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Clemson's Roderick McDowell looks to replace Andre Ellington in 2013.
With spring practice underway across college football, most of interest will focus on quarterback battles or incoming freshmen that enrolled early to get a jumpstart on making an impact for 2013.
However, there’s always a handful of players – outside of the quarterback position – that fly under the radar that need to have a big spring practice for their team. Whether it’s a running back replacing a 1,000-yard rusher or a lineman stepping into a starting role for an all-conference player, there’s plenty of names that will be under the spotlight this spring.
Athlon continues its spring practice previews with a look at five under-the-radar players to watch in each conference during spring practice.
5 Players to Watch in ACC Spring Practice
J.C. Coleman, RB, Virginia Tech
Each unit in Virginia Tech’s offense is in need of major repair, but the rushing attack may be the aspect most under the microscope this spring. The Hokies managed just 145.9 yards rushing per game last season, with quarterback Logan Thomas leading the team with 524 yards on the ground. This marked the first year since 1992 that Virginia Tech’s top rusher had less than 600 yards. Coleman averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season but finished with just 492 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 109 attempts. Although quarterback Logan Thomas needs to play better, the Hokies have to generate more on the ground in 2013. Coleman was a four-star recruit by Rivals.com coming out of high school, and the pressure is on the sophomore to win the top backfield spot, while giving Virginia Tech a much-needed boost on the ground.
Roderick McDowell, RB, Clemson
Andre Ellington was one of the nation’s most underrated players during his career, rushing for 3,436 yards and 33 touchdowns and catching 59 passes for 505 yards and two scores. Ellington expired his eligibility after the bowl game, leaving Clemson with a trio of options battling for the top spot this spring. McDowell is the likely frontrunner to replace Ellington, as he rushed for 450 yards and five touchdowns last season. McDowell posted two performances of 83 yards rushing last year and averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 83 attempts. The South Carolina native has patiently waited for his opportunity behind Ellington, and 2013 should be a breakout year for the senior if he holds off sophomore Zac Brooks and junior D.J. Howard.
Related: 2013 Clemson Tigers Spring Preview
Andre Monroe, DE, Maryland
With the departure of six key starters from last season’s defense, the Terrapins are banking on the return of Monroe to keep this unit near the top of the ACC. As a freshman in 2011, he recorded 18 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks. However, Monroe suffered a knee injury in fall practice last year and was forced to sit out the 2012 season. The junior has been limited in spring practice, and considering how important he will be in replacing standout lineman Joe Vellano, the Maryland coaching staff doesn’t want to rush Monroe’s recovery. Even if he doesn’t participate much this spring, just having Monroe back on the field is a good sign for the Terrapins’ defense in 2013.
Curtis Porter, DT, Miami
Injuries have hindered Porter’s career at Miami, as he has yet to play a full season. In 2012, Porter played in only four games and finished the year with four tackles. Considering he has only 24 career tackles and 15 games of experience, why is Porter so important to Miami’s defense? Consider this: The Hurricanes allowed 217.9 rushing yards and 30.5 points per game last season. Fixing the defense starts in the trenches this year, which is why Porter needs to be on the field all year. Assuming the senior can stay in the lineup, his presence should help ends Anthony Chickillo and Shayon Green see fewer double teams, while providing some help against the run. Porter may not be an all-conference performer, but he can provide some needed support for Miami’s struggling defense.
Related: 2013 Miami Hurricanes Spring Preview
Landon Turner, OG, North Carolina
With the departure of three offensive line starters, North Carolina has a huge rebuilding project ahead this spring. Guard Jonathan Cooper was one of the best linemen in the nation last year, so replacing his presence in the trenches isn’t going to be easy. The Tar Heels have a good foundation to start their rebuilding task, as center Russell Bodine made all 12 starts last season, while tackle James Hurst received second-team All-ACC honors. Turner is expected to earn one of the starting spots at guard after starting the final four games in 2012. The Virginia native ranked as one of the top 150 prospects in the 2011 signing class by Rivals.com and has big shoes to fill with the departure of Cooper.
Related: North Carolina Tar Heels 2013 Spring Preview
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