NCF Nation: Rod Sweeting

ACC at the combine

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
11:12
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The poking, prodding, interviews and drills have wrapped up at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Now let's take a quick look at who stood out from the ACC during the all-important event.

  • The defensive backs were the last group to go, wrapping up Tuesday. And there were some pretty good performances. Miami cornerback Brandon McGee posted one of the fastest 40 times at the combine, running a 4.40 to rank him No. 13 among all participants. He also was a top performer in the bench press and 20-yard shuttle run. Those numbers will not do anything but help his draft stock.
  • [+] EnlargeDavid Amerson
    AP Photo/Dave MartinNC State cornerback David Amerson showed off his speed at the NFL combine, clocking a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash.
  • NC State cornerback David Amerson was out to prove himself at the combine after an up-and-down 2012 season. He definitely opened eyes with his performance, which NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock described as "excellent." Amerson ran a 4.44 in the 40 and was also a top performer in the vertical jump.
  • Those two guys were not the only fast defensive backs at the combine. Of the players with the top 15 times at the position, six have ACC ties. Rod Sweeting of Georgia Tech (4.42), Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse (4.42), Xavier Rhodes of Florida State (4.43) and Earl Wolff of NC State (4.44) were among the fastest.
  • Speaking of Rhodes, his vertical leap was incredibly impressive, at 40.5 inches to tie for first among all defensive backs and rank No. 3 overall. He also was a top performer in the broad jump, and certainly helped himself with his day. So did Thomas, one of the most underrated players in college football last year. Though Thomas made some headlines after he fell at the end of his 40, he had a huge day. He also leaped 40.5 inches and was a top performer in the 20-yard shuttle and broad jump.
  • The ACC had several top performers in the bench press as well. Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohanon tied for No. 4 overall with 36 reps and was also a top performer in the vertical jump and 60-yard shuttle. Also in the top 15 overall for bench: North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper (35), NC State guard Zach Allen (32) and Virginia Tech offensive tackle Vinston Painter (32). Speaking of Cooper, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said the lineman "had one of the more impressive workouts."
  • Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel had a nice combine himself, though he was inconsistent with his throws. Manuel was a top performer in the broad jump, ranking No. 3 among all quarterbacks after jumping 9 feet, 10 inches. He also was a top performer in the 40 (4.65), vertical jump (34), 3-cone drill (7.08) and 20-yard shuttle (4.21) to rank among the top 5 in each category.
  • The folks at Scouts Inc. had this to say about Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a top performer at his position in the bench press and vertical jump (36): "His 4.57 in the 40 is about what we expected. His game is more about being physical, though, and Hopkins showed good ball skills. He is was one of the most natural pass-catchers on the field, with good focus in the gauntlet drill and the ability to extend fully for balls." He's got a second-round grade.
  • Virginia Tech receiver Marcus Davis put up some good numbers as well, topping his position with a vertical jump of 39.5 inches, while also posting good numbers in the 40 (4.56) and bench press (19 reps). It's never been about physical talent for Davis, so the numbers aren't much of a surprise. He has to put it all together on the field.
  • Now for running back: North Carolina's Giovani Bernard was a top performer in various categories. He ran a 4.53 in the 40; and was a top performer in the 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle. Miami running back Mike James also put up some good numbers.

ACC's 2012 All-Bowl team

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
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The ACC went 4-2 this bowl season, its first winning record since 2005. There were plenty of top performers to highlight, but these are the players who were most deserving of the ACC’s 2012 All-Bowl team:

Offense first team

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Tajh Boyd had a record-setting game in Clemson's victory against LSU.
QB -- Tajh Boyd, Clemson: He had 368 yards of total offense against LSU on 79 total offensive plays. He set a Clemson record for plays in a game by a quarterback.

RB -- Lonnie Pryor, Florida State: He had a career-long 60 yard touchdown in the first half of the Orange Bowl, which was the second-longest touchdown run in FSU bowl history. In his final game as a Seminole, he also had a 37-yard run in the fourth quarter for his second touchdown in the game.

RB -- David Sims, Georgia Tech: He rushed for a game-high and career-best 99 yards on 17 carries, and caught a touchdown pass in the 21-7 win against USC.

WR -- DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson: He finished the game with 13 receptions for 191 yards and finished the season with 82 receptions for 1405 yards. Hopkins tied his own Clemson record for receptions in a game with 13. He also had 13 in the opener against Auburn.

