NCF Nation: Rodney McLeod
Offensive skill positions: After last year’s rare class that didn’t include either a quarterback or running back, both positions are needed in this group. Quarterback Thomas Sirk -- the MVP of the 57th annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Football Classic last December -- has already enrolled in school while Shaquille Powell -- a PARADE All-American running back from Las Vegas -- has committed to the program. In addition, with David Cutcliffe’s offense, wide receivers and tight ends also are a priority.
Kicker: Will Snyderwine, who earned first team All-America honors as a junior before struggling through a sub-par season in 2011, graduated, but Duke has a commitment from Ohio native Ross Martin, considered the No. 2 placekicking prospect in the country by ESPN.com.
Safety: With the transition to a 4-2-5 alignment that utilizes three safeties, this becomes an annual point of emphasis. The Blue Devils lose All-American Matt Daniels to graduation.
Defensive line: This is the most glaring need in the current class. The Yellow Jackets have to replace senior starters Logan Walls (DT) and Jason Peters (DE), but return Izaan Cross (DE) and solid backups T.J. Barnes (DT), Emmanuel Dieke (DE) and Euclid Cummings (DE). The Jackets are expected to sign about 18 players in this year’s class, and five of them should be defensive linemen.
Wide receiver:This is another glaring need after the departures of Stephen Hill, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft, and Tyler Melton. Darren Waller and Jeff Greene, who both played last season as true freshmen, have lots of potential, but the position still needs depth.
Defensive backs: There’s still a lot of depth with this group, and the return of Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque helps, but the Canes have to replace two starters in the secondary and have six commits in the current class to help do that.
Defensive line: The Canes have to replace Adewale Ojomo, Micanor Regis, Andrew Smith and Olivier Vernon from last year’s two-deep. The defensive end position was a particular focus in this class.
Receiver: This position lost a lot with the departures of Tommy Streeter, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. Allen Hurns is now the veteran of the group, along with redshirt senior Kendal Thompkins. There are five receivers currently committed in this class.
Quarterback: Beyond Stephen Morris, Miami has a lot of questions at the position and not a lot of experience. True freshmen Gray Crow and Preston Dewey are already on the roster, along with redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams.
Defensive line: This is one of the biggest areas of concern after the departures of Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell.
Receivers: Larry Fedora’s offense will make good use of this group, but he needs to replace standout Dwight Jones.
Linebackers: This group was thin to begin with in 2011, and now the Heels need to replace outgoing senior Zach Brown. Kevin Reddick is now the main man.
Safety: UNC will have to replace two starters in Matt Merletti, Charles Brown and Jonathan Smith, so this position will have to be rebuilt for the future.
Defensive back: This should be the main priority in this class. The Cavaliers will lose four DBs, including two starting safeties in Rodney McCleod and Corey Mosley, and standout cornerback Chase Minnifield. They’ll also miss Dom Joseph, who came in for the nickel packages. Demetrious Nicholson, who started as a true freshman last year, is suddenly the veteran of the group.
Offensive line: The Hoos will have to replace their starting center and left guard. Redshirt freshman center Cody Wallace could get a promotion, and sophomore right guard Luke Bowanko started in the bowl game. They’ve got some big bodies waiting in the wings, but they’ll have some questions to answer here this spring.
Kickers: This position needs to be rebuilt, as the Cavaliers lose Robert Randolph, who finished sixth all time in scoring at UVa, kickoff specialist Chris Hinkebein, and four-year punter Jimmy Howell. The position is wide open heading into the spring.
Running back: This one is a no-brainer, as the Hokies have lost four players here in the past two years. David Wilson and his backup, Josh Oglesby, were the latest to depart, and Tony Gregory just had ACL surgery and is out for the spring. The staff likes Michael Holmes, who redshirted last year, and J.C. Coleman enrolled last week.
Receiver: The Hokies will miss Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, and next year’s class has three seniors in Dyrell Roberts, D.J. Coles, and Marcus Davis. The future of the position is young, and the staff is still going after several uncommitted players pretty hard.
Defensive line: This year’s class already includes at least five committed defensive linemen, and the Hokies will be particularly thin at noseguard. They had some players graduate early who didn’t play a lot, but at least provided depth.
Linebacker:The Hokies have four committed, and are still chasing another just to build the depth. The staff missed on some recruits at this position last year and would like to make up for it in this class.
