Coaches dish on all 14 ACC teams
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams bulletin board material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak or overused cliches used during the year.
In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2019, Athlon asked coaches in the ACC to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from coaching staffs and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
ACC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2019
"You finally saw what they could be capable of in the first half of last year, but they're losing so much, especially on both lines, that it's almost impossible to think they can do that again this year."
"You know exactly what you're getting with Steve Addazio, so they're not going to come out with something radically different to compensate for losing their big bodies. That's what he thrives on; it's just not possible to quick fix."
"If they can get the line working, it's going to be AJ Dillon or bust for them. The good news is, that's how they want to play offense anyway, hitting you 30, 35 times a game with a power back."
"The quarterback (Anthony Brown) is solid but not really special; they don't ask him to win games, but they'll probably need him to do a little bit more."
"They're losing a really great defense. They could make you make really bad decisions throwing the ball, and they had a lot of turnovers. Really physical secondary, ball-hawking guys. You don't just plug and play to replace guys like that at BC."
"It's obvious Steve knows he's on the hot seat; he fired a lot of his guys and tried to do an overhaul. They have new coordinators. The defense will look about the same with Bill Sheridan. Mike Bajakian might be able to open them up a little bit more, but that's not really how they're built."
"What can you say? They're a step-and-a-half past everyone else in the ACC. You can't even call them an SEC-caliber program. They're an Alabama-caliber school, a Georgia-caliber school. Literally. Coaches in our league have been talking about this for almost a decade now; we could see the money they were raising and spending and how it was translating. They're a war machine."
"They're going to be very, very good, but they're also going to sell themselves short publicly because of the key losses on defense."
"Brent Venables is a head coach, flat out. He's in a better situation as a DC there than more than half the head jobs in the country, but he's a head coach. He'll have that next set ready."
"It's not just that Trevor Lawrence is back, it's that there's so much around him. He might be the best quarterback in the country, but he's also got the deepest amount of skill guys. Travis Etienne, Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins, it's nuts."
"Lawrence is smarter than he should be at this point in his career. He's processing stuff like a pro."
"Just keep Lawrence healthy. They should be able to give the defense enough space to catch up. The coaches aren’t thinking this way because the second team defense doesn’t really exist yet - last year’s backups didn’t drop off much from the starters, but there’s questions after that. Still, this is the best team in the country."
"If you have to worry about something, it's probably the pass rush, but only because the production just went to the league. They have the guys to replace them. A guy like Justin Foster would be a star on someone else's roster."
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"Duke is on a different plane. David Cutcliffe is a master tactician, and the school has been so patient and bought in on how he does it. They're taking two-stars that outplay your five-stars four years into development."
"Cut is the quarterback guy, and Daniel Jones might be one of his most remarkable achievements to date. That kid is a walking advertisement for playing ball for David Cutcliffe. He's going to step into the NFL as ready-made as you can be."
"Quentin Harris is the next guy there. You won't see him do what Jones did last season, and he won't have to overextend; they have a really nice backfield around him. Deon Jackson is a legit talent there and could be one of the best in the league and the country if they lean on him. He'll be their feature, but Cut always has a rotation of backs."
"The defense is a tougher situation. Losing a heart and soul guy like Joe Giles-Harris early really hurts them a lot. They have really physical 1's on defense, but you see the gap between them and the top programs when you get on their 2's. The talent isn't comparable."
"I think they still benefit from the perception against the program being a basketball school where football doesn't matter. You go into their place and it's quiet and your kids aren't as focused or taking it seriously and then they just chop you down."
"That staff was probably too optimistic last year. Willie Taggart got his dream job and all that, but that roster had serious problems."
"The offense did not work at all under Walt Bell; that was a really bad fit with the players and with Taggart, and now they're banking on Kendal Briles. The upside is that he usually gets successful quick. Look at Houston and FAU — he can put guys in and adjust on the fly. The system won't look that much different than last year, but you have a guy in Kendal who is really going to control all phases. Taggart trusts him; they go way back."
"They have to get better on the offensive line. They were handed a short roster, but they also didn't look well coached at all. It killed their run game."
"James Blackman is good enough to start, but you have to think Alex Hornibrook didn't transfer for one year not to play. Either one will be an improvement over Deondre Francois. To put it politely, he didn't look ‘coachable' at times last year, and they need someone at that position in this season to help them sell their new era."
"Defensively, they're strong, especially in the back. They're going to be a lot deeper at linebacker especially."
"They lose Brian Burns in the pass rush, but they have some scary dudes inside on that line."
"It’s still a really young roster with a lot of gaps from some bad recruiting years before Fisher left."
"The new coaching staff has brought in a lot of attention. They really needed that, because Georgia Tech has been asleep for a long time. But this is still a transition year. They have to keep doing all the social media PR stuff, because when you're undoing a triple-option roster, you're gonna get your butt handed to you for a bit."
"They're going to have to rework their entire offensive line. We've had some visiting coaches who saw Tech tell us they're a ways off of being even decent. That's what you expect, though. These guys are smaller, four-point stance guys who have never gone into proper pass protection schemes."
