Spring Primer: ACC Coastal

Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter

Virginia Tech's David Wilson is primed for a breakout season in 2011.

Virginia Tech's David Wilson is primed for a breakout season in 2011.

-by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

2010 Record: 3-9, 1-7 ACC
Spring practice: February 16-March 26
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6
Spring storylines facing the Blue Devils:
1. If the Blue Devils want to get to their first bowl game since 1995, improving the defense needs to be a major focus of spring practice. Six starters are back, but each level of the defense loses a key contributor. The Blue Devils were last in the ACC in rush, total and pass defense last year. In addition to replacing a couple of key players, the Blue Devils have to adjust to a new coordinator (Jim Knowles) and a new defensive line coach (Rick Petri). Petri has a wealth of experience, and will be watched closely this year, especially after the defensive line generated only 12 sacks
2. Quarterback Sean Renfree should show improvement in his second season as the starter, and the Blue Devils boast one of the ACC’s top receiving corps. Although Duke will build its offense around the pass, the rushing attack needs to improve. Desmond Scott pumped some life into the ground attack last year, rushing for 530 yards and three scores. However, no Duke running back has rushed for more than 1,000 yards since 2003. Scott and Josh Snead should get the bulk of the carries and need to increase their totals in 2011 to add more balance to the offense.
3. Improving the offensive line always seems to be a focal point in Durham, and the Blue Devils have concerns regarding this unit going into spring practice. Center Bryan Morgan was one of the leaders for the line and started all 12 games last year. Morgan has finished his eligibility, opening the door for Brian Moore to slide from guard to center. Tackle Kyle Hill is a solid building block, but this unit needs to continue to make strides.
Redshirts to watch: CB Quan Stevenson, DE Jamal Wallace, DE Dezmond Johnson, LB C.J. France
Fantasy tip: Receiver Conner Vernon should be a threat to catch 1,000 yards this season and should benefit from Renfree’s second tour of duty as the starter. 
Early Enrollees: LB Jonathan Woodruff
Georgia Tech
2010 Record: 6-7, 4-4 ACC
Spring practice: March 28-April 24
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5
Spring storylines facing the Yellow Jackets:
1. One year after winning the ACC title, the Yellow Jackets head into spring practice regrouping after a disappointing 6-7 season. The loss of three key players – running back Jonathan Dwyer, defensive end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett – impacted Georgia Tech’s chances of a repeat, but plenty of talent returned to make a run at a spot in the top 25. The Yellow Jackets had a head-scratching loss to Kansas in Week 2, but looked like a different team in narrow losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia. Coach Paul Johnson will find the right answers, but the Yellow Jackets probably aren't ready to contend in 2011.
2. The transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense faced its ups and downs last year. The Yellow Jackets ranked 78th nationally against the run, but finished 34th against the pass. Only five starters are back and coordinator Al Groh must replace all four starters in the secondary. Isaiah Johnson is a solid building block at safety, but experience at cornerback is thin. Rod Sweeting and Louis Young will likely get the first opportunity to start, but other players need to emerge.
3. When Joshua Nesbitt was lost for the season with an arm injury against Virginia Tech, Tevin Washington was forced into the first significant action of his career. Washington held up well in the final five games, rushing for 514 yards and four scores, along with adding 417 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Although Washington closed the season as the No. 1 quarterback, expect redshirt freshman Synjyn Days to push for the starting spot in spring practice. Days was an option quarterback in high school and regardless of whether he wins the starting job or not, expect the redshirt freshman to see some playing time in 2011.
4. For the second offseason in a row, the Yellow Jackets will be replacing a 1,000-yard rusher. Battling to replace Anthony Allen will be a host of players, with Orwin Smith (516 yards) and Roddy Jones (353 yards) returning as the top rushers from last year. Expect Smith and Jones to be two of the top options, but don’t count out Embry Peeples, Richard Watson and Charles Perkins from working their way into the mix. The Yellow Jackets may not have an Anthony Allen or Jonathan Dwyer on the roster, but there’s plenty of options to tote ball in 2011.
Redshirts to watch: RB Charles Perkins, QB Synjyn Days, DL Denzel McCoy, DE Anthony Williams, CB Ryan Ayers
Fantasy tip: With an uncertain quarterback battle and a handful of names battling for carries, the Yellow Jackets may not produce a week-to-week fantasy option in 120 formats. 