1. Virginia Tech’s defensive changes. Coordinator Bud Foster has revamped his starting lineup in preparation for Georgia Tech’s spread option offense. Jack Tyler will get his first start of the season at middle linebacker, and defensive end J.R. Collins will move to defensive tackle. Tyrel Wilson will take Collins’s spot at defensive end, and for the second straight year, cornerback Kyle Fuller will play linebacker. There are a lot of redshirt sophomores in the lineup who will get their first look at the Jackets’ unique offense. How they handle that -- some in new positions -- will be critical.
3. The ACC standings. This is a critical week for the conference race. Clemson can clinch the Atlantic Division with a win over Wake Forest, Virginia Tech can eliminate Georgia Tech and Miami with a win in Atlanta, and Georgia Tech can move into a tie for first place with Virginia with a win.
4. Clemson running back Andre Ellington: He missed the Georgia Tech game with an ankle injury, and Clemson in turn missed him. Ellington is not only the team’s top rusher, but his ability to block and hang onto the ball should be a noticeable upgrade to Clemson’s offense against Wake Forest.
5. Standout receivers in Death Valley. The ACC’s top two receivers in receptions/per game will highlight Saturday’s matchup. Wake Forest junior wide receiver Chris Givens is 68 receiving yards away from tying Ricky Proehl’s single-season record of 1,053 which he set during the 1989 season. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is No. 2 in the ACC at 108 receiving yards per game, while Givens leads with 109.4.
6. Miami running back Lamar Miller against the nation’s No. 3 rushing defense. Florida State is holding opponents to just 78.89 rushing yards per game, but Miller is coming off a 147-yard performance against Duke and became the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002.
7. Florida State’s receivers against Miami’s secondary. A total of 10 Seminoles with at least five receptions are averaging more than 10.5 yards per catch. No team in the nation has more receivers averaging 10.5 yards per reception with a minimum of five catches. Miami’s defense can’t key in on one player, and the Canes rank No. 95 in pass efficiency defense.
8. Duke’s passing game against Virginia’s defense. The Hoos are No. 20 in the country in pass efficiency defense, and Duke has the No. 3 passing offense in the ACC. Virginia safety Rodney McLeod had three interceptions last weekend against Maryland, but Duke receivers Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner are two of the best in the league.
9. NC State receiver T.J. Graham. He needs 55 yards to break the ACC career kickoff return mark. Earlier this season, Graham became the first Wolfpack receiver with three consecutive games with more than 100 yards since Jerricho Cotchery had five straight at the end of 2003.
10. Maryland’s red zone defense. Over the past four games, Notre Dame has converted 17 red zone trips into 15 touchdowns. That is the highest touchdown percentage on red zone visits for the Irish over any four-game stretch since 2000. As much as Maryland’s defense has struggled this year, the Terps have fared well in the red zone, and are tied for No. 20 in the country in red zone efficiency defense.
Virginia S Rodney McLeod: His three interceptions in the 31-13 win over Maryland tied a school record for a game. He became first player since Anthony Poindexter in 1996 against NC State to have three picks in a game and the seventh player overall. He also had a team-high seven tackles. Two of his interceptions were on fourth down in the fourth quarter. His first set up Virginia's second touchdown drive of the third quarter, increasing the Hoos' lead to 15 points, 28-13.
NC State's defense: The Wolfpack held North Carolina to just 3 yards rushing and finished with four sacks in the 13-0 shutout of their rival. NC State held UNC to just 165 total yards in the first shutout of the Tar Heels since 1960. UNC was held to just 32 yards in the first half, and had three turnovers.
NC State coach Tom O'Brien: Five times. With the 13-0 win over rival North Carolina, NC State won five in a row in the series for the first time since 1988-92. O'Brien kept his team on track following an embarrassing 34-0 loss at Florida State, and in a game that some said would define the direction of his career in Raleigh, O'Brien came out on top.
Miami running back Lamar Miller: He ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns in the Canes' 49-14 win over Duke, becoming the first 1,000-yard rusher at Miami since Willis McGahee in 2002. Miller now has 1,016 yards this season. Miller surpassed the 1,000-yard mark with a 22-yard touchdown run with 8:56 left in the game. He also had a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter for the 35-14 lead.
Florida State's defense: The Noles had four takeaways and held BC to just 94 yards rushing and 5-of-15 third-down conversion attempts in a 38-7 win on Thursday. Telvin Smith had a fumble recovery and an interception, and linebacker Nigel Bradham had 2.5 tackles for loss in the first half and led the team with seven tackles.
1. Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami: He was a second-team all-conference selection last year, despite starting only four games. He was third on the team with 79 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, and had three interceptions, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery.
2. Eddie Whitely, Virginia Tech: He had 80 tackles and two interceptions last year at free safety. He also broke up six passes and forced two fumbles. He’s a smart player who can line up anywhere in the secondary.
3. Earl Wolff, NC State: He led the team in tackles last year with 95, including 4.5 TFLs and two sacks. He had one interception, two pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
4. Nick Moody, Florida State: In his first year starting at free safety, Moody ranked third on the team with 79 tackles, including four tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. He finished the season with one interception, two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
5. Vaughn Telemaque, Miami: He was one of seven Canes to start all 13 games last year and finished fourth on the team with 59 tackles. He tied for the team lead in interceptions with three.
6. Matt Daniels, Duke: He is Duke’s leading returning tackler with 93 hits. He ranked sixth in the ACC in tackles last year and fourth in career tackles in the ACC among returnees with 198. He forced a team-high three fumbles last year and has six over the past two seasons. He had seven pass breakups last year.
7. Rodney McLeod, Virginia: He has been a two-year starter at strong safety and enters his final season with 133 career tackles. Last year he had 54 tackles and two interceptions.
8. Rashard Hall, Clemson: In two years he has had eight interceptions and five bass breakups in 27 games. He has nine career takeaways. He had 62 tackles and two interceptions last year.
9. Jim Noel, Boston College: He was second on the team with four interceptions and had 36 tackles (27 solo). He earned his first start at Florida State and made a career-high 10 tackles with a pass breakup and two interceptions, one of which he returned 43 yards for a touchdown.
10. Cyhl Quarles, Wake Forest: He finished second on the team with 71 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and he also had one interception and one fumble recovery.
2. Florida State: The Seminoles return both starters in Nick Moody and Terrance Parks. Moody had 79 tackles last season and Parks had 44 and six deflections. The group was strengthened with the addition of Lamarcus Joyner, who moved from cornerback and proved this spring he’s capable of being a safety.
3. NC State: The Wolfpack has two of the best in Earl Wolff, the team’s leading tackler last season with 95, and Brandan Bishop, who had 56 tackles and a team-high four interceptions. Dontae Johnson (22 tackles), also returns.
4. Virginia Tech: Eddie Whitley is the lone returning starter, but he should be one of the best in the ACC. Antone Exum, who was the No. 2 free safety last season, moved to rover this spring. He played in every game last season and had five starts when Tech went to its nickel defense.
5. Virginia: The Cavaliers return veteran starters in Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley, who have combined for 41 career starts. Mosley had 52 tackles and two interceptions last season, and McLeod had 54 tackles and four pass breakups. Safety Dom Joseph (34 tackles) also returns.
6. Duke: The Blue Devils return both starters in Matt Daniels and Lee Butler. Daniels, a senior, has started 25 career games and is one of the top returning tacklers in the ACC. Butler had 58 tackles and nine passes defended last season.
7. Boston College: The Eagles return juniors Jim Noel, who had four interceptions in eight starts, and Okechukwu Okoroha, who started the final six games last fall. Noel, Okoroha, and Dominick LeGrande combined for 90 tackles last season.
8. Wake Forest: Both starters return in Daniel Mack and Cyhl Quarles. Mack had 45 tackles and two interceptions last season. Duran Lowe (30 tackles) could unseat Quarles, who is Wake’s leading returning tackler with 71 hits. Redshirt freshman Desmond Cooper is also competing for playing time.
9. Clemson: Rashard Hall has 19 career starts and made 62 tackles and two interceptions last season. Safety Jonathan Meeks (28 tackles, one start) also returns, along with Carlton Lewis.
10. Maryland: Just as Kenny Tate’s move to linebacker bumped the Terps up in the ranking in that category, his departure from safety drops them a few notches as they now don’t have any returning starters there. They do, however, have experience. Eric Franklin played in 11 games, with 23 tackles and three interceptions (tied for second on the team). Matt Robinson played in all 13 games and posted 29 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles. The Terps have plenty of depth with Austin Walker, Titus Till, Anthony Green and Desmond Haynes.
11. North Carolina: Matt Merletti had five starts and Jonathan Smith, who lettered in 2008 and 2009 but missed all of last season, are the projected starters. They will be pushed by junior Gene Robinson (four starts, 30 tackles, one interception) for playing time.
