Posted by Chip Patterson
With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the ACC Coastal Division.
DUKE: Head coach David Cutcliffe exits his fourth spring practice with the Blue Devils with as much optimism as ever, but knows that the 2011 Blue Devils have some work to do before kicking off the season against Richmond on Sept. 3.
"A successful day," Cutcliffe said after the spring game. "But I told them this is just the beginning. In college football now, [you have] the remainder of the spring term to work on weights and conditioning. And a summer that's going to very important to a young team."
Almost two-thirds of the Blue Devils roster is made up of freshman and sophomores. While youth can easily breed optimism, there is also a realistic expectation that this group needs to put in more work on the fundamentals this summer. Duke does have the benefit of returning both pieces of their quarterback rotation from 2010. Junior Sean Renfree will remain the starting quarterback, coming off a pleasantly surprising 3,131 yard, 14 touchdown season. Sophomore Brandon Connette will continue in his role as a run-first quarterback in rotation with Renfree, but the spring has shown some improvement in Connette's passing game. Defensively, we didn't learn much about Duke this spring due to widespread injuries across the unit. If anything the injuries made a talented Blue Devils offense look spectacular at times. Duke will likely not be able to escape a similar bowl-less fate in 2011, but at least now they have the athletes on the roster to remain competitive.
GEORGIA TECH: Georgia Tech set out to improve defensively this spring and try to focus on special teams. The good news is that the Yellow Jackets defense finished spring practice looking much better than the offense. Which might actually reveal more issues with the offense than it does compliment the defensive improvement. At different times this spring, both Tevin Washington and Synjyn Days have struggled in scrimmage situations against the first-team defense. Both quarterbacks have struggled to find a rhythm, and as head coach Paul Johnson said, they have been "running for their lives" on the field.
The defense was highlighted this spring by players like defensive end Jason Peters and inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, who entered spring practice as a backup. Nealy, a redshirt freshman, has seen time with the first-string this spring due to injuries to Julian Burnett and Daniel Drummond. He has made the most of the opportunity, capping off his spring by leading the Yellow Jackets in tackles during their annual T-Day game. Paul Johnson also wanted to increase the mistakes in the special teams after last season. Unfortunately that is not completely solved as Georgia Tech's kickers combined for misses from 28, 47, and 49 yards in the T-Day game.
MIAMI: Miami's spring has been much publicized due to the arrival of new head coach Al Golden . Therefore it should come as no surprise that we learned just as much (if not more) about Golden's vision for the Miami football program this spring than we did about the actual players on the roster. In following the Hurricanes this spring one word stands out to describe Golden's brief time at Miami: demand.
Golden demands that Miami play, practice, and think at a fast pace. He demanded that the Hurricanes get in better shape, and instituted a rigorous winter conditioning program. He demanded that players need to earn starting positions, and that is obvious with the unusually fluid final spring depth chart.
But will all these demands and the implementation of a new attitude around Miami catch on in time for the 2011 season? There are still plenty of question marks on the field, most notably the ongoing quarterback battle between Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. The Hurricanes have a stable of running backs and a solid offensive line that should provide stability to the offense, and take some pressure of whichever signal-caller ends up as the starter. If nothing else, Golden has brought hype back to "The U." More than 300 former players showed up for the Hurricanes' spring game in Ft. Lauderdale, a who's who of active and retired NFL players.
Something else I learned from Miami this spring? I really need to get a Michael Irvin alarm clock.
NORTH CAROLINA: - While several former North Carolina defenders are preparing to hear their name called this weekend in the NFL draft, many of the stars from 2010's defense are still in Chapel Hill preparing for next fall. If anything, the spring showed us that the heart of of the Tar Heels' defense will be on the defensive line. The Tar Heels will be able to rotate 8-9 defensive lineman, highlighted by Quinton Coples, Jared MacAdoo, and Donte Paige-Moss. Much of the depth and added experience on the defensive line is due to the suspensions of Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn forcing players into positions unexpectedly before the season started. One of the things that makes North Carolina's line especially dangerous is the ability of several players to play multiple positions. Both Coples and MacAdoo are able to play inside or out, and that versatility can benefit a team when injuries hit during the long season. One of the biggest surprises on the already deep defensive line has been the play of junior college transfer Sylvester Williams. Williams has been building buzz since he arrived in Chapel Hill, and could end up challenging Jordan Nix for a starting defensive tackle job by next fall. North Carolina's secondary is a concern once again, making it even more important for the defensive line to put pressure on the quarterback to prevent opposing wide receivers from getting space down the field.
Offensively much of the focus will be on quarterback Bryn Renner, who is taking over for four-year starter T.J. Yates. Renner showed promise at times this spring, but he is still getting accustomed to his new role as leader of the offense. Thankfully he'll have Dwight Jones and Erik Highsmith to throw to, and an experienced offensive line to give him time to operate. Ryan Houston was a touchdown machine in 2009, but after redshirting last season and undergoing shoulder blade surgery this summer the depth at running back will be a concern heading into the fall.
VIRGINIA: Earlier this year, head coach Mike London made headlines by pulling in yet another unexpectedly strong class on National Signing Day. Unfortunately, these small victories will take some time before they translate into more marks in the "W" column for the Cavaliers. This spring did not answer many of the questions that existed near the end of last year's four-win season. Defensively, the Cavaliers return seven starters from a unit that finished only better than Duke and Wake Forest in both scoring and total defense. Improvement from those numbers will be necessary considering the lack of offensive firepower.
Virginia rotated through four different quarterbacks during their spring game (Michael Rocco, Ross Metheny, Michael Strauss, and David Watford), but no candidate stood out among the group. The offensive line has been porous, and the Cavaliers still lack an answer at running back as well. What did I learn about Virginia? Greener pastures may lie in their future, but unless someone steps up to make the Cavaliers a threat on offense they will have a difficult time keeping up with opponents in 2011.
VIRGINIA TECH: Not to drone on about new quarterbacks, but when a sophomore takes over for the ACC Player of the Year it is going to turn some heads. Logan Thomas has looked impressive this spring, grabbing most of the positive notes out of Blacksburg across the last several weeks. He finished spring practice as the star of the spring game, throwing for 131 yards and two touchdowns while also leading the Hokies in rushing with 46 yards on just five carries. However, Thomas' impressive performance did showcase some depth issues for the Hokies on offense. With starting running back David Wilson away with the track team, backup running backs Daniel Dyer, Josh Oglesby, and James Hopper struggled against the Hokies' defense in the spring game. Last season head coach Frank Beamer had the benefit of three NFL-caliber running backs to choose from, right now it looks like Wilson is the only competent option. The backup quarterbacks did not fair well either, with second-string Ju-Ju Clayton completing just three of his ten passes, and tossing two interceptions.
Defensively, Virginia Tech's returning talent seems charged up by the 40-12 lashing they took from Andrew Luck and Stanford in the Orange Bowl. The competition on the field has been aggressive, and defensive coordinator Bud Foster has not backed down from calling his team's performance in that game "unacceptable." Players to keep an eye on heading into the fall include linebacker Tariq Edwards and defensive end James Gayle, who was voted the spring defensive MVP. For those still curious, wide receiver Danny Coale did punt in the spring game and is still considered in the running for the job come fall.