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Tag:ACC Football
Posted on: February 24, 2012 4:13 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Duke



Posted by Chip Patterson


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Duke.

Spring Practice Started: Wednesday, February 22

Spring Game: Saturday, March 31

Three Things To Look For:

1. Making sense of a crowded quarterback position. The Blue Devils return two-year starter Sean Renfree at quarterback. The senior has accumulated 6,325 yards and 32 touchdowns in his career as a Blue Devil, and is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the ACC. But head coach David Cutcliffe also used redshirt sophomores Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone often during the 2011 campaign. Both players are gifted runners and good complements to Renfree, but the pair have not been healthy/activated at the same time for an entire season. Cutcliffe even suggested there is a chance both backups could see snaps together in a game this season. With Sean Schroieder, Rob Collins, Mackenzie Soverign, and early enrollee Thomas Sirk; the Blue Devils have seven quarterbacks on the roster for spring practice.

2. Breakout stars. Duke returns 17 starters from last season, making them one of the more experienced teams in the ACC. But injuries have taken a toll on the Blue Devils during the offseason, and as many as six potential starters will be limited or out for a majority of spring practice. That list includes wide receiver Connor Vernon, who enters his senior year just 843 receiving yards shy of Peter Warrick's ACC record. With so many starters sitting out spring practice, Cutcliffe has encouraged the rest of the roster to "go take somebody's job." There could be a key contributor in the making that shows up this spring, one that could help the Blue Devils get over the hump.

3. Fixing the small mistakes. David Cutcliffe enters his fifth season with a 15-33 record. As News & Observer's Edward G. Robinson points out, that's five more wins than Duke's previous eight seasons combined. But while the improvement might be significant by Duke's standards, the Blue Devils have much higher expectations in 2012.

“We’re hunting another level of play,” Cutcliffe said. “We all know that we’ve played close games. We’ve been in a lot of games since we’ve been here really. Last year, we really did play at another level. And that level is not good enough. We have to make plays that win games. And consistently make plays that win games.”

Eight of Duke's 18 losses over the last two seasons were decided by a touchdown, with three in 2011 by five points or less. A field goal here or a defensive stop there could have put the Blue Devils back in the postseason for the first time since 1995.

To check in on the rest of the ACC and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule

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Posted on: April 4, 2011 10:58 am
Edited on: April 4, 2011 11:07 am
 

Maryland loses three scholarships for the fall

Posted by Chip Patterson

As Maryland's new head football coach, Randy Edsall is trying to put in place new standards and practices that will mark his era as the face of the Terps' program.  Unfortunately, he will still have to deal with some of the consequences from the old regime.  Maryland's football program will lose three scholarships for the 2011-2012 season for failure to meet the NCAA standards on Academic Progress Rate (APR).  Maryland's football APR score from 2009-2010 will be 922, three points below the 925 mark for avoiding penalties.

"We already have a system in place to deal with and rectify the situation," Edsall said in an official release.  The APR was created by the NCAA to measure real-time academic progress over a four year span.  The numbers are calculated annually, and Maryland's score will reflect the performance from 2006-2007 to 2009-2010.

"The APR gives us a four-year look at past performance, which unfortunately was not as good as we would have liked," said athletic director Kevin Anderson. "We do feel, though, that with changes in our staffs and processes, we will get a fresh perspective on how best to ensure we reach and surpass our goals academically in the future."

Edsall has already made headlines for his conduct and appearance changes to the football program. Gone are baseball caps, do-rags, and earrings from the Gossett Football Team House. Players may have facial hair, but only if it is neatly trimmed. It is all part of a stricter approach that includes a strong focus on academics.

Posted on: March 30, 2011 5:23 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2011 5:29 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Georgia Tech

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Georgia Tech, who started spring practice on Monda
y.

Will Georgia Tech be able to erase the turnovers and mental mistakes that plagued them in 2010?

