ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies

ACC Friday mailblog

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Hope everyone has a Happy Easter ...

JD in State College, Pa., writes: Where do you think Pitt sophomores James Conner and Tyler Boyd rank among ACC running back/wide receiver combos?

HD: I'm looking at every team in the league and it's tough to find one that compares. Some of them have half the equation, such as Jamison Crowder at Duke. But when you consider that Clemson has to replace its leading rusher and top two receivers from a year ago, FSU lost Kelvin Benjamin, James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman ... Pitt has to be near the top -- if not No. 1 -- and last season was only the beginning for them. Based on potential, though, they could be surpassed by Miami's combo of Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley, especially with Johnson healthy again. And don't forget that FSU reloads. Karlos Williams and Rashad Greene could state their case. Here's a sleeper for you: UNC's T.J. Logan and Quinshad Davis. Logan drew rave reviews from the coaching staff this spring.


Tim in Blacksburg writes: HD, did you say no hope for Virginia Tech on offense!? The QB spot is up in the air, and in transition -- no doubt. Michael Brewer should have a say in that spot when he arrives. Beyond that however, your analysis of the offense is lacking, to say the least. The OL should be much improved this year. Have you seen Augie Conte and Wyatt Teller... Alston Smith... and it's the most experienced group we've seen in a number of years. Our top tight end, who missed all of last year -- returns, as does Kalvin Cline and newcomer to the position Bucky Hodges. BTW, have you seen Bucky Hodges? Bucky has a chance to be a HUGE playmaker for VT. The run game needs a big-time boost in production. That may be by committee again this year between [Trey] Edmunds, [J.C.] Coleman and newcomer Marshawn Williams, who has been turning heads and nearly breaking them so far this spring.

HD: No hope? I'd never say no hope. Hapless maybe, but not hopeless. Here's the scoop on VT's offense this spring: The Hokies are better everywhere on offense this spring. Every position is deeper and better. Except quarterback. It's still a huge question, and one that won't be answered until this summer when the entire roster is practicing. There's plenty of talent on that roster, but until they find an answer at quarterback, I'm not picking them to win the Coastal Division.


Josh in Palm Bay, Fla., writes: The other day, you were talking about Clemson as the best defense in the ACC. I was shocked that you would take such a stand for them! You saw they got flat-out destroyed in many games last year despite how good they played in their previous bowl vs LSU, I believe? FSU lost a few players, true, but in some cases, their replacements might be better (not [Timmy] Jernigan's). The new DC last year didn't stop us with a whole new system; a new DC this year with the same system won't either. Sorry ACC, Dabo, HD, AD... gonna still be a fantastic D at FSU, still gonna be better than Clemson, and still gonna be doubters, I guess!

HD: Yep, I'm pretty sure I said that one, though technically I think I said it could be the best D in the ACC, even better than Florida State's. Look, I know everyone is not used to Clemson's defense being a strength, just like you're not used to Duke being a contender in the Coastal Division race, but stay with me here. FSU's defensive line has been depleted in the past two years by the NFL draft, whereas Clemson's defensive line finally has a veteran look. I'm not going to make too much out of the turnover at the coordinator position because there's still continuity there for the Seminoles, but Clemson enters this fall with fewer questions on defense.


Jeremy Lambert in South Hill, Va., writes: Virginia's basketball success in recent years has clearly demonstrated the school's athletics potential across the board. Its resources to attract talent and fan support are on display for all to see in the basketball program. Having said that, UVa's football woes are extremely frustrating to watch. Its failures are excruciating. It is difficult for me to point to a specific factor, but it is hard to think that a lot of the Hoos' football woes could not be solved by having a good quarterback. Matt Schaub -- 10 years ago -- was the last good quarterback Virginia had. What is it about Virginia's program that a good quarterback is not compelled to commit to playing there? Or should Virginia's expectations be lower than I think?

