring.
  • Stepping up on the line. The Blue Devils lost three starters on their defensive line -- both ends in Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento. But it appears as if the players behind them are ready to step up and make a seamless transition. Defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson each had two sacks in the spring game. Kyler Brown also made the switch from linebacker to defensive end and had a sack in the spring game as well.
Georgia Tech

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:
  • Justin Thomas takes over. After Vad Lee announced his transfer from Georgia Tech, the quarterback reigns fell to Thomas, who played in 10 games this season. The Jackets had their share of highs and lows under Lee, but what the staff is going to be looking for first and foremost is Thomas’ ability to hold on to the football. Georgia Tech had 24 giveaways and ranked No. 12 in the ACC in turnover margin.
  • Defensive line questions. The Jackets lose three starters on the defensive line, including All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu -- who had 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Who will step up and fill that type of production? The most experienced backups returning are sophomores Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble. Also, Travin Henry will get a look at defensive end after playing wide receiver last season.
  • Offensive line questions. Georgia Tech also loses three starters on the offensive line -- tackles Ray Beno and Will Jackson and center Jay Finch. The trio combined to start 117 games in their careers, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much less experienced unit in 2014. The good news is All-ACC guard Shaq Mason returns to help anchor the new-look line.
Miami

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Quarterback derby. Stephen Morris is gone, but the Canes do have at least one experienced quarterback on the roster in Ryan Williams, a Memphis transfer who has served as Morris’ backup the last two seasons. As a true freshman with the Tigers, Williams started 10 games -- all the way back in 2010. Challenging Williams is redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who had a bit of a rocky first year in Miami, along with Gray Crow.
  • Defensive improvements. Perhaps more than what happens at quarterback, Miami must see improvements out of its defense this season. Embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job but the status quo cannot persist. Every single area of the defense must be upgraded. Ranking No. 13 in the ACC in total defense just can’t happen again.
  • Defensive improvements, Part II. To try and help the secondary, Miami already moved Dallas Crawford over to safety, where the Canes could use the help. But Miami must be stronger on the defensive front. The Canes only had 12 sacks in eight conference games. By comparison, BC led the way with 25 sacks in conference games. This is a big opportunity for guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu to really step up.
North Carolina

Spring start: Started March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Marquise Williams took over as the starter when Bryn Renner was gone for the season and ended up helping the Tar Heels make a bowl game after a 1-5 start. But coach Larry Fedora said the competition is open this spring. Look for Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker to give Williams a major push.
  • Defensive line questions. Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are both gone, leaving big holes in the North Carolina front. Martin ended up notching 21.5 tackles for loss to rank No. 3 in the ACC. So who are the next guys up? At end, Junior Gnonkonde and Jessie Rogers are the top two contenders, while Shawn Underwood, Devonte Brown and Justin Thomason will compete for one of the tackle spots.
  • Replacing Ebron. Eric Ebron was dynamic at tight end for the Tar Heels last season, leading the team with 62 receptions for 973 yards, while adding three touchdowns. Will the Tar Heels be able to replace that type of production with just one player? Jack Tabb would be next in line among the tight ends, but this is a huge opportunity for the North Carolina receiving group as well. We saw plenty of promise out of young guys like Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer.
Pitt

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: No spring game. Last day of practice April 13

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Chad Voytik played really well in relief of an injured Tom Savage in the bowl game, but coach Paul Chryst said the competition to win the starting job is open headed into the spring. At this point, Voytik and Trey Anderson are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. So you can bet the biggest goal of all is to keep them both healthy.
  • Replacing Aaron Donald. One of the biggest surprises in all of college football this past season was the emergence and utter dominance of Donald at defensive tackle. Donald swept every major defensive award after notching 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. Darryl Render is the next man up.
  • Complementary receiver. Devin Street is gone, leaving Tyler Boyd as the only standout receiver on the roster. Not only do the Panthers have to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver, they also have to develop some depth. Watch for Manasseh Garner, a former H-back who moved to receiver late last season when Street got hurt. He is more physical than Boyd, and has some extended playing experience.
Virginia

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. David Watford is not guaranteed to win his starting job back after last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are also in the mix and reps with the first team will be split. In fact, Lambert got the first-team reps when the Hoos opened spring ball last weekend.
  • Andrew Brown. The highly-touted freshman will have every opportunity to win a starting job at defensive tackle, and it all starts in spring ball. The No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN 300 comes in with tons of hype; now can he translate that into on-field success? He, Donte Wilkins and Chris Brathwaite will be competing to start next to David Dean.
  • Mr. McGee. Jake McGee was the best player the Hoos had among the group of tight ends and receivers a year ago, leading the team with 43 catches for 395 yards. This spring, McGee has now moved over to receiver so the Hoos can take advantage of his athletic ability. Plus, Virginia is lacking playmakers at the position, so we’ll see how much this move benefits both McGee and the offense.
Virginia Tech

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Quarterback. Mark Leal heads into the spring with a leg up in the quarterback competition but make no mistake, there is no set starter. He will get competition from freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley in the spring, with freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arriving in summer. This competition will likely drag on into the fall.
  • Front seven. The Hokies are losing five terrific players up front, including ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, and linebacker Jack Tyler, who racked up 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. There is no doubt a major priority this spring is finding their replacements and building depth along the line and at linebacker. Who will step up as the leader of this group with Tyler gone?
  • Skill players. This has been an ongoing theme over the last two seasons and will continue to be a theme until the Hokies have consistently good players at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is excited about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, and his entire tight end group for that matter. A healthy Malleck and improvement from Kalvin Cline means the Hokies could simultaneously improve their run and pass game.
Georgia Tech opens spring practice today with a new defensive coordinator in Ted Roof, and a new starter at quarterback in Vad Lee. I had a chance to catch up with coach Paul Johnson to ask about his expectations of both headed into the spring. Here is a little of what he had to say.

