ACC: Duke Blue Devils

Duke focused on building D-line

February, 27, 2015
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If there’s been one snag in David Cutcliffe’s grand plan to build Duke into a consistent winner, it’s been the big boys up front on defense. The recruiting has improved in nearly every corner of the Duke locker room, but snagging highly-regarded defensive linemen has remained an elusive goal.

And so during the spring when Cutcliffe is busy looking for a starting QB, replacing a record-setting wide receiver and finding the heir apparent for the league’s leading tackler, it’s the defensive line that is the Blue Devils’ top concern.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAs the Blue Devils head into the spring, the defensive line remains a big concern for coach David Cutcliffe.
 “There are guys who have played a lot of football around here, but the question is, will they be able to replace the production we had?” coordinator Jim Knowles said. “D tackles are our plus and D ends are still a wait and see.”

It’s one issue that three of last year’s four starters on the line — not to mention both starting linebackers - graduated, but turnover on the line isn’t necessarily the biggest issue at Duke. Even through the unprecedented success of the past three years, when the Blue Devils went to bowl games each season, the D line has been more of a patchwork system than a well-oiled machine.

Since 2012, Duke ranks 51st among Power 5 schools, allowing 4.81 yards per carry to other power conference teams. The Blue Devils are 56th in sack rate, dumping the QB on just 5 percent of his passing attempts. Only Iowa State has recorded fewer tackles for a loss or no gain against the run than Duke among Power 5 programs during that span.

In other words, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

On the inside, Knowles is actually quite pleased with what he’ll have to work with this season. Senior Carlos Wray is the defensive front’s lone returning starter from 2014, and he’ll be flanked by a chorus of developing talent. Junior A.J. Wolf and redshirt sophomore Mike Ramsay have seen some playing time already, and Knowles is thrilled with the development of redshirt freshmen Quaven Ferguson and Edgar Cerenord.

“Those guys are guys we haven’t had around here -- big and strong and agile,” Knowles said. “You can see how the recruiting has gotten better. Duke’s always going to be challenged to recruit defensive linemen, and those two guys and Ramsey represent a different type of player. Overall, inside, we will be better and that has shown up this spring. Our defensive tackles are really controlling things inside.”

It’s on the edge that things are more complicated.

Last season’s three most productive ends have moved on, and their replacements are largely a handful of converted linebackers. Duke even shifted responsibilities for assistant Jim Collins, who will now work heavily with the defensive ends.

“We put Jim Collins with those guys exclusively because you have a bunch of former linebackers there,” Knowles said.

At Duke, the game plan generally involves taking some disparate parts and trying to find a few bodies that fit the mold on the line, but the moves didn’t stop there. Safety Dwayne Norman will shift to linebacker, and the plan -- once he’s healthy -- is to frequently use linebacker Kelby Brown as a much-needed edge rusher.

“[Brown] is going to have to become more of a pass rusher for us in the mold of Scooby Wright at Arizona,” Knowles said.

For that to happen, Norman needs to fill the hole on the weakside and the secondary has to be strong. Norman had made a name for himself among Duke’s coaches by playing both physically and aggressively at safety during his first two seasons on the field, but with the safety position well stocked, the move to linebacker seemed a natural fit.

So far, the spring has been a learning process for Norman, and while he’s added about six pounds to his frame, he’s focused on bulking up more for his new role.

“Learning the plays, learning the schemes, recognizing plays -- as the spring goes on, I’m getting better,” Norman said.

If he can fill the job, that should free Brown up to rush the passer more often than he has in years past, and that, Knowles said, could help erase some of the deficits at defensive end. Still, Brown has his own concerns. During fall camp last year, he tore his ACL and missed the entirety of the season. He’s been working out with the team this spring, but he’s not participated in drills or been subjected to contact since the injury. There’s ample optimism about Brown’s recovery, but he still has some significant barriers to overcome before he’s 100 percent.

“Kelby Brown in the middle helps solve a lot of problems,” Knowles said. “He’s a guy who understands the defense, knows the ins and outs and makes tackles. So he can make a lot of people right.”

For now though, there remain a lot of moving pieces. It’s a work in progress, Knowles said, but the picture is starting to come into focus, even if a few parts still don’t quite fit.

“Every year it’s gotten a little bit better,” Knowles said. “But it’s not an overnight process. Nothing around here has been. When you do things the right way, it takes time, and that’s what you’ve seen.”

ACC morning links

February, 27, 2015
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Athlon put together a list of 20 running backs on the rise for 2015, and it’s an ACC-heavy club.

The top 20 includes FSU’s Dalvin Cook, Clemson’s Wayne Gallman, BC’s Jon Hilliman, Virginia’s Taquan Mizzell and Miami’s Joseph Yearby. Georgia Tech’s C.J. Leggett also cracks the “others to watch” list. So that’s six running backs from the conference’s 14 teams, but it’s possible the list could’ve been even longer.

NC State’s combo of Shad Thornton and Matt Dayes was exceptionally good last season. Had their combined stats belonged to just one runner, their 23 touchdowns and 1,934 scrimmage yards would’ve ranked second in the ACC.

North Carolina’s T.J. Logan has been a reflection of his team the past two years -- slow starts followed by strong finishes, but he topped 92 yards in three of his final four games last year, and from Nov. 1 on, 43 percent of his rushes gained at least 5 yards.

Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff had to share the backfield with a trio of other productive runners throughout last season, but he still ran for 12 scores (third in the ACC) and had 22 carries of 10 yards or more, trailing only James Conner of Pittsburgh and Cook among returning ACC runners.

Duke’s Shaun Wilson will likely still share plenty of snaps with Shaq Powell, but no Power 5 back in the nation with at least 75 carries had a higher yards per carry average than the freshman last year.

At Virginia Tech, J.C. Coleman will be No. 1 on the depth chart after a strong finish to the season, but Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams both showed flashes of brilliance as true freshmen last year behind a lackluster offensive line.

And since this was an “on the rise” list, it didn’t even include the ACC’s player of the year in Conner.

In other words, the ACC should have a really strong corps of runners next season, and it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question for the league to end up with a half-dozen 1,000-yard backs or more.

A few more links:
If you're perusing the nonconference schedules for ACC teams in 2015, you've no doubt noticed that Boston College isn't exactly wowing its fan base by signing up for two games against FCS foes. But before you go and point fingers at the Eagles for stacking the decks for two easy wins, BC Interruption goes through the agonizing details of the long, unpleasant journey that led to this slate of games.

Long story short, the ACC's flip-flop on a nine-game schedule two years ago and the ongoing conference reshuffling elsewhere were the biggest dominoes to fall, but when you get into the nitty gritty of it, the saga really underscores just how difficult scheduling has become.

In 2012, Florida State faced a similar problem. West Virginia bailed on a nonconference agreement, and in its place, the Seminoles could do no better than Savannah State -- a game so lopsided, they didn't even finish playing it.

Clemson and Georgia Tech both had multiple FCS foes on their schedules in 2013, and even those late-season rivalries against the SEC probably weren't enough to make matchups against Elon or South Carolina State seem worthwhile. But that's the breaks when the conference changes scheduling tactics at the last minute.

Scheduling has become a brutal business. Teams don't see conference foes often enough in the ACC, SEC and Big Ten. No one wants to lose the revenue of a seventh home game, so slating home-and-homes against anyone becomes tricky. Lower-tier FBS schools know their services as punching bags are in high demand, so they want big bucks in return. Contracts for future games aren't worth much more than the paper they're printed on.

Which brings us to the biggest problem: Scheduling matters a lot in this new playoff era. In fact, scheduling was probably the No. 1 topic of discussion as we all debated who was in and who should be left out. But was it Florida State's fault that Oklahoma State wasn't very good? Should Baylor have been made to suffer for keeping scheduling agreements that were signed long before there was such a thing as a playoff committee? How many people were giving extra credit to Ohio State for losing to Virginia Tech rather than thumping four punching bags like Mississippi State did?

One way around the problems may be to ink more nonconference conference games, as UNC and Wake Forest did, and as the Post & Courier suggests Clemson and South Carolina should also do. But if we're getting to that point, why not just move to that nine-game conference slate that was such a source of frustration two years ago?

What's more realistic in the short term is that the committee -- which includes its share of ADs who should be familiar with these issues -- needs to seriously re-evaluate how much scheduling factors into its rankings.

A few more links:

ACC's most intriguing: Nos. 11-15

February, 25, 2015
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We’re still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC who already are big stories. With that in mind, we’re counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason — from players to coaches to administrators — and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. Here are numbers 11 through 15.

11. Jabari Hunt-Days

Role: Outside linebacker, Georgia Tech

Intrigue: After recording seven tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2013, Hunt Days figured to be the heir apparent to Tech star pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu in 2014. Instead, he missed the year with academic issues, and as a result, the Yellow Jackets finished 108th in sacks-per-game and allowed more than 5 yards per carry. He’s back in the fold now, but is this an older, wiser Hunt-Days?

Possible impact: Adam Gotsis was Tech’s only established pass rusher last season, but KeShun Freeman learned on the fly, and the rest of the defensive front filled in around them. In spite of the overall success of 2014, however, the defense was still a sieve at times, allowing the fifth-most yards-per-play of any Power 5 team. But add Hunt-Days back to the mix and suddenly Tech’s pass rush looks a lot more intimidating. He insists he has learned some valuable lessons from his time away, and if that’s true, he could team with Gotsis, Freeman and an emerging secondary to transform the Jackets’ D into an asset in 2015.

[+] EnlargeThomas Sirk
Fabian Radulescu/Icon SportswireDuke QB Thomas Sirk rushed for 238 yards and eight touchdowns in a limited role in 2014,
12. Thomas Sirk

Role: Quarterback, Duke

Intrigue: The last time the Blue Devils opened a season with a starting quarterback who had less than 50 pass attempts under his belt was 2006. This season, the entire roster has just 16 passes combined in their careers. Still, Sirk was on the field often last season as a change-of-pace runner in place of Anthony Boone. Now he’s poised to take over the starting job, but there are still plenty of questions about how much of a complete player he can be.

Possible impact: David Cutcliffe raved about Sirk’s athleticism, saying he might be the fasted QB he has coached, which certainly should pair well with an already deep running game for the Blue Devils. But Sirk’s arm is solid, too, so if he can turn his limited game experience into a level of comfort as a full-time starter in 2015, he figures to make Duke’s offense particularly dynamic.