Coming into the 2010 season, Georgia Tech was riding pretty high. The Yellow Jackets were fresh off an ACC Championship and a BCS bowl berth. Head coach Paul Johnson's flexbone option offense was working immediately, delivering at least a share of two Coastal Division crowns in his first two seasons at the helm. With a preseason #16 ranking, Georgia Tech held the fate of the 2010 season in their hands.

Then they dropped it, literally.

Georgia Tech fumbled the ball 20 times in 2010, more that any other team in Division I. The turnovers and mental mistakes were not the only reason that Georgia Tech finished with their worst record since 1994, but they certainly played a big role in the Yellow Jackets' struggles. A fumbling issue is particularly damaging for a team that rushes the ball an average of 57.9 times a game. For comparison, the rest of the ACC averaged 30-40 rushing attempts per game. But the Jackets not only led the conference with 323.31 yards per game, but also in yards per carry. So clearly the offense was working, as long as the Yellow Jackets were holding onto the ball.

So what was the issue for Georgia Tech? One word that has been floating around Atlanta as spring practice has kicked off is "complacency."

“I think there was a sense of complacency to a degree,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Not with everybody. But when you win nine games the first year and then you win 11 games, I think some guys just think, ‘Well, this is going to happen again.’ It doesn’t work like that.”

So for starters, the Yellow Jackets will be focusing on a new mentality this spring. According to Johnson, inspiring this bunch didn't take much extra push from the coaching staff. All any of the Yellow Jackets would need to do is think back to the horrendous 14-7 Independence Bowl loss to Air Force. With two muffed punts to compliment three lost fumbles an interception, it was the perfect microcosm of what went wrong with the Yellow Jackets last season.

“Our guys aren’t dumb, they know what happened,” Johnson said. “We’re light years ahead of where we were last year at this time. We have a lot more togetherness as a group. You can see our focus, our desire. I can look out my office window [onto the practice field] and see guys working, doing things we didn’t do last year. There’s a different aura.”

The aura is different and so will be a lot of the faces in 2011. Georgia Tech only returns six offensive and five defensive starters from last year's squad. What that will mean for the Yellow Jackets in spring practice is open competition for some the most important positions on the field. If complacency was an issue for the offense, that could be eliminated as several candidates enter spring ball competing for the quarterback, A-back, and B-back positions in Johnson's flexbone option.

Junior quarterback Tevin Washington took over as the starting quarterback when Joshua Nesbitt broke his arm against Virginia Tech. At the time, the Jackets were 5-3 and in a position to knock off the Hokies for a huge division victory. Washington was inconsistent on the field, showing both flashes of brilliance and mind-numbingly bad decision making sometimes in the same drive. This spring he'll go head-to-head against Synjyn Days, a 6-2 sophomore from Powder Spring, GA. Days ran an option offense in high school and got to see some time running with the first team in practice near the end of last season. Days will have an opportunity, but according to Johnson the starting spot will remain with Washington for now.

"[Washington] is the starter coming in, and I think that he has earned that," Johnson explained. It is very similar to a lot of the positions, the depth chart is always fluid. He has been taking snaps. This is why I try not to get too hyped up on the freshmen. Synjyn (Days) has a lot of ability, but he has to beat Tevin out. It's Tevins' job."

Another concern for Georgia Tech's offense this spring is replacing B-back Anthony Allen, who led all rushers in 2010 with 1,316 yards. The position previously held by Allen and ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer before him will be up for grabs among four different backs. Richard Watson, Preston Lyons, Charles Perkins, and former quarterback David Sims will compete this spring for their spot in the rotation. With all that talent, you would think that the Yellow Jackets could benefit from a running back-by-committee approach. But as Doug Roberson points out, Johnson has rarely done that in his 14 seasons as a head coach.

At A-back, the leaders would appear to be Orwin Smith (516 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Roddy Jones (353 yards, 4 touchdowns). In Johnson's system, the A-back needs to have that home-run capability that demands attention from the the opposing linebackers and secondary. Both backs have shown the ability to do that at times, but with another year of experience spring will be the time to show improvement and earn that top spot in Paul Johnson's fluid depth chart.

