Commentary

Coaching changes, position battles add spice to ACC spring practices

Updated: March 3, 2008, 3:19 PM ET
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

With new head coaches at Duke and Georgia Tech and several new assistants entering the league, a few ACC teams' playbooks will get some revisions this spring. Half the league is in the market for a new quarterback and last season's top teams -- Virginia Tech and Boston College -- have significant holes to fill.

As usual at this time of year, there are far more questions than there are answers. Here's a quick look at some of the key position battles, coaching changes and what else to pay attention to during spring practices around the ACC:

Boston College Eagles

Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 26
What to watch
• And so begins life without Matt Ryan. There are four candidates to take over at quarterback, the two front-runners being Chris Crane, who was Ryan's backup last season but didn't play many snaps, and junior college transfer Codi Boek, who is enrolled and can participate in spring practices. Two redshirt freshmen -- Dominique Davis and Chris Johnson -- will also be in the mix.

• Who will emerge as the Eagles' running back? Keep an eye on true freshman Josh Haden, the team's top recruit who enrolled early and has a legitimate shot.

• The front seven are solid, but BC will miss safety Jamie Silva at safety and DeJuan Tribble at corner.

ACC Spring Power Rankings

When ranking the ACC teams, three tiers are easily distinguishable. Clemson clearly leads the group. The middle of the pack must expand to accommodate 10 of the 12 teams. And then there's Duke, which remains, well, Duke, writes Heather Dinich. Story

Clemson Tigers

Spring practice starts: March 8
Spring game: April 12
What to watch
• The Tigers' running game will only be a strength if they find somebody to do the blocking for James Davis and C.J. Spiller. The spring will be an audition for both offensive tackle positions, as Clemson must replace All-American Barry Richardson and starter Christian Capote, not to mention second-team All-American guard Chris McDuffie.

• The linebacking unit will also be rebuilding. Clemson lost its leading tackler, Nick Watkins, along with Tramaine Billie, the Tigers' fourth leading tackler.

• The quarterbacks aren't a concern, but their shoulders might be. Cullen Harper had surgery prior to the Chick-fil-A Bowl and appeared to labor against Auburn, and local standout Willy Korn redshirted after just two games as a freshman because of an injured throwing shoulder.

Duke Blue Devils

Spring practice starts: March 19
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis will be a third-year starter. His adjustment to first-year coach David Cutcliffe's offense will be an ongoing story line worth paying attention to, with Cutcliffe's reputation for developing quarterbacks (especially ones named Manning).

• The most crucial position battle will be at corner, at which three returning players (Leon Wright, Glenn Williams and Jabari Marshall) all had starting experience last season. Randez James, who enrolled in January after spending the fall at Hargrave Military, should also figure into the mix.

• The difference between Cutcliffe and his two predecessors is that he has actually been a head coach before. (Duke is probably not the best situation to be breaking somebody in.) The spring will reveal the early tone Duke's overhauled staff has set.

Florida State Seminoles

Spring practice starts: March 17
Spring game: April 12
What to watch
• Offensive lineman Antwane Greenlee, one of the team's top recruit a year ago, is finally healthy after being carted off in an ambulance during practice last year with a neck injury. It's time to see what he can do.

• Quarterback Christian Ponder, who played in just one game last season, could challenge Drew Weatherford for the starting job.

• What kind of trickle-down effect will Geno Hayes' decision to leave early for the NFL draft have? The spring will provide the first peek at top recruit Nigel Bradham (ESPN 150 No. 4 inside linebacker), an early enrollee who might be able to contribute immediately.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• With quarterback Taylor Bennett having indicated he plans to transfer, it's a two-man race between Josh Nesbitt, a true freshman, and Calvin Booker, who played at Auburn but sat the bench until the bowl game. Both are athletic enough to run Paul Johnson's option offense.

• A lot of eyes will be on the Yellow Jackets' defense; it's the first time in seven years Jon Tenuta isn't running the unit. Dave Wommack's style is more traditional and less predictable -- a blitz won't necessarily be coming on every play next season.

• The Yellow Jackets lost the best punter/kicker duo the program has ever had in Durant Brooks and Travis Bell. Their backups never needed to play. Scott Blair, who handled kickoffs in 2007 as a true freshman, might punt this year.