13. Michael Brewer

Role: Quarterback, Virginia Tech

Intrigue: There’s no question the Hokies’ offense struggled last season, but there was still plenty of room for optimism because so many of the key roles were filled by freshmen. Instead, Brewer — on campus for just a month before fall camp opened — took the brunt of the criticism. Some was warranted. He threw interceptions in nine of 13 games, including 11 in his first six contests. Some wasn’t. He improved his decision-making in the second half of the year and engineered impressive comebacks against ECU, Duke and UVA. Now Brewer has a chance to get a full spring and summer under his belt with his young teammates, but he’ll also be pushed by highly regarded freshman Dwayne Lawson.

Possible impact: Brewer doesn’t need to be a superstar for Tech in 2015 — something Lawson could well blossom into down the road — but he does need to play smart and take advantage of big-play opportunities when they arise. Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges should provide the Hokies with an explosive mix of receivers, but if Brewer can’t take advantage, it’s going to be tough for Frank Beamer’s squad to improve dramatically this year, and Tech fans are tired of excuses.

14. Dan Radakovich

Role: Athletics Director, Clemson

Intrigue: Radakovich’s work at Clemson has been impressive, as the school is in the midst of a four-year run of 10-win seasons and breaking ground on a ton of facility expansions. But the real intrigue for Radakovich is in his other gig, as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Last year, FSU was dinged consistently, despite an unbeaten regular season. This year, the ACC might have an even tougher argument to make, and it will need a strong voice on the committee to state its case.

Possible impact: Radakovich has shown he’s willing to think outside the box and get things done, which is exactly the philosophy that’s likely needed to push for the ACC’s relevance on the national stage, and his determination to get Clemson to invest in its program to keep up with the big boys nationally is crucial to changing perceptions of the league. The problem, however, is that if Clemson is the team on the precipice of a playoff invite at year’s end, Radakovich would have to recuse himself from the proceedings.

15. Charles Kelly

Role: Defensive coordinator, Florida State

Intrigue: After having a different coordinator in each of the past three seasons, FSU finally has some stability at the top of its defense. The problem is that many fans aren’t thrilled with that. Kelly oversaw some serious struggles last season for the Seminoles, and he took the blame for a lackluster pass rush and a propensity by the D to give up big plays. Add the fact that four starters departed early for the NFL, and the job of rebuilding the once-mighty FSU D is a big one.

Possible impact: FSU allowed 170 rushing yards per game last year, 73rd nationally. It allowed 51 completions of 20 yards or more, 113th nationally. It had just 17 sacks, 108th nationally. Those are ugly numbers for a team that has thrived on defense previously under Jimbo Fisher. Kelly is not new to the job of building a D, but he’s going to need to develop young players quickly if he wants to make significant strides in 2015.
What does it say about the ACC that the Power 5 coach rankings of the worst jobs included five schools from the conference?

It says coaching in the ACC does not exactly qualify as a cakewalk, given the challenges schools such as Boston College, Syracuse, Duke and Wake Forest face on a daily basis.

Rather than describing them as the "worst" jobs, we can acknowledge that these four programs present tough jobs for any head coach. They are all private, all relatively small with small stadiums and all in catch-up mode with their facilities. Perhaps the rankings speak more to the jobs Steve Addazio and David Cutcliffe have done, winning at places deemed so difficult. Scott Shafer took his Orange to a bowl game in 2013 too.

Their placement in the bottom tier was not completely surprising, though Duke at No. 58 overall seemed low. The biggest surprise was Virginia ranked among the worst jobs in the Power 5 conferences, at No. 51.

You are going to have a hard time convincing me Oregon State, Minnesota and Illinois are better jobs. Same goes for Kentucky and several others ranked a little higher.

On paper, Virginia has many advantages. There are ways to recruit top talent from the area, which produces ESPN 300 players year in and year out. The campus and academics are huge selling points, the facilities are good, and Virginia has a strong track record of placing guys into the NFL. Plus, the Cavaliers are in the easier division in the ACC, which means winning the conference is a little less challenging than it is for Atlantic Division teams.

Despite those advantages, Virginia hasn't thrived as a football program in recent times, with zero ACC championship game appearances and zero 10-win seasons since 1989. While in-state rival Virginia Tech has flourished, Virginia has been an underachiever. Due to that, the job has been downgraded in the rankings.

There is some logic to that evaluation. Winning should make a job more desirable. Would Baylor or TCU have been a Top-30 job 20 years ago? Would Miami have been a lower-tier, Top-25 job 20 years ago?

But winning cannot be the only factor taken into consideration. Virginia is brimming with potential, which makes the job appealing in many ways. It's certainly more appealing than No. 51 out of 65 Power 5 programs.

ACC's most intriguing Nos. 16-20

February, 24, 2015
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We’re still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC that are already big stories. With that in mind, we’re counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason -- from players to coaches to administrators -- and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. Next up, numbers 16 through 20.

16. Devonte Fields

Role: Defensive end, Louisville

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsLouisville hopes that troubled former Big 12 freshman of the year Devonte Fields can provide a pass-rushing spark.
Intrigue: There’s little doubt about Fields’ talent. He recorded 10 sacks in 2012 and was named the Big 12’s defensive freshman of the year. But an arrest on domestic assault charges led to a dismissal from the school, and he spent last season playing for Trinity Valley Junior College. Fields certainly isn’t the first troubled transfer Louisville has taken a chance on, but he might be the most high profile at this point.