Early Enrollees: OL Trey Braun
2010 Record: 7-6, 5-3 ACC
Spring practice: March 5-April 9
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7
Spring storylines facing the Hurricanes:
1. New head coach Al Golden resurrected a struggling Temple program to respectability and now gets a shot to move Miami back into national contender status. The Hurricanes have not posted double-digit wins since 2003 and are coming off a disappointing 6-7 season. Golden hired a solid staff, including defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio from Temple and Jedd Fisch from the NFL to coordinate the offense. Fisch had a so-so run as the offensive coordinator at Minnesota, but has more talent to work with at Miami. Golden is the right man for the job, but it may take him a year or two to accumulate the pieces he needs to win the ACC crown.
2. All eyes in Coral Gables will be watching the quarterback battle this spring. Spencer Whipple was listed No. 1 on the first release of the depth chart, but don’t expect that to stay at the end of spring practice. Senior Jacory Harris and sophomore Stephen Morris are the two most likely candidates for the starting job and both played significant snaps last year. Harris has struggled with consistency and turnovers during his time in Coral Gables and if he can eliminate his mistakes, should be able to edge Morris for the No. 1 spot.
3. D’Onofrio certainly has his work cut out for him this spring. Seven starters are back, but the Hurricanes were hit hard by losses at cornerback. Brandon Harris departed early to the NFL Draft, while Ryan Hill and DeMarcus Van Dyke finished their eligibility. Brandon McGee registered 15 tackles last year and should figure prominently into the mix this season. Keep an eye on redshirt freshmen Keion Payne and Devont’a Davis, while early enrollee Thomas Finnie is expected to challenge for snaps. Although the cornerback position is a concern, safety should be in good hands with Vaughn Telemaque and Ray-Ray Armstrong returning.
Redshirts to watch: DL David Perry, DB Keion Payne, LB Travis Williams, DB Devont’a Davis
Fantasy tip: The Hurricanes have a deep backfield, but it’s Lamar Miller’s time to shine. The sophomore rushed for 646 yards and six scores last season and with Damien Berry departing, expect his yardage closer to the 1,000 mark.
Early Enrollees: DE Olsen Pierre, DB Thomas Finnie
North Carolina
2010 Record: 8-5, 4-4 ACC
Spring practice: March 16-April 9 
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5
Spring storylines facing the Tar Heels:
1. North Carolina was hyped as a preseason contender for the ACC Coastal title and one of the top 25 teams in the nation. However, the Tar Heels’ ACC title hopes were derailed before the first game of 2010. Due to agent and academic issues, the Tar Heels were without 12 players for the opener against LSU and some did not return to action. Although the Tar Heels had to play without some of their top players – notably tackle Marvin Austin and end Robert Quinn – they still finished with a respectable 8-5 record with a win in the Music City Bowl. Coach Butch Davis was under fire last year, but seems to have navigated the program through this saga. However, this will be a critical season for Davis and his staff. Are the Tar Heels ready to challenge for the ACC Coastal title or are they still a ways off?
2. T.J. Yates was expected to be a question mark last year, but ended up as one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC. Yates threw for 3,418 yards – including three 400-yard games – and 19 touchdowns. With Yates out of eligibility, a new quarterback will be taking over in Chapel Hill, likely Bryn Renner. The sophomore has only two career pass attempts, but was ranked among the top 10 quarterbacks coming out of high school. Although Renner is talented, he is still largely inexperienced and the offense loses its top three running backs from last season. Ryan Houston redshirted last season and should be the No. 1 back in 2011, but don’t count out redshirt freshman Giovanni Bernard from making an impact. Considering Renner’s inexperience, the Tar Heels need a big season out of the rushing attack and offensive line, at least in the early parts of 2011.
3. Five starters return on defense, but the Tar Heels own one of the ACC’s top defensive lines. Quinton Coples is back after earning first-team All-ACC honors last year, while Donte Paige-Moss and Tydreke Powell are solid contributors. Although the front seven should be fine, the bigger question rests with the secondary. Kendric Burney, Deunta Williams and Da’Norris Searcy are all gone, leaving LaCount Fantroy as the lone returning starter. Cornerback Charles Brown returns after missing all of last year due to a suspension, but must sit out the season opener. Although there is experience returning, it remains to be seen if the new starting four can match the ability of the departing group.
Redshirts to watch: RB Giovanni Bernard, WR Sean Tapley, LB P.J. Clyburn, OT T.J. Leifheit