Georgia Tech will also need to fill holes on the offensive line and hopefully Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton have developed as more consistent wide receivers. The wideouts don't need to catch a lot of balls each Saturday. But when the pigskin is tossed their way, they are expected to pull it in. Defensively Johnson is expecting to see some major improvements in the second season under the direction of defensive coordinator Al Groh, but does not seem to place any of the blame for 2010 on that side of the ball.

"If you look at the [defensive] stats from two years ago to last year, there really wasn't a lot of difference," Johnson explained before the first spring practice. "We probably had a few less turnovers last year and gave up a few less big plays. But the total yardage, points per game, all that was pretty much right in line with where we had been. You hope that in the second year (of the 3-4) there is a little more familiarity. The bottom line is winning and losing the game is determined on how many points you give up. That is the bottom line."

If the mentality has changed, as Johnson suggested, you might see a brand new Yellow Jackets squad in 2011. The expectations are not what they were a year ago in Atlanta, but that does not mean you can count Georgia Tech out of the Coastal Division race. There is a lot of buzz around Miami with Al Golden's arrival, and you can never count out Virginia Tech, but if the Yellow Jackets can eliminate the turnovers and special teams issues they should see significant improvement in the fall.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: March 29, 2011 9:20 am
 

Eye on Coaching: NC State's Tom O'Brien

Posted by Chip Patterson

In just his fourth year as the N.C. State head coach, Tom O'Brien delivered a 9-win season and brought the Wolfpack within a game of the ACC Championship. On Monday I got a chance to visit Coach O'Brien at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh to talk spring practice and the state of Wolfpack football.

CBSSports.com: Reflecting back on 2010, down the road what are some of the things that will stand out from last season?

Tom O'Brien: Well I think it was the first time we won here. We had all those injury problems the previous years, a depleted squad, and really never had a chance. We went into the year feeling we'd be very competitive. It was the first year we almost were all scholarship guys with no walk-on's in the two-deep. We got Nate Irving back, who did a great job for us, was our Most Valuable Player last year. Played one full-year finally in five years of play, it was kind of a snapshot of where had been in the previous three years. I think last year, as far as building a program and moving forward, was a huge step.

That fact that we won five conference games, that hadn't been done a lot here. Nine wins is the second-most in school history, and to be ranked in the Top 25 at the end of the year is really important to show where we can go with this program.

CBSSports.com: You mentioned moving forward, obviously one of the big topics of the spring has been moving forward at the quarterback position, with [Mike] Glennon. Fans got to see him last spring, in the spring practice and spring game, what are some things this spring that he's doing particularly well, and where do you think there is still room for growth?

TOB: Well I think he's better than he was a spring ago, and that's just a matter of experience of having played being through another season and going into another spring practice. The only thing I think he needs to do is get in a game and play. He needs game experience. He certainly has enough ability to be an all ACC caliber quarterback. He's just got to get there and get into game situations next year, experience those things. But, he certainly has enough talent to be a really good quarterback for us.

CBSSports.com: The rest of the team embracing him coming in and taking that role?

TOB: Oh certainly, you know he's been around. He's going into his fourth year of school, so he was part of the first real recruiting class we had here. Generally speaking, when you're in that situation those guys have bonded. They came in with a purpose to make the program different, to make the program better. They're all moving up, all those redshirt juniors now, and he's part of that group.

CBSSports.com: What about your philosophy of spring practice? It seems like you have a unique view compared to many other programs, you even said "spring practice is about getting better as individuals." Could you talk about your mentality?

TOB: Well that's what I learned from Coach Welsh, all those years. That was the focus all the time, starting in spring practice and heading into fall camp. As individuals improve, your football team will improve. We spent a lot of time on the basis of "football." Blocking, tackling, fundamentals, getting better as an individual; building and putting it all together.

There is no sense at this time worrying about a lot of X's and O's, I mean you have to do it so you can test what your people can do. We're more worried about getting better individually. As each position player gets better, then we you put it together your football team is better.

