Thursday, April 16, 2009

ACC spring: Fab frosh, position changes, and more

With Duke and N.C. State set to hold their spring games at 1 p.m. Saturday, spring football practice in the Triangle is about to conclude.

Throughout the ACC, this spring has featured:

- Schedule juggling (N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson playing football and baseball).

- Scheme changing (Miami has two new coordinators in Mark Whipple on offense and John Lovett on defense, and Virginia is implementing a spread offense with coordinator Gregg Brandon).

- Safety judging (N.C. State has been auditioning Jimmaul Simmons, Bobby Floyd and Justin Byers with Clem Johnson as its only reliable veteran at either of the two safety positions).

As spring practice draws to a close, here are some items of note from around the ACC.


- Josh Adams, WR, North Carolina: He graduated early from high school to enroll in the spring and has demonstrated ability beyond his years as the Tar Heels look to replace Hakeem Nicks, Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate.

Aside from Dwight Jones and Greg Little, no North Carolina wide receiver had a bigger impact in the spring.

- Sean Renfree, QB, Duke: He won’t play much this season because he has a senior fourth-year returning starter ahead of him in Thaddeus Lewis.

But Renfree has established himself as a capable quarterback for the future by moving the team effectively during the spring after doing a good job working on his game as the scout team quarterback last fall while redshirting.

“He didn’t waste his time last fall, and I knew that,” said coach David Cutcliffe.

- Terrell Manning, LB, N.C. State: Talented player coming off knee surgery has displayed the speed that made him one of the state’s most coveted recruits in 2008. He is learning every day as he competes with sophomore Dwayne Maddox in an attempt to fill the position left vacant by 2008 senior Robbie Leonard.

- Javaris Brown, WR, Virginia: Outstanding scout team player from last season has made a huge impact as the Cavaliers try to replace departed Kevin Ogletree.

“He’s had everybody’s attention right from the start and continues to do so,” said coach Al Groh. “Obviously he’s got a lot of polish to add to his game. But his skill, his energy, his intensity, his ability to do something with the ball after he catches it are consistent with what he showed last year.”


- Anthony Allen, RB, Georgia Tech: Showed that he can provide depth in the backfield behind returning ACC player of the year Jonathan Dwyer. Allen totaled more than 1,100 rushing yards in two seasons at Louisville, and you can never have enough good backs when you’re running the flexbone.

“Anthony is a good player, our style is somewhat similar,” Dwyer said, “but he is really versatile and he can catch the ball and runs a lot of good routes and make a lot of big plays. Everybody’s excited to see him play, and he’s excited to play.”

- Jameel Sewell, QB, Virginia: He’s not exactly a newcomer, but the starter who led the team to nine wins in 2007 is back after being academically ineligible last season.

Coach Al Groh said he was understandably rusty at the start of the spring, but made progress throughout spring drills. He has to beat out last year’s starter, Marc Verica, but it’s a good bet he will because Sewell’s run-pass skills seem a good fit for the new spread offense.


- Quan Sturdivant, LB, North Carolina: ACC’s No. 2-leading returning tackler moves from weak side linebacker to the middle to replace 2008 senior Mark Paschal, providing more speed at that position.

Sophomore Zach Brown, who ran an incredible 4.26 seconds in the 40-yard dash during spring testing, has taken Sturdivant’s place on the weak side.

Safety Deunta Williams said North Carolina ran “vanilla” plays on offense during the spring, and that Sturdivant’s speed will show in the fall when opponents start running outside.

“He hasn’t had the opportunity to really open up and run stretches and tosses and things like that,” Williams said. “I think that’s where he’s going to make his money at in the middle.”

- Stephan Virgil, CB, Virginia Tech: One of the ACC’s best defensive backs moves from the field cornerback to the boundary cornerback to replace first-team All-ACC selection Victor Harris, who should be a high NFL draft pick.

The move will involve Virgil more in run support.

“I like to be in the mix sometimes,” Virgil said. “That’s a big thing to me, just to get in the mix sometimes. I feel like last year sometimes, those games like Miami and Boston College, I felt kind of left out.”

- Sam Shields, CB, Miami: Special teams ace and former wide receiver is a senior who could provide stability to a secondary that was the Hurricanes’ weak point last season.


- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is beginning his first full season as the replacement for Tommy Bowden, whose teams were bowl eligible in each of his nine full seasons.

Swinney, who’s young for a head coach at 39, took his whole staff to Texas and coach Mack Brown, whom Swinney has admired since Brown was coaching at North Carolina in the 1990s.

Clemson brought back some ideas about pressure defense and pass protection. Swinney brought back six pages of notes on head coaching that included thoughts on changing the culture at a school that went 34 years between national titles before winning in 2005 under Brown.

The Tigers won a national championship in 1981.

“It was almost like sitting down and having the Cliff’s Notes of Coaching 101,” Swinney said.

- Wake Forest is replacing three linebacker starters, including Aaron Curry, who appears destined to be one of the top picks in the NFL draft.

Matt Woodlief and Hunter Haynes led the way in the spring, and coach Jim Grobe said the team has quality depth at the position.

“We’re losing a lot, but I like the intensity, I like the depth we’ve got,” Grobe said.

- Ken Tysiac