NCF Nation: Taiwan Easterling

Florida State wide receiver and outfielder Taiwan Easterling has signed a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs and will not return to school, the university announced Thursday night.

“Taiwan and I talked and he’s decided to pursue his career in baseball,” coach Jimbo Fisher said in a prepared statement. “I totally support him 100 percent. He did an outstanding job for us.

“I would have loved to have him back, but I totally understand him pursuing his future endeavors. Baseball is the way for him to go and we wish him nothing but the best.”

The good news: Florida State is still very talented at wide receiver and there's a lot of young stars waiting in the wings.

The bad news: It's one less veteran receiver for first-year starting quarterback EJ Manuel to work with.

Bert Reed (58 catches) and Willie Haulstead (38 catches, six touchdowns), will now likely be the go-to receivers. The Noles are also excited about sophomore Jared Haggins, redshirt freshman Christian Green, and sophomore Greg Dent, who played mostly on special teams as a true freshman last year. Rodney Smith (31 catches, three touchdowns) and Kenny Shaw should also see some time. There are plenty of helping hands available, but there's no doubt FSU will miss Easterling's experience.
You asked, I answered. Readers (particularly @AsylumGodfather) were calling for more position rankings, so the receivers are up next. This could be the strongest position group in the conference, and one of the more difficult to rank, so I looked back on a few stats to help me separate them, including how some of these guys did against their best competition (i.e. Danny Coale versus FSU, wow). Here’s the final verdict of which teams in the ACC have the best combination of depth and talent:

1. Virginia Tech: With Jarrett Boykin and Coale returning, the Hokies’ passing game has a chance to flourish this fall. Boykin, Coale and Dyrell Roberts were the team’s top three receivers last year for the second straight season, combining for 113 catches, 1,882 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add to that Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, E.L. Smiling -- it’s a bottomless cup of depth and talent.

2. Duke: Conner Vernon has 128 catches in his first two collegiate seasons and Donovan Varner ranked fourth in the ACC in pass receptions (60) and seventh in yardage (736). Their combined 274 receptions are the most of any active duo in the ACC. They are the top two returning leaders in catches per game, and Vernon is the ACC’s returning leader in receiving yards per game. The Blue Devils also have sophomore Brandon Braxton (14 catches), who could make a name for himself as the third option this year.

3. Florida State: Every Seminole who caught a pass last season returns. Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith return with a combined 50 career starts. Reed ranks second among all returning ACC receivers with 141 career receptions. Willie Haulstead had 38 catches last season, Smith had 31, and there’s plenty of rising talent like Christian Green.

4. North Carolina: Like Florida State, North Carolina returns all of its receivers, including two who redshirted last season. Dwight Jones, who had 946 yards and 62 receptions, leads the group, but Erik Highsmith (25 catches, 348 yards and three touchdowns) must be accounted for as well. Defenses also can’t forget about Jheranie Boyd, who is a deep threat.

5. Miami: The Canes will miss the production of Leonard Hankerson, but they don’t have to if one or two of the other players show more consistency. Travis Benjamin has big-play capabilities and averaged 17.3 yards on his 43 catches last season. There is no shortage of other options with LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Tommy Streeter, Allen Hurns and Kendal Thompkins. Which one will rise to the occasion?

6. Clemson: It was the DeAndre Hopkins show last season, and he should again highlight the Tigers’ passing game. As a true freshman, Hopkins had 52 catches, the most by a first-year player in school history. Jaron Brown returns with 10 career starts, and the Tigers also have Marquan Jones (21 catches) and Bryce McNeal (19).

7. Maryland: The Terps have to replace their top two receivers from a year ago in Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, and no clear frontrunners emerged this spring. Quintin McCree leads all returners with 16 catches, followed by Kevin Dorsey (15), Ronnie Tyler (13), Kerry Boykins (10), and Tony Logan.

