- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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Wake Forest finished 6-2 in the conference and surprised many by winning the ACC title. Will Clemson, Boston College, Maryland, NC State or Florida State replace the Demon Deacons as the Atlantic Division champ in 2007? Can Georgia Tech hold off Miami, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Duke to win a second straight Coastal Division? The division winners will meet Dec. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla.
2006 overall record:
Offense: 7, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 2
QB Matt Ryan, LB Brian Toal, LB Jolonn Dunbar, FS Jamie Silva, DT B.J. Raji, CB DeJuan Tribble, TB Andre Callender, DE Nick Larkin
G Josh Beekman, T James Marteen, WR Tony Gonzalez, SS Ryan Glasper, CB, Larry Anam
Top newcomer: OT John Elliott
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: L.V. Whitworth* (791 yds)
Passing: Matt Ryan* (2,942 yds)
Receiving: Kevin Challenger* (543 yds)
Tackles: Jolonn Dunbar* (92)
Sacks: Kevin Akins (7.5)
Interceptions: DeJuan Tribble* (7)
Spring answers: 1. How will Matt Ryan fit in the new offense: New offensive coordinator Steve Logan brought a more wide-open offense to Boston College, compared to the prodding, run-oriented offense preferred by former Eagles coach Tom O'Brien. Ryan, who has a 14-4 record as a starter and played much of last season with a broken foot, could be on the verge of a big season. He likes to throw the ball down the field and has been given more freedom to call audibles at the line of scrimmage, something he rarely did under O'Brien.
2. Big-play threats emerge: The Eagles were worried about replacing Tony Gonzalez, who caught 43 passes for 491 yards and five touchdowns last season. But sophomore Clarence Megwa, who caught a 59-yard bomb from Ryan early in the spring game, and junior Brandon Robinson both emerged as threats on the perimeter during the spring. Kevin Challenger, the top receiver in 2006, missed spring practice with an undisclosed injury.
3. Which running back fits best: With new coach Jeff Jagodzinski installing an offense predicated on zone blocking, senior Andre Callender might be a better fit for the offense. Senior L.V. Whitworth, who led the team with 791 yards and four touchdowns last season, is used to running between the tackles. The new offense requires backs to make quick reads and cuts, which seem to be Callender's strengths. Callender ran for 67 yards on 18 carries in the spring game.
4. Front seven nearly intact: Jagodzinski managed to keep defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, the only Boston College assistant who didn't follow O'Brien to North Carolina State. The team's front seven also returned intact, led by tackle B.J. Raji, who nearly entered the NFL draft. End Nick Larkin and linebacker Jolonn Dunbar, the team's leading tackler in 2006, also showed they're ready to lead the defense.
5. Aponavicius is more vicious: Junior Steve Aponavicius, who took over the place-kicking duties in the final eight games of 2006, picked up where he left off during the spring. Last season, after replacing suspended kicker Ryan Ohliger, Aponavicius made seven of 11 field goals and all but one of 25 extra-point tries. He kicked a 37-yard field goal at the end of regulation to beat Navy 25-24 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. He was given a scholarship during the offseason as his reward.
Fall questions: 1. Will injury take its Toal? Star linebacker Brian Toal missed all of spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery in January, and Jagodzinski doesn't sound completely convinced that the senior will return in time for preseason camp. The coach also didn't rule out Toal taking a medical redshirt season in 2007.
2. Offensive line holes: The Eagles must replace two starters on the offensive line: tackle James Marteen and guard Josh Beekman, a first-team All-American last season. The returning linemen are trying to adjust to Jagodzinski's zone blocking scheme. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus will be the anchor, but the rest of the line seems to be in flux. Center Kevin Sheridan moved to right guard, and sophomore Matt Tennant replaced him at center.
3. Secondary concerns: The Eagles return two potential All-ACC candidates in cornerback DeJuan Tribble and free safety Jamie Silva, but there are glaring holes at the other two spots. Sophomore Roderick Rollins was in line to replace departed starting cornerback Larry Anam, but he was beaten a few times and dropped an interception in the spring game. If Toal returns, the Eagles might try to replace strong safety Ryan Glasper with linebacker Kevin Akins, who runs very well.
4. Off-field distractions: Jagodzinski faced a few unusual off-field problems during spring practice, including the departure of offensive line coach Jim Turner, who unexpectedly resigned. Turner, a former Boston College player who was hired by Jagodzinski, resigned over what the school called "a difference in philosophies in the direction of the program." The program's assistant director of football operations and recruiting assistant also resigned during the same week. Jagodzinski quickly hired Jack Bicknell Jr., who had taken a job at Texas Tech, to replace Turner.
5. Backup quarterback: Ryan is a pretty tough player, but he was bothered by a broken foot for much of the 2006 season. Worse, backup quarterback Ross Applegate decided to transfer during the offseason. Junior Chris Crane, who completed 22 of 32 passes last season, played well in the spring game and showed more mobility.
2006 overall record: 8-5
Offense: 4, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 0
RB James Davis, RB C.J. Spiller, OT Barry Richardson, LB Nick Watkins
DE Gaines Adams, CB Duane Coleman, WR Chansi Stuckey, C Dustin Fry, G Roman Fry
Top newcomer: QB Willy Korn
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: James Davis* (1,187 yds)
Passing: Will Proctor (2,353 yds)
Receiving: Chansi Stuckey (700 yds)
Tackles: Nick Watkins* (116)
Sacks: Gaines Adams (12.5)
Interceptions: Nick Watkins, Crezdon Butler (3)
Spring answers: 1. More consistency at quarterback: Departed starter Will Proctor ranked second in the ACC in pass efficiency in 2006, but his passing abilities never scared opponents, who mostly keyed on the Tigers' strong running game. Coach Tommy Bowden still seems a bit undecided on who will start at quarterback for the Labor Day night opener against Florida State. Junior Cullen Harper, who threw only 16 passes last season, seemed to have a better grasp of the offense and left spring practice atop the depth chart. But highly regarded freshman Willy Korn, who enrolled at Clemson early after throwing for more than 10,000 yards and 125 touchdowns in three years as a high school starter, showed a big arm during the spring. Whoever starts the opener will put more fear in opponents than Proctor did last season.
2. Tramaine Billie returns: The senior linebacker's absence during the 2006 season -- he broke his ankle during the preseason -- was a big blow to the defense. He is one of the team's best athletes and will start on the strong side. Senior Nick Watkins returns on the weak side.
