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May 6, 2008

ACC full of questions at quarterback

VIDEO: Steve Megargee breaks down the ACC

FIND YOUR TEAM: Boston College | Clemson | Duke | Florida State | Georgia Tech | Maryland | Miami | North Carolina | N.C. State | Virginia | Virginia Tech | Wake Forest

ACC Spring Review
When you read the team-by-team overviews, a theme for the season quickly will make itself known: For the most part, league teams have quarterback issues.
Boston College
OVERVIEW: Fifth-year senior Chris Crane established himself as the clear front-runner to replace Matt Ryan, the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft. Linebacker Brian Toal continues to make a successful comeback after sitting out the entire 2007 season while recovering from shoulder surgery. Defensive tackle B.J. Raji also returns after missing the '07 season for academic reasons, though he sat out spring practice with a shoulder injury. Defensive end Brady Smith was kicked off the team after being arrested on a sexual assault charge. Running back/kick returner Jeff Smith had said he was giving up football after suffering two concussions last season, but he indicated at the end of spring practice that he'd like to come back.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who's going to carry the ball? BC doesn't have any experienced running backs. Early enrollee Josh Haden probably will begin his college career as Boston College's starting tailback, but the Eagles need someone who can take some of the pressure off him.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Kent State at Cleveland.


OVERVIEW: Defensive end DaQuan Bowers the No. 2 recruit in the 2008 class arrived on campus early and performed well enough to challenge for a starting job this fall. Defensive end Ricky Sapp also had an outstanding spring and increased his weight to 251 after playing at 240 pounds last season. Left tackle Corey Lambert asserted himself well enough to emerge as the likely replacement for four-year starter Barry Richardson. Redshirt freshman Brandon Maye, who missed the '07 season with a broken foot, exited the spring as the Tigers' No. 1 middle linebacker. Cortney Vincent, who started at middle linebacker last season, was suspended from spring practice for a violation of team rules and should learn his fate for the regular season later this month.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who's going to fill the holes on the offensive line? Thomas Austin returns at center, while Lambert and Chris Hairston seem secure at tackle. But the guard spots have much less certainty. Jamarcus Grant ended spring as the starter on the left side, but he must hold off a challenge from redshirt freshman David Smith. Barry Humphries is the first-team right guard, but redshirt freshmen Mason Cloy and Wilson Norris could beat him out this summer.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Alabama in Atlanta.


OVERVIEW: David Cutcliffe arrived at Duke with a reputation as a quarterback guru, but defense controlled play at a spring game that featured just one offensive touchdown. Duke is trying to get stingier after allowing the most points and yards in the ACC last season. The one offensive touchdown at the spring game was scored by former strong safety Tony Jackson, who may have found a home at tailback, though Re'quan Boyette remains the starter at that position. Cutcliffe said he spent the spring trying to get the Blue Devils to play at a different speed than they had in the past. Cutcliffe also said he saw plenty of improvement on both sides of the line.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who's going to be the kicker? Even when Duke has managed to stay competitive lately, the Blue Devils' poor special teams have prevented them from winning. Duke has gone 6-for-16 on field-goal attempts and hasn't made a kick from beyond 40 yards in the past two seasons. Cutcliffe said he hasn't decided on a kicker, punter or long snapper.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. James Madison


Florida State
OVERVIEW: Drew Weatherford missed much of spring practice with a knee injury, which gave Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson an opportunity to prove they could challenge the incumbent starting quarterback. Ponder played well enough that he might give Weatherford a real battle for the job. Rodney Hudson, one of the Seminoles' bright spots as a freshman last season, continued his rapid progress while moving from guard to left tackle. Hudson won the Hinesman Award as the Seminoles' most dominant player this spring.
LINGERING QUESTION: What's the status of wide receiver Preston Parker ? He had a petty theft charge dropped last week, but he still faces a felony weapon charge and a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession. FSU doesn't allow any athlete to play while facing a felony charge, which could leave the Seminoles without arguably their top offensive player for the first part of the season.
FIRST GAME: Sept. 6, vs. Western Carolina