CBSSports.com: You'll get to face Coach London and Coach Spaziani this season, do you feel like you are building your own coaching tree?

TOB: You know I've never looked at it that way. I've been very fortunate to have great assistant coaches, and I've been fortunate to keep a lot of great assistant coaches. Certainly their ambitious is to be coordinators, then be head coaches. I'm very happy for them to have that opportunity. Maybe I can Golden in the championship game.

CBSSports.com: Here in Carter-Finley, the fan base has really embraced you in this program. You were 5-1 at home in 2010, with 7 games on the schedule in 2011. How important has this stadium become as a home field advantage?

TOB: No I think it's huge, we have tremendous fans. They love their football, they love their team. They show up as soon as the tailgate lots open, some of them before the tailgate lots open You know we had third largest crowd in history last year and set a single-season attendance record. I think it speaks volumes to their passion for the Wolfpack football team and I think our kids feed off that.

CBSSports.com: If you were to make your sell for Nate as a player in the NFL, what do you think about his game will best translate to the next level?

TOB: Well what I've been telling coaches is that he hasn't had a lot of hits on his body. He's only played one full year of football. On the previous four years he missed one year because of the accident, he missed one year because of injuries, the year before that we didn't know who or what he was as a redshirt freshman and didn't play him till the month of November when we changed the team around, and the year before that he was redshirted. So really his best days are ahead of him. He's really a smart football player, and he's an explosive football player, and somebody is going to get a really good player for many, many years in the NFL.

CBSSports.com: Is there anything from spring practice that has surprised you?

TOB: Not really, we are only into day five - with three in pads. We're trying to emphasize in team meetings this morning "the fundamentals." If you can't tackle you can't play defense, if you can't block you can't play offense. I mean it's pretty simple; let's go back to the fundamentals. The guys that can block and tackle the best are going to put themselves in position to get on the football field, and we're still searching.

That's why we have an Organizational Chart [instead of a depth chart], I don't care if you are playing offense or defense right now. If you're the best player and you stand out, we'll find a place for you - and we're still searching.

Click here to check out N.C. State's Spring Practice Primer


Posted on: March 28, 2011 11:25 pm
Edited on: March 28, 2011 11:29 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Florida State

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Florida State , who started spring practice last Monday.


Pegged as early favorites for the ACC (and possibly National) Title in 2011, are the Seminoles for real?

In a word? Yes.

From 1987-2000, the Seminoles did not have a single season without double-digit wins. From 2001-2009 Florida State only accomplished that feat once. One of the purposes for utilizing a "coach-in-waiting" is to limit the negative effects of transition in a coaching change. For Florida State, giving the head coaching seat to Jimbo Fisher was a much-needed upgrade.

Fisher has not just returned Florida State to the double-digit wins club, he has rejuvenated the entire program. For the first time since conference expansion brought Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, Florida State is entering the 2011 season as favorites to win the ACC. If you have any wonders as to why so many people are high on the Seminoles, just look at what returns from 2010.

Florida State returns eight starters on offense and defense as well as both specialists from their 2010's ACC Atlantic Division Champion squad. They won four of their last five, only losing 44-33 to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and finishing the season with a Chick Fil-A Bowl win over South Carolina. One of the main reasons so many experts favor Florida State in 2011 is the return of so many of the same players who stood on the podium in Atlanta on New Years Eve.

For example, take a look at the running back position. Florida State never put up dazzling numbers with their ground game, but their running back-by-committee attack wore teams down and consistently became a factor late in games. Junior running back Chris Thompson (846 yards, 6 TD) led the way in 2010, but Ty Jones (527 yards, 5 TD), Jermaine Thomas (490 yards, 6 TD), and Lonnie Pryor (112 yards, 4 TD) will all be back and looking to increase their workload in 2011. Thomas recently rejoined the team after serving a suspension resulting from a driving with a suspended license arrest, reuniting the group once again on the field.

"I love Jermaine to death and it just feels good to have him back," Pryor said after Thomas' return. "We need all of us again to do the same things we did last year."