3. DeAndre McDaniel arrives on the scene: The highly regarded freshman from Tallahassee (via Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia) proved to be as good as advertised during spring practice with several big hits and big plays. Senior free safety Michael Hamlin, who broke his foot during the spring, might have a tough time holding off McDaniel when he returns.
4. Spiller AND Davis both stay: Clemson has one of the best running back combinations in the country, but junior James Davis and sophomore C.J. Spiller have both proved to be high-maintenance. Davis returned home to Atlanta after his freshman season. Spiller wants to spend more time at home in Lake Butler, Fla., with his infant daughter, and there was rampant speculation during the offseason that he would transfer to Florida. Spiller will spend most of June at home, but he has promised to return to Clemson in early July.
5. Barry Richardson leads a veteran offensive line: The Tigers technically lost four starting offensive linemen from 2006, but at least four of the five projected starters for 2007 are seniors. Left tackle Barry Richardson is a preseason All-America candidate and possible first-round selection in the 2008 NFL draft.
1. Antonio Clay's future: The junior middle linebacker is arguably Clemson's most talented linebacker, but he struggled immensely after the sudden death of his sister last fall and wasn't enrolled in school during the spring. He has vowed to return to Clemson for summer school.
2. Unresolved battles on the offensive line: Senior Brandon Pilgrim and sophomore Thomas Austin are still battling at right guard, and right tackle Christian Capote was an unexpected winner at right tackle.
3. Cornerback quandary: The Tigers lost both of their starting cornerbacks in 2006 (C.J. Gaddis and Duane Coleman). Sophomore Chris Chancellor was one of the starters during the spring, but sophomore Crezdon Butler and redshirt freshman Byron Maxwell (who hasn't played in two seasons because of injuries) are taller and more physical.
4. Find a big-play receiver: Chansi Stuckey seemed to be the Tigers' lone big-play threat on the perimeter last season, and junior Aaron Kelly is the only returning wideout with more than 20 catches in 2006. Sophomore Jacoby Ford is an explosive athlete, but he caught only nine passes as a rookie.
5. Fix the special teams: The Tigers were atrocious on special teams at times last season, and punter Cole Chason and kicker Jad Dean are both gone. Jimmy Maners takes over the punting duties, and Mark Buchholz, a member of the school's soccer team the last three years, is the leader to replace Dean.
2006 overall record:
Offense: 11, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2
MLB Michael Tauiliili, DT Vince Oghobaase, QB Thaddeus Lewis, WR Eron Riley, WR Jomar Wright, DE Patrick Bailey, FS Chris Davis
DE Eli Nichols, DT Casey Camero, CB Deonto McCormick, CB John Talley
Top newcomer: OT Chris Shannon
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Re'quan Boyette* (388 yds)
Passing: Thaddeus Lewis* (2,134 yds)
Receiving: Jomar Wright* (561 yds)
Tackles: Michael Tauiliili* (93)
Sacks: Patrick Bailey* (3.5)
Interceptions: John Talley (7)
Spring answers: 1. Lewis gets better: Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis was thrown into the fire last season when projected starter Zack Asack was suspended from school for a year because of plagiarism. Lewis played pretty well as a freshman, throwing for 2,134 yards with 11 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He was more accurate during the spring, completing 22 of 28 passes for 275 yards with four touchdowns in one scrimmage. Lewis literally took every snap during the spring (the Blue Devils didn't have another quarterback on their roster, not even a walk-on), so he has plenty of reps under his belt.
2. Depth on the offensive line: The Blue Devils have lost 20 games in a row and haven't beaten a Division I-A opponent in two seasons, but coach Ted Roof hopes the hard times are about to come to an end. He redshirted a boatload of linemen the last two seasons, many of whom could provide depth this year. Duke had the country's youngest offensive line in 2006, with five players having started 11 games combined before last season. The inexperience showed, as Duke's quarterbacks were sacked 43 times. That same line should remain intact, but younger players such as Jarrod Holt, Marcus Lind, Rob Drum and Mitchell Lederman are providing competition and depth.
3. More size at receiver: For a team that was winless last season, the Blue Devils actually had pretty good talent at receiver. Raphael Chestnut, Eron Riley and Jomar Wright each caught at least 30 passes last season, and Wright and Riley ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in receiving. Jeremy Ringfield and Sheldon Bell, who were redshirted in 2006, are taller targets with good speed.
4. Experienced defensive line: The Blue Devils also have more depth on the defensive line, and two good anchors in end Patrick Bailey and tackle Vince Oghobaase. Replacing departed starters Eli Nichols and Casey Camero will be difficult, but end Ayanga Okpokowuruk and tackle Clifford Respress looked ready to contribute.
5. New direction: New offensive coordinator Peter Vaas, who tutored Brady Quinn as Notre Dame's quarterbacks coach last season, takes over for Bill O'Brien, who left to take a job on the New England Patriots' staff. Vaas vows to be more aggressive on offense this coming season.
Fall questions: 1. Backup quarterback: How a team can have only one quarterback during spring practice is mind-boggling. But Lewis' arm won't fall off, as help is on the way this fall. Asack, who sat out all of last season under the university-mandated suspension, will rejoin the team for preseason camp. Highly regarded recruit Mike Cappetto also joins the competition, although it will be difficult to unseat Lewis as the starter.
2. Kicking woes: The Blue Devils ranked last in the ACC in punting, and kicker Joe Surgan was awful during the 2006 season, missing seven of 10 field goal tries. He missed four of five attempts inside 30 yards. Surgan spent much of the spring working on his mechanics, and even attended a kicking camp during spring break, when most of his teammates were at the beach. Duke signed freshman Nick Maggio to compete with incumbent punter Kevin Jones.
3. Holes at linebacker: The Blue Devils are solid at middle linebacker, with junior Michael Tauiliili coming back. But battles will continue into training camp for the two outside spots. Vincent Rey leads converted quarterback/receiver Marcus Jones on the weak side, and junior Tim Ball had the edge over junior Charles Robinson on the strong side.
4. Cornerback: The Blue Devils lost their best player, two-time All-ACC cornerback John Talley, and other starting cornerback, Deonto McCormick. Leon Wright, one of the team's better athletes, is slated to start at one spot, but he missed most of the spring with an injury and there are concerns about his height (5-feet-9). Converted wide receiver Jabari Marshall was close to taking the other starting spot, but as many as four other players remained in the competition.
5. Primary running back: The Blue Devils used a variety of running backs last season, but no one stepped up as an every-down runner. Re'quan Boyette (388 yards last season), Justin Boyle (358) and Clifford Harris (206) all return this fall.