WR -- Conner Vernon, Duke: He caught 10 passes for 119 yards and one touchdown against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. He helped Duke to 34 points against a Bearcats defense that entered the game ranked 12th nationally, allowing just 17.2 points per game.

TE -- Brandon Ford, Clemson: His nine receptions against LSU tied the overall Clemson single-game record for receptions by a tight end. He finished with 69 receiving yards, including one reception for 20 yards.

T -- Cameron Erving, Florida State: It was the sixth game this season with over 500 yards of total offense for the Seminoles. All three touchdown runs came between center and left tackle, and quarterback EJ Manuel had all day to throw.

T -- Perry Simmons, Duke: He led an offensive line performance that yielded zero sacks and allowed quarterback Sean Renfree to establish Belk Bowl records for pass completions (37), pass attempts (49) and passing yardage (358). Simmons also aided a running game that gained 200 net yards on 39 attempts as running back Josh Snead picked up a career-high 107 yards on just 17 attempts.

G -- Josue Matias, Florida State: The Noles racked up 243 rushing yards, 23 first downs and 534 yards of total offense. He was part of an offensive line that didn’t allow Manuel to be sacked once by Northern Illinois. Two of Pryor’s runs came between Erving and Matias.

G -- Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech: He helped pave the way for 294 rushing yards in the win against USC, and 369 total yards. He made his 39th career start, the second-most on the team.

C -- Dalton Freeman, Clemson: The Tigers had 100 plays and 32 first downs, and his blocking was a major factor.

Defense first team

DE -- Malliciah Goodman, Clemson: He set a bowl record with three sacks as Clemson held LSU to 219 yards of total offense.

DE -- Bjoern Werner, Florida State: In his last game with the Noles, the dominating end knocked down his eighth pass of the season, which is the second-most in the FBS by a defensive lineman. He finished with two tackles.

DT -- Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech: He had four tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and a sack. The sack was on Rutgers' first play of overtime, forcing them into long yardage which led to a long (and missed) field goal.

DT -- Grady Jarrett, Clemson: He had four tackles, including two tackles for loss, and one was a sack. He was a big reason Clemson held LSU to just 99 yards rushing.

LB -- Christian Jones, Florida State: Jones tied for the team lead with 10 tackles in the 31-10 Discover Orange Bowl win against Northern Illinois.

LB -- Vince Williams, Florida State: He tied Jones for the team lead with 10 tackles, and finished with one tackle for loss and a sack.

LB -- Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech: He led the Hokies with 11 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and had a pass breakup. Virginia Tech’s defense held Rutgers to 196 yards and three offensive points, none in the last three quarters.

CB -- Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech: Even though his statistics were modest -- three tackles, two pass breakups and an interception returned for 21 yards -- Sweeting was voted the game’s MVP. He fared well in a tough assignment, matching up with Biletnikoff Trophy winner Marqise Lee.

CB -- Antone Exum, Virginia Tech: The Russell Athletic Bowl’s MVP led a stifling pass defense that allowed just 129 yards. He made the play of the game with an interception of Gary Nova to set up the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech’s defense allowed just 196 yards total, and just 17 completions from Nova on 40 attempts.

S -- Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State: He finished third on the team with six tackles, including one tackle for loss. The Northern Illinois receivers were no match for the FSU secondary and were rendered ineffective.

S -- Rashard Hall, Clemson: He led the team with nine tackles, including eight solo, in the win against LSU.

Specialists

PK -- Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson: He kicked the 37-yard game-winning field goal as time expired to give Clemson and the ACC a monumental 25-24 win against LSU. It was the fourth walk-off field goal in Clemson history, and Catanzaro has two of the four.

P -- A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech: He tied the record under coach Frank Beamer for punts in a game with 11. He finished with an average of 42.2 with four punts inside the 20-yard line, and a long of 57.

SP -- Tobais Palmer, NC State: He returned a second-quarter kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in the loss to Vandy, and became the first Pack player since Greg Golden in 2001 to return a kickoff for a score in a bowl game. He finished with 173 kickoff return yards, setting a new NC State season record with 1,130 KOR yards. Palmer and T.J. Graham (1,028 in 2008) are the only two Wolfpack players to go over 1,000 yards in kickoff returns in a single season. Palmer also went over 100 yards receiving for the third time in 2012, as he finished with eight catches for 111 yards.

