It's a spring filled with changes for Clemson's offense. From the new-look line to the first-year coordinators to the bevy of early enrollees and the backup quarterback taking first-team reps while Deshaun Watson's knee heals, it makes sense the Tigers have dialed back the complexity while everyone gets acclimated. But the back-to-basics approach this spring isn't so much a necessity as it is a new mantra for 2015.

When coordinator Chad Morris left to take the head job at SMU in December, the men who inherited his playbook were left with a lot of information to parse. The approach they took this offseason has been a philosophy of less is more.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtDeshaun Watson and the Tigers will be running a more pared down version of Clemson's offense.

"Tony and I used February and March getting ready for spring ball do to some spring cleaning," said Jeff Scott, who was promoted along with Tony Elliott to run the Tigers' offense this season. "To really go back and study that and push aside some of the fluff stuff that we've added that maybe we didn't need, and get back to the basics and build it within the same offense we've had."

Scott and Elliot have routinely said they're not interested in reinventing the wheel for Clemson. With Watson already an advanced student of Morris' playbook, making any significant changes would've been a step back for the team's star quarterback.

But while the new coordinators aren't looking to rewrite the playbook, they are looking to pare it down a bit.

After four years at the helm, Morris had accumulated a massive stockpile of plays, and while that epic playbook worked wonders for the up-tempo offense during his first three seasons, the offense slowed significantly last season as the established stars of Morris' early years were replaced by new faces.

That trend might've continued this season with so many younger players in key roles, but Scott sees a chance this spring for the offense to instead nail down every detail of a core set of plays while setting aside the fringes of the playbook.

"I don't think we're going to add a lot of stuff this season," guard Eric MacLain said. "We're doing really well at the things we put in. It's a limited amount compared to what we've done in the past, but we're good at it. You don't need 100 plays in the playbook."

Instead, the plan is to have a smaller set of core plays with a wide variety of ways to disguise what's coming. The idea is that all the pre-snap shifts keep defenses guessing but give the younger players on offense ample time to get things right.

"We might not have put a ton of plays in, but we've put in a ton of formations, different looks, motions," MacLain said. "And guys can handle that. It's pre-snap stuff, and we can slow it down a little bit to get them set up with the same plays."

Even with backup quarterback Nick Schuessler running the offense this spring, things have moved relatively smoothly. He's shown a strong handle on what Scott and Elliot want to do offensively, so his focus has been more on handling the huddle than reading the defense and memorizing the playbook.

"They wanted to see me take a step out of my shell as far as a leadership role — being more vocal and taking responsibility," Schuessler said. "I always prepared like I was the starter mentally, knowing the system and preparing for opponents."

Obviously the tempo and technicalities will pick up once fall camp begins, but this back-to-basics approach isn't a springtime shortcut. It's a battle plan moving forward, and one Scott said would've been in the works even if Morris had stuck around.

And that's the real takeaway, Scott said. This is still Morris' offense -- but more of a "Greatest Hits" version of the playbook he spent four years installing.

"We're taking this as an opportunity to start at the ground level and build it back up," Scott said. "There's different wrinkles and different ways you can find to do things in a better way, but we're not looking to make any major schematic changes. The founding principles of the offense will be the same."

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In front of several former Florida State players that led the Seminoles back into national relevancy, the remodeled 2015 team went through their first spring scrimmage.

Sixth-year coach Jimbo Fisher spoke positively about his team’s energy and performance. Fisher, who has lost only once over the last two seasons, said he saw the makings of another strong team.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the Seminoles' first scrimmage:

1. Quarterback Sean Maguire continues to impress

Maguire opened the quarterback competition with a leg up on the younger players because of his experience in Fisher’s offense. The fourth-year quarterback is taking full advantage of his opportunity, and Fisher said last week it was Maguire’s play as much as his understanding of the playbook that has him ahead of J.J. Cosentino, John Franklin III and De'Andre Johnson.

On Monday, Fisher once again left practice pleased with Maguire, who could make this quarterback competition short-lived.

"[Maguire] made throws down the field from the start of the scrimmage to the end," Fisher said. "[Maguire] made good decisions, where he went with the ball -- smart, accurate with the ball, scrambled a little, stepped up in the pocket, pocket presence, did a good job with sliding. Even with pressure, throwing it away. I liked what I saw out of him today."

2. The young, inexperienced Seminoles are doing OK

Fisher said at his spring news conference that the key words of this spring were education and patience. This isn’t the team that returned a lot of experienced talent like it did a year ago.

At some point it’s time to let the players work it out on the field themselves, though.

“I learned a long time ago you gotta let them play. You can overcoach them,” Fisher said. “They have to get on the field by themselves. We got to learn to turn them loose. If you don’t ever let them have success and failure, you’re never going to know what you’ll get in the fall. Is it hard? Yes, but you got to let them go.”