Potential impact: Bobby Petrino has asked for plenty of second chances in his own life, so it’s no surprise that he’s been willing to give some to his players, too. Time will tell whether Fields has learned from his past mistakes, but if he can stay out of trouble, he could be an instant impact playmaker as an outside rusher, filling in for the departed Lorenzo Mauldin.

17. Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott

Role: Co-offensive coordinators, Clemson

Intrigue: So much of Clemson’s success the past four years was defined by offensive coordinator Chad Morris, including the arrival of phenom QB Deshaun Watson last season. Watson and Morris had a close relationship, and the young QB knew Morris’ system inside and out. Now Morris is at SMU, and Dabo Swinney chose replacements from in house. Elliott will be calling plays this season, and just how much he plans to tweak the offense from what Morris ran so successfully will be one of the biggest stories to watch in the ACC.

Potential impact: The magic formula for Clemson isn’t much of a mystery: Get Watson healthy, let him make plays. But there’s so much young talent on the Tigers’ offense that Scott and Elliott have to be drooling at the possibilities. While they’ve learned the ropes working under Morris, there’s still a good chance they’ll want to put their own stamp on the offense. Swinney took a bit of a risk replacing one of the highest-paid coordinators in the country with more cost-effective alternatives, but with Watson, Artavis Scott, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman and others at their disposal, Elliott and Scott are playing with a stacked deck.

18. Kelby Brown

Role: Linebacker, Duke

Intrigue: One of the ACC’s top defenders in 2013, Brown blew out his knee in fall camp last season and missed the entire season. He’s still rehabbing the injury and has been limited in spring practice, but with Duke losing a ton of experience in its front seven, Brown’s recovery might be more crucial than anything that happens on the practice field.

Potential impact: Brown finished 2013 with 114 tackles, including 11 for a loss, and two interceptions to help set the tone for Duke’s D. With a full, healthy season in 2015, he could easily match or exceed those numbers, particularly with fellow linebacker David Helton moving on. Duke’s run defense was the second-worst in the league last season with Brown sidelined, but a return to action could help fill some glaring holes.

19. Steve Addazio

Role: Head coach, Boston College

Intrigue: Addazio has been a magician since arriving in Chestnut Hill. In his first season, he turned the 2-10 Eagles into a bowl team. In his second, he replaced a Heisman finalist tailback, starting QB, his top receiver, pass rusher and tackler and still won seven games. Now, it’s time to revamp once again, with QB Tyler Murphy, LB Josh Keyes and a number of other veterans leaving.

Potential impact: Addazio’s best asset is that he’s been willing to adapt to the players he has. Two years ago, his power run game was his bread and butter. Last year, the option got the job done. So what’s his next trick for 2015? In a division that has seen plenty of talent depart from the top contenders, Addazio has already shown he’s adept at finding solutions.

20. Andrew Brown

Role: Defensive tackle, Virginia

Intrigue: A year ago, UVA signed two five-star defenders. One, Quin Blanding, quickly developed into one of the ACC’s top defenders. The other, Brown, struggled to gain much footing. Now with a year of experience under his belt, the 305-pound defensive lineman has a chance to show he’s made up for lost time by stepping into a much bigger role in 2015.

Potential impact: Injuries hampered Brown early and he never really got going as a true freshman, but there’s still plenty of optimism about his potential impact at UVA. The Cavaliers are losing a trio of talented linebackers, along with star defensive end Eli Harold, which makes Brown’s development on the line crucial to maintaining the strong pass rush and run-stuffing capability they showed a year ago. He arrived with the size and the talent to make it happen. If he's also learned from his year waiting in the wings, he could easily emerge as the ACC's next big star on D.
When Dave Clawson took the head-coaching job at Wake Forest last year, he knew it would be a massive rebuilding project Insider. His roster lacked any experienced talent at the offensive skill positions. His offensive line was woefully undersized. His recruiting base was dominated by bigger schools, spending more money. There was, he believed, a plan to turn Wake into a winner, but it would be a long and treacherous road. When the Demon Deacons finished 1-7 in ACC play in 2014, most chalked it up as a surprisingly successful first step.

When Jimbo Fisher took over for legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 2010, the path to rebuilding a winner wasn’t nearly as tough. The Seminoles had tradition and money and a passionate alumni base, and once Fisher got the right staff in place he made an instant impact on the recruiting trail and won a division title in his first season. Still, by the time he finished the 2012 campaign with FSU’s first ACC championship in seven years, a vocal contingent of the fan base remained dubious that Fisher was the right man for the job. They’d hoped for more, and a 12-2 record was labeled something of a disappointment.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsIs Dave Clawson's job at Wake Forest tougher than Jimbo Fisher's at Florida State? Depends on your perspective.
Pinpointing the toughest coaching job in the ACC is really a matter of semantics. At Wake, resources are thin but expectations are modest. A coach gets time to build. At Florida State, there are ample tools to create a juggernaut, but the fan base doesn’t accept excuses when winning doesn’t come quickly. The difficulty of the job is really in the eye of the beholder.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for debate between those two counterpoints, too.