12. Georgia Tech: The Jackets had to replace both of their safeties in Mario Edwards and Jerrard Tarrant. Safety Fred Holton (11 tackles) and Isaiah Johnson (46 tackles, one interception) are the two most likely front-runners to start this fall.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Since Virginia lost at Georgia Tech on Oct. 9 -- cornerback Ras-I Dowling's first start of the season -- Dowling has played three defensive plays against EMU and one special-teams play. For the past month, he has made it through practices, but a lingering knee injury has kept him out of games. Now, as the seniors on Virginia's roster prepare to play their final home games in Scott Stadium, the Cavaliers are hoping Dowling can finish his career on the field, not the sideline.
Dowling brings playmaking potential to each game, so while it may appear on paper that Virginia's cornerback situation has been respectable in his absence, it doesn't speak to what game-changing plays Dowling may have contributed.
The 55-48 loss to Duke really showed how much Chase Minnifield has stepped up in Dowling's absence -- missing both of them changed the outcome of the game from a defensive aspect. Minnifield, who entered the Duke game tied for the national lead with six interceptions, had an ankle injury and didn't last past the first quarter.
Dowling's role this season has been limited to the sideline, cheering on his teammates. He goes from huddle to huddle, offering encouragement, but his experience and big-play ability is missing in the secondary and has added to some of the growing pains on defense. Minnifield has helped filled that role, but if both of them were out there, the Cavaliers' secondary would be tough to beat. It's currently No. 23 in the country in pass defense.
Sophomore cornerback Devin Wallace and senior Mike Parker have combined to fill Dowling's spot. Against Duke, Virginia had safety Rodney McLeod at cornerback for spurts because of the lack of depth. Still, Dowling's injury hasn't seemed to affect his draft stock. Mel Kiper still has Dowling listed as No. 2 at his position.
"With him I know it's frustrating, without getting into his personal history, there's a lot of issues with him," London said of Dowling. "He obviously has every NFL scout coming by to see him and they know about him. His junior year stands on what it is and what it was. Frustrating that he hasn't had a senior year opportunity to do some of the same things. But his skills are not diminished. Still great character person. A lot of the things they liked about him then, back then, they still like now."
If only Virginia fans could see it one more time in Scott Stadium.
The good news was his offense rolling up 524 yards and 49 points, with quarterback Matt Barkley turning in a nearly flawless performance with five touchdown passes and no picks.
"One game will not define us," Kiffin said. "Just like it will not define Matt on offense. Let's take a couple of games before we evaluate, before we make big statements about sides of the ball."
That said, Kiffin understands the concerns over his defense, which looked to be a strength entering the season, no matter a completely rebuilt secondary. The hand wringing over one bad game that, nonetheless, still ended up being a win is understandable, he said.
"That's who we are right now because it happened," he said.
See: Philosophical! The Trojans defense fell on a island and everyone saw it.
Therefore, that defense will be looking for redemption against Virginia on Saturday in the Coliseum, USC's only home game until Oct. 2. The Cavaliers beat Richmond 34-13 last weekend, the debut for new coach Mike London, but the Cavaliers only welcome back 12 starters from a 3-9 team that got Al Groh fired.
Moreover, Barkley might be working against a secondary minus its two best players: All-ACC cornerback Ras-I Dowling and junior strong safety Rodney McLeod didn't play against the Spiders. Dowling missed much of fall camp with a hamstring injury, while McLeod has a knee injury.
Another boost for the USC offense: The return of freshman running back Dillon Baxter from a one-game suspension. Kiffin has called Baxter USC's "most talented player."
The last time these two teams met in 2008, Mark Sanchez and the Trojans bludgeoned the Cavaliers 52-7 in Charlottesville. But the circumstances are much different this time. For one, there are two new head coaches. For another, USC is no longer riding a run of Pac-10 dominance to a certain BCS bowl berth. The rest of the Pac-10 took care of the former last fall, and the NCAA took care of the latter this summer.
Still, London said he doesn't see a neutered team.
"When you look at the game [film], you see athleticism -- from everybody," he said. "Even the water boy is athletic and fast."
So what went wrong at Hawaii on defense? Kiffin cited a number of things. For one, yes, it did hurt that the Trojans didn't do much full-contact work during fall camp in order to avoid injuries. That's an explanation for the poor tackling. Further, the Warriors surprised USC when they tweaked their spread scheme with a "pistol" formation.