HD: I don't think the overall expectations should be lower -- but maybe the expectations about routinely bringing in an elite quarterback should be. Granted, much of Virginia's woes can be traced to inconsistency, indecisiveness and underwhelming performances from that position. But look across the ACC, not to mention college football, and how often does a Matt Ryan come along? Philip Rivers? There are more of the likes of Logan Thomas, Chase Rettig and Tanner Price. You're right that UVa football is capable of more than what we've seen, especially with the increased commitment to facilities, recruiting and staff salaries. It should be a regular bowl-bound team, and every now and then make some noise in the Coastal Division race, but is it going to be the next Clemson? Probably not.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Wishing everybody a great holiday weekend!
Scottie Montgomery returned to Duke last year from an NFL world where quarterbacks were never, ever hit in practice.

So when his quarterbacks started begging him to go live this spring, his first reaction was, ‘No way!’ He was in protection mode, the way he was as a Steelers assistant. But veterans Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette persisted, and he slowly relented -- only a few times, and with clear instructions to the defense.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Jimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Phil SearsFlorida State coach Jimbo Fisher had Jameis Winston go live last spring when he was dueling Jacob Coker for the starting job.
“My initial feel is, ‘Don't ever let anybody get touched, so I have to fight myself at times, because I want to protect these guys and these guys want to compete for jobs,” said Montgomery, the offensive coordinator.

His is a dilemma that many coaches across the league have faced this spring. Do you allow your quarterbacks to get hit in practice to help simulate game situations and foster competition, knowing you have increased their injury risk? Or do you never even broach the subject because the priority should always be to protect the quarterback?

Four ACC teams allowed their quarterbacks to go live at some point during spring practice, more than any other power-five league. Clemson did it for the first time under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, believing he would see more out of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Early enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson ended up getting hurt and missing the spring game.

Florida State allowed its younger quarterbacks to go live this spring. Coach Jimbo Fisher said he did the same last year, when Jameis Winston was a redshirt freshman competing to win the starting job.

“They’ve got to be able to feel things around them and react,” Fisher said. “They get in a false security blanket sometimes.”

Does that cause him extra worry?

“It’s no different than when we run the running backs, and I get nervous in the scrimmages when the backs are running and get tackled,” Fisher said. “Our guys know if they’ve got a kill shot, not to. There’s a certain limit of how we practice with each other. You know those shots that everyone wants to have? We won’t take those on each other even if we’re in a live scrimmage because it’s not productive to the organization. Tough to me is when you’re eyeball to eyeball, not when a guy’s exposed and you can do that.”

The coaches are not the only ones who wrestle with the idea. NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was not live this spring. But when he was competing for the starting job at Florida with Jeff Driskel back in 2012, both were allowed to go live early on in fall practice. The first day they were allowed to take hits, Driskel hurt his shoulder.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail/Mark CrammerClemson freshman Deshaun Watson was injured in practice and missed the spring game.
“There's a right time and wrong time for quarterbacks to be live,” Brissett said. “We haven't done live practices, but in the fall sometimes we will have a live scrimmage on a Saturday. It helps out with the game speed reps.”

For a running quarterback such as Brissett, that helps. Same for the Duke quarterbacks. Georgia Tech has its quarterbacks live during practice for that reason.

Some coaches believe going live helps separate the competition. But Clemson was the only school with an open quarterback competition to allow its quarterbacks to go live during scrimmage situations. North Carolina, for example, has Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battling to win the starting job, but offensive coordinator Seth Littrell does not believe it is necessary to allow quarterbacks to get hit. “I’ve never done it,” he said.

Virginia Tech also is in the middle of an intense competition, but quarterbacks have been off limits so far this spring. Veteran Mark Leal would have no problem if the coaches changed their minds.

“Honestly, I'd like to be live,” he said. “I think the rest of the quarterbacks would, too, because it gives more of a game feel. If you're not live, sometimes the whistle gets blown early when you don't think you should have been sacked or the play gets messed up because when there's a rush around you, the first thing the coaches want to do is blow the whistle, rather than you continue to play or go through your reads and progressions and finish the play.”

