Spring look around the ACC
As spring practices start, our ACC notebook addresses the big questions for each team.
Why do Chan Gailey's assistants have even more incentive to beat in-state rival Georgia this season? Who will replace ACC Player of the Year Chris Barclay at Wake Forest? Why is it important for FSU to give the ball to Lorenzo Booker? Our ACC notebook addresses those questions and much more.
The Eagles are arguably deeper at tailback than anyone else in the ACC with L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender. Whitworth, a junior, started every game and finished fifth among conference runners with an average of 68 rushing yards per game. Callender, also a junior, was ninth with 59.2 ypg and rung up three 100-yard games. They combined to rush for 1,515 yards. Add to that mix the return of A.J. Brooks, who redshirted last season after rushing for 319 yards as a freshman two years ago. Josh Beekman, who may be the best returning offensive lineman in the ACC, may be moved from guard to center, according to BC coach Tom O'Brien. Beekman, a senior, was a second-team All-ACC selection in 2005. "We don't intend to do that at the start of spring practice, but that's something that's still on the table," O'Brien said. "If the scenario of another starting center doesn't work out, the thought of moving Josh might happen."
Jacoby Ford, a talented freshman wide receiver, has made a big impression during the early days of spring practice. A signee out of Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, Ford caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Cullen Harper on the opening play of the Tigers' first scrimmage. Ford, who was reportedly clocked at 4.126 seconds in the 40-yard dash before enrolling at Clemson, finished with four catches for 103 yards and a pair of touchdowns. "When he gets to the second level, there is no catching him from behind, at least not on this team," said coach Tommy Bowden. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Ford, younger brother to former Florida State running back Davy Ford, may also help out the Tigers on special teams. He returned seven kicks (four punts, three kickoffs) for touchdowns last season. Clemson lost four key players on defense, but that number could have been higher if either defensive lineman Gaines Adams or middle linebacker Anthony Waters had chosen to skip their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft. Both players dabbled with the idea before returning to school. "I don't think there's any doubt they made the correct decision by staying," Bowden said.
Defensive tackle Vince Oghobaase, considered Duke's top recruit in 2005, is back after missing all of last season due to a knee injury sustained in spring practice. The 6-6, 325-pound Oghobasse should compete for a starting job this spring along with senior Casey Camero and sophomore Clifford Respress. Camero is a returning starter. Coach Ted Roof completed his staff by hiring former UCLA defensive coordinator Larry Kerr as special teams coordinator and inside linebackers coach. Kerr spent the past three seasons heading UCLA's defense after serving as defensive coordinator at Colorado State for 10 years. Roof also announced that Brad Sherrod, the Blue Devils' linebackers coach for nine seasons, will work with the team's tight ends and assist Kerr on special teams. Also, co-defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro will coach Duke's inside linebackers.
FSU's offensive coaches would be wise to get the ball in the hands of tailback Lorenzo Booker more often. In 2004, Booker accounted for an average of 5.3 yards the 197 times (173 rushes, 24 receptions) he handled the ball. Last season, Booker averaged 5.6 yards but saw his touches reduced to 157 opportunities (119 rushes, 38 receptions). Booker was the only FSU runner to gain 100 yards in a game in 2005. The Seminoles averaged an ACC-worst 94 rushing yards last season and Booker was concerned enough about the state of the running game that he considered skipping his senior season to enter the NFL. The early departure of strong-side linebacker Ernie Sims may not be noticed if junior Lawrence Timmons performs in 2006 like he did during the ACC championship game against Virginia Tech. Timmons recorded two sacks and forced a fumble during the Seminoles' 27-22 victory. Freshman safety Myron Rolle made a big impression in his first scrimmage. Rolle picked off a pass, recovered a fumble and snuffed out a reverse for lost yardage.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, coach Chan Gailey's new five-year contract includes a $5,000 bonus for each assistant coach for every victory they earn against in-state rival Georgia. Gailey is said to have picked up the idea from LSU coach Les Miles. "That's becoming very commonplace," Gailey told the Journal-Constitution. "I wanted to keep us on the same plane with other people and what they're doing. That's the in-state rival, and it's a big game." Gailey's contract, which pays him $1 million per season, has several incentive clauses, but none for beating Georgia. Cornerback Kenny Scott is the only returning starter in the Yellow Jackets' secondary. Jahi Word-Daniels and Pat Clark -- a converted receiver -- are expected to battle for the other cornerback job. Joe Gaston and Djay Jones are the favorites to start at safety.
For the past five seasons, the Terrapins have had no worries at middle linebacker. Between them, E.J. Henderson and D'Qwell Jackson won three ACC Defensive Player of the Year trophies for Maryland. With Jackson gone, junior Wesley Jefferson gets a chance to continue the legacy in 2006. Jefferson finished sixth on the team in tackles last season with 57. "I think we'll get two real good years out of him," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. Junior Lance Ball, a second-team All-ACC selection after finishing third in rushing in 2005, is Maryland's unquestioned starter at tailback. But Ball could get some help with the return of speedy senior Josh Allen, who redshirted last season while recovering from a severe knee injury. Allen dislocated his left knee and tore two ligaments in the season finale against Wake Forest in 2004. In his first three seasons, Allen rushed for 1,860 yards, including 922 yards as a sophomore in 2003. Allen has been cleared to take part in spring practice when it begins on April 1. "It will be great to see Josh back out there because we have missed having that true breakaway threat," Friedgen said.