3. The scrimmage was pretty even

Fisher harped on the success of Maguire and his running backs -- freshman Jacques Patrick in particular -- but overall he said the scrimmage wasn’t dominated by the offense or the defense. The pass rush was a struggle for FSU last season, which in turn limited the Noles' effectiveness on third downs. Jacob Pugh sacked Maguire a few times in the scrimmage though, and Fisher said that the defense did a good job on third downs.

Offensively, the line paved the way for the running backs despite being without center Ryan Hoefeld (knee surgery) and right tackle Chad Mavety (right foot). The young receivers were aligned correctly, which Fisher needed to see from his inexperienced group.

The Seminoles will scrimmage again April 7 and will have their spring game April 11. They could have one more practice after the spring game.

Teams are still working their way through spring practice, so a lot can change. But ACC bloggers Andrea Adelson and David Hale decided to take the gloves off to debate whether North Carolina’s offense could emerge as the league’s best in 2015.

Andrea says no way: We can agree on one thing, David -- North Carolina has a wealth of offensive talent. But we could say the same every single year. The Tar Heels draw us in with what they could do. Then they show us what they can’t do -- harness that potential into a consistent winner.

I can do you two better on offense in 2015: Clemson and Georgia Tech. Both return better quarterbacks, so they get the edge even though the Tar Heels return more starters. Why? The Tigers and Jackets at least have a recent track record of success when the right quarterback is behind center.

Both teams have the right quarterback under center this season.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtIn limited action last season, Deshaun Watson completed 67.9 percent of his passes and had a 188.6 pass efficiency rating.

First, let’s make the case for Clemson. A healthy Deshaun Watson is the best player in the ACC. In eight games last year (and just five starts) Watson completed 67.9 percent of his passes, had a 188.6 pass efficiency rating and added 200 yards rushing on 63 carries. That ranks him first in school history in passing efficiency, first in yards per passing attempt (10.7), first in total offensive yards per play (8.3) and second in completion percentage.

As a true freshman.

Clemson has more than just Watson, though. Mike Williams and Artavis Scott have the potential to finish as 1,000-yard receivers -- they nearly did a year ago with two different quarterbacks throwing the ball to them. The Tigers also have tremendous depth at running back with every major contributor returning, plus the emergence of C.J. Fuller this spring.

Let’s compare offensive production the last three seasons at both Clemson and North Carolina. The Tigers have averaged 476.2 yards of offense; North Carolina has averaged 447. Clemson averaged over 500 yards in 2012 and 2013 with the right quarterback leading the offense (Tajh Boyd). North Carolina has not hit that mark under Larry Fedora. So a healthy Watson means Clemson should be on course to get back into the 500 yard range.

Clemson > North Carolina.


Who will have the ACCs best offense in 2015?





Discuss (Total votes: 786)

Now, let’s make the case for Georgia Tech. The Jackets led the ACC in offense last year and return Justin Thomas plus four starting offensive linemen -- the most important cogs in making the triple-option offense work. Yes, a go-to receiver and starting A and B backs must be found, but Thomas was the most important player in the offense a year ago.

His total offense average per play was 7.4 yards, better than North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams. Georgia Tech set nine school offensive records, and was the only offense in the nation that was efficient on 60 percent or more of its offensive plays.

Clemson and Georgia Tech are just two candidates. Miami returns just as much talent on offense, so the Canes could be poised for a big year on offense. So could NC State, which demolished North Carolina in their finale a year ago.

The talent is there for North Carolina. But we have seen way too often how that storyline ends.

David says the Heels will take the next step: In a debate of UNC or the field, I’m well aware I have the distinct disadvantage here, but I’m willing to roll the dice on the Tar Heels for a number of very good reasons.

We’ve already dug through the numbers that suggest the Tar Heels, even with just a relatively minor step forward, are in prime position to post the league’s most prolific offense.

But let’s step away from the projections and look at the talent UNC has to work with.

First off, there’s no argument here that Watson can be a star or that Thomas is the perfect fit for Tech’s scheme. But Watson has also endured three relatively significant injuries in less than a year, and there are no guarantees he can hold up over a full season. He's also going to be working with a new coordinator rather than the architect of those great Clemson offenses of the past few years. And while Thomas runs the option offense with precision, Tech is also losing its top two receivers, five of its top six running backs and an All-American on the O-line. That’s a lot to replace.

[+] EnlargeQuick Lane Bowl
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina's Marquise Williams had nearly 4,000 combined passing and rushing yards last season.