Thomas may be back from suspension, but the Seminoles still have an extensive list of inactive players for spring practice due to injury. While many people have high expectations for the Seminoles in 2011 because of all the returning talent, the look of spring practice has been much different. Fisher hopes that the extra attention for the young talent will help the Seminoles in the future.

"We got a lot of issues going on," Fisher told Seminoles.com. "Hopefully, we'll develop our top 22 guys out there. We know the guys that have started that won't be in there, but develop some of these young guys and some depth."

One position that will undergo major development for Florida State this spring will be quarterback. The Seminoles may be returning 8 starters from each side of the ball, but there will be a brand new starting quarterback under center. Except, the thing is, he's not really brand new.

E.J. Manuel saw his first action on the field as a true freshman in 2009, taking over for the injured Christian Ponder for the final four games of the season. Manuel was wildly inconsistent, but finished the season 3-1 as a starter and was named MVP of the Gator Bowl. The win secured a 7-6 record for the Seminoles, avoiding the only losing record in the Bobby Bowden era at Florida State.

He was asked to do the same thing in 2010, filling in for Ponder who struggled through a nagging elbow injury all season. After falling behind early, Manuel put together one of his best individual performances against Virginia Tech in the 2010 ACC Championship Game. Manuel was not phased by the big stage, calmly completing 23 of 31 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown. He carried that momentum into the Chick Fil-A Bowl against South Carolina, when he was once again asked to take over for Ponder in the second quarter because of injury. Manuel threw for 84 yards and ran seven times for 46 yards to hold off the Gamecocks.

With two bowl games under his belt, it is easy to forget that Manuel is just now completing his first spring practices. He injured his hand in his first spring practice two years ago, and missed all of 2010's spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery. Now he will have to get used to running the offense on a full-time basis with two starting tackles sitting on the sideline and new faces at guard and center.

"It's a big difference, not having Ponder there," running back Chris Thompson explained. "He was a big leader on our team. But E.J. has stepped right in on that. With him stepping up, being a leader - like when we are going through workouts and fourth quarter drills he has always been vocal with us - it's been a real help for us."

On the defensive end the Seminoles are not only returning eight starters, but also several reserves that saw quality minutes in 2010. One of the focuses on the defense hasn't been on trying to fill out a depth chart, but instead players trying to win the few starting spots available. Not a bad problem to have for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.

"We got everybody coming back from last season with a lot more experience," said defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel. "Coming together as a defense, we know what it takes and the high standards. We set the bar last season, and now we know in spring everyone is going to come out ready to practice."

The high standards demanded by head coach Jimbo Fisher include constant effort and an always-present toughness. The fast-talking West Virginia native wants to practice fast and hit hard. He is never hesitant to criticize his team when he feels they deserve it, but he will also sing praises when they have been earned.

"I was very pleased," Fisher said after Florida State's first practice in full pads on Saturday. "We had toughness and we had effort today which I questioned the other day and I was very pleased. That was one of the first real practices we've had. I liked what I saw on both sides of the ball - kids competing when everything wasn't right, guys making some plays on both sides. Effort was good. I thought we had a good day on special teams. I liked the way we practiced today."

Are the Seminoles legitimate contenders in 2011? Absolutely. Unfortunately their status as national contenders could be determined before the the end of September. Before they even have to face their first conference opponent, Florida State hosts the Oklahoma Sooners in Tallahassee on Sept. 17. The Sooners are also considered to be among the top contenders in 2011, making the game a "must-win" for both teams with BCS dreams.

Florida State does not have all the tools in place to win a championship yet, but returning 18 starters and a Gator Bowl MVP quarterback is a great way to start.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: March 22, 2011 11:59 pm
Edited on: March 23, 2011 12:11 am
 

Spring Practice Primer: NC State

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at N.C. State , who started spring practice last Friday.


Head coach Tom O'Brien is prepared to repeat 2010's success without Russell Wilson, but are Mike Glennon and the rest of the Wolfpack ready?