"Tobias Oliver is their best quarterback, but he's definitely a triple guy. They could end up starting someone new if he can't make the throws."
"They have no tight end position, so they'll have to build that from scratch. They have no possession receivers and a lot of dudes who block and break out wide open on play-actions. Lots of work there."
"Defensively is a little bit better news — at least they have the right kind of bodies. They lost most of their key guys under Ted Roof. They were bad at creating pressures last year, and we'd been watching their defense get slower and less physical for a while."
"This job has always been a huge program waiting for the right guy. It looks like Geoff Collins is that guy. He’s a native and he can recruit like he’s in the SEC. He could make this team a force to be reckoned with four years from now, and he knows it."
"This is a total rebuild. This one might be more difficult than Georgia Tech switching back from a triple (option). The good news is that Louisville seems completely aware that this is a ground-up situation and not a quick fix. They obviously really wanted Jeff Brohm, being the native son and all, but they got a 10-year guy in Scott (Satterfield). He's going to take the time we think they're giving him and build out his program. App State was a really, really well-run program. They found their guys, built them up and dominated with their culture. It's a long road to doing that here."
"The worst of it might not even be done yet. Bobby Petrino leaving a program hits you in waves; first they quit on him, then you have to run off a bunch of them. They'll probably have guys leave over the course of the summer and fall."
"Expect a total change with the offensive personnel. The QB they got from this signing class (Evan Conley) will probably end up as their guy, maybe not at first but maybe by the end of the year. They're going to take their lumps with him now, which makes sense."
"They do have some guys at running back, so they’ll use that and keep it on the ground more than Petrino ever did."
"Kentucky has been beating them for some guys they never would have when Charlie Strong was there. They need to reinvest in recruiting their part of the state and lock in on Florida and those other places."
"I don’t think the previous staff did any recruiting the last year or so."
"One of the most unique ‘first years' I think we've ever seen, between Manny (Diaz) leaving the program for Temple and then coming back to replace Mark (Richt). You've got consistency in relationships on your defense. Then you add in the new ‘Transfer Portal U,' and they're going to look totally different at a lot of places in Week 1. If it works, everyone will try to copy it."
"The guys we've seen coming in from the portal have made them more athletic, more competitive right away. The actual high school recruiting class wasn't good by their standards."
"Defensively, keeping all three linebackers makes them good right away, add that with the new guys at defensive end, and that one from Virginia Tech is good (Trevon Hill)."
"Dan Enos is going to bring more of a pro-style look into Miami. I think if you're looking at Tua (Tagovailoa) and (Jalen) Hurts and what Alabama did, that's more of him adjusting to the superior talent an Alabama gets. We think you aren't going to see them go heavy on RPO. To be clear — you'll see it, or at least you should because they have guys who can do it, but they will go more pro base and build off that."
"It's obviously Tate Martell's job to lose at quarterback. He's better than anyone they had while Mark Richt was there."
"They’ve got a lot of questions, but the biggest one is if Manny can put the right culture in. You have to give them the edge that Miami needs but not overdo it."
"That's a program that really doesn't get enough credit for their player development. They're turning out NFL talent at a clip they have no business achieving. It's nuts."
"Obviously quarterback Ryan Finley is gone, but so is most of that offensive coaching staff. They could look significantly different this fall. They have to rebuild their offensive line and find a new top receiver. The co-offensive coordinators thing is always a gamble, especially coming off of a really good play caller in Eli Drinkwitz."
"The young running back (Bam Knight) is pretty electric; we've seen some tape on him and he's impressive. We don't think they're going to name a quarterback until late in the summer. It's three guys and none of them have shown a lot of separation."
"They're always a nine-win team with NFL talent, but they're never quite there with a Clemson or Florida State in terms of top-level depth. And for whatever reason, they've really struggled to be consistent and nail down that big year that can redefine your message in recruiting. They're always really close."
"You don't want to play at their place. Does Raleigh get a lot of attention for its crowd? It really should. That place is hell when you're coming in on a Thursday night. It's one of the loudest stadiums in our league."
"If they’re back around eight or nine wins this year it’s his (Doeren's) best coaching job to date."
"Larry Fedora was really close to turning it around, but he might have lost the locker room in the process. Mack (Brown) is going to be the polar opposite. Culture guy, executive style. He's got some momentum already in recruiting from what we can tell. They're going about taking the lead back in the state from NC State."
"The coordinator hires are interesting together. Jay Bateman is a great defensive mind, but he came from Army where they're limiting opponents' possessions as a rule. Now you have Phil Longo, who was going as fast as possible at Ole Miss. Longo has a lot of work to do; they need to settle on a QB early, and they don't have the NFL roster of wideouts Ole Miss did. They need to find a big playmaker there."
"They have some really solid guys on defense, but they're a little undersized. Good but not special all over the place — that's been their story for the last few years on that side of the ball."
"There's a lot of energy in recruiting. Dre Bly is a great add for recruiting."
"North Carolina as a state has become a huge battleground in the ACC. They pull some defensive linemen away from Clemson and those guys and you’ll know they’re hitting it the right way."