Georgia Tech
OVERVIEW: The Yellow Jackets had some growing pains as they adjusted to new coach Paul Johnson's option attack. Georgia Tech reportedly had nine fumbles in the spring game. The change in scheme should make Georgia Tech the most run-oriented team in the so-called "Big Six" conferences, though the Yellow Jackets figure to throw the ball more than Johnson's old Navy teams. Tech also probably won't blitz as often now that Dave Wommack has replaced Jon Tenuta as defensive coordinator. The presence of Vance Walker, Darryl Richard and Michael Johnson should give the Jackets an outstanding front four, but they have question marks elsewhere on defense.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who's going to play quarterback? Sophomore Josh Nesbitt's mobility gives him the most upside of the contenders, but Johnson hasn't offered any hints about who's leading the quarterback derby. Nesbitt's main competition is Auburn transfer Calvin Booker.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 28, vs. Jacksonville State


OVERVIEW: Coach Ralph Friedgen handed over the play-calling responsibilities to new offensive coordinator James Franklin, who has instituted a West Coast offense since moving from Kansas State. Tailbacks Morgan Green and Da'Rel Scott provided hope they could adequately replace the tandem of Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore. Scott ran for 113 yards on 16 carries and had a 31-yard reception in the spring game. He also delivered a 75-yard breakaway that was nullified by a penalty. Maryland switched its defensive scheme from a 3-4 to a 3-3-5 stack that emphasizes the Terrapins' talented linebackers. Jeremy Navarre moved from defensive end to defensive tackle and emerged as the Terps' most dominant lineman this spring. Marist transfer Olugbemi Otulaja, a senior walk-on, performed so well that he ended spring practice as the starting nose tackle.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who's the quarterback? Jordan Steffy, Chris Turner and Florida transfer Josh Portis are competing for the job. Turner might have an edge because he started at the end of the '07 season, but the West Coast offense might be a better fit for Steffy, who had the job for the first part of the season before a major concussion sidelined him.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. Delaware


OVERVIEW: Miami benefited from having eight members of its fifth-ranked recruiting class arrive on campus early enough to participate in spring practice. True freshman linebackers Sean Spence and Arthur Brown and wide receiver Aldarius Johnson performed well enough to challenge for immediate playing time this fall. Brown recorded eight tackles in the spring game. Graig Cooper built on the momentum of his exceptional freshman season by rushing for 91 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. Allen Bailey moved from linebacker to defensive end and showed signs of developing into a big-play performer.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who's the quarterback? Sorry if this is sounding like a broken record, but the ACC has plenty of teams with unsettled quarterback situations. The competition featuring redshirt freshman Robert Marve and true freshmen Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith probably won't get settled until just before the season opener.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 28, vs. Charleston Southern


North Carolina
OVERVIEW: Incumbent starting quarterback T.J. Yates sat out spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, which allowed Mike Paulus and Cam Sexton to take more snaps and try to prove they deserved chances to compete for the job. Paulus was 11-of-16 for 159 yards and Sexton was 7-of-9 for 104 yards in the spring scrimmage. Greg Little, who moved from wide receiver to running back late last season, continued to thrive at his new position. The emergence of Little, Anthony Elzy and Ryan Houston allowed the Tar Heels to move Johnny White from running back to cornerback. White rushed for 399 yards on 95 carries last season. Aaron Stahl, a starter at left guard last year, moved to center. In other position switches, Vince Jacobs moved from tight end to the defensive line and Ryan Taylor went from H-back to linebacker.
LINGERING QUESTION: Are the freshman linebackers ready to go? North Carolina has such a lack of depth at linebacker that at one point in the spring, the Heels had only four healthy scholarship players who were recruited for the position. North Carolina should be in slightly better shape this summer as more linebackers get healthy, but incoming freshmen Zach Brown, Kenneth Harris, Ebele Okakpu and Kevin Reddick still have a chance to make an immediate impact.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. McNeese State


