Spring look around the ACC
As the spring season nears, our ACC notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
What's the famous last name that will be on Boston College's depth chart at quarterback this fall? Will Georgia Tech QB Reggie Ball anwer questions about his consistency? Can new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. add some punch to North Carolina's attack? Our ACC notebook addresses those questions and much more.
Boston College Eagles
• The Eagles open spring practice March 18 and finish with the spring game on April 22.
• Matt Ryan, who started five games last season including the Eagles' victory against Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl, will open spring practice on March 18 as the Eagles' starting quarterback. The 6-foot-5, 221-pound junior led BC to a dramatic victory against Wake Forest last season but didn't overtake Quinton Porter as the starter until the final two regular-season games. In nine games, Ryan completed 64.2 percent of his attempts while throwing five touchdown passes and rushing for five more TDs. BC won all five of Ryan's starts. Ryan will be backed up by Chris Crane, a redshirt sophomore who played in one game last season.
• Another quarterback who will be on the depth chart in the fall is Bill Flutie, a freshman from Natick, Mass., and the nephew of former BC great Doug Flutie.
• The Tigers open spring practice on Saturday and finish with the spring game on April 8.
• The first order of business figures to be finding a replacement for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. Senior Will Proctor is the only quarterback on the roster with previous experience. He played in three games last season, completing 18-of-31 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns. Proctor will be pushed by freshmen Tribble Reese and Cullen Harper.
• Whoever emerges at quarterback will benefit from an experienced group of offensive players around him. The Tigers return all five starters on the offensive line, two 700-yard rushers and four of their five top receivers from last season. That lineup doesn't include C.J. Spiller, a freshman who was generally considered the nation's top high school running back before signing with Clemson in February.
• After opponents blocked five Clemson punts last season, coach Tommy Bowden accepted the resignation of his brother-in-law, Jack Hines. Hines was Clemson's tight ends coach and also worked with the punt team. Bowden had said after the 2005 season that he would no longer employ the punt-protection formation used by Hines.
Duke Blue Devils
• The Blue Devils open spring practice March 25 and finish with the spring game on April 22.
• Zack Asack looks to be the Blue Devils' undisputed starting quarterback, unless sophomore Marcus Jones makes a big push for the job. Mike Schneider, who finished last season as Asack's backup, announced his plans to transfer.
After opening 18 games as a freshman and sophomore, Schneider began 2005 as the starter before losing his job early in the season to Asack and serving primarily in spot duty. Asack started the last seven games of 2005 with mixed results.
• Duke's offensive line allowed 32 sacks last season and it may not get much better in 2006. Only one starter will return after the departures of guard Tyler Krieg and tackle Lavdrim Bauta, who started every game last season.
Florida State Seminoles
• The Seminoles open spring practice March 13 and finish with the spring game on April 8.
• The Seminoles will open spring practice with several players watching from the sideline as they work their way back from injuries and surgeries. Most notable among that group are starting offensive lineman Cory Niblock, backup quarterback Xavier Lee and receiver De'Cody Fagg, who is a projected starter in 2006. Niblock, a starter for 10 games at left tackle, tore his left anterior cruciate ligament on the final play of FSU's loss to Clemson in November. Lee is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery while Fagg is slowed by a shoulder problem.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
• The Yellow Jackets open spring practice March 29 and finish with the spring game on April 22.
• The Yellow Jackets have no question who their quarterback will be. Reggie Ball will be back for his senior season and his third as the starting quarterback. But there are questions about Ball, specifically: Is he finally going to string together consistent performances?
Ball's career totals include 37 touchdown passes and 41 interceptions, numbers that reflect his up-and-down nature. Last season was no different. Ball threw 12 interceptions and 11 touchdown passes and completed only 48.1 percent of his attempts. His pass efficiency rating (98.9 percent) was the worst of his career.
• The Terrapins open spring practice April 1 and finish with the spring game on April 29.
Among those taking part when the Terrapins begin spring practice is offensive tackle Stephon Heyer, who missed all of 2005 after tearing the ACL in his left knee during fall practice. Before his injury, Heyer was a Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy candidate who had made 24 straight starts at left tackle. In 2004, he allowed just three sacks in 651 offensive snaps.
• Also returning from injury this spring is linebacker Erin Henderson, the younger brother of former Maryland All-American E.J. Henderson and a likely starter next season on the weak side. Henderson was one of the Terrapins' most impressive performers last spring and fall before blowing out his left knee in August.
• Tailback Josh Allen, a nine-game starter in 2004, will also take part in spring practice after sitting out last season with two torn ligaments in his left knee. Allen, who ran for 533 yards and five touchdowns as a junior, was injured in the 2004 regular-season finale against Wake Forest. Allen could provide depth at tailback for the Terps behind junior Lance Ball, who finished third in the ACC last season with 903 rushing yards.
• The Hurricanes open spring practice March 21 and finish with the spring game on April 15.
• The Hurricanes dodged a bullet when assistant coach and ace recruiter Mario Cristobal decided to stay at Miami instead of pursuing an opportunity to become tight ends coach with the New York Jets. Following his decision to stay in Coral Gables, Cristobal was promoted to offensive line coach after working with Miami's tight ends the past two seasons. Cristobal, an All-Big East offensive tackle for Miami in 1992, will have his work cut out this spring as he looks to find four new starters on the offensive line. The only returning starter is center Anthony Wollschlager.
• Starting tailback Tyrone Moss is not expected to take part in spring practice as he continues to recover from knee surgery that prematurely ended his junior season.
North Carolina Tar Heels
• The Tar Heels open spring practice on Friday and finish with the spring game on April 8.
• The Tar Heels are hoping new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. can add some punch to a unit that finished 11th in the 12-team conference in total offense (315.7 ypg), rushing offense (101.5 ypg) and scoring offense (18 ppg). Cignetti arrives in Chapel Hill from Fresno State, where his offenses ranked No. 7 nationally in scoring in 2005 and No. 5 in 2004. Cignetti, who takes over for the retired Gary Tranquill, will have his work cut out when spring practice begins on Friday. He will have to find a new quarterback to replace Matt Baker and four starting offensive linemen. The battle at quarterback will involve five candidates, including 2005 backup Joey Bozich and Nebraska transfer Joe Dailey. Roger Heinz, who was supposed to be Baker's backup last season before he was sidelined by back problems, is also in the mix.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
• The Wolfpack open spring practice March 15 and finish with the spring game on April 8.
• Junior Marcus Stone figures to have a clear path toward retaining the starting quarterback position after former Tennessee quarterback Brent Schaeffer chose to transfer to Ole Miss instead of the Wolfpack in January. Schaeffer, who seriously considered NC State coming out of high school before choosing to attend Tennessee, admitted the presence of Stone was a major factor in deciding to sign on at Ole Miss. After being named the starter, Stone led the Wolfpack to wins in five of their last six games.
• The Cavaliers open spring practice March 29 and finish with the spring game on April 22.
• There continues to be plenty of uncertainty surrounding linebacker Ahmad Brooks. According to an Internet report, Brooks was kicked off the team for an undisclosed "off-field incident." But Virginia officials, including coach Al Groh and athletic director Craig Littlepage, have refuted the report. The 6-4, 260-pound Brooks chose to return for his senior season after an injury-plagued junior campaign. He led the Cavaliers in tackles as a true freshman in 2003 and also as a sophomore in 2004. In 2004, Brooks was a Butkus Award finalist and an All-ACC selection.
• Tony Franklin's status for the 2006 season has not been determined by Groh. Franklin, a starting safety and co-captain last season, was placed on one year's probation on Feb. 21 following his arrest in December for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Virginia Tech Hokies
• The Hokies open spring practice March 22 and finish with the spring game on April 15.
• After four years of stability on coach Frank Beamer's staff, there was a flurry of change this offseason. The most recent movement involves former NC State head coach Mike O'Cain, who replaced Kevin Rogers as the Hokies' quarterbacks coach in late February. Rogers took a job with the Minnesota Vikings. Curt Newsome was hired to coach Tech's tight ends and offensive tackles, replacing Danny Pearman, while former Wake Forest assistant Kevin Sherman will coach the team's receivers. Sherman takes over for Tony Ball, who left Blacksburg after eight seasons to take the running backs post at Georgia. O'Cain's first order of business will be to find a replacement for starting quarterback Marcus Vick, who was booted off the team in January.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
• The Demon Deacons open spring practice March 15 and finish with the spring game on April 8.
• The Demon Deacons will begin spring practice without either of their starting defensive ends. Matt Robinson and Jeremy Thompson will sit out after sustaining injuries last season. Thompson, the team leader with 10.5 tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks, missed Wake's final three games after sustaining a torn ACL. Robinson broke his kneecap in the season finale against Miami. Both players are expected to be ready for fall practice. With Robinson and Thompson sidelined, sophomores Antonio Wilson and Anthony Davis and redshirt freshman John Russell will get plenty of work.
• Turnover among Wake's assistants has been almost unheard of since Jim Grobe took over the program in 2000. Receivers coach Kevin Sherman became only the second assistant to leave Grobe's staff when he departed last week to take a similar position at Virginia Tech. According to reports, Grobe is expected to hire Tim Billings, former head coach at Southeast Missouri State, to replace Sherman.
Jorge Milian covers the ACC for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.
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