Then turn your attention to North Carolina. Marquise Williams hasn’t gotten the recognition, but by virtually any metric, he’s one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the league, posting stats that rivaled Heisman candidates last year. Ryan Switzer, Mack Hollins, Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard give the Heels arguably the deepest receiving corps in the ACC, each with a skill set that adds a different dynamic to the group. The ground game needs some work, admittedly, but T.J. Logan improved as the year went along, Elijah Hood should be healthier in 2015, and Marquise Williams’ legs add a level of versatility to the offense that make up for any shortcomings among the tailbacks.

And then there’s this: Offensive battles are won in the trenches, and UNC returns its entire two deep on the line. That’s not something Georgia Tech or Clemson or any other ACC team can say.

The Heels averaged 430 yards of offense a game last season while running at a pace that no Power 5 team in the country has matched in decades. Fedora now has both talent and experience to work with -- something he’s never had before -- which bodes well for a group that was already really good to blossom into one of the country’s best.

Of course, can we also take a minute to note that we've gone through this whole debate without mentioning Florida State? I won't be surprised if Jimbo Fisher makes us both end up looking silly.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora never discusses injuries, but it was plain to see quarterback Marquise Williams played hurt last season.

Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell admitted as much in a recent conversation. So with Williams on the shelf this spring because of a hip injury, coaches have started to rethink just how much they'll use him in the run game.

[+] EnlargeMarquise Williams
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesMarquise Williams led North Carolina with 788 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns last season.

The honest answer is the Tar Heels feel they have to do a better job balancing his running and passing responsibilities. That does not mean Williams will never run the ball again; but it does mean North Carolina must get its running backs more involved and more effective -- especially beyond the line of scrimmage.

“We want to get those running backs opportunities,” Littrell said in a recent phone interview. “If we can get them touching the ball 35, 40 times a game, that’s what we want. We’ve got some depth at that position, so they can roll in and be fresh. This spring, we’ve been working on that and really have not done much with the quarterback run game.”

Williams took way more hits in 2014 because he started twice as many games. With the running backs and offensive line mostly ineffective, Williams had a career-high 193 carries and led the team with 788 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns.

He was also sacked 26 times. And according to ESPN Stats & Information, Williams was knocked down on 89 of his pass attempts. While this translates into roughly the same percentage as 2013 (about 18 percent), he suffered more wear and tear because he played more.

Williams appeared off against Miami, though neither he nor Fedora would admit he was hurt. He took several brutal hits against Virginia; and he had to leave the regular-season finale against NC State with a leg injury. Those are just three games that stand out in a season with 13 starts.

“We’re just trying to take some of the shots off him,” Littrell said. “Obviously, where he’s very effective is he’s definitely a huge run threat so if that’s what’s being productive throughout the game, that’s what you’re going to call. You’re trying to call plays you think are going to work. But we’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball to those other guys.”

Indeed, the top two running backs in yards rushing -- T.J. Logan and Romar Morris, combined for 184 carries. Elijah Hood had 67 but he was hurt for nearly half the season. With a healthy Hood, Logan, Morris and several other backs returning, the pieces are in place to lessen the load on Williams’ shoulders.

“Taking that many shots throughout the season, it’s tough,” Littrell said. “Of all the people who can do it, it’s Marquise, a bigger type guy but it still takes its toll and hinders some development as a passer. He was banged up and a lot of that’s due to the quarterback run game.”

North Carolina also should be better on the offensive line, with more experienced (and stronger) players returning. Littrell said a big goal during spring was to make his entire offense more physical, from the offensive line to the backs to the receivers. Another point of emphasis to help out the run game has been on perimeter blocking, and getting his running backs to be more aggressive in hitting open holes.

“I don’t care if you’re 5-8 or 6-4, you’re going to be able to block on the perimeter, you’re going to put your face on people and you’re not going to shy away from it,” he said. “To me, it’s a mentality of getting the job done. That’s at every position we have. We have to be a more physical football team across the board if we want to be a top offense.”

That will then translate into a healthier -- and better -- Williams.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has been steadfast in his belief that college players should not get paid, reiterating his point of view each time he is asked.

Maybe John Oliver should have asked rather than splice together a soundbite with no real context.

The segment Oliver aired on HBO's "Last Week Tonight" on March 15 eviscerated the NCAA's student-athlete model, cobbling together old interview clips from Mark Emmert to Swinney. It got many folks watching and talking, folks not named Dabo Swinney, Soybean Wind or the 7,730 more anagrams for his name. In an interview with The Sporting News on Monday, Swinney said he had no idea who Oliver is, nor had he watched the clip.

Swinney told Bill Bender:

"Well, I don’t have HBO. I never saw the segment. I have no idea who John Oliver is, and a lot of that stuff goes in one ear and out the other. I was made aware of it, but that comes with the territory when you aren’t afraid to speak out and other people disagree with you.”