For the last three years, N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson has been the face of the football program on and off the field. Even splitting time and missing games due to injury, Wilson has been the favored signal-caller since his arrival on campus. In 2008 Wilson was named Rookie of the Year and selected to the All-ACC first team. In his three seasons, Wilson racked up 8.545 yards and 76 touchdowns and wrote himself into the NCAA record books by completing 389 consecutive passes. He has also served as a perfect ambassador for the program, an active member of the N.C. State community.

But #16 will not be on the field for the Wolfpack this spring. Wilson has not ruled out returning for his senior season, but for now he is playing with the Colorado Rockies organization. Wilson maintained this fall that his goal is to play major league baseball and NFL football, but his indecision is not something that head coach Tom O'Brien wants to wait on moving forward.

“We just can’t sit here and say, ‘OK, we’re going to wait for Russell to come back,’ O’Brien said. “We have to move forward.”

So now the reigns have been handed to redshirt junior Mike Glennon. Glennon, ranked a top 5 quarterback coming out of high school, is also the younger brother of former Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon. He spent last spring with the first-team while Wilson was playing baseball, but now enters spring practice expecting to be the man under center come September.

O'Brien has an impressive list of quarterbacks that have succeeded under his tenure, dating back to the Hasselback brothers at Boston College. Glennon hopes to add his name to that list with two years of eligibility left with the Wolfpack to prove himself as much more than "the guy after Russell."

 It takes little to no time to point out the initial contrasts to Wilson. While the 5-11 Wilson tormented defenses by extending the play, the 6-6 Glennon is much more of a traditional pocket passer. With the sightline to scan the whole field and impressive arm strength, Glennon has all of the tools to be just as successful as Wilson. The question will be whether he can still put them to use in a game after three years on the sideline.

One uphill battle that Glennon faces is the departure of Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, and Darrell Davis. Wilson benefited from having big targets that he could rely on to get up and catch it over defenders. Spencer and Williams were the leading receivers in 2010, combining for 1,625 yards and 9 touchdowns.  One piece that Glennon does get back is senior tight end George Bryan. Bryan has had at least 35 receptions and 350 yards receiving in his last two seasons, and the 6-5, 265 pound Castle Hayne, NC native began to generate some draft buzz among scouts.

"I considered [declaring for the NFL draft] pretty good for a little earlier," Bryan told PackPride.com. "I talked to some people but we just felt like, my family, coach Bridge, coach O'Brien, all the coaches felt like it would be a better fit for me to come back because I still have stuff to work on. "There is no rush. I love playing for the Wolfpack, and I want to graduate as a Wolfpack."

That kind of leadership and dedication is something the 2011 Wolfpack will find necessary in 2011. Don't be surprised if Bryan becomes a frequent checkdown for Glennon if he can't get his first reads. It will only benefit Glennon's confidence knowing he has that big reliable target underneath when things get uncomfortable in the pocket.

Spring Practice Primers

But there are some fundamental differences in the way O'Brien runs his spring practice that will benefit both sides of the ball, not just the offense.

"As long as I'm the head coach, our focus in spring will be to get better as individuals," O'Brien explained. "Spring practice is still about being a better fundamental football team. Everybody can improve at something, players and coaches. The benefit of having experienced players and more depth is that you can hone in on the things that are really important, but the goal is still the same."

O'Brien does not even release an official spring depth chart. He releases what he refers to as an "organizational chart." Even then, don't expect everyone to be in the exact same position in a few months. Even with eight returning defensive starters, O'Brien will do some shifting before the season kicks off. With almost guaranteed plans of mixing things up, it only further supports his method of focusing on individual players instead of general scheming in the spring.

"We like to bring versatile people in - guys who can play multiple positions," O'Brien added. "Then as we grow as a football team and they grow as individual players, we can decide what each individual's best position is and how he can best help the team."