Depth concerns often dictate what coaches do. Pitt only had two scholarship quarterbacks this spring, so there was no way they were going live. Virginia Tech only has three quarterbacks on the roster this spring.

Still, all the protections most coaches take are not enough to keep their quarterbacks injury-free. Miami quarterbacks were off limits this spring, but Ryan Williams tore his ACL during a scrimmage.

It was a noncontact injury.

ACC's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
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Well, this rule ought to make games more interesting.
Virginia Tech shook up its depth chart this week, putting Brenden Motley ahead of Mark Leal at quarterback.

The news did not appear to faze Leal much. While Leal was sidelined from a scrimmage last week with a sore knee, Motley took advantage of the opportunity and performed well, going 12-for-20 for 163 yards and a touchdown.

Leal said in a phone interview Wednesday that his knee is feeling much better, and he plans on playing in a scrimmage set for this weekend. As for his standing on the depth chart, Leal said, "Motley and Andrew Ford both had really good scrimmages. I'm not surprised that happened, but I have to keep going out there and competing."

Leal went into spring camp atop a three-way competition to replace Logan Thomas. The knee has set him back some, but the injury is not considered to be serious. When he has been healthy enough to practice, Leal and Motley have split reps with the first team. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler told reporters in Blacksburg that the depth chart would continue to change from now through fall camp.

"So far, it's been pretty good competition," Leal said. "I love the competition because it always brings out the best in you no matter what. When you're competing, you're giving it your all, you're giving it your best and you're making sure every rep counts. I wouldn't have it any other way."

The mindset this spring also has been different. Last year, he knew he was the backup to Thomas. And he also had to learn a new system. Now, he has a shot to be the starter in an offense that he knows much better.

But no matter what happens this spring, Virginia Tech will add Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and freshman Chris Durkin into the quarterback competition this fall. So the depth chart today hardly matters. Leal and all the quarterbacks know that.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
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Never forget.

ESPN 300: Top ACC targets 

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
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With Wednesday’s release of the 2015 ESPN 300, here’s a look at five top ACC targets in the 2015 class.


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ACC's lunchtime links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
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Boston strong.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
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Bo Pelini is the cat's meow.

ACC mailblog

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Lots of mail this week. Thanks to everybody who wrote in. Now to some questions ...

theschnauzers writes: Re: the Miami offense with (Kevin) Olsen and Duke (Johnson). I wouldn't underestimate Kevin Olsen in this situation, which I think both you and Heather are doing in your recent articles and blog entries. There are those of us who felt that if all other things were equal it was likely Kevin might have been the starter before season's end; what is clear is that unlike Morris and Harris, Kevin does read the defense and the plays, and based on all reports about the two closed scrimmages, he has done as well as Ryan Williams did before the injury in the second scrimmage, and Golden has used the words "exceptional" and "excellent" to Kevin's performance in the second half of that scrimmage. Guess we'll know more after the "spring game" Saturday, but I am among those U alumni who have confidence Kevin will step up and get the job done.

Andrea Adelson: Here is my point of view on Olsen. He is a terrific talent, and we could very well be underestimating him. But during my visit down to Coral Gables three weeks ago, I was not given any indication that the competition between Olsen and Williams was particularly close. Williams was clearly going to start, and Olsen still had a lot of learning to do to even really push Williams. The fact there was no "real" competition before Williams got hurt speaks more to where Olsen stands, in my opinion. Yes, Miami started giving Olsen more reps with the first team and he handled them nicely. But there is no denying that Williams had an edge both in terms of maturity and game experience. That could be a factor for Miami this year.

 




Ted in Lexington, Ky., writes: I think Wake Forest pulled off a steal in getting Dave Clawson. He turned around three programs, but this year I am scared because (1) Wake is so young; (2) our nonconference schedule is rough, especially Sept. 13 at Utah State. They knocked off Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. If Wake Forest wins six, Dave Clawson should be the ACC Coach of the Year.