David Cutcliffe took over a Duke program that had spent the previous 15 years as one of the worst teams in the FBS, but he slowly rebuilt the on-field product, pushed for more investment and led the charge for stadium upgrades and now the Blue Devils have played in three straight bowl games. What was once universally considered one of the toughest jobs in college football now looks like a pretty cushy gig.

At Miami, Al Golden is living the alternate side of that story. The Hurricanes were a powerhouse for two decades, but, after an extended dry spell marred by an NCAA investigation, piecing together a consistent winner at Miami has proved to be an arduous project. The Canes have brought in talent, including potentially three first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft, but Golden has just a .500 record in ACC play to show for it, and the fan base is understandably restless.

Places such as Syracuse and Boston College have rich football traditions, but geography makes recruiting a tougher task. North Carolina and Virginia have resources and more fertile recruiting bases, but they’ve combined for just three ACC titles since 1980, and none in the past 20 years.

Deciding on the ACC’s toughest job is really about where the line between expectations and opportunity converge. At places such as Wake and Syracuse, no doubt more legwork is required to simply get to a bowl game. At Florida State and Miami, finding the talent is easy but meeting the lofty expectations that come with it can be a challenge.

It’s fair to say most coaches would prefer the latter problem, of course, and there’s a reason FSU is a destination job while Syracuse is more likely a place to get fired or a steppingstone to a better gig. But sometimes it’s simply about finding the right fit. Cutcliffe has said he hopes never to leave Duke -- a job most coaches would’ve run from screaming a decade ago. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to four straight 10-win seasons, but when he was rumored to be a candidate for the Florida job in December, he didn’t deny he might someday move on from Death Valley for the right opportunity elsewhere. The best jobs are often a matter of perspective, too.

In the end, a great coach finds a way to mine for resources, even in less fertile areas. He wins enough that expectations climb, even in places where winning had been an afterthought for years. At Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer is an institution -- the man responsible for building the program over the course of three decades. That success helped him snag a top-25 recruiting class this year, and it also has the fan base up in arms after three straight subpar seasons.

In other words, it’s not as much about the job as it is about the coach. Clawson hasn’t shied away from the task at hand. Instead, he has embraced the difficulty of winning at Wake Forest. And one year after Fisher was criticized for failing to meet expectations in 2012, he won a national title at Florida State with one of the most dominant teams in recent history.

Every job has its challenges, but the right coach finds a way to meet them regardless.

ACC morning links

February, 23, 2015
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Over the last five NFL drafts, the ACC has the second-most picks (169), second only to the SEC. Based on the showings of several players from the ACC at the NFL combine over the weekend, the conference has a chance at a half-dozen first-round picks in 2015, if not more.

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was the most anticipated combine participant from the ACC since, well, last year. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner opened his news conference with reporters admitting he made mistakes at FSU, but he reportedly impressed several teams during his interviews -- with both his answers to questions about his past and his football intellect in whiteboard sessions. It's hardly a surprise Winston excelled, as he has lost a public speaking engagement about as often as he lost games.

Winston was spectacular as a passer Insider and left no doubt his skill set translates well to the NFL.

While Winston stole the headlines, there were several other former ACC stars who improved their draft stocks as well. Former Clemson defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley was the big winner Sunday, putting together one of the best performances for a linebacker. There has been talk that Beasley is a fringe NFL defensive end and fringe NFL linebacker. Beasley added weight and measured at 246 pounds, but he did it while keeping his athleticism and speed. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds 35 times, which were tops among both defensive linemen and linebackers. According to Clemson's athletic department, no linebacker has done that since NFL.com began listing combine results in 2006.

Former Virginia defensive end Eli Harold, like Beasley, is looked at as a hybrid, too. He posted a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash. Mario Edwards Jr., formerly of Florida State, showed he could also play two positions: defensive end and defensive tackle.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pound DeVante Parker, formerly of Louisville, made a case to be the top receiver taken with a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash.

Once again, Apr. 30 could be a solid showing for the ACC.

Here are a few more links for your Monday.

ACC morning links

February, 20, 2015
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Athlon Sports' David Fox took on the fun task of ranking the ACC's football/men's basketball coaching duos, and it should come as little surprise to see Duke at the top.

David Cutcliffe has turned around the culture of Blue Devil football, leading his team to three straight bowl games and winning multiple national coach of the year awards in 2013. His hardwood counterpart, of course, is arguably the greatest to ever walk the collegiate sidelines, Mike Krzyzewski.

The real debate comes after the top, as Fox has Louisville and Notre Dame at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. While the jury may still be out on Bobby Petrino's redemption tour after Year 1 back with the Cardinals, his success is likely enough to help lift the Cards to the No. 2 spot, considering Hall of Famer Rick Pitino is his counterpart. The Irish have a nice showing as well, as Brian Kelly is easily the school's best football coach since Lou Holtz and Mike Brey has turned the hoops squad into a consistent tournament team, after years of mediocrity before his arrival.

The legitimacy of the rest of the list is really in the eye of the beholder, especially given the cyclical nature of the ACC's football and men's basketball programs. I, for one, can easily see Virginia Tech moving up from No. 6 in the near future if Frank Beamer can turn things around on the gridiron. And Buzz Williams was definitely a home run hire this year for the hoops program.