2006 overall record:
Offense: 6, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2
QB Drew Weatherford, RB Antone Smith, WR Greg Carr, S Myron Rolle, FS Roger Williams, CB Tony Carter, NG Andre Fluellen, LB Geno Hayes
RB Lorenzo Booker, LB Lawrence Timmons, LB Buster Davis, WR Chris Davis, OT Cory Niblock
WR Brandon Paul
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Lorenzo Booker (616 yds)
Passing: Drew Weatherford* (2,154 yds)
Receiving: Chris Davis (684 yds)
Tackles: Buster Davis (109)
Sacks: Buster Davis, Lawrence Timmons (5)
Interceptions: Roger Williams* (4)
Spring answers: 1. Trickett's in charge: New offensive line coach Rick Trickett, whom coach Bobby Bowden lured to FSU from West Virginia, quickly went to work in rebuilding one of the country's most underachieving offensive lines. He instituted mandatory morning runs and extra weight room sessions. The results: The team's returning offensive linemen lost more than 200 pounds collectively. Center John Frady lost more than 50 pounds, but still was battling converted defensive tackle Ryan McMahon during spring practice. Junior Dumaka Atkins moved from center to right guard, and converted tight end Caz Piurowski challenged senior Shannon Boatman at right tackle. Whoever starts, the Seminoles will be tougher and quicker with Trickett in charge.
2. Smith takes over: Junior Antone Smith might be the biggest benefactor from an improved offensive line. The Seminoles ranked 109th and 103rd in rushing nationally in each of the last two seasons, respectively, and departed tailback Lorenzo Booker never got untracked at FSU until his last college game. Smith is a bruising runner with good speed and could be a star this fall.
3. Receivers are still there: The quarterback situation remains unresolved, but wideouts Greg Carr and De'Cody Fagg both showed during the spring that they're big-time targets if someone can get them the ball. Each receiver also improved dramatically in downfield blocking. Freshman Preston Parker showed a lot of ability before a separated shoulder ended his spring, and Damon McDaniel was named the team's most improved receiver. Richard Goodman showed steady hands and strong blocking.
4. Improved pass rush: FSU had only 27 sacks last season -- eighth best in the ACC -- but there was better pressure off the edge during spring practice. Sophomore Everette Brown emerged as a dominant player at defensive end, with two sacks and three tackles for loss in the spring game. Nose tackle Andre Fluellen was named the team's most dominant player during the spring, and defensive end Neefy Moffett was the defense's most improved lineman.
5. Talent at secondary: All four starters are back in the secondary, which might be FSU's most talented group of defensive backs in several seasons. Cornerback Tony Carter is a physical player, and strong safety Myron Rolle is a potential All-America candidate. Free safety Roger Williams is the team's most experienced defensive back, and speedy junior Michael Ray Garvin solidified himself as the starter at the other cornerback spot, returning an interception for a touchdown in the spring game.
Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: Consistency under center has been Florida State's biggest problem the last three seasons, when it failed to win 10 games each year. It remains the team's Achilles' heel going into 2007. Neither Drew Weatherford nor Xavier Lee seemed to have a firm grasp of new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher's offense. Each junior quarterback threw two interceptions in the spring game and struggled throughout the previous 13 practices. Fisher called their inconsistency "ridiculous."
2. Light linebackers: Leading tacklers Buster Davis and Lawrence Timmons are both gone, so there are concerns about depth and experience at linebacker. Junior Eugene Hayes is a potential star at middle linebacker, but he'll be surrounded by inexperienced and light players. Sophomore Marcus Ball and junior Derek Nicholson are expected to start at the outside spots, but each missed spring practice with a knee injury. Junior Jae Thaxton didn't practice in the spring, either, because of a series of concussions, which might prematurely end his college career. Sophomore Dekoda Watson will be a big factor on the weak side, and senior Anthony Kelly was the team's most improved linebacker during the spring after two injury-filled seasons.
3. New tight end: Last season, freshman Brandon Warren gave the Seminoles a reason to incorporate the tight end into their offense again. He caught 28 passes for 301 yards and was an improved blocker. But he left FSU suddenly and returned home to Alcoa, Tenn., with intentions of transferring to Tennessee. Bowden denied his release from a scholarship, and an FSU faculty committee subsequently upheld the decision. Sophomore Charlie Graham is in line to replace Warren in 2007.
4. Unfinished business on the line: It was hard to tell if Trickett was trying to send a message to his veteran offensive linemen, but several juniors and seniors were being challenged by younger players during the spring. In fact, McMahon was starting ahead of Frady at center; Piurowski was ahead of Boatman at right tackle; and freshman Daron Rose was ahead of junior David Overmyer at left tackle.
5. Just for kicks: Junior Graham Gano continued to push senior Gary Cismesia for the place-kicking duties. Cismesia made 14 of 20 field goal tries last season -- he had a 46-yarder blocked that would have tied the score against Maryland with less than a minute to go in a 27-24 loss -- and wasn't very consistent during spring practice. Gano has already locked up the punting duties.
2006 overall record:
Offense: 7, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2
RB Tashard Choice, OT Andrew Gardner, C Kevin Tuminello, DT Darryl Richard, LB Philip Wheeler, S Jamal Lewis, DE Adamm Oliver
Key losses WR Calvin Johnson, QB Reggie Ball, OT Mansfield Wrotto, DT Joe Anoai, LB KaMichael Hall, CB Kenny Scott
Top newcomer:RB Jonathan Dwyer
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Tashard Choice* (1,473 yds)
Passing: Reggie Ball (1,820 yds)
Receiving: Calvin Johnson (1,202 yds)
Tackles: KaMichael Hall (91)
Sacks: Philip Wheeler* (9)
Interceptions: Jamal Lewis* (3)
Spring answers: 1. Better quarterback play: Despite losing four-year starter Reggie Ball, the Yellow Jackets might be better off at quarterback. Taylor Bennett, who threw for 326 yards against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl after Ball was declared academically ineligible, was just as impressive during the spring. He completed 56 percent of his passes and didn't throw an interception in three scrimmages, then threw five touchdowns in the spring game.
2. The right Choice: Former Oklahoma transfer Tashard Choice continued to run the ball well during the spring. He seemed comfortable running the plays new offensive coordinator John Bond brought from Northern Illinois.
3. Young receivers step up: With All-America wideout Calvin Johnson bolting for the NFL draft after his junior season, the Yellow Jackets have a huge void on the perimeter. Two redshirt freshmen -- Demaryius Thomas and Correy Earls -- gave the coaching staff hope during spring practice. Each player caught two touchdowns in the spring game and showed enough promise and ability to land on the depth chart behind senior James Johnson.