8. Boston College: True freshman Bobby Swigert led the Eagles last year with 39 catches and four touchdowns in five starts. The Eagles are hoping to get a significant boost from the return of Colin Larmond Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the young group should be better regardless because of the experience gained last season.

9. Virginia: The Cavaliers will miss Dontrelle Inman, who averaged 16 yards per catch on 51 receptions, but returning starter Kris Burd finished fifth in the ACC last season in pass receptions (58). The group will also get a boost from the return of Tim Smith, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, and Matt Snyder (30 catches) and Ray Keys (three catches).

10. NC State: NC State has to replace its top two receivers from a year ago, and T.J. Graham is the team’s leading returning receiver with 25 catches. Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton all have experience, and redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood, Tobias Palmer and Everett Proctor have also been competing for playing time.

11. Wake Forest: Chris Givens (35 catches, 13.7 average), Michael Campanaro (10 catches) and Danny Dembry are the lead candidates to start, but the Deacs are missing a spark like Kenny Moore (2007) and D.J. Boldin (2008) provided. There were too many dropped passes in the spring game, so this group has some work to do in summer camp.

12. Georgia Tech: Yes, Georgia Tech throws the ball, just not often enough or efficiently enough to be anywhere but last place on this list. Stephen Hill led the Jackets last year with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He should show progress this fall now that there’s no pressure on him to be the next Demaryius Thomas. If he doesn’t show more consistency, the Jackets could turn to Daniel McKayhan, Tyler Melton or Jeremy Moore.
Spring game: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, ESPN3.com.

Questions answered: After losing two starting linebackers, the position was a concern, but the young players had good springs. Telvin Smith, Christian Jones and Nigel Terrell each seemed more comfortable with the position, and the entire defense has grown entering the second season under coordinator Mark Stoops.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Sam Sharpe/US PresswireFlorida State is expecting big things from quarterback EJ Manuel this fall.
Questions unanswered: The backup quarterback job is still a race between Clint Trickett and Will Secord. Offensive line issues still linger, particularly at center, where injuries have delayed progress. Three different players have rotated at the position this spring.

Spring stars: Lamarcus Joyner has shown he can play safety at 5-foot-8, 192 pounds. It’s more his natural position after playing cornerback. First-year starting quarterback EJ Manuel, who was healthy for spring practices for the first time, showed that he can run the offense, provide leadership, and the in-game experience has transferred over to his new role.

Of note: Safety Avis Commack returned after missing last season with a broken leg he suffered while running hurdles with Seminoles' track team in February, 2010. The 6-foot-4 redshirt junior cornerback displayed good cover skills, has a big body, and adds some depth to the secondary as a backup. Offensively, Jared Haggins stepped in for Taiwan Easterling, who has been playing baseball. The converted high school quarterback made a seamless transition to the slot, was capable of playing the position, and earned the praise of coach Jimbo Fisher.
It’s time to reload in the ACC. Here’s a look at the position needs for each team in the Atlantic Division for the 2011 signing class:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Offensive linemen: Six players on the final two-deep roster for 2010 were either juniors or seniors, and the Eagles will have to find replacements for Anthony Castonzo, Rich Lapham and Thomas Claiborne. There were two juniors at center in 2011, and the recruiting overall at this position hasn’t been as strong in recent years.

Defensive linemen: The Eagles have been thin at the position to begin with since the departures of Ron Brace and B.J. Raji. The interior line should be a priority, as tackle Damik Scafe will graduate, and Kaleb Ramsey will be a senior. Defensive end Brad Newman will also graduate.

CLEMSON

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Bowers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesReplacing Da'Quan Bowers is a top priority for Clemson.
Defensive line: The early departure of defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and the loss of Jarvis Jenkins makes this group a priority. Seven of the eight players up front on the final two-deep roster were either juniors or seniors.

Quarterback: Prior to the early enrollees, Clemson only had one scholarship quarterback on the roster -- projected starter Tajh Boyd. The depth needs to be rebuilt after the loss of starter Kyle Parker and transfer of backup Willy Korn.