I'd probably move No. 11 Clemson a few spots up, and No. 8 Syracuse and No. 10 Pitt could certainly see their profiles grow if their relatively new football coaches can make names for themselves to go with Jim Boeheim and Jamie Dixon.

I'd also put stock in 15th-place Wake Forest, which is in Year 1 of both the Dave Clawson and Danny Manning eras. The Demon Deacons have shown early signs in both regimes that they don't plan on going away quietly, regardless of their limitations.

Here are the rest of your Friday links:
Is February the new March?

Perhaps it is in the ACC.

Four league teams have opted to open spring football practice this month, more than any other Power 5 conference. That number is double what it was a year ago, when Duke and Boston College opted to start in February.

Miami and Syracuse decided to join them this year. The Hurricanes opened Tuesday while Syracuse made the most dramatic change, moving its first spring practice up three weeks. The Orange open Sunday thanks in large part to their newly completed indoor facility.

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesSteve Addazio and Boston College are enjoying the benefits of starting spring practice earlier.
Why the shift? For one, it helps teams get a jump on their evaluations. It also allows for injured players a little longer time to heal before the season while lengthening the offseason strength and conditioning program.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe shifted to an early February spring practice start date last year, hoping to capitalize on momentum from its bowl performance. It worked out so well for his team that he has no plans to go back.

Boston College starts Feb. 25 with one practice, then resumes in March after spring break, the same schedule coach Steve Addazio used last year. Addazio wanted to practice a few more days in February this year, but could not alter the schedule after he had to make several coaching hires this month.

Still, the one-day February practice is beneficial because it builds in more time spent working on the team.

“The reason I love it is because I want to have as much time post-spring until the start of the season so if you get an injury, you can get a guy back,” Addazio said. “My whole thing is I want to get spring ball in, I want to see where our team is and really figure out what we’re all about.”

Then there are the recruiting considerations, also a big factor in the earlier start dates.

“Our biggest recruiting time is then,” Addazio said. “We get our recruits to come through during practice, and I love it, they get here and we spend a lot of time with them, that’s where we build our bonds. That’s the early bite that we get, and that’s critical to our recruiting. The earlier our spring practice is, the faster we get a bite into our players.”

Earlier spring practices also allow teams to figure out what positions they need to target on the recruiting trail earlier.

“In years past, we were trying to evaluate our spring practice and our depth chart and recruit at the same time,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. “Now, we’re going to be able to say, ‘Let’s take the first week after spring ball, reevaluate everything we did during the spring, what was good, what wasn’t as good as we needed it to be and then close that chapter and jump full steam ahead into the recruiting process,’ which will help us be a little bit more on targets with who we need to go after. That is another area that’s going to be helpful in our process.”

More teams might follow suit in the near future. Second-year Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson also moved spring practice up three weeks to March 3 now that he is firmly in place with the Demon Deacons and not scrambling around in the first few months of the job.

Clawson said he would consider moving practice into late February next year once the new indoor practice facility is completed.

“When we had our spring game last year the third week in April, our coaches weren’t on the road until early May, and so other coaches in our division who had earlier spring football were out recruiting two weeks before we were, and in a day and age in which kids are committing earlier and earlier and changing their mind later and later, it was a recruiting disadvantage for us to not get out,” Clawson said. “We’d be out evaluating a kid and another school had been there twice before we even saw him.”

For staffs without much coaching turnover, the advantages are there. Makes spring football take on a slightly different meaning.

Spring start dates across the ACC

Duke, Miami already started
Feb. 22: Syracuse
Feb. 25: Boston College
March 1: North Carolina, NC State
March 2: Clemson
March 3: Wake Forest
March 15: Pittsburgh
March 17: Virginia
March 23: Georgia Tech
March 24: Virginia Tech, Louisville
TBA: Florida State

ACC morning links

February, 18, 2015
Feb 18
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This may be the offseason, but nobody is off in college football.

As proof, schools have taken to social media to show us exactly what their players are up to.

Clemson posted a video on its Instagram account showing a 5:30 a.m. workout.

#ALLIN #Clemson

A video posted by Clemson Football (@clemsonfb) on



At North Carolina, Blue Dawn is back -- the catchy phrase given to early conditioning workouts under Larry Fedora.



Wake Forest and Syracuse had their players up before dark, too. Syracuse even tagged its tweets #6AM.



Meanwhile, Pitt offensive line coach John Peterson reminded everybody via Twitter that players were set to begin their mat drills early Wednesday morning.

Of course, a few teams already have opened spring practice. Miami became the latest Tuesday. Though the practice was closed, quarterback Brad Kaaya told The Miami Herald in an interview last week that his main goal is to make sure he is leading a united team. There are now signs in the Miami locker room that read, "Cliques Kill."

Though nobody inside Miami has gone into much detail about team chemistry last season, dealing with a fractured locker room may help explain some of the issues the Hurricanes encountered toward the end of the season. It is not too difficult to read between the lines in the Kaaya comments to understand the team was splintered. This quote says it all: “You can’t have guys being outliers and kind of keeping to themselves or saying things under their breath. ... I feel like at times last year it was an offense and defense playing against our opponent, as opposed to the Miami Hurricanes playing against them."

Miami, it seems, has more than X's and O's to figure out.