Spring Forward

New coaching staffs are making plans. New offensive and defensive schemes are on the chalkboard. Position battles are about to heat up. The games won't count again until August, but the preparation for the 2008 season is about to kickoff. Here's a quick look at what you need to know about spring practice.

ACC
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Big 12
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Big East
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Big Ten
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Pac-10
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

SEC
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Non-BCS
Spring primer
Spring power rankings

Maryland Terrapins

Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 26
What to watch
• Ralph Friedgen is no longer calling the plays; first-year offensive coordinator James Franklin brings a new scheme to College Park -- he will also take over the quarterbacks. In addition to adapting to the new system, the Terps also need to find a go-to running back. Da'Rel Scott got a handful of carries at the end of last season but needs to get a little bigger to avoid the nagging injuries.

• Finding a safety is also a priority this spring. Can USC transfer Antwine Perez be the guy at one of those spots after sitting out a year per NCAA transfer rules?

• Figuring out the rotation on the defensive line should be interesting, but the talent is there. Jeremy Navarre, Mack Frost and Travis Ivey all have experience but some younger players should also compete.

Miami Hurricanes

Spring practice starts: Feb. 26
Spring game: March 29
What to watch
• The top job is up for grabs; there are three front-runners with the potential to be Miami's next quarterback. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, none of them have thrown a pass in a college game. Robert Marve and early enrollees Jacory Harris and Cannon Smith will get a jump on signee Taylor Cook, who will join them in the fall.

• There is little experience returning on the defensive line (three starters are gone), but that might be a good thing, considering how the Canes' defense struggled last season. If sophomore Allen Bailey is moved from linebacker to defensive end, it might help. Dwayne Hendricks, Antonio Dixon and Eric Moncur all started at one time or another and were part of the team's D-line rotation.

• Nothing too drastic is expected to change (likely still a 4-3 scheme), but count on a few wrinkles in the defense under first-year coordinator Bill Young, who left Kansas.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Spring practice starts: March 3
Spring game: April 5
What to watch
• Starting quarterback T.J. Yates had offseason shoulder surgery and won't practice this spring, making the backup position even more important. It could either be Cameron Sexton, a junior who started a few games as a freshman but played sparingly last season, or Mike Paulus, a redshirt freshman.

• UNC hired Everett Withers from the University of Minnesota to replace former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who left to join the Ravens.

• North Carolina has to find a new kicker to replace four-year starter Connor Barth, and redshirt freshman Jay Wooten is the leading candidate.

NC State Wolfpack

Spring practice starts: March 18
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• Nothing is guaranteed for senior quarterback Daniel Evans. Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson will get a lot of snaps this spring, but that might change once highly touted recruit Mike Glennon arrives in the fall.

• Tight end Anthony Hill and tailback Toney Baker both suffered season-ending knee injuries last year and have had surgery, both will be able to go through spring practice.

• NC State lost all three of its starting linebackers, and the competition is wide open.

Virginia Cavaliers

Spring practice starts: March 21
Spring game: April 12
What to watch
• Quarterback Jameel Sewell is not in school this semester, but he didn't transfer. Academic issues have reportedly kept Sewell out of the lineup. Sophomore Peter Lalich, is the only backup who's seen any significant game time, so there should be no lack of drama here.

• Three of five starters must be replaced on the offensive line, in addition to both starting tight ends.

• The Cavaliers also need to find a kicker and punter.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Spring practice starts: March 26
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• Are the Hokies still going to use the two quarterback system that worked well enough to win the ACC title? Redshirting Tyrod Taylor is still an option if Sean Glennon distances himself this spring.

• How long will the linebackers who step in for Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall be playing in their shadows? Brett Warren filled in for Hall when he was hurt, but Adibi's backup -- Purnell Sturdivant -- went mostly unmentioned.

• The receivers will battle; the Hokies lost all four of their starters from last season.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Spring practice starts: March 26
Spring game: April 19
What to watch
• Defensive coordinator Dean Hood left to become head coach at Eastern Kentucky, and the Deacons defense, which led the nation in defensive touchdowns, will be under new direction in 2008.

• Jim Grobe is also looking for three new starters on the offensive line. There are five players with starting experience, so it's unlikely anyone will be making a starting debut.

• Returning starter Chip Brinkman and Jordan Williams are both candidates to replace receiver Kenny Moore as the team's leading receiver.

Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.