Running back: The early departure of Jamie Harper to the NFL left a hole in the Tigers’ lineup. It’s not completely empty, as Andre Ellington remains the best back on the roster and Roderick McDowell was a redshirt freshman backup to Harper.

FLORIDA STATE

Offensive lineman – The departures of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon will leave gaping holes up front, and A.J. Ganguzza and Antwane Greenlee aren’t expected to return. Overall, the staff is looking for bigger, better players. With the exception of right guard, this was a veteran group.

Running back: Despite the current depth, the coaching staff still wanted to sign about three more running backs in this class.

Wide receiver: This would be the third priority for the staff. Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterling will both be seniors, but the team has lacked some dynamic playmakers at the position.

Linebacker: The Noles lost two starters from last year’s Atlantic Division championship team, and there are several young players on the rise like Jeff Luc and Telvin Smith, but the staff wants more numbers at the position.

Safety: The Noles need an upgrade at this position.

Defensive line: This is a matter of mostly building depth and size and continuing to get better.

MARYLAND

Kicker/ Punter: Nick Ferrara has the ability to do both, but he also struggled at both in 2010. Travis Baltz was a four-year starter at punter who has to be replaced. The kicking game should be a top priority in this class, and a concern if Ferrara doesn’t become more consistent.

Wide receiver: The early departure of standout Torrey Smith to the NFL leaves quarterback Danny O'Brien without a favorite target. Seven of the nine receivers listed on the most current depth chart for 2010 were either juniors or seniors.

Running back: The Terps have to replace starter Da’Rel Scott, and Davin Meggett will be a senior. There is some talent behind Meggett in D.J. Adams, but the position could use more depth.

Secondary: Six of the top 10 players in the secondary were either juniors or seniors in 2010, including safety Antwine Perez, who will graduate. Kenny Tate and Cameron Chism will both be seniors, and the corner position is the biggest need.

Defensive end: Defensive coordinator Don Brown would like to bring in at least one player who can really bring some speed off the edge.

NC STATE

Kickers: The Wolfpack lost their starting punter and place-kicker, easily making kickers the biggest need in this recruiting class.

Defensive linemen: With the exception of sophomore Brian Slay, the entire 2010 line was comprised of juniors and seniors. The Pack have to replace two starters, and two returning starters, Jeff Rieskamp and J.R. Sweezy, will be seniors.

Linebackers: This was another veteran group for NC State, with five of the six players on the two-deep either juniors or seniors. Nate Irving’s graduation will be a big hit and Audie Cole will be a senior.

Quarterback: If Russell Wilson leaves early, the position will be even thinner, but backup Mike Glennon will be a junior, so the staff needs to build more depth.

WAKE FOREST

Offensive linemen: The Deacs will have four redshirt juniors returning up front, and have to replace redshirt senior center Russell Nenon. The staff is looking to increase the depth and talent up front.

Linebackers: The position hasn’t been the same since the 2008 class (Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux). They were both drafted and two of the fastest players the program has ever seen. The staff needs to bring in more talent and speed here.

FSU shuts out Wake Forest 31-0

September, 25, 2010
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The Seminoles took their first step in leading the ACC Atlantic Division with a 31-0 win over Wake Forest. Taiwan Easterling had a great game for the Seminoles, catching six passes for 112 yards.

Considering the way Wake Forest has struggled recently, this isn't a huge surprise, but the Deacs are going to be in for a long season if they continue to struggle on both sides of the ball. So far, the defense has been the main problem, but Wake's offense wasn't able to do a thing against FSU. Of course, the Seminoles' defense deserves a lot of credit for that, and it's important to remember Wake is playing a true freshman quarterback. It's not going to get any easier with Georgia Tech next weekend, but if the Yellow Jackets' defense plays the way it did against NC State today, it certainly won't be a shutout.