Adelson writes: I also like this hire. I think most impressive is the fact he won at smaller schools that have a similar type of profile as Wake Forest, the smallest school in the ACC. That should absolutely give Deacs fans hope for the future. But I agree 2014 might not be the year Wake goes back to a bowl game. Not only are the players young, they are learning entirely new schemes and have depth issues at several positions. Utah State will be a very tough game, but so will going on the road to play ULM, which beat the Deacs a year ago. If Clawson can scratch out six wins, he should be mentioned for national coach of the year given what he has to work with this year.

 




Kevin Portale in Louisville writes: I just read your article on the Cards. I really enjoyed it. It was short and to the point. Since Louisville is new to the ACC, how well do you think their chances are to be in the top three of the conference?

Adelson writes: Thanks, Kevin. At this point, I think there is a gap between Louisville and Florida State/Clemson but no real gap between the Cards and everybody else in the league. Despite the changes, this is a team that should still have an opportunity to win every game it plays. After talking to players, watching practice and spending time with the staff, I still think Louisville finishes third in the Atlantic. But given the difficulty of the schedule and some of the personnel losses the Cardinals have to overcome, I am not sure this team ends the season ranked in the Top 25.

 




Alex in Syracuse writes: Why do you think Pitt will be so good and expect nothing from Syracuse? If Aaron Donald doesn't block an extra point, if (Paul) Chryst doesn't barely get a timeout in, Syracuse would have had eight wins last year and Pitt does not even make a bowl game. Syracuse was a pretty good program only a little over a decade ago and then went through a down period. They're coming back up now, why doesn't anyone care or see this happening?

Adelson writes: I think you are making an assumption here that because I think Pitt has a chance to win the Coastal, I expect nothing out of Syracuse. One does not really correlate with the other. Pitt is in a much more winnable division and has an easier nonconference schedule than the Orange, which is why my expectations might be slightly higher. I thought Syracuse did a nice job toward the end of last season but it's hard to overlook how the Orange got blown out by the top two teams in the division. I do think they should be a bowl team this year given what they return on offense, but they are not quite ready to compete for a division title.

 




Tim in Christiansburg, Va., writes: re: ACC dream games. I understand all the love for FSU. I can see UT/Duke and the Petrino bowls. Clemson/Oregon would be exhausting to watch. But think outside the box a little. What sets college football apart is what happens off the field as much as on the field sometimes. The pageantry and hoopla that surrounds college football is what makes it so unique. That being said, what about VT/Texas A&M? These are the only two public schools with regular students that maintain on campus cadet corps that feed directly into the military. VT always marches out the cadets prior to the game for the national anthem. They are an important part of every home game, as they should be. Some military alum flies a billion dollar plane overhead. Skipper roars. Now multiply that by two. Plus the game would be pretty good, too. The first two were.

Adelson writes: Add it on the list!

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Enjoy the weekend, gang.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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Thoughts with all those affected Wednesday in Pittsburgh.
Virginia Tech defensive tackle Luther Maddy said he wants to reach double-digit sack numbers this fall and get at least 20 tackles for loss. He said he’s trying to “take a big leap forward” to help the Hokies have another great defense -- and they’re going to need him to, considering the turnover among the front seven.

Maddy said he wants to make teams scheme around him. “That’s my goal,” he said. “Make teams run away from me or have a plan for me.”

Here’s a look at how Virginia Tech’s defense is shaping up this spring, according to Maddy, the Hokies’ most experienced returning defensive lineman:

[+] EnlargeLuther Maddy
Jeff Lack/Icon SMILuther Maddy will be a more vocal leader for the Hokies in 2014.
How much different is it for you because you’re a veteran and one of the main men up front right now?