Kiffin also gave credit to Hawaii: "That is a really good offense, and I think we'll see that throughout the year... They are going to put up lot of yards and points on people if they stay healthy."
Kiffin seemed excited that Virginia's style of offense will be more in the Trojans' comfort zone. He called the Hawaii game "a wake-up call" and expects his defense to be highly motivated after turning in an embarrassing performance.
And, no, the Trojans defense, which started hemorrhaging last year (though USC still led the Pac-10 in scoring defense at 19.8 ppg), hasn't lost its confidence. At least not yet.
"I look for us to play a lot better this week," Kiffin said. "If we play like that three weeks into the season, yeah, we're going to have a confidence issue. We're going to have a lot of issues. But I don't think that's going to be the case. I think our guys are going to really respond well this week."
Oh, and by the way, overconfidence shouldn't be a problem, either
"How we can be overconfident; we haven't done anything yet," Kiffin said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
You got to know some of them better than others this spring, but all of the following newcomers (in no particular order) established themselves as players' whose names you should remember come fall:
Virginia Tech TB Ryan Williams -- He quickly earned the spotlight with an 80-yard run on the first carry of his first spring scrimmage. In the spring game he had 10 carries for 85 yards, and two receptions for 66 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown on a middle screen.
Boston College TE Chris Pantale -- The 6-foot-5, 238-pound redshirt freshman from Wayne, N.J., had five catches for 45 yards - including a long of 17 yards in the spring game.
Florida State DE Brandon Jenkins -- He made plays every day, and probably had the most sacks of any of the Noles this spring. He also was constantly in the backfield. He probably won't start but may help replace some of the sacks Everette Brown took with him.
Maryland LB Demetrius Hartsfield -- The redshirt freshman is expected to be the starting Will linebacker in 2009. He's quick, athletic, and big enough (230 pounds) to be effective in the run game and yet fast enough to cover receivers coming out of the backfield. He was in the two-deep the second half of last season and nearly played, but held his redshirt. He ended a solid spring with seven tackles for the White team in the spring game.
UNC TB Jamal Womble -- He's a powerful runner built low to the ground who earned the No. 3 spot behind Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston. He was the leading rusher in the spring game with 50 yards on seven carries and caught three passes for 12 yards. He proved this spring he could give the starters a breather.
UNC LB Zach Brown -- He reportedly ran a 4.26 with the strength and conditioning staff last week. He will be the starter at outside linebacker now that Quan Sturdivant has moved inside to middle.
Duke QB Sean Renfree -- He earned the confidence of coach David Cutcliffe and some playing time this fall with his strong performance this spring behind starter Thaddeus Lewis. Renfree threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.
Virginia WR Kris Burd and DB Rodney McLeod -- They're two players who showed the potential for breakout seasons. Burd saw action in all 12 games last year but caught only seven passes. With Kevin Ogletree gone, odds are that number increases.
McLeod was a true freshman last year and played almost exclusively in the nickel/dime packages from scrimmage. This year he's likely to be a starter at safety. He has great athleticism to complement h his football instincts.
Georgia Tech RB/SB Anthony Allen -- The junior transfer from Louisville is almost certain to figure into the crowded backfield this fall. He and Embry Peeples led all rushers in the spring game with 69 yards each.
Georgia Tech DL T.J. Barnes -- With three starters gone from last year's nine-win season, Barnes proved this spring he could become a dependable replacement. He had eight tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble in the spring game.
Clemson QB Kyle Parker -- The dual sport athlete juggled his baseball responsibilities while competing with Willy Korn for the starting job, and wowed Tigers fans with his performance in the spring game. He completed 13-21 passes for 171 yards and a score, and also ran for a score.
NC State QB Mike Glennon -- He showed significant improvement this season and took advantage of the fact that starter Russell Wilson dedicated half of his spring to baseball. Glennon was 28-46 for 338 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the spring game.
Wake Forest corner Kenny Okoro -- He's a long, tall athlete with the potential to replace Alphonso Smith. He made play after play this spring, tackles well and handles calls well. He'll continue to battle with Josh Bush this summer, but at the minimum will be used as a nickle back.
Miami WR Kendal Thompkins -- He's a smaller, speedy deep threat who caught two passes for 45 yards and has the potential to truly separate himself from the crowded group of receivers.