4. Special teams still special: Georgia Tech figures to have one of the better pairs of specialists in the country, and neither kicker Travis Bell nor punter Durant Brooks did anything during the spring to discount his lofty reputation. Bell made 12 of 16 field goals last season, and Brooks averaged more than 46 yards with 27 punts of 50 yards or more.
5. Pass rush improved: The Yellow Jackets rotated three players -- seniors Adamm Oliver and Darrell Robertson and junior Michael Johnson -- at two defensive end positions last season. All three players are back, along with middle linebacker Philip Wheeler, who had nine sacks in 2006. Freshman Derrick Morgan, who enrolled at Tech in January, was very impressive at end during the spring.
Fall questions: 1. Starting cornerbacks: The Yellow Jackets had problems finding someone to start opposite cornerback Kenny Scott last season. Now, Scott is gone and there are no apparent replacements. Three players who rotated at cornerback last season -- Avery Roberson, Pat Clark and Jahi Word-Daniels -- didn't overly impress coach Chan Gailey during the spring. Worse, highly regarded freshman Laurence Marius left the team, citing depression as the reason.
2. Third linebacker spot: The Yellow Jackets are fine with Wheeler and senior Gary Guyton starting at two of the three linebacker spots, but sophomore Shane Bowen or redshirt freshman Anthony Barnes must replace departed starting outside linebacker KaMichael Hall.
3. Offensive line depth: With four returning starters up front, Georgia Tech is pretty solid on the first-team line. Sophomore Cord Howard, the projected new starter at right tackle, is coming off shoulder surgery. But the Yellow Jackets can afford few injuries, as the second-team line needs much more seasoning.
4. Bond, John Bond: Offensive coordinator Patrick Nix left for Miami, so Gailey hired Bond from Northern Illinois. Bond continues to tweak the passing game, relying on Bennett's ability to manage the game. Bond didn't alter the running game much.
5. No Calvin: Georgia Tech's young receivers are promising, but the offense was so reliant on Calvin Johnson's ability to make big plays the last two seasons that he at times seemed to be the only option in the passing game.
2006 overall record:
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 0
TB Lance Ball, TB Keion Lattimore, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Danny Oquendo, LB Erin Henderson, OT Jared Gaither, CB Isaiah Gardner, G Andrew Crummey
MLB Wesley Jefferson, CB Josh Wilson, SS Marcus Wimbush, DT Conrad Bolston, OT Stephon Heyer, QB Sam Hollenbach, G Donnie Woods
Top newcomer: S Dominique Herald
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Lance Ball* (815 yds)
Passing: Sam Hollenbach (2,371 yds)
Receiving: Darrius Heyward-Bey* (694 yds)
Tackles: Erin Henderson* (114)
Sacks: Dre Moore*, Jeremy Navarre* (3.5)
Interceptions: J.J. Justice*, Erin Henderson* (2)
Spring answers: 1. Still on the Ball: Tailback Lance Ball continued to make great strides and showed better quickness. He had a 95-yard touchdown run during one of the team's scrimmages and appeared to be in the best shape of his career. Backup Keon Lattimore, the younger brother of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, was bothered by a back injury throughout the spring and didn't play in the spring game. His injury opened the door for freshman Morgan Green, who ran for 92 yards in the spring game before breaking his left clavicle. Green should be ready for preseason camp.
2. Heyward-Bey continues to improve: Sophomore receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was one of the most explosive freshmen in the country last season, despite the Terrapins' inconsistent play at quarterback. He used the spring to improve his route running and blocking and might emerge as one of the country's best all-around receivers this fall. Heyward-Bey caught a 68-yard touchdown from Josh Portis during the spring game. Juniors Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams, who missed spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery, give the Terps two more big-play weapons.
3. Wiseman rebounds: Sophomore Anthony Wiseman, a highly regarded cornerback prospect, is living up to the lofty credentials that preceded him to Maryland because he's finally healthy. Wiseman tore knee ligaments during his senior season of high school, then broke his leg during his first season at Maryland. He played in his first game against Purdue in the Champs Sports Bowl last season and now seems poised to replace departed cornerback Josh Wilson, the team's top defensive player last season. Wiseman had one interception during the spring game.
4. Burley steps in: Senior Scott Burley saw limited action in his first three seasons, but he's projected to replace departed starter Stephon Heyer at left tackle this fall. Coach Ralph Friedgen praised Burley for his strong play during the spring.
5. Varner moves smoothly: The Terps asked senior Christian Varner to move from free safety to strong safety, where he'll replace departed starter Marcus Wimbush. Varner didn't have many problems making the transition, and senior J.J. Justice is in line to start at free safety this fall.
Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: Sam Hollenbach, the Terps' inconsistent starter the previous two seasons, is gone. Junior Jordan Steffy seemed to be on the verge of replacing him with a great spring -- until he threw three interceptions in the spring game. Steffy's poor performance (he completed seven of 12 passes for 80 yards and led the Terps to only two first downs in nine possessions) seemed to keep Portis and surprising sophomore Chris Turner in the competition. Portis, who sat out last season after transferring, was 5-of-12 for 104 yards. Turner 11-of-15 for 115 yards.
2. Replace Jefferson: Middle linebacker Wesley Jefferson, who led the team with 10 tackles for loss and was second with 110 tackles in 2006, unexpectedly quit the team with one season of eligibility remaining. Jefferson left the Terps to pursue a career in law enforcement. Junior Chase Bullock had a slight edge over redshirt freshman Alex Wujciak coming out of spring practice. The Maryland coaches really like Wujciak's toughness and nasty attitude.
3. Find Wood's replacement: Left guard Donnie Woods, who started the first 10 games last season before suffering a severe concussion against Miami, also unexpectedly left the team. Woods departed to join the U.S. Army. Junior Jaimie Thomas, who started the last three games in Woods' absence last season, should replace him this fall.
4. Gaither's status: Junior Jared Gaither, a tremendously talented and physically gifted player, is back in Friedgen's doghouse. Gaither, who started at right tackle in nine of 13 games in 2006, was held out of spring practice because of academic problems. He was suspended by Friedgen for last year's opener against Division I-AA William & Mary because of other off-field issues. Gaither really needs an attitude adjustment during the offseason.
5. Kicking woes: Don't discount the value of departed punter Adam Podlesh, who averaged better than 42 and 44 yards in each of his four seasons punting for the Terps. He was a fourth-round selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL draft and leaves a huge void at Maryland. Freshman Travis Baltz is battling Chris Roberts to replace Podlesh, and junior Obi Egekeze is in line to replace Dan Ennis on kickoffs and place-kicking.