"They were really hit hard by a lot of injuries these last few years, especially on offense."
"The division title was a great thing for Pat (Narduzzi), but it probably doesn't change much for the program. Year in and year out you always see the same thing from these guys — they reflect Narduzzi in how they're physical and disciplined and really mean working against you, but it's always a question of how far their talent can take them. It's not about a limitation of their culture or their play calling. It's really all about what kind of talent they can get. They're losing a lot of guys heading into this season, and the crowning achievement for that group was a 7–7 run. That's just the reality of the program right now."
"Right away, you notice they need to replace their backfield. Qadree Ollison is a guy they'll miss; he will likely end up on an NFL roster. Next they're going to have to find a whole new offensive line. And they really lived on pounding it, on wearing you down. When they were clicking, it was because they could beat you up running. They were a one-dimensional offense after Matt Canada left, and you can't do that without being really, really talented at that one thing."
"Mark Whipple is a really great offensive mind. They don't have a ton of talent to hand him, but the guy is coming from UMass."
"They're going to have to ugly it up with their defense to stay around .500 this year."
Related: ACC Football Predictions for 2019
"Dino Babers has had a remarkable run with a roster that's had a lot of experience. He's done a great job, but he's had a team full of older kids. He's had that quarterback (Eric Dungey) ever since he's been there, and this past season all of that came to fruition. Now because of their talent base and what you can really do in recruiting there, there's a big question around if he can keep it going, if he can keep winning and keep attention on the program with the less experienced side of that roster. It's going to be hard."
"The interesting thing about an Art Briles offensive system is that it's built almost exclusively on the talent level and the awareness of your quarterback. The other skill position experience doesn't dictate anything. What are they going to look like now? Tommy DeVito is the guy there; they lost the other kid (Chance Amie) to the transfer portal along with their best receiver. Just based on experience, we think they're going to fall back and look as young as they are on offense."
"Defensively they're built to suit their offense, which is sort of saying that they're not really extra talented at any one place and they want to take risks and get the ball back to their QBs. Just like with the offense, they had a lot of veterans last year so they could do more. Let's see how multiple they can get with new personnel they've been recruiting."
"Bronco (Mendenhall) is really doing a nice job here, maybe better than a lot of us expected."
"There's two things here that could really explode for them this year — the quarterback and the returning defense."
"Bryce Perkins is good and could be great. He's athletic, he's smooth, and he changes their confidence when he's out there. They're a different team with him, and that's what you want from a starter."
"They're losing guys at running back and wide receiver, but with Perkins there for one more year, you can get past that. They've got enough there to work with around him, especially if they find a complementary runner."
"Defensively, they've really been building this whole time. We knew that part, but Bronco has brought in some players and developed some other ones. They're going to be deeper and longer at all three areas, and they're extremely well coached. Bronco has always been a great developer of defensive players."
"It was a big experiment bringing him in from BYU, but he's gained a lot of respect from coaches in the region for how well coached those guys are, because they haven't been the most talented while he's been there. It's just now a solid roster. They really embraced the challenge of recruiting against Tech and recruiting to a higher-standard school academically."
"Everyone is talking about this program. Something's not right. This isn't what you sign up for getting Justin Fuente from Memphis and being this many years in with no superstars on offense. You just wonder what's going on there. Why are so many kids transferring out? Especially for a guy who, at least we all think, the players really like. It's really hard to forecast these guys."
"They're thin at quarterback and running back. That's not good. The (Ryan) Willis kid will probably start at QB. They need a true feature back to help him out, and they may not have one."
"They have some good receivers; that's where they're strongest on offense."
"Bud Foster is going to do what Bud does. It's not about pressures or blitzes, it's actually about taking the two or three things you do best and stopping that. He's old school. He wants to make you uncomfortable above all else. He wants to make you beat him left-handed. They're really good at winning first down on defense."
"They have some talented players, and they've shown some flashes at times, but you get that feeling that they're moving away from Beamer ball year by year, leaving what made them a famous program."
"They do a great job bothering you with that offense. They have a ton of speed, and they can't seem to go fast enough. They're going to use all four downs on you; they go for it when most coaches wouldn't. The result is that they make you start pressing more when you're on offense, and then the mistakes start. They're a team that can scheme you into a bad decision."
"They have two quarterbacks who could start and do well for them, Jamie Newman and Sam Hartman — they look about even from what we've seen."
"They're not going to maul you on defense. They don't have the bodies to do that. It really all rotates around their offense and trying to get you to play their pace. If you dictate terms and run the ball on them early, you can get them out of sorts. You beat them by being physical."
"They're improving a lot in recruiting. For a long time they didn't have the size or athleticism at all, and you'd see them miss on in-state guys who would end up leaving for a G5 somewhere else. They're evaluating a lot better, and they're trying to fit for what they do."
"They're going to have depth issues on defense that might hold them back this year, but that staff really fits for that job, and they're going in the right direction overall."
"They’re losing a lot of production at linebacker and defensive line so they better have an answer for that early, especially defending the run."
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