ACC's triple threats

July, 1, 2010
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Last month, Rivals.com took a look at the top “triplets” in college football -- the teams with the best combination of quarterback, running back and wide receiver. ESPN.com’s bloggers have since been taking a closer look at the three-headed monsters in each of our respective conferences. Virginia Tech ranked No. 2 in the Rivals.com ranking and was the only ACC school that made the cut.

After looking into it a little closer, I could see why.

By doing this little experiment, I realized that there are only a few teams in the ACC that are truly threats in all three parts of this equation. While North Carolina has starting experience at all three positions, the Tar Heels didn’t make the cut for their lack of offensive success. Same with Virginia. Several teams came up just short -- like NC State, which doesn’t have starting experience at running back but has a standout quarterback and wide receiver, and Maryland, which is breaking in a new starter at quarterback but also has excellent depth at running back and receiver.

So, upon further review, here’s what I came up with:

Note: I’m only considering teams with players who have at least one year of ACC starting experience and weren’t significantly lacking at one of the positions:

1. Virginia Tech

QB: Tyrod Taylor

RB: Ryan Williams

WR: Jarrett Boykin

Rationale: The Hokies have the ACC’s returning leading rusher in Williams, another 1,000-yard rusher in Darren Evans, the league’s No. 1-ranked quarterback in passing efficiency, and the No. 8 receiver in receiving yards per game. No other team in the conference has three players rated higher.

2. Miami

QB: Jacory Harris

RB: Graig Cooper

WR: Leonard Hankerson

Rationale: Cooper is still rehabbing his knee, but with him in the lineup, the Canes have the No. 5 returning rusher in the league, the No. 4 quarterback in passing efficiency, and the No. 9 receiver in receiving yards per game. Even without Cooper healthy, the Canes have enough depth at both running back and receiver that as long as Harris stays healthy, Miami will remain a triple threat.

3. Florida State

QB: Christian Ponder

RB: Jermaine Thomas

WR: Taiwan Easterling

Rationale: Easterling has the most returning starting experience, but Bert Reed is the team’s leader in returning yardage. Jarmon Fortson is also a returning starter, while Ponder led the ACC in total offense despite missing four games with a shoulder injury. Thomas is the fourth-leading returning rusher in the conference, but there is enough depth that he’ll be pushed for playing time.

4. Georgia Tech

QB: Joshua Nesbitt

RB: Anthony Allen

WR: Tyler Melton

Rationale: This is where it starts to get interesting. Nesbitt is the team’s leading returning rusher, and he doesn’t show up in the ACC passing stats. Nor does Georgia Tech have a receiver ranked among the ACC’s returning leaders. However, it does have a 1,000-yard rusher in Nesbitt, two running backs with starting experience, and Melton started 10 games last year. By the end of the season, the Jackets should have a little more substance in two thirds of this equation.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's only June, but Florida State's wide receivers are working with a sense of urgency and purpose not usually detected until August. They're lifting in the mornings, running in the afternoons, and participating in individual seven-on-sevens. They're catching about 100 balls from the JUGS machine every day.

And most importantly, they're trying to stay on their best behavior.

"It seems like the receivers are trying to get into trouble, and it's not like that," said walk-on Louis Givens, who is expected to be a major contributor this fall. "All of us are good guys, but we get caught in the wrong situation at the wrong time."

Rod Owens was suspended earlier this spring for a DUI charge, and Preston Parker was kicked off the team in February for multiple incidents. Richard Goodman, Bert Reed and Cameron Wade are all facing charges for their involvement in an on-campus fight last season. And to top it all off, Corey Surrency was denied an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA.

After making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this group is intent on cleaning up their image -- starting now.

"Our mentality is to set the right impression," said Reed, who added his priorities this offseason start with being accountable to his teammates and coaches. "That's what our main focus is right now. Coach wouldn't have recruited us if we weren't good guys. We're all good guys. We just made mistakes and we were making mistakes at the wrong time -- back to back to back.

