Posted by Chip Patterson
With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the ACC Atlantic Division.
BOSTON COLLEGE: One of the things that became increasingly evident this spring was how much the Eagles have riding on running back Montel Harris going into the 2011 season. Harris tore his lateral meniscus in Boston College's ACC finale against Virginia and missed the rest of the season after undergoing surgery. Even missing the last game, Harris finished second in the ACC with 1,242 yards. After one carry in Boston College's spring game (which really is more of an offense-defense scrimmage), Harris was taken out for "precautionary measures."
All spring, the Eagles' foremost concern has been the health of their prized running back, as it should be. Boston College's muddled quarterback situation does not provide a whole lot of confidence in the passing game. Chase Rettig has likely emerged spring as the starter, taking significantly more reps near the end of the practice than Dave Shinskie, and Mike Marscovetra. Rettig emerged as a freshman in 2010 and finished the season as the starter. But his 6 touchdowns to 9 interceptions on the season hardly secured him the gig for 2011. But after completing 20-of-29 passes for 182 yards in the spring game, popular belief is that Rettig will be the starter in the fall. Boston College's greatest asset still is their defense, which will be highlighted once again by Kevin Pierre Louis and Luke Kuechly, who was recently got named to the Lott Trophy Watch list.
CLEMSON: With Kyle Parker off with the Colorado Rockies for good, this spring was the time for former backup Tajh Boyd to take command of this team. The obstacle he faced heading into practice was doing it with a brand new offensive coordinator. Since taking over under Todd Morris' new system Boyd has been consistent in his effort and leadership, just inconsistent on performance. In the Tigers' spring game Boyd looked out of rhythm with his receivers, completing only 8 of 24 passes for 114 yards. Head coach Dabo Swinney hopes that Boyd will be pushed by backup quarterback Cole Stoudt, but Boyd has been the man in charge of Morris' new offense - which is reportedly only about 60% installed.
The new up-tempo offense could benefit the Tigers in the ACC, particularly with the athletes they have at the skill positions. If the spring game was any measure, Clemson should see a significant increase in their play count per game. The scheme has proven to put up big numbers, but it relies about as evenly on the run game as the passing game. Luckily the Tigers are well equipped at running back. Andre Ellington returns after collecting 686 yards and 10 touchdowns in just eight games of action before suffering a season-ending toe injury. Sitting out of spring drills, Clemson fans got a good look at his backups and - what should be - a very deep running back position. Demont Buice (18 carries, 102 yards), Roderick McDowell (12 carries, 100 yards), and D.J. Howard (11 carries, 97 yards) all had strong showings in the spring game and should make for an interesting competition once camp opens in the fall. Defensively one big surprise was the emergence of Corey Crawford. The 6-5, 275-pound early enrollee has raised eyebrows all spring, and figures to already be a part of the defensive end rotation in the fall. Wearing Da'Quan Bowers' No. 93, Crawford appears to be taking the responsibility of upholding the legacy of Bowers and the late Gaines Adams.
FLORIDA STATE: Without a doubt, the Seminoles exit the spring as a favorite to repeat as Atlantic Division Champions in 2011. With the talent returning from last year's squad and the rise of junior quarterback E.J. Manuel, head coach Jimbo Fisher has Tallahassee buzzing once again about brining the ACC title home to where it started. Florida State won in the inaugural ACC title game in 2005, and the closest they have come since then was last year's 44-33 defeat to Virginia Tech.
The hype set the bar high, but spring practice posed a different set of challenges for Fisher and his staff. The Seminoles had seven starters miss practice due to injury, so the coaches used much of the spring to sort out depth issues. The offensive line is a bit of a concern for Fisher, as they have had to do some shuffling in order to fill out the line and establish some depth. The coaches were pleased with Manuel's spring as a whole, but the junior quarterback struggled in Florida State's well-attended spring game. Fisher has said that he is mostly concerned with Manuel's development as a leader at this point, and did not seem to think much of his spring game outing.
"He was frustrated but I got more out of him today because we struggled and he didn't have a good day," Fisher said following the game. "At the end of the day we had a chance to make plays and we made a few plays."