Luther Maddy: Coming into my freshman year -- the past two years, really -- I’ve always been the younger guy, because I was with [James] Gayle and J.R. [Collins]. They were always giving me advice on game situations, how to play these blocks and stuff like that. Now I’m the upperclassman. I’m just trying to tell some of the younger guys about my game experience, how to prepare for certain teams, what to do in certain situations like first down, second down, what to look for in teams.

I know it’s still early, but what do the guys around you look like so far this spring?

LM: They’ve been looking really, really good. I don’t think there’s much drop off from last year, to tell you the truth. We’ve got Dadi [Nicolas] and Ken [Ekanem]. They’re really talented. Of course, they’re not as experienced as Gayle and J.R., but I think they have the same talent. They’re really fast, they’re really good pass rushers. And we have Corey Marshall. He’s a smaller defensive tackle playing in there. He’s been really productive, really quick inside, getting off blocks and making plays. And we’ve got Nigel [Williams], he put on some weight, he’s looking really good also.

It sounds like you’re not too concerned about replacing those guys?

LM: Not at all, not at all. From an experience standpoint, yes. From a talent standpoint, no. They can always get that through spring and camp. I’m pretty sure they’ll be just fine.

How much of that has to do with the expectations on defense that have already been set?

LM: I know you know about Coach [Bud] Foster. He expects a lot. So does Coach [Charley] Wiles. They do their best to prepare us to the best of our ability. We don’t go one practice without going hard and getting better. We’re taking steps forward every single practice.

What do you think you guys are capable of as a team this year in the Coastal Division race? I know the past two years haven’t gone as well as you guys probably would have hoped.

LM: Right. Yeah, the past couple of years we haven’t been doing too good, but I think we have a team where everybody wants to impress each other. We’re playing like brothers right now. We all know what’s been going on, we know we were in a little slump, but we know what we need to do. We’re trying to do this for Hokie Nation, do this for Beamerball, and bring the tradition back to Blacksburg and win the ACC. We all know what’s at stake here. We’re all trying to get better this spring and in workouts. We all know what’s expected. We’re trying to be together as brothers and be a family and try to reach that stuff.

What are you guys working on in particular as a defensive line?

LM: Right now we’re trying to get off blocks. A lot of guys right now, we’ve been attacking our technique, but we need to get off blocks. I think it’s because it’s still early in spring ball. Guys are still trying to get a good feel for it, but I think coach Wiles wants us to produce more, make more tackles. We’re trying to get off blocks and perfect our pass rush. I think our pass rush is all right, but it could be better. We’re trying to do more bag drills, get better at the one-on-ones. The main thing is get off blocks and try and produce from a pass rush standpoint.

What do you think the defense is capable of this fall, considering there are so many new faces?

LM: The secondary is going to be great, one of the best, just like last year with Kendall [Fuller] and Brandon [Facyson] and Kyshoen [Jarrett] and [Detrick] Bonner. I’m not worried about them. They’re not complacent, they’re going to continue to get better. The front seven? The linebackers are a very important part of the defense. I heard Bud Foster say I think a week ago that if you have good linebackers and good defensive ends, the defense can be great. I think we have that. We have Deon Clarke, he’s playing really fast and quick. We’ve got Chase [Williams], he’s like Jack Tyler with a lot of great football instincts. There won’t be much drop off between him and Jack. And Deon, he might be a little more explosive than Riq [Tariq Edwards] so I think we’ll be all right.

Is there anything you want Virginia Tech fans to know about the defense that I didn’t ask you?

LM: I want to let them know don’t be worried. We’re going to meet all of their expectations and be a great defense just like we have been for the past 20 years.

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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Pro days are now in the rearview mirror, with a month remaining between now and the NFL draft. With that, let's take a look back at some notable performances from ACC pro days this year.

Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyClemson WR Sammy Watkins in all likelihood will be the first ACC player drafted in May.
Clemson (March 6)
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.

Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).

Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.

Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.

Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.

Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.

North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.

NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.

Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.

Syracuse
Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.

Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.

Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.

ACC lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
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Lots of news out of Tallahassee ...

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