2006 overall record:
Offense: 9, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 0
RB Javarris James, WR Lance Leggett, OT Jason Fox, DE Calais Campbell, LB Glenn Cook, SS Kenny Phillips, CB Glenn Sharpe
TE Greg Olsen, LB Jon Beason, S Brandon Meriweather, K Jon Peattie, P Brian Monroe, DT Baraka Atkins
Top newcomer: OG Harland Gunn
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Javarris James* (802 yds)
Passing: Kyle Wright* (1,655 yds)
Receiving: Lance Leggett* (584 yds)
Tackles: Jon Beason (66)
Sacks: Calais Campbell* (10)
Interceptions: Kenny Phillips* (4)
Spring answers: 1. James has help: Javarris James, who ran for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman in 2006, was challenged during spring practice by Graig Cooper, who enrolled at Miami in January. Both players are fast and shifty and each should see plenty of carries this fall.
2. Still Tight End U.: Even after junior Greg Olsen bolted for the NFL draft, the Hurricanes still have two talented players at tight end. Junior DajLeon Farr is athletic as any tight end who has played at Miami, but he'll have to beat out Chris Zellner, who seems to have a better grasp of the passing game and blocking.
3. Phillips is back: Safety Kenny Phillips might have been the Hurricanes' fourth first-round choice in the NFL draft if he'd been a year older, but the junior returns to lead the secondary. Phillips, a physical player who also excels in pass coverage, is a legitimate All-America candidate.
4. Improved pass rush: It's going to be difficult for junior Calais Campbell to duplicate his production from a year ago -- he had a whopping 10 sacks in his first full season as a starter. But Campbell will have help in the interior line with senior tackle Teraz McCray returning, and Josh Holmes emerging as a potential starter at the other interior spot.
5. Shannon shores up team: New Miami coach Randy Shannon, who was elevated from defensive coordinator to replace fired Larry Coker, went a long way in restoring a team concept and excitement in the program. He instituted a seating chart in team meetings and in the locker room, with offensive and defensive players sitting next to each other. In the past, the two units seemed divided because of the offense's woes.
Fall questions: 1. Starting quarterback: Neither senior Kyle Wright nor junior Kirby Freeman seemed to have a firm grasp of new offensive coordinator Patrick Nix's passing game during the spring. Wright, who threw eight touchdowns and seven interceptions before a thumb injury sidelined him last season, threw the only touchdown in the spring game. Freeman completed eight of 19 passes for 117 yards with one interception in the intrasquad scrimmage.
2. What happened to Wide Receiver U.: Stunningly, the Hurricanes seem to have few options at wide receiver. Lance Leggett, who emerged as a big-play threat last season, spent part of the spring on the track team, then injured his knee. Darnell Jenkins missed much of spring practice while dealing with personal issues. Miami will need help from a boatload of incoming freshmen receivers.
3. Offensive line depth: The Hurricanes are pretty thin up front, and the starting five players haven't been solidified because of injuries during the spring. The coaching staff wanted to move Jason Fox from right tackle to left tackle, but an Achilles tendon injury sidelined him for the spring. The move will probably still happen this fall, as Reggie Youngblood already flipped from the left side to right tackle. Right guard Derrick Morse also was to audition at center, but a knee injury prevented the move from happening during the spring.
4. Kicking woes: The Hurricanes lost punter Brian Monroe and kicker Jon Peattie. Matt Bosher was hoping to handle all the kicking duties, but the Hurricanes were still looking at potential signees after spring practice to shore up the areas.
5. Reddick's availability: Safety Anthony Reddick underwent knee surgery two weeks after the spring game and is in danger of missing all of the 2007 season. Reddick has been a solid player when healthy, but he missed two games last season with an ankle injury, then was suspended four games for his role in the brawl against Florida International.
2006 overall record:
Offense: 6, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 1
WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Brooks Foster, KR Brandon Tate, FS Trimane Goddard, K Connor Barth, LB Durell Mapp, DT Kentwan Balmer
TB Ronnie McGill, OT Brian Chacos, WR Jesse Holley, S Kareen Taylor, S D.J. Walker, LB Larry Edwards, LB Victor Worsley, CB Jacoby Watkins, TE Jon Hamlett
Top newcomer: DT Tydreke Powell
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ronnie McGill (790 yds)
Passing: Joe Dailey* (1,316 yds)
Receiving: Hakeem Nicks* (660 yds)
Tackles: Durell Mapp* (87)
Sacks: Larry Edwards, Hilee Taylor (3)
Interceptions: Kareen Taylor (5)
Spring answers: 1. Speed at wide receiver: For a team that won only three games last season, the Tar Heels are pretty talented at wide receiver. Sophomore Hakeem Nicks and junior Brooks Foster combined to catch 77 passes last season. Junior Brandon Tate is one of the fastest players in the country, but is still evolving as a receiver. North Carolina added a fourth option when fleet-footed quarterback Joe Dailey, a former Nebraska transfer, opted to stay for his senior season and moved to receiver. Dailey caught a 9-yard touchdown in the spring game.
2. Great kicker: Senior Connor Barth was a perfect 10-for-10 on field goals last season and his leg was stronger during the spring. For a team that will probably struggle to score in coach Butch Davis' first season, Barth's kickoffs will be a key in field position.
3. Goddard is back: Junior strong safety Trimane Goddard was a rising star in the secondary until he broke his foot after the 2005 season and then refractured it during preseason camp last year. Goddard, who had 53 tackles and a team-high three interceptions two seasons ago, is healthy again and will lead an inexperienced secondary.
4. Competition at quarterback: Former coach John Bunting was partially derailed by poor play at quarterback, but at least Davis will have a couple of options. The starting job was believed to be sophomore Cameron Sexton's to lose this spring, but redshirt freshman T.J. Yates, who ran the scout team last season, was very impressive. Yates completed 10 of 15 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. Davis said he will wait until after the first week of preseason camp to name a starter, after highly regarded freshman Mike Paulus joins the competition.
5. Experienced defensive line: The Tar Heels have only 10 scholarship seniors, but three of them are starting defensive linemen. End Hilee Taylor and Kentwan Balmer showed they're both capable of having big seasons, and tackle Kyndraus Guy was playing well before injuring his knee in last season's finale against Duke. Guy should be ready for preseason camp.
Fall questions: 1. Starting tailback: Leading rusher Ronnie McGill is gone, and backup Barrington Edwards was suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Redshirt freshmen Johnny White and Anthony Elzy are competing for the starting job, and converted quarterback Anthony Parker-Boyd remains in the mix.