N.C. State
OVERVIEW: Coach Tom O'Brien emphasized making his team more physical this spring after the Wolfpack ranked 11th of 12 ACC teams in rushing offense and last in the league in rushing defense last season. The Pack added depth to their offensive line by moving John Bedics and Ted Larsen over from the defensive line. North Carolina State had only one scholarship running back (Jamelle Eugene) for the spring game, but don't be fooled. The running back position should emerge as one of the team's biggest strengths once Toney Baker, Andre Brown and Curtis Underwood Jr. are at full strength.
LINGERING QUESTION: Who's the quarterback? Daniel Evans didn't work out during the spring as he recovered from shoulder surgery. Justin Burke, Russell Wilson and Harrison Beck were even all spring. The result left O'Brien no closer to deciding on a starter.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 28, at South Carolina


OVERVIEW: After losing quarterback Jameel Sewell, defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald and cornerback Chris Cook for academic reasons during the offseason, Virginia finally got some good news when two key players bounced back from injuries. Cedric Peerman, who was leading the ACC in rushing before suffering a season-ending foot injury last year, should team with Mikell Simpson to give Virginia one of the ACC's top running-back tandems. Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree participated in spring practice after sitting out the 2007 season with a knee injury; Ogletree caught 52 passes for the Cavaliers two years ago.
LINGERING QUESTION: Is Peter Lalich ready to run the offense? Lalich probably will open the season as Virginia's starting quarterback now that Sewell is gone, but he didn't do much to separate himself from the other candidates (Scott Deke and Mark Verica) this spring. Coach Al Groh hasn't officially named a starter yet, but Lalich remains the most likely candidate.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, vs. USC


Virginia Tech
OVERVIEW: Virginia Tech was hoping to find a tailback to take over for Branden Ore, but Kenny Lewis and Jahre Cheeseman got hurt during spring practice. Although both should be ready for the start of the season, their injuries could create opportunities for redshirt freshmen Josh Oglesby and Darren Evans or true freshman Ryan Williams. Virginia Tech showed its defense might continue to thrive even without departed linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall. Defensive tackle Cordarrow Thompson benefited from dropping 30 pounds in the offseason. Jason Worilds and Orion Martin showed that the Hokies could fill the pass-rushing void created by end Chris Ellis' departure. A surprise performer on offense was Brandon Dillard, a walk-on who ended spring as the Hokies' No. 1 flanker after catching a 25-yard touchdown and running a 49-yard reverse in the Maroon-White Game.
LINGERING QUESTION: How will the Hokies use their quarterbacks? Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor took turns running the offense last year before splitting time at the end of the season. The competition remained unresolved at the end of spring practice.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30 vs. East Carolina at Charlotte, N.C.


Wake Forest
OVERVIEW: Wake Forest entered the spring needing to find a replacement for Kenny Moore, who caught a league-high 98 passes for 1,011 yards last season. The Demon Deacons probably didn't find anyone who will match those numbers, but Wake coach Jim Grobe believes his receiving corps still should have plenty of depth. Chip Brinkman caught four passes for 114 yards in the spring game, while Demir Boldin had three receptions for 46 yards and Ylou Brown made a one-handed grab for a 25-yard gain. Riley Skinner went 15-of-18 for 245 yards and Brett Hodges was 13-of-17 for 181 yards in the spring game, but the defense actually outperformed the offense for the rest of spring practice.
LINGERING QUESTION: Do the Deacons have enough depth on the line? Wake Forest must replace three starters on the line, including center Steve Justice, the 2007 winner of the Jacobs Trophy that goes to the ACC's top blocker. Trey Bailey will replace Justice. Grobe said he was happy with his starters on the offensive line, but he's worried about the readiness of the reserves if anyone gets hurt.
FIRST GAME: Aug. 30, at Baylor


Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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