Hyundai Sun Bowl keys

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
10:30
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Here are three keys for Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against USC.

1. Slow down USC's receivers. The Jackets face their biggest challenge of the season on pass defense, going against some of the most talented receivers in the nation. But keep an eye on Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee, who leads the nation with 112 receptions and has eight 100-yard receiving games out of 12 this year. Lee twisted his knee during practice Saturday, and coach Lane Kiffin would only say he is "hopeful" his star will play. On the other side, the Trojans feature Robert Woods, who combined with Lee for 2,493 yards and 25 touchdown catches this season. While Matt Barkley is out with a shoulder injury, there is no doubt starting quarterback Max Wittek will look to his wideouts to help get the offense going. Rod Sweeting and Louis Young are going to have their hands full at the cornerback spot. For safety help, the Jackets take a big loss with starter and leading tackler Isaiah Johnson out. Jemea Thomas will have to take on a bigger role.

2. Get Orwin Smith loose. There is no doubting how explosive Smith can be when healthy. The problem for the Jackets is that he has not been healthy in their past two games, both losses. But he is ready to go against USC and should provide a spark for an offense in need of some big plays. Smith is averaging 9 yards per carry this season, and is on the verge of setting the school record for highest yards per carry average for a career. He leads all players on the team in "big plays," with 13 that have gone between 20-39 yards.

3. Be consistent. Inconsistency on offense and defense has been the biggest problems for Georgia Tech all season. We have rarely seen a full four quarters from this team, a big reason why it sits at 6-7. There is no better opportunity than to play their best in the Sun Bowl, with a chance to finish at .500 and help Paul Johnson get his first bowl win in five tries. USC is less than enthused to be in this game, as several players have caused a stir on Twitter with their comments. Georgia Tech has a huge opportunity in front of it, now we see if the Jackets take advantage.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 8

October, 20, 2011
10/20/11
10:15
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For the only time this year, the schedule will feature an all-ACC lineup, with six league games. Two important division games will be played with Georgia Tech at Miami and Maryland at Florida State. Here are 10 things to watch in the conference this week, in no particular order:

1. Miami’s defensive line: How the Canes handle the suspension of starting tackle Micanor Regis will help determine how the run defense fares against the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense. Adewale Ojomo is expected to start in place of Regis, who punched UNC receiver Dwight Jones in the groin last week. Regis is the Canes’ healthiest and most experienced defensive tackle.

2. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris vs. Georgia Tech DB Rod Sweeting. Harris has thrown 89 passes without an interception, a span of three straight games. Sweeting, though, has intercepted a pass in three of Georgia Tech’s past four games, including one against Virginia last weekend that he ran back for a touchdown.

3. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. You should be watching him every week, but he’s on the verge of breaking freshman ACC records this weekend. Entering Saturday’s game against North Carolina, Watkins has 46 catches for 728 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. He needs 125 receiving yards and two touchdown catches to set the ACC records in both areas. Koren Robinson of NC State had 853 receiving yards a freshman in 1999. Greg Carr of Florida State had nine touchdown receptions in 2005 and Heath Miller of Virginia had nine TD receptions as a tight end in 2002.

4. Field position in Death Valley. Speaking of Watkins, he’s No. 6 in the country in kickoff returns, but he’s not the only one who has been playing well on special teams this season. UNC is No. 29 in the country in kickoff return defense, and the Tar Heels are No. 10 in the country in punt return yardage defense, allowing just 13 total yards on six attempts.

5. David Wilson’s 100-yard streak. He enters Saturday’s game against Boston College needing 97 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season. Wilson currently ranks third nationally in rushing yards (903), and fifth in rushing yards per game (129). He has surpassed 100 yards in six of the Hokies’ seven games.

6. Boston College on third downs. The Eagles have struggled to sustain drives this season and are No. 80 in the country in third-down conversion percentage at 37.93 percent. That could be a problem against a Virginia Tech defense that held Wake Forest to just 1-of-13 third-down attempts last weekend.

7. Big plays against Duke’s defense. Coach David Cutcliffe said he expects Wake Forest to try and do what Florida State did, which was exploit the defense with big pass plays. Duke allowed three passes of at least 50 yards in the first quarter against FSU. Wake Forest receiver Chris Givens is averaging more than 18 yards per catch, and this series has a history of high-scoring games.