I have to start off by asking -- how are you enjoying Twitter so far?

PJ: My daughter, she said, ‘You’ll be good at that, Dad, you need to do it.’ And, ‘I’m like, I don’t know about that.’ She goes, ‘Oh just try it.’ So it’s been interesting.

What is the No. 1 thing you want to see this spring out of your defense as it starts to get adjusted to playing a different scheme?

PJ: It’s the same regardless of scheme. You want guys that can play fast, play hard and understand what they’re doing. The scheme is there to help them. We try to work the scheme around them rather than trying to fit them into the scheme. And I think our guys are excited about it. Ted’s a fiery guy. He’s going to have a lot of passion, a lot of energy and I think they’re looking forward to that. And it’s not that big of a change from what we did the last half of the season.

You guys showed major improvement the second half. Is the goal to build on some of what you were able to do?

PJ: Yeah I think the second half we simplified things and tried to let guys play fast and understand what they were doing and basically we played a lot of 4-3 tenets the last six games. We got away from the 3-4 a little bit.

Jeremiah Attaochu is going to be playing more at defensive end. What are your hopes for him in that role?

PJ: That’s what he played last year. Very seldom did he drop. He was more our rush guy. We played a field boundary guy and it’s going to be very similar in what we’re doing now, so we’ll try to play to his attributes and his strong suits. He’s a really good pass-rusher and we’ll try to utilize him in that area and line him up on some tight ends and some of that.

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech's Vad Lee is in a QB competition this spring, but coach Paul Johnson said there's no doubting Lee's leadership skills.
How do you see some of the competition playing out along the line with T.J. Barnes and Izaan Cross gone?

PJ: We’ve got some good depth. Euclid Cummings is a guy I’m excited about. I think he’s got a ton of ability. Emmanuel Dieke has played a lot. Adam Gotsis, Shawn Green played. We’ve got a couple guys, Pat Gamble, Rod Chungong, Francis Kallon that we redshirted so we feel like we’ve got depth there and some guys so we’ll probably play six, seven guys up front.

Now that Vad looks to be your starter, have you seen him taking on more of a leadership role?

PJ: Vad’s always been a leader. It’s in his DNA. Usually the good ones in that position are that way. He’s a hard worker and I think that he’s trying to develop a chemistry with everybody and we’ve got another guy named Justin Thomas that we redshirted at quarterback, and that ought to be a heck of a battle this spring. Clearly, Vad’s in front but Justin’s a good player in his own right, so that ought to be some pretty good competition between those two guys.

How will you work the reps?

PJ: Well, Vad will start out at 1 but in the spring, you’re going to run two teams anyway so they’ll probably get an equal number of reps.

Any kind of scenario where you play both like you did with Vad and Tevin Washington last year?

PJ: It’s possible. It will be determined on how it turns out, once we get into the spring and we start playing how it looks and how it unfolds, but I think going into the spring you’d have to say Vad’s the No. 1.

What about at A-back. Orwin Smith was able to do so much, what’s the competition going to look like there?

PJ: We’ve got a lot of guys back there who have played a lot. Synjyn Days played the last half of the season there, we moved from quarterback so we’re excited about him. Robbie Godhigh is the starter that returns. Deon Hill, B.J. Bostic, Dennis Andrews is a guy we redshirted. We have a lot of guys there we feel can be pretty good players.

What are you looking for out of those guys to take the next step?

PJ: Well Robbie’s been a reliable guy, he played well all year and I think the other guys are very capable. I think the more Synjyn plays, hopefully the better he’s going to be. He’s 225 pounds so he’s ideal. He can block, has good speed, hard to tackle. B.J. and Tony (Zenon) both are shifty littler guys, Deon’s in the middle so out of that group of guys we just hope to find a rotation that fits what we need really.

What about Broderick Snoddy? Will he continue to run track this spring?

PJ: Football will override the track part and so he’ll be at practice. Whenever they have meets and those kind of things we’ll try to work it out and let him do both.

Do you envision a bigger role for him?

PJ: Yeah, I would hope so. Every time we got to the point last year where we were trying to get him in, he would get hurt or something would happen and it just didn’t materialize but certainly we’d love for him to have a bigger role. But that’s going to be up to him this spring to earn it.

Who are you looking at to replace Omoregie Uzzie on the offensive line?

PJ: There will be some competition. We were able to redshirt a couple of classes of guys and we feel like we have some depth, so we’ll just work it out. We’ll end up with the best five playing if we have to move some guys around. With Jay (Finch) missing the spring, Catlin Alford, Freddie Burden will get a lot of reps. We’ll slide some guys. We’ve got some guys, Will Jackson has played both guard and tackle. He can slide in there. He and Shaq (Mason) will probably be the starters and then Morgan Bailey and Ray Beno, who both started at tackle all year -- we could still have five guys who started a lot of games.

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