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Boston College Eagles 2016 Spring Football Preview

Jon Hilliman

Jon Hilliman

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In Steve Addazio’s first two seasons at Boston College, he led the Eagles to back-to-back winning records and seemingly had the program on an upward trajectory. But after a 3-9 campaign in 2015, momentum is no longer on his side, as evidenced in a most recent recruiting class that ranked toward the bottom of the ACC.

Part of last year’s slide can’t be blamed on Addazio, as there were a number of key injuries that hurt what became an anemic offense. If the Eagles can improve on that side of the ball and maintain their status as one of the top defenses in the country, there’s no reason why the Eagles can’t go bowling again.

5 Storylines to Watch in Boston College’s Spring Practice

1. Quarterback Play

It’s been pretty much a constant struggle since Addazio arrived. His teams have had pockets of strong running out of the quarterback position, but throwing the ball has been an issue. Last year it bottomed out when Darius Wade got injured and the team never found any rhythm there, finishing 124th in the country in passing offense.

Just as he did in 2014 with Tyler Murphy from Florida, Addazio will go with a graduate transfer in Kentucky’s Patrick Towles. The 6-foot-5, 238-pound Towles played in 28 games in three years for the Wildcats and completed 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards and 24 touchdowns with 24 interceptions. The only way this offense takes steps forward under new coordinator Scot Loeffler is if Towles can give new life to the passing game.

2. Hilliman’s Return

When running back Jon Hilliman broke his foot in Week 4 last season, the Eagles lost their best and most productive running back. One of the most impressive pulls for Addazio in recruiting, Hilliman had offers from all over the country and was poised for a breakout season before his injury.

Related: College Football's Pre-Spring Top 75 Running Back Rankings for 2016

It is unclear just how much Hilliman will be used in the spring and how much contact he will be allowed to take. Either way, his recovery will be something to keep an eye on, especially considering the Eagles did not sign a running back in the 2016 class.

3. Offensive Line Development

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As a former offensive line coach the front five is one positional unit that tends to perform well under Addazio’s watch no matter what. That wasn’t the case last year, but that had to be expected. Not a single starter returned up front, and the line predictably struggled for most of the season.

However, at least by the end of 2015, the Eagles had several building blocks in center Jon Baker, guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Aaron Monteiro. All three are homegrown products from Massachusetts and are expected to serve as the core for this year’s line. With a year under their belt and using last year’s growing pains (Lindstrom and Monteiro were true freshmen) as a springboard, the hope is that the offensive line can once again become a strong point for Boston College.

4. Loeffler’s Influence

Entering his fourth year coaching the Eagles, Addazio will trot out his third different offensive coordinator in Loeffler, who comes over after three seasons holding down OC and quarterback coach duties at Virginia Tech.

An Addazio-coached team will always try to lean heavily on its ground game, but expect Loeffler to mix things up enough to keep opponents off balance. Look for more shotgun packages and fewer two-tight end, fullback power sets where the Eagles try to cram the ball down the defense’s throat.

5. Defensive Transition

With the loss of coordinator Don Brown to Michigan, the Eagles will have to find a way to maintain a level of play on defense that was becoming its hallmark under Addazio. Last year, the Eagles had the top-ranked defense in the nation in yards allowed per game, and new coordinator Jim Reid inherits a lineup that can follow those footsteps.

What separated Brown’s defenses from the rest was an aggressive scheme that threw multiple looks at opposing offenses. It thrived on pressure and forcing turnovers. This spring, it will be interesting to see how much Reid changes and what he retains in order to bring about the same type of results.

Pre-Spring Boston College Outlook in the ACC

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With more experience at quarterback and along the offensive line, a likely healthier Hilliman and a defense that despite losing one of the top coordinators in the country returns a solid nucleus, there’s no reason to think the Eagles shouldn’t be much improved.

That said, passing up Clemson, Florida State and Louisville in the ACC hierarchy isn’t likely. To a lesser extent, NC State also is further along than the Eagles. However, if the offense takes a few expected steps forward, getting back to the middle of the pack is an achievable goal.

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.