8. NC State’s rushing defense. Virginia is coming off a season-high 272 rushing yards, and NC State’s defense is No. 77 in the country, allowing 172.33 rushing yards per game. UVa running backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are coming off their best game of the year.

9. Virginia’s pass defense against quarterback Mike Glennon. Glennon has already thrown 16 touchdown passes in six games. Virginia’s pass defense is No. 8 in the country at 166.83 yards per game. Cavaliers' cornerback Chase Minnifield is tied for third among all active FBS players with 12 career interceptions.

10. Florida State’s defense against Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown. After running for 286 yards in the past two games, Brown isn’t a secret anymore. FSU’s rushing defense, which is No. 9 in the country and holding opponents to 86.83 yards per game, should be prepared for Brown’s ability to take off. He ran for 162 yards against Clemson.
As advertised ...

1. Florida State: The Noles have one of the best cornerback duos in the country in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. They combined for 33 passes defended last season, the most of any pair of cornerbacks in the nation. Mike Harris had 41 tackles and four picks as a reserve.

[+] EnlargeGreg Reid
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireFlorida State cornerback Greg Reid is also one of the ACC's top return men.
2. Virginia Tech: Jayron Hosley is one of the top boundary corners in the country, and the Hokies also have Kyle Fuller, who had six deflections last season, and Cris Hill (two deflections) at field corner.

3. Maryland: The Terps return both starters in Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes, who combined for 36 career starts. Chism is a strong cover corner who had 70 tackles and eight deflections last season. Hughes had nine pass deflections.

4. NC State: Both starters return in C.J. Wilson and David Amerson. Wilson had 46 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups, and Amerson had 57 tackles. Justin Byers and Gary Grant also have experience.

5. North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost some remarkable talent in their secondary, including cornerback Kendric Burney, but there is a lot of depth at the position. Jabari Price started four games last season, Charles Brown has 22 career starts but sat out last season, and Mywan Jackson and Tre Boston both have at least four starts each.

6. Boston College: The Eagles will miss DeLeon Gause, but Donnie Fletcher has 17 career starts, 56 tackles last season, and led the team with five picks. C.J. Jones played in 12 games as a backup last season with 16 tackles. Dominique Williams also saw some time and had four tackles, and true freshman Al Louis-Jean, who was the No. 9 cornerback in the nation as ranked by ESPN Recruiting, enrolled early.

7. Clemson: It’s a young group, as the Tigers had to replace Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell. Xavier Brewer had 10 starts with 50 tackles and two interceptions last season, Coty Sensabaugh had 31 tackles in three starts, and senior Mansa Joseph will also be competing for playing time with sophomore Martin Jenkins.

8. Virginia: The Cavaliers return both starters in Chase Minnifield and Devin Wallace, but Wallace was suspended and missed spring ball and is still suspended. Wallace had 38 tackles and six breakups last season. Chris Broadnax, Rijo Walker, Drequan Hoskey and Pablo Alvarez will all compete for playing time.

9. Miami: The Hurricanes have to replace both starters in Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill. Jo-Jo Nicholas moved to corner and Brandon McGee, who was the nickel back last season, will compete along with Lee Chambers, Keion Payne, Nathan Gholston and true freshman Thomas Finnie, who had a great spring.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets had to replace their entire secondary, including cornerbacks Mario Butler and Dominique Reese. They’ve still got several cornerbacks with experience in Rashaad Reid, who started 14 games in 2008 and 2009, Rod Sweeting (38 tackles, seven pass breakups, one interception), Louis Young (10 tackles), and Michael Peterson (six tackles, one pass breakup).

11. Wake Forest: The Deacs have a deep enough secondary that they can live without the experience of cornerback Kevin Johnson, who started five games last season but will sit out this season while academically ineligible. Josh Bush had 33 tackles and four pass breakups last season, Kenny Okoro is a rising star, A.J. Marshall has three starts and Dominique Tate returns after missing last season while on academic suspension.

12. Duke: Ross Cockrell is a returning starter and finished last season with 60 tackles and 10 passes defended. He was only a freshman but he tied for eighth in the ACC with passes defended with 10 in 12 games. Johnny Williams had four pass breakups last season.

Spring preview: Coastal Division

February, 15, 2011
2/15/11
10:00
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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.

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