Spring practice began on March 21 with new offensive line coach Mario Cristobal in charge of finding four new starters. That may not be as daunting as it would appear considering the Hurricanes' line finished next-to-last in the ACC in sacks allowed last season and was only average at run blocking. Sophomore Reggie Youngblood heads into spring as the starter at left tackle, replacing Eric Winston. Senior center Anthony Wollschlager is the only returning starter. Junior Glenn Sharpe is listed as the starter at left cornerback after missing most of the past two seasons with knee injuries. Sharpe sustained a torn left ACL in November 2003. He played two games in 2004 but was forced to stop playing to rehabilitate his left knee further. Sharpe tore his right ACL during summer workouts last year and missed the 2005 season. Bad luck has touched Sharpe beyond his injuries. It was Sharpe who was flagged for a controversial penalty on what would have been the last play of the 2002 Fiesta Bowl, allowing Ohio State to score in overtime and win the national championship. Sharpe has been granted two medical redshirts by the NCAA, meaning he'll have six seasons to complete his eligibility. James Bryant has moved back to linebacker after serving as a backup fullback last season. Bryant will compete with Glenn Cook and Darryl Sharpton for the starting middle linebacker job. Romeo Davis, who started nine games in 2005, has been moved from the middle to the weak side. "I haven't been overly pleased with that position since we lost Jon Vilma," coach Larry Coker said.
The Tar Heels' top two running backs return in 2006, although senior Ronnie McGill is the starter if he stays healthy. McGill missed the first four games of last season after tearing a pectoral muscle while lifting weights. He provided Carolina's anemic running game with some punch by rushing for 530 yards on 130 carries (4.1 average), including two 100-yard performances in victories against Duke and Virginia. McGill enjoyed a strong freshman season in 2003, rushing for a career-high 654 yards and seven TDs. However, an ankle injury that cost him five games as a sophomore and last season's chest injury have kept the Clover, S.C., native from matching his freshman numbers. Also back is junior Barrington Edwards, the former LSU transfer who started Carolina's first five games and finished with 397 yards. Sophomore James "Cooter" Arnold, the Tar Heels' third-leading rusher last season with 187 yards, has been moved to safety this spring. Arnold started the 2005 opener and became the second freshman to start the first game of the season since Charlie Justice in 1946. Arnold is listed on the spring depth chart as a backup at free safety to Kareen Taylor.
The Wolfpack are deep at tailback, beginning with Andre Brown, who led the team in rushing as a freshman last season with 721 yards. Toney Baker, also a freshman in 2005, ran for 546 yards. With Brown and Baker around, junior Darrell Blackman has been moved from tailback to receiver. Blackman, who also served as NC State's kickoff and punt returner, ran for 203 yards last season. The Wolfpack will need plenty of production from the running backs while the team's receivers gain experience. The top three pass catchers from last season -- Brian Clark, T.J. Williams and Tramain Hall -- must be replaced.
The first order of business when the Cavaliers start spring practice March 29 is to find a new starting quarterback following the departure of two-year starter Marques Hagans. The two front-runners for the position are senior Christian Olsen and redshirt freshman Jameel Sewell. Olsen, the older brother of Miami tight end Greg Olsen, has the edge in experience having backed up Hagans the last two seasons. A transfer from Notre Dame, Olsen has thrown 22 passes in seven games the past two seasons. Sewell is a left-handed thrower from Richmond, Va.
Branden Ore, expected to be the starter at tailback, is not enrolled in school for the spring semester and will not participate in spring practice. Ore is opting to rehabilitate his surgically repaired right shoulder at home in Chesapeake, Va. Ore underwent surgery on Jan. 3 to repair a torn labrum. He is expected to be ready to take part in summer workouts and fall practice. Last season, Ore finished second on the Hokies with 647 yards on 109 carries. With Ore out of the mix, most of the carries in spring practice will go to George Bell, Elan Lewis and Kenny Lewis Jr. Cornerbacks Macho Harris and Jahre Cheeseman will also get auditions at tailback. Among Bell, Elan Lewis and Kenny Lewis Jr., the only one with any playing experience is Bell, who gained 198 yards in 2005 as a redshirt freshman. Kenny Lewis Jr. was a member of Virginia Tech's 2003 recruiting class but chose to play baseball for three years after being drafted in the fourth round by the Cincinnati Reds. Lewis' father, Kenny Sr., was a Virginia Tech running back in the 1970s and held the school single-game rushing record with 223 yards against Virginia Military Institute in 1978 until the mark was broken by Kevin Jones in 2003. Starting center Danny McGrath will miss spring practice while he recovers from shoulder surgery.
The Demon Deacons sustained a major loss with the departure of tailback Chris Barclay, the 2005 ACC Player of the Year. Despite Barclay's absence, the running game should be in good hands with junior running back Micah Andrews, the son of former Atlanta Falcons standout runner William Andrews. Last season, Andrews finished seventh in the ACC with an average of 62.1 rushing yards per game. He rushed for 254 yards against Vanderbilt, the second-best performance in school history and had 142 yards in another start against East Carolina. Andrews' per-carry average of 5.65 yards was the third-highest in Wake's history. Defensive lineman Jyles Tucker, receiver Kevin Marion, guard Eric Gaskins and running back Travo Woods are all participating in spring practice after they were suspended at the end of last season for violation of unspecified team rules. "From the start of January when they got back, it was back to work, business as usual," Wake coach Jim Grobe told the Winston-Salem Journal. Spring practice started on Wednesday without a trio of defensive linemen. Matt Robinson (kneecap), Jeremy Thompson (ACL tear) and Zach Stukes (shoulder) are all recovering from injuries but are expected back in the fall. Offensive lineman Louis Frazier is also out this spring while rehabbing from knee surgery.
Jorge Milian covers the ACC for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.