N.C. State's outlook for the fall is difficult to predict with no official knowledge of Russell Wilson's decision. But my assumption is that Glennon will be the man under center for the Wolfpack in September. O'Brien may prefer to focus on individual players in the spring, but only one will be held under a microscope by the fan base. This is Glennon's second spring practice with the first-string, but it has a whole new feeling with the ball coming his way in the fall.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: March 21, 2011 4:37 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2011 4:39 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: North Carolina

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at North Carolina , who started spring practice last Wednesday
.

Is it possible that the suspensions of 2010 better prepared the Tar Heels for 2011?

With how publicized the program has been in the last 12 months, it is easy to forget that North Carolina head coach Butch Davis is only entering his fifth year in Chapel Hill. Davis had plans of bringing top notch talent to North Carolina, and the records show that it has worked. After going 4-8 in year one, Davis has rattled off three straight 8-5 seasons and in 2010 delivered the first bowl win for North Carolina since 2001.

But the dark cloud has not completely been lifted off the North Carolina football program. After finishing with that Music Bowl victory, too many Tar Heel fans were left saying "what if?" What if North Carolina had all of their suspended players for the whole season? Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com wrote that if all of North Carolina's suspended players had played the Tar Heels might have contended for a national championship. Obviously this claim is a little far-fetched, but with 12 Tar Heels showing their stuff in the NFL combine, it is easy to see why fans are asking the "what ifs'."

With all that talent at the NFL combine, you would think that there would be a drop-off for North Carolina coming into 2011. But the players, and those close to the program do not expect a drop-off at all. When you have a recruiter like Butch Davis you don't need to rebuild, you just reload.

With all of those players missing action early in the season (and some for the entire year), a crop of young talent got to see the field much earlier than expected. Those players are back for 2011, and are ready to form their own impressive combine group. At least 12 backups saw much more action than they ever expected in last year's season opener against LSU. The game, played in the Georgia Dome, was a real taste of big-time southern football for those players. They will take those experiences on the field, and enter spring practice hungry.

On the defensive side of the ball the Tar Heels only return six starters, but many of the reserves saw significant action on the field due to suspension and/or injury. The playmaking ability of Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant will be missed, but look this spring for significant changes in the attitudes of Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick. It will be their duty to carry on the torch from the previous two star linebackers. The line is back with even more depth, and most of the secondary got to see the field during the suspensions of Deuntae Williams (4 games) and Kendrick Burney (6 games).

Things are less certain for the offense. Most important for the Tar Heels offense will be seeing how Bryn Renner does stepping into the starting role. In his four years on the field, Yates set the school records for career and single-season passing yards, as well as single season total offense. Now he passes the torch to Renner, who has been taking notes for the last two years.

"I learned everything I knew to be a college quarterback from him," Renner said after his first practice as the starting signal-caller. "Just the way he handled himself on and off the field, and the way he conducted himself on the field, so I learned a lot from him."

Renner enters spring practice as the starter, but he will be pushed for the job. With A.J. Blue healthy, there will be an open competition for the backup spot with Braden Hanson and the highly sought-after Marquise Williams, who enrolled early. The hope being that the competition will only improve all of the quarterbacks, giving offensive coordinator John Shoop some comfortable depth at the quarterback position.

One thing that Renner does have going for him from the beginning is a talented crop of returning wide receivers. Dwight Jones, Erik Highsmith, and Jheranie Boyd are all familiar with Renner from practice in previous years and should waste no time getting their timing back. Ryan Houston, who led the Tar Heels in rushing TD's in 2009, is back after redshirting a year ago and should help take the pressure off the first-time starter.

"We are really excited to get Ryan back, that was a big help," Renner explained. "I'm really excited to see Giovanni [Bernard], I think he's going to be a great player and has great upside. I'm really looking forward to handing the ball off to those two guys."

Despite the optimism and excitement from the players, there still is an unresolved NCAA investigation. While the athletic department remains optimistic that no major sanctions will be placed on the program, there is the possibility that a punishment will be handed down from the NCAA that could hurt the Tar Heels' chances of continuing the postseason streak that Davis has established.