2. Depth at linebackers: Leading tackler Durell Mapp returns, but the other two linebacker spots remain concerns. Sophomore Wesley Flagg and junior Chase Rice are top candidates, but fullback Joey Bozich moved to linebacker for depth, and more help might have to come from the incoming freshman class.
3. Secondary holes: Three starters are gone in the secondary, and returning cornerback Quinton Person isn't guaranteed to keep his starting job. Sophomore Jermaine Strong and redshirt freshman Kendric Burney were impressive at cornerback during the spring. Cooter Arnold moved from safety to cornerback, and Deunta Williams switched from receiver to safety.
4. Punter: The Tar Heels punted so poorly during the spring that junior college transfer Terrence Brown of Fresno City College was offered a scholarship after the spring game and will enroll this fall. He'll challenge Jay Wooten for the starting job in camp.
5. How many freshmen can help: Given Davis' late start in recruiting, the Tar Heels had a pretty impressive haul on signing day. Four freshmen -- tight end Zach Pianalto, cornerback LeCount Fantroy and linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant -- enrolled in January and practiced this spring. More help could come from Paulus and Marvin Austin, a highly regarded defensive lineman from Washington, D.C. Davis estimated half of his 24 signees could play as freshmen.
2006 overall record:
Offense: 8, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 0
QB Daniel Evans, TB Toney Baker, TB Andre Brown, WR John Dunlap, TE Anthony Hill, G Curtis Crouch, DT DeMario Pressley
G LeRoy Harris, OT James Newby, DT Tank Tyler, S Garland Heath, LB Patrick Lowery, P/K John Deraney
Top newcomer: TE George Bryan 2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Toney Baker* (688 yds)
Passing: Daniel Evans* (1,843 yds)
Receiving: Anthony Hill* (478 yds)
Tackles: Patrick Lowery (102)
Sacks: Martrel Brown (7)
Interceptions: DaJuan Morgan (2)
1. Tom O'Brien didn't run a boot camp: NC State's players and fans might have expected a boot camp-like atmosphere during new coach Tom O'Brien's first spring practice, but it was a relatively uneventful transition from former coach Chuck Amato's ways. O'Brien, a former Marine, has eliminated much of the silliness that surrounded the program in recent years, but the conditioning program and offseason demands didn't change much.
2. Three-headed running backs: Even though O'Brien's offense at Boston College last season relied heavily on the passing game, he'll try to run the football a lot at NC State -- and with good reason. The Wolfpack had three running backs gain more than 100 yards in the spring game: Junior Toney Baker ran for 163 yards on 23 carries, sophomore Jamelle Eugene had 168 yards on 15 attempts and junior Andre Brown had 112 yards. If Eugene improves his ball security (he had two fumbles during the spring game), the Wolfpack could have three viable options in O'Brien's multiple-set offense. O'Brien will find more ways to use each of the runners than the previous staff did.
3. On the defensive: New defensive coordinator Mike Archer, who came to NC State from Kentucky, seems ready to employ a 4-3 set, instead of the 3-4 alignment he utilized in the past. The Wolfpack did switch from predominantly man-to-man coverage to more zone in the secondary, which O'Brien hopes will create more interceptions. NC State had only seven interceptions in 12 games last season, tied with North Carolina for fewest in the ACC. Safety Jimmaul Simmons returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in the spring game.
4. Plenty of targets: The team's top two receivers from 2006 -- seniors Darrell Blackman and John Dunlap -- are back, along with tight end Anthony Hill, who led the team with 45 catches last season. Donald Bowens, Darrell Davis and Jarvis Williams each looked ready to contribute on the perimeter.
5. Still tanks in the line: Even after losing All-ACC tackle Tank Tyler, who was picked in the third round of the NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, the Wolfpack still have the potential to be pretty good on the defensive line. Senior tackle DeMario Pressley might be more dominating than Tyler, and end Martrel Brown should emerge as a dominant pass-rusher after tallying seven sacks in 2006.
1. Starting quarterback: Even after starting the last nine games of 2006, junior Daniel Evans wasn't handed the starting job by O'Brien. Evans, who threw for more than 1,800 yards and six touchdowns last season, was the most polished passer during spring practice. He completed 20 of 34 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.
Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck, who has a stronger arm, was 7-of-26 for 116 yards with one interception. Redshirt freshman Justin Burke threw three interceptions in the spring game. O'Brien has yet to name a starter for the Sept. 1 opener against Central Florida.
2. Holes on the offensive line: The Wolfpack have to replace two starters on the offensive line after losing guard LeRoy Harris and tackle James Newby. The right side of the line could be enormous, if sophomore Jeraill McCuller (330 pounds) starts next to guard Curtis Crouch (335 pounds). Center Luke Lathan figures to start at center after recovering from a concussion that plagued him last season.
3. No kickers: The Wolfpack's most significant loss might be John Deraney, who handled punts, field goals and kickoffs last season. He made 12 of 16 field goal attempts and all but one of his 23 point-after tries. Redshirt freshman Josh Czajkowski figures to handle the place-kicking chores, and junior college transfer Jeff Ruiz should take over the punting.
4. Depth at linebacker: Top tackler Pat Lowery is gone, but the Wolfpack should have three senior starters. LeRue Rumph returns, along with Ernest Jones and James Martin II, who missed all but five games last season because of a dislocated wrist. Sophomore Ray Michel and redshirt freshmen Nate Irving and John Ware will have to provide depth.
5. Can O'Brien teach the Pack to win: The Wolfpack seemingly found every way to lose games under Amato, as they were plagued by self-inflicted wounds and other miscues throughout the last two seasons. Will O'Brien's no-nonsense, no-frills approach go over easily?
2006 overall record:
Offense: 6, Defense: 10, Kicker/punter: 2
QB Jameel Sewell, TE Tom Santi, LT Eugene Monroe, LG Branden Albert, C Jordy Lipsey, DE Chris Long, DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald
RB Jason Snelling, CB Marcus Hamilton, DB Tony Franklin, WR Fontel Mines, DT Keenan Carter
Top newcomer: WR Dontrelle Inman
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jason Snelling (772 yds)
Passing: Jameel Sewell* (1,342 yds)
Receiving: Kevin Ogletree* (582 yds)
Tackles: Jon Copper* (81)
Sacks: Jeffrey Fitzgerald * (5.5)
Interceptions: Marcus Hamilton (5)
Spring answers: 1. Pass rush: The Cavaliers have a chance to be dominating on the defensive front, with ends Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald returning. Long, the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, had 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss last season. With Fitzgerald improving on the opposite side after totaling a team-high 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2006, Long might see fewer double-team blocks this season. Senior nose tackle Allen Billyk also is stronger and his performance could be a key in the 3-4 alignment employed by coach Al Groh.