"We're making too many mistakes and hurting our team, obviously. It's hurting us at the same time but it's building up so much it's starting to hurt our team. I really feel like it's got to be dealt with. The athletic department is dealing with things, and we're kind of putting them in a bind right now."

Both Reed and Givens insist, though, that the off-field incidents haven't put the Noles in a bind on it. They point to Jarmon Fortson, Avis Commack and freshman Josh Gehres as players who made significant progress this spring. Tight end Caz Piurowski should also have an increased role in the passing game, and it would help dramatically for FSU to get Taiwan Easterling back from a ruptured Achilles.

"I wouldn't say we really lost a step," said Givens. "All these guys who backed up the guys from last year are here now, and they could have played last year and not missed a step. The spring was really strong."

Plus, the Noles have Reed, whose 23 receptions last year leads all returning receivers, and Givens, who caught two passes for 33 yards against Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Reed has bulked up from 166 to 178 and has made the weight room a priority. He said part of the problem last year was that receivers weren't holding their blocks long enough to spring a big play.

"I've been working hard in the weight room," he said. "I want to block, I want to get in somebody's grill. That's been one of my main goals, if not my main goal, is just to put on some more weight, knowing you're going to take a little bit more pounding being in on every play, and playing outside receiver, I feel like guys can jam you, so I have to be prepared for that."

The receivers have also benefited from the steady progress of quarterback Christian Ponder, who is entering his second season as a starter.

"Ponder is putting it on the money," Reed said. "It doesn't really matter who the receiver is. That's what he's showing us -- it doesn't matter who it is out there running the route, he's going to put it in your chest. It's up to you to catch the ball, and all of us guys can catch the ball. We catch 100 balls a day from the JUGS. We have enough talent to play."

Their talent was never a question. Now they're out to prove discipline isn't one either.

SOS in the ACC

May, 26, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Each team is going to need a little bit of help this fall (some more than others). Here's a look at where everyone in the ACC needs the most help heading into summer camp:

BOSTON COLLEGE -- Quarterback. It's easily the biggest question mark in Chestnut Hill, and it will also be one of Frank Spaziani's first major decisions as head coach. Regardless of whom he picks -- Dominique Davis, Codi Boek or Justin Tuggle -- experience will be at a minimum.

CLEMSON -- Wide receivers. Somebody needs to help Jacoby Ford, and Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham are no longer around to do it. Xavier Dye didn't quite have the consistency he'd hoped for this spring. Marquan Jones and Terrence Ashe could also be factors.

DUKE -- Offensive line. The Blue Devils lost three starters there and moved a fourth (Kyle Hill from left guard to left tackle), so it will have an entirely new look. The one player back in his original position is center Bryan Morgan.

FLORIDA STATE -- Receivers. FSU is waiting until the legal process unfolds to determine the length of Rod Owens' suspension, and it's uncertain how quickly Taiwan Easterling will be cleared to play after an injury to his Achilles. Bert Reed, Louis Givens and Jarmon Fortson will be heavily depended upon.

GEORGIA TECH -- Linemen. The Yellow Jackets have to replace three of four starters on the defensive line, and injuries to Cord Howard, Dan Voss and Nick Claytor slowed the progress on the offensive line this spring.

MARYLAND -- Offensive line. The Terps lost three starters and will have four players in new positions. Phil Costa should be the leader of an otherwise inexperienced group.

MIAMI -- Linebacker depth. There were a few position changes, and Colin McCarthy missed the spring. Sean Spence is proven, but depth remains a concern.

NORTH CAROLINA -- Receivers. This group had to be completely rebuilt, as UNC lost players who accounted for 17 of 21 receiving touchdowns last year. Greg Little had a good spring and should be the leader now, and freshman Joshua Adams benefitted from enrolling early.

NC STATE -- Safety. This is coach Tom O'Brien's biggest concern, and the Pack need Javon Walker, who tore his ACL and missed the spring, back and healthy. Clem Johnson played well last year despite being hindered by several injuries. O'Brien is looking for more from Jimmaul Simmons and Justin Byers.