Give Swinney credit for that -- he always gives his opinion whether it is unpopular or not. He is candid, and at times refreshingly honest. He gives thought to his answers. These are all points Oliver would have understood had he asked for an explanation. Here is the full context from the quote, in which Swinney admits he has his job because of the education he got while playing football at Alabama.

Swinney went on to tell Bender:

“I’m a big believer in the student-athlete part. I value the education and what it provides for you. Football is a vocation. Only 1.67 percent of these athletes go on to the NFL. An education provides you an opportunity for a career. A lot of people just don’t get that. To say they aren’t getting anything is misinformed.”

The pay-for-play debate is not going away any time soon, but the Power 5 conferences have at least taken steps toward raising scholarship amounts, approving full cost of attendance for all student-athletes. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich met with reporters in Clemson on Monday and told them the total cost for the athletic department would be $925,000, an amount he expects to cover through donations to its athletics booster club.

Here are a few other Clemson links:

NEW ORLEANS -- March has been kind to 2017 running back Cordarrian Richardson of Memphis Trezevant. The sophomore is quickly becoming a household name on the national recruiting trail.

Louisville safety Josh Harvey-Clemons has only one goal in mind for the upcoming season.

It has nothing to do with tackles, sacks or interceptions. What he wants to do most of all is play in every single game.

Sounds simple enough, but given his past, you understand why.

[+] EnlargeJosh Harvey-Clemons
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsAfter tranfering from Georgia and sitting out a year, Josh Harvey-Clemons is eager to return to action.

Before he arrived at Louisville, Harvey-Clemons ran into his share of trouble at Georgia, serving multiple suspensions over the 2013 season for team rules violations. In February 2014, he was dismissed from the team.

Louisville ended up appealing to him the most because the Cards had hired Todd Grantham as defensive coordinator. Grantham recruited Harvey-Clemons to Georgia and coached him for two seasons. He was somebody Harvey-Clemons could trust.

So for the last year, Harvey-Clemons has waited patiently for his shot to play again. While he sat out 2014 because of NCAA transfer rules, he worked on growing as both a player and a person. Since arriving at Louisville last year, Grantham says Harvey-Clemons has stayed out of trouble.

"It’s been a growing year for me," Harvey-Clemons said in a recent phone interview. "I’ve been getting to know my teammates and getting to know the defense a lot better. I’m just excited for the opportunity to be back out on the field."

What has he learned the most about himself?

"I’d probably say I learned it’s not all about me," he said. "Everything’s bigger than me. It’s about the team."

Harvey-Clemons figures to have a prominent role on a defense that must replace its entire secondary, one that created many big plays with its aggressive approach. He is expected to start at strong safety in place of James Sample, with an opportunity to play linebacker in the nickel package.

It is the same spot he played at Georgia, so there is plenty of familiarity. In his final season with the Bulldogs, Harvey-Clemons had 66 tackles, one interception and three fumble recoveries.

"Any time you have a guy with his size and length and his athletic ability, he can affect the game both in his ability to rush and his ability to cover," Grantham said. "He can be a playmaker for us. We’re going to put him in that role and see what he can do."

Beyond that, Grantham has been impressed with the way Harvey-Clemons has grown up.

"I have no trouble standing up for him because I do believe he’s a solid kid," Grantham said. "I think as you move forward in life, you’ve got to learn from your mistakes, and I think sometimes you’ve got to give kids a second chance, and I think he’s earned the right for that chance and what he’s done so far. I never had any issues with him when I was at Georgia from the accountability for meetings or practice or anything like that, but at the same time, you do have to go through a maturity phase as far as understanding the decisions you make, there’s consequences for them. He’s really matured, and I've been very proud of that. I’m really excited for him to play this year and get back on the field."

The same goes for Harvey-Clemons.

The game plan was vanilla. The wind was blowing and the temperature, by south Florida standards, biting. The scrimmage was held in a 20,000-seat stadium normally occupied by a team from the North American Soccer League.

Given the settings, Brad Kaaya could have joined his offensive teammates and idly coasted through the Miami spring game. Yet the sophomore quarterback -- and it’s worth reminding he hasn’t even been on campus a full year -- was intent on rallying the Hurricanes in the second half. It didn’t matter that it was only the annual intrasquad scrimmage, the final and often most-fruitless spring practice. The spring game was providing an opportunity for Miami to rebound and finish strong.

When presented with similar obstructions late last season, Miami folded. A resurgent season quickly turned forgettable when the Hurricanes ended 2014 on a four-game losing streak. The last three losses came against teams that failed to finish the regular season with a winning record.