2. Offensive line: The line's play was a sore spot last season, as the Cavaliers struggled to run the football and really never found an identity on offense. The left side of the line could be pretty good in 2007. Left guard Branden Albert has addressed the academic problems that caused him to miss spring practice last year, and mammoth left tackle Eugene Monroe is fully recovered from a dislocated kneecap that plagued him last season. Two fifth-year seniors -- center Jordy Lipsey and right guard Ian-Yates Cunningham -- are back to anchor the unit.
3. Tight ends: Tight ends have always played a big role in Groh's offense (Example A: Heath Miller), and the Cavaliers have two good ones this season. Seniors Tom Santi and Jonathan Stupar both run very well and have better-than-average hands. In the past, Santi often lined up at fullback, which lessened his role in the passing game. With converted linebacker Rashawn Jackson moving to fullback, Santi won't be asked to play in the backfield as much.
4. Linebackers: They weren't as highly recruited as some of the other linebackers in recent Virginia history (Ahmad Brooks, Kai Parham, Darryl Blackstock et al), but the quartet of players expected to start this fall might be more productive. Junior Jon Copper led the team with 81 tackles and had four sacks last season, and Antonio Appleby was second with 68 stops. Clint Sintim, who missed the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery, had 10 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2006.
5. Coaching stability: Virginia's coaching staff underwent a huge shake-up after the 2005 season, when four assistants left, including offensive coordinator Ron Prince (named head coach at Kansas State) and defensive coordinator Al Golden (named head coach at Temple). Former Virginia quarterback Mike Groh, son of the head coach, should be more comfortable in his second season calling the offensive plays. Defensive coordinator Mike London was much more aggressive on defense, too.
Fall questions: 1. Sewell's health: Quarterback Jameel Sewell was a big reason the Cavaliers salvaged a 5-7 record in 2006. If not for his improved play down the stretch, the season might have been much worse. But Sewell missed nearly all of spring practice after undergoing surgery to place two screws in his left (throwing) wrist. He played all of last season with a fractured bone in the wrist, yet still threw for 1,342 yards and five touchdowns. He missed many opportunities to improve as a passer, so the offseason and training camp will be important in his development.
2. Tailback: Snelling, a converted fullback and the team's leading rusher with 772 yards in 2006, is gone. Junior Cedric Peerman is the top candidate to replace him, but highly regarded Keith Payne will challenge him during camp. Payne, a redshirt freshman, is a whopping 243 pounds, but once held Florida speedster Percy Harvin to only 35 receiving yards in a Virginia high school game (Payne played outside linebacker as well as running back in high school).
3. Kicking game: The Cavaliers sorely missed kicker Connor Hughes last season, as replacement Chris Gould made only 11 of 19 field goal tries. Worse, Gould, the younger brother of Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould, missed four of 12 attempts from 40 yards or longer. Gould tried to handle the place-kicking and punting duties last season, but briefly lost both before the season was over. Ryan Weigand punted the last six games of 2006 and might keep the chores this season. Incoming freshman Chris Hinkebein might challenge Gould for place-kicking duties, too.
4. Safeties: The Cavaliers have a couple of emerging stars at cornerback in Chris Cook and Mike Brown. Despite returning three experienced safeties, however, there are legitimate concerns about speed and athleticism on the back end of the secondary. Former walk-on Byron Glaspy and senior Nate Lyles, who made a miraculous recovery from a neck injury, both struggled defending deep passes last season. Senior Jamaal Jackson will be given every opportunity to win one of the starting jobs.
5. Wide receivers: After losing Fontel Mines, Deyon Williams and Emmanuel Byers, the Cavaliers already had serious concerns about their depth at receiver. Then leading receiver Kevin Ogletree tore the ACL in his knee during spring practice. Virginia coaches fear he might miss all of the 2007 season after undergoing reconstructive surgery. Maurice Covington, who caught six passes last season, is the top returning receiver. The Cavaliers need help from Tulane transfer Cary Koch, converted defensive back Chris Gorham or several incoming freshmen.
2006 overall record:
Offense: 8, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 0
LB Vince Hall, LB Xavier Adibi, CB Brandon Flowers, TB Branden Ore, DE Chris Ellis, DT Carlton Powell, OT Duane Brown, CB Victor Harris
DE Noland Burchette, SS Aaron Rouse, OLB Brenden Hill, K Brandon Pace, P Nic Schmitt, WR David Clowney, C Danny McGrath
Top newcomer: QB Tyrod Taylor
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Branden Ore* (1,137 yds)
Passing: Sean Glennon* (2,191 yds)
Receiving: Josh Morgan* (448 yds)
Tackles: Vince Hall* (128)
Sacks: Chris Ellis* (4.5)
Interceptions: Victor Harris* (4)
Spring answers: 1. More of Ore: Tailback Branden Ore, who ran for 1,137 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, seems to have grown past the off-field problems that plagued him earlier in his career. Ore, who wasn't even enrolled in class last spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, was somewhat limited this spring with an ankle injury. But he showed his abilities by running three times for 57 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown, in one scrimmage. Kenny Lewis Jr., George Bell and Jahre Cheeseman are battling behind him, and running backs coach Billy Hite traditionally has used a two-back rotation.
2. Deep receiver corps: With Josh Morgan, Justin Harper, Eddie Royal and Josh Hyman returning to the team, the Hokies already had a plethora of big-play weapons on the perimeter. Then Zach Luckett and Brandon Dillard showed they might be ready to contribute as well. Dillard, a speedy sophomore, was named the team's top newcomer on offense.
3. Stout defensive front: Senior Chris Ellis should be one of the ACC's top pass-rushers when he returns from offseason shoulder surgery. The other starting end spot was up for grabs following the departure of Noland Burchette. Former walk-on Orion Martin left spring practice atop the depth chart. The Hokies will probably use a four-man rotation in the interior, led by seniors Carlton Powell, Barry Booker and Kory Robertson. Sophomore Cordarrow Thompson is a budding star.
4. Covering cornerbacks: Junior Brandon Flowers showed last season that he might be the most talented cornerback to have played at Virginia Tech -- better than former NFL first-round pick DeAngelo Hall and second-round choice Jimmy Williams. Junior Victor "Macho" Harris also has the physical skills to be very, very good. The Hokies are so talented in the secondary that Roland Minor Jr., a starter two seasons ago, can't crack the starting lineup.
5. Tight ends: The tight ends weren't as much of a factor in the offense last season, because Sam Wheeler and Greg Boone were only freshmen. But each has a full season under his belt and might play a bigger role this fall. Wheeler, who caught 13 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns in 2006, is a more polished receiver. Boone, a 281-pound converted quarterback, caught five passes for 68 yards and one touchdown. He seems to have eliminated the dropped passes that plagued him last season.
Fall questions: 1. Quarterback consistency: Junior Sean Glennon seems to have a pretty firm grasp on the starting job after struggling in his first season as a starter in 2006. He showed better footwork and mechanics and made quicker decisions this spring. He completed 18 of 30 passes for 236 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in two controlled scrimmages this spring. Sophomore Ike Whitaker, who is back in school after undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse, rebounded from a slow start, completing 17 of 27 passes with one touchdown and one interception during the scrimmages.
2. Offensive line: There was a lot of movement on the line this spring. Senior Duane Brown moved from right tackle to left, and converted tight end Ed Wang filled his spot at right tackle. Guard Ryan Shuman moved to center, after missing several games last season with a knee injury. Right guard Sergio Render missed the spring after undergoing knee surgery, and Nick Marshman was battling Brandon Holland for the left guard spot.
3. Weakside linebacker: The Hokies return two of the country's best linebackers in Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall, but the weakside spot was vacated when Brenden Hill left. Senior Corey Gordon, who didn't play much in his first three college seasons, has the edge over converted free safety Cam Martin.
4. Strong safety: The Hokies lost a pair of seniors who played the position last season: Aaron Rouse and Cary Wade. Sophomore Kam Chancellor, who moved from cornerback, was beating out sophomore Dorian Porch for the starting job when spring practice ended.
5. Special teams: Virginia Tech lost both punter Nic Schmitt and kicker Brandon Pace, two of the better specialists in college football. Sophomore Brent Bowden has locked up the punting duties, while seniors Jud Dunlevy and Jared Develli are battling for the place-kicking job.
2006 overall record:
Offense: 8, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2
QB Riley Skinner, TB Micah Andrews, C Steve Justice, P/K Sam Swank, G Chris DeGeare, LB Aaron Curry, CB Alphonso Smith
LB Jon Abbate, S Josh Gattis, OT Steve Vallos, QB Benjamin Mauk, DT Jamil Smith, S Patrick Ghee, CB Riley Swanson, WR Nate Morton, WR Willie Idlette
Top newcomer: WR Cameron Ford
2006 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Kenneth Moore* (507 yds)
Passing: Riley Skinner* (2,051 yds)
Receiving: Nate Morton (617 yds)
Tackles: Jonathan Abbate (120)
Sacks: Jyles Tucker (6)
Interceptions: Josh Gattis (5)
1. Jim Grobe stayed: The defending ACC champions managed to keep coach Jim Grobe, who seemed in line for jobs at larger schools such as Alabama, Air Force (where he was once an assistant), Michigan State and even rivals North Carolina and NC State. But the 55-year-old offensive guru signed a new 10-year contract that might keep him at Wake Forest until 2016, and Grobe kept each of his assistants (seven of the nine have coached the last six seasons at Wake Forest).
2. Matt Robinson is healthy: The Demon Deacons lost top pass-rusher Jyles Tucker, but his loss could be lessened by the return of Matt Robinson. The team's top pass-rusher in 2004 and 2005, Robinson missed all of last season while recovering from a broken kneecap. He looked nearly full speed during the spring and had two sacks in the spring scrimmage.
3. Secondary moves go smoothly: After losing both starting safeties (Josh Gattis and Patrick Ghee), secondary coach Brad Lambert moved cornerback Kevin Patterson and receiver Jonathan Jones to safety. Patterson is expected to start at strong safety and Jones is battling for playing time. Junior Chip Vaughn, the team's most experienced safety, missed spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery.
4. Justice is served: The Demon Deacons replaced two starting offensive linemen, and the transition was a lot smoother with center Steve Justice leading the way. Justice is a preseason All-America candidate and will anchor the line for the third straight season. Senior Louis Frazier moved from left guard to left tackle to replace departed starter Arby Jones, and sophomore Jeff Griffin takes over at right tackle for Steve Vallos. Right guard Chris DeGeare is an All-ACC candidate.
5. Skinner continued to improve: The sophomore was the biggest surprise in the ACC last season after he replaced injured Benjamin Mauk (who has since transferred to Cincinnati), throwing for 2,051 yards and completing 65.8 percent of his passes. Skinner improved his downfield passing during the spring (he completed 12 of 14 passes for 115 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions), so maybe the Demon Deacons will be less reliant on their running game this fall.
1. Micah Andrews' health: The senior tailback missed all but three games of the 2006 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee against Connecticut. His rehab is scheduled to end in August, so he should be ready for the start of preseason camp. Andrews, the son of former Atlanta Falcons tailback William Andrews, ran for 621 yards as a sophomore in 2005 and was well on his way to another great season in 2006. If Andrews isn't ready, the Demon Deacons will turn to redshirt freshman Josh Adams, sophomore Kevin Harris or junior De'Angelo Bryant.
2. Sam Swank's availability: The Demon Deacons' punter and kicker missed the second half of spring practice after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. He might be the most valuable member of the team. Last season, he handled every conversion, field goal, punt and kickoff for Wake Forest. Swank is expected to be ready for preseason camp.
3. Eric Berry's weight: The junior is expected to replace leading tackler Jon Abbate, who entered the NFL draft after his junior season and wasn't selected. Berry had 26 tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks in 14 games last season, but coaches are hoping he loses 20 pounds during the offseason. He weighed around 288 pounds during the spring, but still moved pretty well at middle linebacker.
4. Big plays on the perimeter: Leading receivers Nate Morton and Willie Idlette are both gone, so a handful of wideouts are going to have to emerge from backup roles. Senior Kevin Marion has good speed and caught 10 passes last season, and senior Kenneth Moore was third on the team with 32 catches, even though he started the last five games at tailback because of injuries to other players. Juniors Delon Lowe and Chip Brinkman -- who have combined to catch two passes in college -- both showed encouraging signs during the spring.
5. Depth on the defensive line: The Demon Deacons are still a little bit undersized up front -- three of the four starting defensive linemen weigh less than 265 pounds -- and depth remains a concern. Tackle Dennis Godfrey, a promising young player, missed the spring scrimmage after tearing meniscus cartilage in his knee. Backup tackle Zach Stukes also was sidelined during the spring with a knee injury.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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