Elsewhere across the ACC:

Spring reset: ACC quarterback

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17
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This could be the year of the quarterback in the ACC with starters returning at the majority of schools across the league.

But there are some programs that will have a bit of intrigue at the quarterback spot this spring. Here is a quick spring reset at where the signal-callers stand at each ACC school.

The incumbents
The skinny: These six are the unquestioned starters at their respective schools. Even Lambert, marking the first time in five springs Virginia has a set quarterback headed into the spring. Though Matt Johns is sure to get a look, Lambert is expected to start the season if healthy. Same goes for the other five, who appear to have a stronghold on their respective starting jobs.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtThe backup quarterback position is key to watch during Clemson's spring practices as Deshaun Watson sits out to rehab his injured knee.
The injured incumbent
The skinny: With Watson out during spring practice while he rehabs a knee injury, true freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel will get reps with Nick Schuessler as they compete to become the backup to Watson. Schuessler, a former walk-on, was the No. 3 quarterback last season. Bryant and Tucker enrolled early and are in for spring, great news for a program that has faced depth issues at the position since last fall. The backup job is an important one at Clemson, with Watson coming off a major knee injury. Whomever wins the backup job could be pressed into action early.

The returning starters*
The skinny: Why an asterisk? There is a chance some of these players end up losing their starting job if the competition is fierce enough during the spring and into the fall. All three go into the spring as the starter. They each are the most experienced quarterbacks on their respective rosters. But ...

At Syracuse, Hunt is coming off a broken leg and will face competition from AJ Long and Austin Wilson. Long and Wilson both played last season after Hunt went out, giving the coaching staff much more to work with this spring.

At Wake Forest, coach Dave Clawson said Wolford will get the first-team reps but his quarterback will have to win the starting job again after the Deacs signed two highly touted prep quarterbacks -- Kendall Hinton and Kyle Kearns.

At Pitt, Voytik will have to learn a new system and face new competition from Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman. While Voytik is expected to keep his starting job, there are no guarantees here, either.

The new starter
The skinny: Sirk has taken first-team reps so far this spring as he works to replace two-year starter Anthony Boone. Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre have provided competition but coach David Cutcliffe has already declared Sirk the starter.

The open competitions

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire will enter the spring practice session as the backup QB with the most experience at FSU.
Boston College: Darius Wade, Troy Flutie. Wade is the favorite to win the starting job, but Flutie is expected to get a fair shake. This is what coach Steve Addazio had to say about both during his signing day news conference: "Darius Wade has got a great arm and he throws the ball extremely well. Troy Flutie is a great anticipator, which is a unique quality to have as a quarterback. He does a great job anticipating guys coming out of their breaks. He doesn't have to see them open. So both of those guys have unique tools and both are very athletic."

Florida State: Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino. One of the most anticipated competitions in the entire country will take place in Tallahassee, where Jimbo Fisher must replace Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Maguire served as the backup last season, but that does not necessarily make him the favorite to win the job. Cosentino came in last year as an ESPN 300 prospect and redshirted. Fisher said true freshmen De'Andre Johnson and Deondre Francois -- both ESPN 300 players -- will also get a shot. Johnson is already in for spring.

Louisville: Reggie Bonnafon, Tyler Ferguson, Kyle Bolin. With Will Gardner out for spring and no timetable set for his return after another major knee injury, the Cardinals are expected to have a heated open competition in the spring between Bonnafon, Ferguson and Bolin. Bonnafon played as a true freshman last season and showed some promise before getting injured late in the year. Bolin was then forced to play with Bonnafon and Gardner out. Though he led a comeback win over Kentucky, he was not nearly as effective in the bowl game against Georgia. Ferguson transferred from Penn State and sat out last season, and could end up being the wild card in the group.

ACC morning links

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17
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The NFL combine officially begins Tuesday, with over 300 NFL hopefuls set to be poked, prodded, questioned, timed and tested.

As has been the case in recent years, more prospects are invited than will get drafted, but everybody has a shot at either helping -- or potentially hurting -- themselves. This year, the ACC has 57 players represented -- including 12 from Florida State and 11 from Louisville. Those numbers do not come as much of a surprise.

This one does: Duke, which has had four players drafted since 2000, has four players at the combine -- Anthony Boone, Jamison Crowder, Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield. Crowder turned heads at the Senior Bowl, and he discussed his NFL potential in an insightful diary entry he wrote for USA Today.

Meanwhile, Mike Huguenin of NFL.com lists DeVante Parker and Phillip Dorsett as receivers to watch during the combine. Dorsett, who has the potential to clock the fastest 40 time at the combine, has risen up draft boards along with teammates Denzel Perryman and Ereck Flowers. In all, eight Miami players will be at the combine -- proof the talent is still there in Coral Gables.

One more player to watch is Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, rated the No. 2 cornerback available by ESPN's Kevin Weidl, ahead of P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Weidl says Johnson, "has the most natural man coverage skills in this year's class."

But of course, the biggest story headed into Indianapolis is Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who has become the popular name atop mock drafts across various publications. Mike Mayock of NFL Network says he expects Winston to go first overall to Tampa Bay despite off-the-field concerns. Of course, we are only at the beginning of the draft process, and small things end up getting blown out of proportion. Winston will be scrutinized until draft day and beyond.