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Getty Images/Stacy RevereBrad Kaaya, shown before the Duck Commander Independence Bowl last Dec. 27, showed his leadership during Miami's spring scrimmage.

Miami opens 2015 with two puff pastries, but the next six games are against teams -- Clemson and Florida State among them -- expected to compete for division titles.

“During an actual game when the season comes around, there’s always adversity in each game,” Kaaya said in a telephone conversation Sunday. “We need to be able to respond to adversity, even if it’s not September. It’s a real situation that happens in football every year. And it’s important for me as a leader.”

The offense heeded Kaaya’s message as he paced the sideline, talking to his line and receivers in hopes of motivating them.

“I did like the fact our guys responded,” offensive coordinator James Coley said.

The first-team offense kept playing in the second half and the group finally put together a few worthwhile drives.

Overall, there were positive and negative takeaways from the game for the Miami staff, but the biggest lessons coach Al Golden learned about his team came from the totality of the 15 spring sessions.

The Miami defense has come under fire the last few seasons, and coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has received most of the heat. Though the Canes’ numbers improved dramatically in 2014, as they finished No. 14 in total defense and ranked highly in yards per play and explosive plays allowed, D’Onofrio admits there were too many peaks and valleys over the course of 13 games.

D’Onofrio has stressed consistency to his players this spring, and he believed the defense’s strong performance in the spring game is proof the Hurricanes are listening. It was a final touch on an enthusiastic spring from the unit.

“The body of work [in 2014] was much improved … but we’re talking about winning games on a game-in and game-out basis. We can’t have those blips where we go out and don’t play together and don’t play good enough to win,” D’Onofrio said. “We have the ability and have shown it, but I think they want to be the same group week in and week out.

“There was really good leadership [Saturday] and just wanting to finish the spring off strong.”

Offensively, Miami is built around Kaaya, who started every game as a freshman despite not joining the team until August. This was Kaaya’s first spring practice, and among his priorities were to become a better leader and gain a more intimate understanding of the Canes’ offense.

Kaaya lost top targets Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford, but Coley expressed confidence in receivers Braxton Berrios, Stacy Coley and Malcolm Lewis. While the receivers battled drops Saturday that directly led to Kaaya interceptions, James Coley saw progress in the passing game throughout the spring, especially on third downs. The third-down offense improved in the second half of last season, but the Canes still managed to finish only 95th in efficiency.

“Third down, we played really well during the spring. The quarterback was accurate and the receivers got open and the O-line blocked really well,” James Coley said. “We can go 15 plays on a scoring drive if we need to or go four plays.”

While the end of spring is the time to gauge progress, ultimately Miami is not being judged on how well it performs in scrimmages. The Canes have yet to represent the ACC Coastal Division in a conference title game and finished 2014 in a fashion that again left a history-rich university open to the jokes that accompany a dispirited program.

Asked if Miami has fixed the issues that caused last season’s collapse, Coley was emphatic.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I really feel the kids are hungry to go out and show the fans that the way we finished isn’t a part of this team. It died with last year’s team.”

The ACC is at its spring midpoint. Miami, Boston College and Duke are done. Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Louisville just got started. But for most of the league, the biggest storylines are still playing out.

With that in mind, here's a quick rundown of a few of the biggest issues worth monitoring in the ACC so far this spring:

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson will be counting on QB Deshaun Watson to return from injury and lead the Tigers' offense.

The injured QBs: Any discussion of the conference's top quarterbacks for 2015 promises to include Deshaun Watson and Marquise Williams, yet neither is taking snaps this spring. Watson tore his ACL late in the regular season, so his absence was no surprise. Instead, it's been his quick recovery that's been newsworthy. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says Watson is already at 80 percent and should be ready to run summer drills with the rest of the Tigers' offense. Williams, on the other hand, is dealing with a hip injury, and his absence from spring practice was late-breaking news. Still, the QB situation appears far more established at North Carolina than it was a year ago, with Williams clearly the starter once healthy. Nevertheless, the Tigers and Tar Heels have used the spring to develop their backups, and, given that the reigning national champions needed three starters to get through the season, that might end up being a blessing.

The emerging QBs: There weren't many quarterback battles entering the spring, but the few places where jobs were up for grabs appear to have decisive front-runners. At Florida State, the task of replacing Jameis Winston won't be an easy one, but thus far senior Sean Maguire appears to have separated himself from the pack. Redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino likely will push the competition into the fall, but for now Maguire looks like the favorite. At Boston College, there might be even less drama, with Darius Wade the obvious front-runner. He wrapped up spring practice last weekend with a relatively forgettable performance, but coaches still love his arm and pocket presence, which could bring an added dimension to the Eagles' run-heavy offense. And at Duke, David Cutcliffe gave lip service to an open job, but it appears clear that Thomas Sirk is the heavy favorite. He has just 14 pass attempts to his credit, but he looked like the veteran presence Duke needed this spring, and it's unlikely he'll be unseated atop the depth chart by fall.

FSU's thin linebacking corps: The defense took a big step back for Florida State in 2014, and Charles Kelly's rebuilding job hasn't been made any easier this spring with the departure of four underclassmen for the NFL draft and a litany of injuries -- particularly among the linebackers. Terrance Smith is dealing with turf toe. Reggie Northrup tore his ACL in the Rose Bowl. Matthew Thomas is now out with a shoulder injury. E.J. Levenberry and Kain Daub decided to transfer. That has Kelly plugging in bodies wherever he can find them, and it likely means FSU won't get a real feel for how its defense will look until the fall. That's a big concern for a team that mustered just 17 sacks last season -- ranking 118th nationally.

Notable position swaps: Spring is always a time when we see teams tinker with personnel at some new positions. That's the case at Florida State, where Jalen Ramsey moves from safety to corner, a move that worked well for Lamarcus Joyner two years ago. Running back Ryan Green also moved to corner, giving FSU ample athleticism in the secondary. At NC State, Airius Moore moves from middle linebacker to the weak side, allowing the Wolfpack to showcase their two talented sophomore linebackers, along with Jerod Fernandez. Dane Rogers moved from end to tackle at Clemson in hopes of finding a steady replacement for Grady Jarrett. Dan Crimmins, BC's second-leading returning receiver, could develop into a more dynamic tight end for the Eagles.

More drama at Miami: Brad Kaaya remains an emerging star, but there are ample questions surrounding him at Miami. Stacy Coley remains something of a mystery after an awful 2014 campaign. The options at tight end were inconsistent at best. The revamped offensive line had its share of spring struggles. Tailback Joseph Yearby was suspended for the spring game, and Gus Edwards saw only limited action. Not surprisingly, the spring game ended with a solid defensive performance that included four interceptions.

Hokies' defensive injuries: Virginia Tech promises to have one of the ACC's top defenses in 2015, but it's tough to get much of a read on it this spring. Brandon Facyson, Kendall Fuller, Luther Maddy, Corey Marshall and Ken Ekanem -- all established starters -- are out with injuries. Virginia Tech is using the time to develop depth, but, particularly in the secondary, Bud Foster would love a chance to get things a bit more settled.

Hunt-Days returns for Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets' pass rush was a work-in-progress throughout much of last season, but the development of KeShun Freeman and the return of Jabari Hunt-Days this spring could make it an asset in 2015. Hunt-Days missed all of last season because of academic issues, but he's settling back in nicely this spring and could be a wrecking ball for a Tech defense that's looking to make some major strides.

video BRADENTON, Fla. -- There were several ESPN Junior 300 members on hand at the IMG7v7 Southeast Regional Championship this weekend on the campus of IMG Academy. The event was headlined by prospects such as quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins and Jack Allison, wide receivers Sam Bruce, T.J. Chase, Trevon Diggs, Demetris Robertson, Eli Stove and Dionte Mullins, and defensive backs Jamel Cook, K.J. Sails and Tyreke Johnson. The talent didn't disappoint as there were several spectacular plays throughout the event. Here are some of the best social media posts from the weekend.

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So it wasn’t exactly springtime conditions in Boston this weekend, with yet another snowstorm in a year that’s been chock full of them, but that didn’t stop Boston College from putting a bow on spring practice with an intrasquad scrimmage that served as the team’s spring game.

Yes, it was snowing. And no, it wasn’t a traditional spring game, with Steve Addazio opting for more of a glorified practice day. And most significantly, it wasn’t exactly the offensive outburst that BC might have hoped for as it winds down the spring workouts.

From the Boston Herald:

"The passing game, in particular, remains a work in progress as the Eagles will start 2015 with a new offensive coordinator, Todd Fitch, after Ryan Day left to coach quarterbacks for the Philadelphia Eagles.

"One play in particular highlighted the difficulties the Eagles had in the air. Projected starting quarterback Darius Wade threw a 10-yard pass down the right side, but the ball bounced off Sherman Alston’s chest pad and into the arms of Isaac Yiadom, who raced the other way for what would have been a touchdown."

[+] EnlargeJonathan Hilliman
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJonathan Hilliman rushed for 860 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman in 2014.

OK, so it wasn’t all good news. Still, Addazio said he was relatively pleased, and the bottom line is that regardless of how spring practice ended, the season figures to open with BC passing a good bit more than it has the past two seasons.

Wade’s place as the team’s starting quarterback isn’t set in stone just yet, but it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to assume he’ll be the man replacing Tyler Murphy as the Eagles’ offensive show-runner. But while he’ll be stepping into Murphy’s shoes, he’s definitely not stepping into the same game plan.

“Tyler was more of a speed-option guy. Darius is more of a traditional quarterback,” running back Jonathan Hilliman said. “This year, it should open things up with Darius’ arm. It should be really fun.”

Two years ago, Andre Williams led the nation in rushing attempts. Last year, Murphy had 49 more rushing attempts than he had completions. Georgia Tech is the only Power 5 team that has thrown the ball less in the past two seasons than Boston College.

Enter Wade, and regardless of Saturday’s offensive struggles, things figure to change a good bit in 2015. That should be good news for Hilliman, who faced, on average, more defenders in the box than any other ACC running back last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“Darius’ arm is going to be able to spread the defense out a lot better, and it should open up a lot of running lanes for us,” Hilliman said. “It should be a productive year running the ball.”

Balance is the buzzword, but Saturday did show there’s still much work to be done. Wade doesn’t have many reps under his belt, and the receivers are also a work in progress — all of that to go with the new offensive coordinator.

But this is also the third serious offensive overhaul in as many years for BC. Addazio took a 2-10 team and earned a bowl berth and had a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2013. He took a transfer quarterback and a completely new group of skill players and won seven games in 2014. This year’s renovation job shouldn’t be as tough as either of those projects.

And, as the Herald noted, Saturday’s scrimmage did still offer some encouragement when it came to the ground game, which moved the ball well with a committee of running backs. And for all the change and turnover, all the talk of throwing more often this year, that’s still where BC’s bread is buttered.

“It’s become the cornerstone of how to win for us, is running the football,” Hilliman said. “We’re a physical team, big offensive linemen. That’s how we play. That’s Coach Addazio’s temperament. And I’ve taken ownership and we feel like we’re a big part in that running offense, and if we’re getting fed the ball, we’re going to make the plays.”

video BRADENTON, Fla. -- There were several ESPN Junior 300 members on hand at the IMG7v7 Southeast Regional Championship this weekend on the campus of IMG Academy. The event was headlined by prospects such as quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins and Jack Allison, wide receivers Sam Bruce, Trevon Diggs, Demetris Robertson, Eli Stove and Dionte Mullins, and defensive backs Jamel Cook, K.J. Sails and Tyreke Johnson. Bruce was one of several Miami commits in attendance and has been committed to the Hurricanes since last July. The 5-foot-8, 178-pound playmaker from Fort Lauderdale (Florida) St. Thomas Aquinas said his commitment to the Canes isn’t very solid.

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Follow all the action from The Opening New Orleans regional and the IMG Southeast regional this weekend. Coverage begins Saturday at 9 a.m. ET.

They're from the same family and play the same position and boast the same frame, but Dontez Ford and his cousin are very different receivers.

Ford, Pitt's 6-foot-2, 205-pound redshirt junior, has always thought of himself as a physical wideout, never shy to take on defensive backs and help someone else break off a long play. His cousin, current NFL free agent Toney Clemons, has used his 6-foot-2, 205-pound stature to blow by defenders at the college level with Colorado and get drafted by the hometown Pittsburgh Steelers, in the seventh round in 2012.

With plenty of throws to be caught for the Panthers this spring, Ford has relied on Clemons more than usual lately, texting him regularly for tidbits on how to become a bigger threat in Pitt's passing game.

"He has a different style of play," Ford said. "I feel like he's a faster guy, and he has more of a finesse game, but I just feel like I want to bring that type of game into what I do. I've been talking to him a lot recently and just taking little tips and advice on how I can work on my craft and become a better receiver."

This is welcome news to a Panthers aerial attack that became overly reliant on Tyler Boyd last season. Defenses know what the junior sensation is capable of after consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. They'll also no longer overlook James Conner in the backfield, not after his ACC player of the year campaign in 2014.

So it is up to Ford and the other receivers to help diversify Pitt's offense. Ford has done his part so far this spring, drawing rave reviews from his new coaching staff after a number of big plays and, thus far, earning the inside track to start opposite Boyd come fall.

"He started to get better toward the end of the year last year, stepping up and making some plays," receivers coach Kevin Sherman said. "My goal for him this spring was the same thing: Just keep mastering your craft, learn the game, because we're trying to teach the game to these guys conceptually, not just position-wise."

Opportunity knocked down the stretch of 2014, with senior starter Manasseh Garner missing three games because of a foot injury and Ford earning extended action in his place. The audition gave him a confidence boost heading into winter workouts and spring ball, where he is now being relied on more than ever.