Fantasy tip: Dwight Jones should be a solid addition to any roster this year, but his value will rest with the development of quarterback Bryn Renner.
Early Enrollees: RB Travis Riley, WR T.J. Thorpe, OL Landon Turner, QB Marquise Williams, DT Sylvester Williams (JC)
2010 Record: 4-8, 1-7 ACC
Spring practice: March 16-April 9
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7
Spring storylines facing the Cavaliers:
1. Coach Mike London enters his second season with some positive momentum surrounding the program. The Cavaliers brought in a solid recruiting class and appear to be on the right track on the field. London and the Cavaliers still have a ways to go before going to a bowl game, but there was improvement last season. Virginia knocked off Miami, lost by only three to USC and by four to Boston College. London is clearly the right man for the job and more improvement should be evident in 2011.
2. The biggest question facing Virginia in spring practice will be the quarterback battle. Marc Verica has finished his eligibility, leaving four candidates to vie for the starting nod. Ross Metheny and Michael Rocco have the early edge, after playing limited snaps last year. Redshirt freshman Michael Strauss and early enrollee David Watford will also figure into the mix this spring. The Cavaliers return four starters on the offensive line, a solid receiver in Kris Burd and a capable running back in Perry Jones. If a quarterback emerges, this offense has a chance to be just as productive as it was in 2010.
3. Seven starters are back on defense, but the Cavaliers ranked 106th nationally against the run and allowed 28.3 points per game. Developing depth on the defensive line will be essential this offseason, especially with Cam Johnson as the team’s lone established end. Tackle is in better shape, with the return of Nick Jenkins and Matt Conrath. With depth and talent an issue up front, the Cavaliers may struggle to improve their run defense in 2011.
Redshirts to watch: RB Kevin Parks, QB Michael Strauss, WR E.J. Scott, CB Pablo Alvarez, LB Henry Coley
Fantasy tip: With Keith Payne and his 14 rushing scores departing, someone has to pickup the slack around the goal-line. Jones rushed for 646 yards last season and will have some competition for his job, but expect totals closer to 1,000 yards and five to seven scores.
Early Enrollees: LB Daquan Romero, QB David Watford
Virginia Tech
2010 Record: 11-3, 8-0 ACC
Spring practice: March 30-April 23
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7
Spring storylines facing the Hokies:
1. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor made steady improvement throughout his career in Blacksburg, capping his four years in a Hokie uniform by earning first-team All-ACC honors. Taylor has expired his eligibility, giving the starting job to Logan Thomas. The sophomore has limited experience, completing 12 of 26 passes for 107 yards. Although Thomas is short on experience, he is full of potential. The sophomore checks in at 6-foot-6, and possesses good arm strength and mobility. Although Thomas is talented, he will face a few rough patches in his first season as the starter. The Hokies should have plenty of time to bring the sophomore along, especially with games against Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall in September.
2. Despite losing Ryan Williams and Darren Evans at running back, the Hokies shouldn’t miss a beat on the ground. Junior David Wilson is primed for a huge season, after rushing for 619 yards and five scores last year. Wilson should be running behind one of the top lines in the ACC in 2011, with four starters returning, including likely All-ACC players in Blake DeChristopher and Jaymes Brooks. Although Wilson should emerge as a 1,000-yard rusher, the Hokies need to find a capable back to take some of the pressure off his workload. Look for Josh Oglesby or Tony Gregory to battle for the No. 2 spot this spring.
3. The Hokies finished 2010 an uncharacteristic 64th in the nation in rush defense. Two starters are gone, opening the door for a lot of competition on the defensive line this spring. Chris Drager and Antoine Hopkins return as starters, but Drager may move to tight end. The tackle rotation will get a boost with the return of Kwamaine Battle, who started the first two games of 2010, before suffering a season-ending injury. With Hopkins and Battle returning, the middle of the line should be in good shape. However, coordinator Bud Foster needs to develop some help at end. 
Redshirts to watch: DB Nick Dew, FS Theron Norman, DE Zack McCray, LB Chase Williams, DT Nick Acree
Fantasy tip: David Wilson has yet to start a full season, but he’s ready for fantasy stardom in 2011. Consider him one of the top 20 fantasy running backs. 
Early Enrollees: CB Adeboye Aromire
Exclude From Games: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 
<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key questions from around the ACC Coastal this spring.</p>

More Stories: