Spring look around the ACC
As spring practices start, our ACC notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
Who will replace DE Mathias Kiwanuka at Boston College? Which QB will win the starting job at Virginia Tech? Which Lance Leggett will show up at Miami's spring practice? Our ACC notebook addresses those questions and much more.
Boston College Eagles
Sophomore Jim Ramella will get the first crack to replace Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end. The 6-foot-4, 244-pound Ramella played as a true freshman in 2005 and finished with 15 tackles, including three for losses and one sack. Kiwanuka, the 2004 Big East Player of the Year, registered 21 sacks for the Eagles over the past two seasons. Kiwanuka was tied for third in the ACC last season with 9.5 sacks despite playing in only nine games. With Will Blackmon and Larry Lester gone, BC's primary receivers figure to be senior Tony Gonzalez and junior Kevin Challenger. Gonzalez had a fine season in 2005, leading the team with five touchdown catches and finishing second in receiving yards with 414 on 28 catches. He caught a pair of touchdown passes in BC's 27-21 victory against Boise State in the MPC Computers Bowl. Challenger finished the season with 16 receptions and made a sensational catch in the final minute to beat Wake Forest. Redshirt freshman Brandon Robinson, the most athletic receiver on the roster, caught one touchdown pass last season and also will get considerable playing time.
Chris Rumph was hired as defensive line coach in time to join the Tigers' for their first day of spring practice. Rumph, a four-year letterman at rival South Carolina in his playing days, is the uncle of Clemson defensive end Phillip Merling. Merling began spring practice as a starter. Two players on the spot are defensive backs C.J. Gaddis and Michael Hamlin, who are changing positions this spring and replacing three-year starters Tye Hill and Jamaal Fudge. Gaddis is moving from safety, where he started five times in 2005, to cornerback, while Hamlin, who started the Tigers' final seven games, is shifting from cornerback to safety. Cornerback Duane Coleman and safety Chris Clemons round out the starting defensive backfield.
Duke Blue Devils
That ACC is so physical that "you can never have too much depth at running back in the league," according to Ted Roof. The Blue Devils coach is lucky because his team is young and deep at the position with starter Justin Boyle and backups Ronnie Drummer and Requan Boyette. Boyle, a junior, led the team in rushing last season with 458 yards and was among the ACC leaders with nine rushing touchdowns. The speedy Drummer, also a junior, had a nice game against Miami (81 yards, one TD) and averaged 10.2 yards on 33 carries. Boyette, a sophomore, finished with 252 yards, including a 78-yard effort against Florida State. Duke will have to replace four of five starting offensive linemen from 2005. The only returning starter is junior center Matt Rumsey.
Florida State Seminoles
Several spots will be open for competition when spring practice gets underway March 13. Among the most important battles will be at offensive tackle, where seniors Mario Henderson and Shannon Boatman and junior David Overmyer face off for two starting positions. At center, junior John Frady will go head-to-head with sophomore Dumaka Atkins. Also of interest is the rover position, where sophomore Darius McClure, who stood out on special teams as a redshirt freshman, will be pushed by freshman phenom Myron Rolle, who will take part in spring practice.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
For three seasons, the Yellow Jackets rode the legs of P.J. Daniels. But with Daniels' departure, there will be a new face at tailback next season, and that mug will belong to Tashard Choice, the ex-Oklahoma Sooner who was 14th in the ACC in 2005 with a per-game rushing average of 46.5 yards. In the Jackets' 14-10 upset of Miami, Choice replaced an injured Daniels in the starting lineup and rushed for a game-high 84 yards and a touchdown. Choice served as a backup to Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson in 2004 before transferring to Georgia Tech. He was granted a hardship waiver from the NCAA, allowing him to play immediately without sitting out a season. All-American Calvin Johnson will have a new partner opposite him at receiver in sophomore James Johnson. Last season, James Johnson caught 14 passes for 185 yards and tied for second on the team with two touchdowns. He replaces Damarius Bilbo. Pat Clark, who was fourth on the team with 15 receptions for 95 yards, has been moved to cornerback. Redshirt freshmen Martin Frierson and Greg Smith will get looks as the third and fourth receivers.
The Terrapins' spring prospectus states that the starting quarterback job "will open again this spring and fall." Maybe so, but senior Sam Hollenbach figures to be a solid favorite to retain the starting job if he can avoid mistakes. Hollenbach experienced an up-and-down season in 2005, finishing second in the ACC with 230.8 passing yards per game, but throwing 15 interceptions. Only Florida State's Drew Weatherford (17) was picked off more often among ACC quarterbacks. Hollenbach's challengers include sophomore Jordan Steffy, who redshirted last season, and walk-on Bobby Sheahin, a transfer from West Virginia. "I would like to see us establish a guy this spring who can help us cut down on mistakes, have a better understanding of the offense, where to go with the ball and overall, how to manage a game better," said coach Ralph Friedgen. Among those quarterbacks taking part when spring practice begins on April 1 is Florida transfer Josh Portis, who must sit out this season as required by NCAA rules. He looms as the front-runner to be Maryland's quarterback in 2007.
Among the biggest questions concerning coach Larry Coker is which Lance Leggett will show up for spring practice. Will it be the Leggett who led the Hurricanes in yards per catch (20.5) as a freshman and appeared on the verge of greatness? Or the Leggett that dropped more passes than he caught last season and turned out to be Miami's biggest individual disappointment of 2005? New offensive coordinator Rich Olson said he intends on getting the ball to the team's playmakers next season and Miami's offense has no bigger playmaker than the tall and speedy Leggett. Joe Pannunzio will work with Miami's tight ends, but his primary responsibility will be with the special teams. Coker hopes that Pannunzio can add some punch to a unit that didn't provide much spark last season. Pannunzio, who coached Murray State for six seasons before being dismissed in November, must find a replacement for returner Devin Hester. There's also work to be done with kicker Jon Peattie and punter Brian Monroe, both of whom suffered disappointing junior seasons. "I think I can motivate kids," said Pannunzio, who has previously served as a special teams coach at TCU, Minnesota, Mississippi and Auburn. "And that's all special teams is -- effort and enthusiasm."
North Carolina Tar Heels
Roger Heinz has decided not to play football any longer because of a back injury that forced him to miss the 2005 season. Heinz's brother, former Florida State offensive lineman Matt Heinz, also was forced to give up the game last year because of a similar problem. With Heinz out of the running, the quarterback battle in spring practice is down to two players: junior Joe Dailey and freshman Cam Sexton. Dailey has the edge in experience. He started 11 games at Nebraska in 2004 and set a school single-game passing record with 342 yards against Baylor. Sexton was in the running to be the backup quarterback last season before breaking his foot. "Joe certainly has experience that Cam doesn't have, so he has a head start in that regard," said UNC coach John Bunting. Bunting completed his staff by hiring former Virginia Tech assistant Danny Pearman as defensive ends coach. Before being pushed out, Pearman was part of a Virginia Tech program that played in eight consecutive bowl games. Pearman also coached at Alabama from 1990 to 1997. Receivers coach Dave Brock was given the added duties of recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Coach Chuck Amato completed his coaching staff by promoting Pat Meyer from director of strength and conditioning to offensive line coach and hiring longtime South Florida assistant Rick Kravitz as the Wolfpack's safeties coach and special teams coordinator. Meyer has run NC State's strength and conditioning program since Amato's first season in 2000. He last served as a full-time position coach in 1998 at Memphis. Kravitz had served as USF's defensive coordinator since 1995 and added the duties of assistant head coach the past five seasons. Kravitz replaces Manny Diaz, the new defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, and Meyer takes over for Mike Barry, who left for the NFL's Detroit Lions. NC State begins the process of replacing defensive ends Mario Williams and Manny Lawson when the team opens spring drills on March 14. Williams and Lawson combined for 25 sacks last season and might have been the most formidable pair of bookends in college football last season. James Martin, who played in nine games as a backup, will get a shot at one of the vacancies. Ray Brooks, the Pack's defensive newcomer of the year in 2004, returns after a year of ineligibility and will vie for a job.
Coach Al Groh didn't have to look very far for an offensive coordinator, choosing his son Mike to replace Ron Prince, who was named head coach at Kansas State in December. Mike Groh and receivers coach John Garrett shared the play-calling duties in the Music City Bowl victory against Minnesota in which the Cavaliers generated 468 yards of offense in the 34-31 win. Mike Groh will continue to serve as quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at Virginia. Garrett was promoted to assistant head coach for offense and will continue to work with the team's receivers. The Grohs will be the second father-son combination in the ACC working as head coach and offensive coordinator, joining Bobby and Jeff Bowden at Florida State. Al Groh has indicated that starting safety Tony Franklin might leave school after graduating in May. Franklin was placed on probation last month on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. Starting safety Nate Lyles is said to be progressing well after suffering a serious neck injury against Georgia Tech in November. Groh said that doctors haven't ruled out Lyles playing football again. Groh told the Roanoke Times-Dispatch that senior linebacker Ahmad Brooks is enrolled at school and remains in the football program but has some "issues" that he must address. There have been reports that Brooks was planning to leave school and enter the NFL.
Virginia Tech Hokies
As if losing Marcus Vick didn't hurt the Hokies' quarterback situation enough, coach Frank Beamer has suspended freshman Ike Whitaker for an undisclosed violation of team policy. Whitaker was arrested last week in Blacksburg and charged with underage purchasing/possession of alcohol and faces a hearing on the misdemeanor charge on March 23. Whitaker, who redshirted last season, is one of four candidates to replace Vick, who was booted off the team early this year for his own legal transgressions. The other candidates to replace Vick are Sean Glennon, Cory Holt and Greg Boone. Lorenzo "Whammy" Ward, the Hokies' defensive backs coach since 1999, has become the fourth Tech assistant to leave Beamer's staff since the 2005 season ended. Ward joined the staff of the NFL's Oakland Raiders. Former Tech standout Torrian Gray, who in February was hired as an assistant at Temple, has decided to return to Blacksburg instead and replace Ward.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
When the Demon Deacons begin spring practice Wednesday, the highest-profile position battle will be at quarterback. Benjamin Mauk is the only quarterback on the roster with game experience, but he will be pushed be a pair of redshirt freshmen in Riley Skinner and Brett Hodges. Mauk began the 2005 season as Wake's starting quarterback, but lost the job to Cory Randolph because of turnover issues. Mauk finished the season with six interceptions and only one touchdown pass, but helped the Deacons beat NC State and Duke in consecutive weeks late in the season when Randolph was sidelined by an ankle sprain.
Jorge Milian covers the ACC for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.