If that sounds like a bit much for someone with just three catches and 50 yards to his name, well, consider that Ford is the Panthers' leading returning wideout in 2015 not named Boyd. Returning tight end J.P. Holtz's 21 catches last year marked the closest any Pitt pass-catcher came to Boyd's 78 grabs, which overwhelmed a stat sheet with hardly any room to spare.

Ford and the majority of his fellow wideouts are cognizant of the perception of them out there as the other guys, and they know the onus is on them to change it.

"The way I see it, it is what it is," he said. "People on the outside are going to say things like that as much as they want, but what happens on the field between us is what happens. As long as we can get out there and win games, then that's what's most important to us, and part of that is other receivers contributing for us to win games.
So I'm just going to go out there and work and try to contribute as much as I can. It'll take more pressure off of him, it'll put more pressure on defenses because we'll have multiple weapons out there."

A Pittsburgh-area product who redshirted as a safety at Syracuse in 2012 before transferring, Ford is playing under his third different position coach in as many years with the Panthers. And Sherman, who came from Purdue, has presented a blueprint right up the alley of a receiver who takes as much pride in laying into a cornerback as he does breaking off a big gain.

"I want to turn a 10-yard gain into an 80-yard touchdown," Sherman said. "I want these guys to understand their job is to be a blocker as well. We want these guys to take pride and be a complete football player, catching the ball and learning reverses and things like that. But I want them to be a complete football player, because I think that just helps our football team."

Q&A with Clemson DE Shaq Lawson

March, 27, 2015
Mar 27

Vic Beasley is gone, but Clemson doesn't expect to take much of a step back at defensive end. Junior Shaq Lawson will be stepping into a starting role after being a key backup the past two years, accumulating 21.5 tackles for loss in the process. We caught up with Lawson after Clemson's first spring scrimmage this week -- he had three sacks -- to see how his transition into the starting lineup is going and how coordinator Brent Venables is bringing along the rest of the defense.

David Hale: Has it felt different this spring knowing you're going to be a focal point of the defensive front?

Shaq Lawson: Oh, yes. I figured out it was my time during the offseason. It’s my time to lead because I’m a vet now on the defense.

Hale: Were able to learn a lot about this role from playing with Vic for the past two years?

[+] EnlargeShaq Lawson
AP Photo/John RaouxShaq Lawson is ready to be a star player for Clemson after providing big plays as a reserve the last two seasons.

Lawson: I learned a lot from Vic, and it’s paid off really this spring. Speed, my pass rush has gotten better. That’s my whole goal going into this season is to get better as a pass rusher.

Hale: Even with Vic as the starter, you were in for more than one-third of the snaps last season. Do you expect to take a heavier share of the workload as the starter than Vic did last year?

Lawson: Yeah, I expect to play a lot of snaps.

Hale: How important is it to get some of the younger guys ready to fill the role that you played last season, stepping into the rotation on the D line?

Lawson: I feel like those guys are stepping up great. Ebo [Ogundeko] is having a great spring and will help us a lot on the pass rush. That’s one guy that’s definitely going to help us a lot this year.

Hale: The guys who left, they played together for a long time and really knew each other well. How has the chemistry been on the line for you and the new starters?

Lawson: That’s what we’ve been doing this offseason, just building a relationship with each other. We’re hanging out as a D-line, building that core and just hanging around each other and bringing the young guys with us.

Hale: What kind of things have you been doing?

Lawson: Playing video games, talking, chilling with each other. We’re always with each other on the weekends. We eat, go out to dinner. We’re a family. We’re trying to build a family bond on the D-line.

Hale: Last year's defense set a pretty high standard, leading the nation in a number of key categories. Do you guys have similar goals?

Lawson: I’ve said there’s no drop off with us. We’re going to continue to bring it. All of us have played in a lot of big games, made big plays in big games. I don’t feel like there’s a drop off. We’ll live up to it, we just have to continue to work hard and get better. We’ll have that goal again of being the No. 1 defense in the nation.

Hale: With so much turnover in personnel, has Coach Venables changed his approach at all during spring practice?

Lawson: Oh no, no. Coach V is the same. He pushes us, comes to work every day to get us better and give us the stuff to make us better. He’s hungry. He’s a hungry coach. That’s what I like about Coach V. There’s no drop off. He doesn’t care who left. He’s doing the same work with us.

Hale: The defensive backs did a nice job last season, but they obviously benefitted from the success of the guys up front. Do you think their experience this season in the back end of the D can now help the younger guys on the line get acclimated?

Lawson: Yeah, those same DBs -- [Jayron] Kearse and Mackensie [Alexander]. Jadar [Johnson] is stepping up for us. T.J. Green. They played all last year and got great chemistry, and they’re going to help us a lot -- hold their coverage and let us get sacks.