But until then, the expectations are the same in Chapel Hill, and the campaign to return to a bowl in 2011 has already begun.

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Posted on: March 16, 2011 1:01 pm
Edited on: March 16, 2011 1:07 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Wake Forest

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Wake Forest, who starts spring practice Thursday
.

How will Wake Forest's recent coordinator shuffle effect the productivity of spring practice? Will they be able to take advantage of the 17 returning starters?

Wake Forest knew they had a lot to improve on from 2010. There were all sorts of issues on the field that were going to require attention during the offseason. But plans to improve were thrown off momentarily with the surprise departure of Brad Lambert to UNC-Charlotte. The former defensive coordinator had been in Winston-Salem as long as head coach Jim Grobe, and been a crucial piece to the program. He was linebackers coach of the 2006 ACC Championship team, and helped develop Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry, now with the Seattle Seahawks.

So Grobe was forced to act quickly and unexpectedly to even get spring practice off on time. Grobe began by promoting from within, calling on Brian Knorr (wide receivers) and Tim Billings (outside linebackers) to be co-defensive coordinators. Knorr, who served as a linebackers coach under Grobe at Ohio University, will split both the coordinating and linebacker coach duties with Billings. The move promotes two seasoned assistants with head coaching experience, while also returning Knorr back to the defensive side of the ball.

But in filling Knorr's old role as wide receivers coach, Grobe got a chance to enhance his staff. West Virginia receivers coach Lonnie Galloway was officially announced on Tuesday as the latest hire in Wake Forest's coaching shuffle. Galloway was a four year letterman at quarterback for Western Carolina University. He graduated in 1994 second on the school's career passing list with 5,545 yards. Galloway should also help with recruiting, serving on staffs at Elon, East Carolina, and Appalachian State before West Virginia.

So now that the coaching staff is finally in line, the Demon Deacons can turn their attention towards 2011. Which is good news for Wake Forest fans, who have been looking forward to forgetting the 2010 season for some time. After the exhibition season-opener against Presbyterian and and a 54-48 footrace victory against the lowly Duke Blue Devils, Wake Forest dropped nine straight games. Thankfully, they were able to finish the season with a 34-13 victory over Vanderbilt, but it was a frustrating 1-7 ACC campaign for the Demon Deacons. They were consistently overmatched, being outscored in conference play on average 38.5-16.875.

Granted, it was a rough initiation for true freshman quarterback Tanner Price (pictured). Price, who has shown potential at times, was thrown into the mix early in the season and finished with nine starts under his belt. As expected, the consistency was lacking in the freshman's efforts. But with 1,349 yards passing and a year of experience with offensive coordinator Steed Lebotzke (one of the only coaches still in his 2010 role), Wake Forest fans are hoping that Price's growth will help improve the entire offense.

But Price's learning curve is no explanation for the poor defense. In 2010, the Demon Deacons were last in the conference in scoring defense, and only ranked higher than Duke in total defense; giving up 429.6 yards per game. Grobe sang Lambert's praises as he departed for UNC-Charlotte, but where was the proof on the field?

The difference between 2010 and Grobe teams of old came down to experience. Wake Forest finished the season staring 8 underclassmen on defense, including 3 freshmen in the secondary. The defenses during the postseason run from 2006-2008 were led by a core group of juniors and seniors. Grobe and his staff are known for their ability to develop talent, but unfortunately most of the Demon Deacons had to go through on-the-job training.

Which interestingly enough is one of the greatest strengths Wake Forest has moving towards 2011. With 17 returning starters, the Demon Deacons are the second most experienced team in the ACC. The players should enter spring practice with little/no learning curve. While the coaches might be shifting, the players are all back.

Regardless of the assistant coach jumble, Jim Grobe is still the head football coach at Wake Forest. He will have the same message and same expectations as always, and there should be no misunderstandings on the rosters with this large crop of returning players. Grobe has proven he can win with experience before, but Wake Forest fans are hoping to see that on the field sooner rather than later.

Wake Forest begins Spring Practice Thursday March 17

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com