As if anybody needed proof, check what happened this past weekend. Winston became the subject of Twitter speculation when a photo of him was posted that made him look overweight. Turns out that the photo was a month old and showed Winston with a black band tied tightly across his waist. No matter what he looks like, his quarterback coach, George Whitfield, said Winston has not yet decided whether to throw at the combine.

Stay tuned.

Elsewhere across the ACC:

Q&A: Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk

February, 16, 2015
Feb 16
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Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk is ready to take over the starting job with Anthony Boone gone. So far, he has impressed his coaches during the early part of spring.

Sirk does have some playing experience, getting into games in mostly running situations behind Boone a season ago. But offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery promises that Sirk has got the ability to throw the ball better than people realize.

I had a chance to catch up with Sirk now that spring practice is underway to ask about transitioning to the starting job, and how the offense is coming along.

What has it been like for you to take on a bigger role?

Thomas Sirk: It’s been a great transition so far. With each day comes new challenges, and I have to overcome those challenges to practice and become the best player I can possibly be. Each day the players around me are making me so much better. The guys in our backfield and our receivers, they’re pushing me just like I push them. It’s always great to have competition from guys like Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre, also who are doing a phenomenal job this spring.

How much did playing last year help prepare you to be the starter?

TS: You just have to go out there and you can’t get up there and get nervous. You just have to slow everything down and be calm out there. I think last year that prepared me. I’m not going to go out there with any type of jitters, like this is my first time playing. I think that I’ll go out there and be ready to handle any situation. Last year I was put in some big time situations -- double-overtime against Pittsburgh -- so when we get in any situation I’m going to be prepared.

Coach David Cutcliffe has praised your throwing abilities. What type of passer are you?

TS: I have a strong enough arm to make any throw. You didn’t get to see a lot of that last year because of the role I played, but for the people who didn’t see that, I can make any throw and I’m confident in my arm. Coming in to this spring, I’ve gotten more accurate and consistent.

Will the offense look the same with you under center?

TS: You’re going to see a similar offense to what we had last year -- you’ll see passes down the field, you’ll see inside zone. We have a very dynamic offense. You can see a lot of things, you can see triple option and that’s something that Boone did, too, so the playbook will be very similar for me as it was for Boone.

How does this offense go about replacing receiver Jamison Crowder?

TS: It’s always hard replacing a guy like Jamison. He’s such a great player, but we have guys stepping into their roles. Johnell Barnes out wide right now, Anthony Nash, Chris Taylor. We do have senior leadership coming back in Max McCaffrey. Those guys have a lot of playing experience. We have a lot of playmakers out there at receiver and they’re competing with one another each day and they’re making each other better. We’re seeing a lot of big-time plays from those guys out at practice.

Does anything change in your mind-set as the starter?

TS: Coach Montgomery does such a great job preparing us at that role, I think at any moment last year I would have been prepared because the way that we practice is so fast paced, it prepares you. It’s very game-like the way that we practice. If you’re put into those positions at any moment it’s going to be similar to what we do at practice.

How have you worked to become more of a leader and establish chemistry with your backs and receivers?

TS: You have to continue to work even on days off. Before coming into spring ball, we did a great job of getting together with the receivers and running backs and throwing. That helped us a lot. Even when the coaches aren’t there, our team has the ability to practice just like a real practice. So that gives us an advantage. And when spring ball gets done, we’ll continue to do the same thing. We have a lot of guys willing to give us their weekend of free time to come in there and get work. I love that about our squad, so selfless and always wanting to get better.

ACC morning links

February, 16, 2015
Feb 16
9:00
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A pair of ACC staffs underwent a reshuffling this weekend, as Boston College and Virginia divvied up duties with spring practices approaching.

BC promoted Todd Fitch to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and hired Brian White to replace Fitch as its receivers coach. White spent the last six years at Florida, most recently coaching running backs.

UVa, meanwhile, announced that associate head coach for defense/defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta will coach safeties, while Mike Archer will move from safeties to linebackers and be promoted to associate head coach. Volunteer assistant Brian Wetzel was named a graduate assistant as well.

“In making my evaluations of the program since the end of last season and discussing this with the coaching staff, we all felt these moves would benefit our defense, particularly with the makeup of the returning players,” Cavaliers coach Mike London said in a release. “It also benefits our program by placing Jon and Mike with position groups they have spent the majority of their careers coaching.”

The Hoos had previously hired Chris Beatty (running backs) and Dave Borbely (offensive line). Larry Lewis moved from running backs to tight ends and will continue coordinating special teams.

At BC, Fitch succeeds Ryan Day, who left for the Philadelphia Eagles. White, a Massachusetts native, had coached with Steve Addazio and Justin Frye for two years with the Gators.

"I am very excited to promote Todd as our quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator," Addazio said in a release. "Trust and continuity are two very important factors that went into my decision. It is my belief that our program needs to continue to grow and develop within the same system, continue to improve the areas of strength and to attack the areas that need improvement. I have always had great involvement in the offense and will continue to do so. Therefore, it is extremely important for me to be on the same page as the rest of the offensive coaches. With Todd's leadership and tremendous experience as an offensive coordinator in three different coaching stops, I am confident that he will help us continue to develop and bring us to new heights."

Here are the rest of your Monday links:

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