VIRGINIA -- Linebackers. The backups to Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim rarely played, as Al Groh wanted to keep his best players on the field. Darren Childs, Steve Greer, Aaron Taliaferro, Cam Johnson, and Darnell Carter will have to grow up quickly.

VIRGINIA TECH -- Kicker. For the third straight year, Frank Beamer is in search of a new kicker, this time to replace Dustin Keys. Matt Waldron was the leading candidate out of the spring, but the competition is wide open.

WAKE FOREST -- Linebackers. Gone are Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux and Chantz McClinic. Introducing Gelo Orange. Yes, that's his name. Orange, along with Hunter Haynes, Jonathan Jones and a host of others have some big shoes to fill.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

They're young. They're inexperienced. They're ... green.

In keeping with our St. Patrick's Day theme, here's a look at the "greenest" units on each team in the ACC:

BOSTON COLLEGE -- If Dominique Davis wins the starting quarterback job, he's got a whopping three full games of starting experience to fall back on, and that's three more games than Justin Tuggle, who is also competing for the job.

CLEMSON -- The Tigers will be youngest at quarterback, where either sophomore Willy Korn or redshirt freshman Kyle Parker will inherit the offense.

DUKE -- The Blue Devils have to replace three starters on their offensive line and returning sophomore Kyle Hill moved from guard to tackle.

FLORIDA STATE -- Without Preston Parker, Greg Carr and likely Taiwan Easterling and Corey Surrency, the Noles will depend heavily upon a green group of receivers.

GEORGIA TECH -- Having lost three of four starters on the defensive line, it's easily one of the greenest groups in the whole conference.

MARYLAND -- Maryland lost five starters from its defensive front seven, but defensive tackles Travis Ivey and Dion Armstrong ended the year as starters and linebacker Adrian Moten had three starts.

MIAMI -- The Canes are still young everywhere, but remember quarterback Jacory Harris has only started two games and his backups have no collegiate experience.

NORTH CAROLINA -- The Tar Heels lost their top three receivers and will be counting heavily on inexperienced players to replace Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster.

NC STATE -- The Wolfpack needs to replace both offensive guards in John Bedics and Meares Green, who combined for 43 starts.

VIRGINIA -- Outside linebacker Denzel Burrell is the only returning starting linebacker in the Cavaliers' 3-4 defense.

VIRGINIA TECH -- The Hokies have to replace two starting linebackers in Brett Warren and Purnell Sturdivant.

WAKE FOREST -- The Demon Deacons have to replace three starters at linebacker, including Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 24, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Since Miami begins spring practice today, let's start in Coral Gables. In regards to this story about the possibility of Bryce Brown not visiting Miami, let's get something clear: Miami is no longer interested in Brown. It's over, done. A source at Miami has confirmed this for me, which is why it's no surprise LSU is suddenly in the picture for that last visit.

The more important question at Miami is who is going to be the backup quarterback?

One thing is certain -- Jacory Harris is the future of the offense, and he said it's "headed in the right direction." In order to take the Canes there, though, Harris first has to get used to his new role.

Man, I'm gonna miss interviewing this guy. Former FSU defensive end Everette Brown compared his experience at the NFL combine with speed dating.

Florida State receiver Taiwan Easterling's surgery was successful, but he is still out for the spring. And Preston Parker continues to have more problems than a man on the moon -- or in jail.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 16, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Here's a quick look at what's going on in the ACC today:

  • The great football state of Texas held nothing on Georgia Tech when it came to recruiting receiver Jeremy Moore.
  • ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said former Virginia wide receiver Kevin Ogletree should have stayed in school.
  • Duke isn't wasting any time building its 2010 recruiting class, and it didn't even have to leave the state to add two more.
  • Despite the injury to FSU receiver Taiwan Easterling, the Noles' strength coach says he has seen plenty of positive results during the offseason.
  • Is Bryce Brown now leaning toward LSU?

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