Many of the injuries were on the defensive end, but with all of those players getting back to 100% before training camp it should not play a major factor in the Seminoles' readiness for the season. If there is any "red-flag" from spring practice it would be a fear of complacency. There were several early practices that led Fisher to criticize his team's speed and toughness. Florida State cannot afford to be slow-starting in 2011 if they truly plan on competing for a National Championship. With Oklahoma visiting Tallahassee on Sept. 13, the Seminoles need to be competing in midseason form from the first day of camp. If Florida State is "going through the motions" at the beginning of the season, the Sooners will be a rude wake-up call after Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern.
MARYLAND: There will be no surprises this year with sophomore quarterback Danny O'Brien. After being named the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year, O'Brien's development has not been slowed due to the coaching changes at Maryland. In fact, the new system installed by former LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton has the players feeling like there could be even more passing in 2011. O'Brien took advantage of the vanilla scrimmage coverages in the spring game, completing 16 of 23 passes for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns. New head coach Randy Edsall is very excited about the rotation of wide receivers taking shape, with Ronnie Tyler, Kevin Dorsey, and Quintin McCree all having strong springs.
With defensive coordinator Don Brown leaving to take the position at Connecticut, Maryland's defense has spent most of the spring trying to learn a new system. Edsall promoted assistant coach Todd Bradford to the position in mid-February, and the newness of the change seems to still be setting in for the players. Brown's system carried lots of blitzing packages and multiple looks, the players say Bradford's relies more on coverage responsibility. Maryland's defense is experienced, but they are still a little slow getting on the same page at this point.
NC STATE: What I learned this spring is that head coach Tom O'Brien's word at N.C. State is firm and unwavering. O'Brien told Russell Wilson that if he wanted to be the starting quarterback in 2011 he needed to stay with the team instead of playing minor league baseball in the offseason. Even when Wilson, an All-ACC quarterback and 2010 Champs Sports Bowl MVP, asked O'Brien if he could return in August - O'Brien said no. So now the reigns are officially in the hands of Mike Glennon, the highly-recruited younger brother of former Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon. Glennon, a redshirt junior, checks out on paper as a strong candidate for the Wolfpack starting job. The only thing that he lacks is actual game experience. The problem is that with Wilson's departure to continue football elsewhere (as opposed to sticking with professional baseball) will have an effect on the fan base's expectations from Glennon. Glennon did not have a great outing in N.C. State's shortened spring game (inclement weather), and it will be important for his confidence to get some early wins in the fall.
N.C. State lost leading rusher Mustafa Greene to injury during spring practice, but he is expected to be back in time for fall practice. Greene emerged as the answer to one of the big question marks in 2010, and he will be leaned on to help Glennon get comfortable in the starting position. This year it has been the wide receiver position that was not addressed this spring, as T.J. Graham leads a crop of wideouts that lack experience in game situations. Wolfpack fans are hoping for another Greene-type situation out of the position next fall. The linebacking corps will be strong point once again for N.C. State, led by Terrell Manning and Audi Cole. Cole moves over to Nate Irving's position of middle linebacker, and while the transition has not been easy the coaching staff seems pleased with his progress and potential heading into the new season.
WAKE FOREST: We knew that Wake Forest had a long way to go to improve on last year's frustrating 3-9 season. With spring practice in the books, the Demon Deacons still are a ways away from the squad that was competing among the ACC elite a half-decade ago. Head coach Jim Grobe often mentioned how inexperience played a factor in 2010's struggles, with the Deacons having to start several freshman (especially on the defensive end) throughout the season.
"I think last year we were a soft group of freshmen, and now we're just a crusty group of sophomores,"Grobe told the Winston-Salem Journal. "I know coaches are worried about playing too many sophomores but for me, we're light years ahead of where we were last year with these guys."
Offensively, the Deacons will hope to get running back Josh Harris going behind a more experienced offensive line. The talented sophomore broke out against Virginia Tech (20 carries, 241 yards, two touchdowns) and in the season finale against Vanderbilt (18 carries, 138 yards, one touchdown). But inconsistent production during the regular season have left Wake Forest fans looking for more out of the running back from Duncanville, TX. Harris led all rushers in the spring game with 85 yards, but missed many of the workouts due to injury. If Harris can't get the ground game going there will be a lot of pressure on quarterback Tanner Price to make plays with his wide receivers, which doesn't appear very threatening at this point.