Preseason practice is now in full swing and so we present Five Burning Questions about the ACC Coastal:
1. We know that Georgia Tech is going to run the ball most of the time. And most of the time the Yellow Jackets are going to run it very well. So why do I get the feeling that “Bay-Bay” Thomas is going to have a really good year? Coach Paul Johnson told me last week that he’s not real big on balance when it comes to offense. “If you have to run it 60 times to win, that’s fine. If you have to throw it 60 times to win, that’s fine, too,” said Johnson. “I think the whole balance idea is overrated.” Needless to say, some teams are not going to let Georgia Tech run for 400 yards again–at least not if they can help it. So I just get the feeling that there are going to be some more opportunities for wide receiver Demaryius “Bay-Bay” Thomas this season. Thomas, who caught 39 passes in 2008 (nobody else on the Georgia Tech team caught more than eight), showed that he could make teams pay for obsessing about the run when he caught nine passes for 230 yards again Duke. Johnson’s offense will improve and evolve in year two on The Flats. Part of that evolvement will include a better passing game.
2. Can Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor do something-anything-to become better passer? And if he doesn’t, can the Hokies beat Alabama? Taylor, a junior, is an athletic quarterback who can certainly make things happen with his feet. But with his arm? Not so much. Taylor completed a respectable 57.2 percent of his passes last season but threw only two-that’s right, two-touchdown passes to seven interceptions. As a team last season Virginia Tech had only six touchdown passes (Georgia Tech only had five). The Hokies won 10 games and an ACC championship last season because they played great defense, as always, and had a great freshman running back in Darren Evans (1,265 yards). Virginia Tech is being talked about as a potential contender for the BCS national championship but the Hokies won’t get past Alabama if Taylor doesn’t work on his passing game in the preseason. Head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will have all summer to devise a scheme that will MAKE Taylor pass. By Sept. 5 Taylor had better have an answer when that happens.
3. Who is going to play wide receiver for North Carolina? The Tar Heels had better find out soon. They lost their top three receivers in Hakeem Nicks (68 catches), Brooks Foster (30 catches), and Brandon Tate (16 catches in an injury-shortened season). Coach Butch Davis believes there are some playmakers in the mix. Greg Little, a converted running back, caught 11 passes out of the backfield last season. Dwight Jones is tall (6-5) and athletic but did not catch a pass last season in three appearances. Junior Johnny White played cornerback for seven games last season and then switched to running back. True freshmen Joshua Adams (6-4, 200) and Jheranie Boyd will get a look. “We have guys who can play the position,” quarterback T.J. Yates (of Marietta) told me last week. “We just have to settle on the guys who can help us win. We’ll be fine.”
4. Can new coordinator John Lovett fix the Miami defense? When Randy Shannon was Miami’s defensive coordinator, the Hurricanes were among the toughest units in college football. Since Shannon became head coach, the Miami defense has really struggled. Miami gave up 24.2 points per game last season, which ranked 56th nationally (out of 119 Division I-A teams) and 11th in the ACC. When it came to forcing turnovers, Miami was 113th nationally with only 15 (11 fumble recoveries, four interceptions). They couldn’t stop the run, ranking last in the ACC (151.8 ypg). Enter Lovett, who has been the defensive coordinator at Auburn and Clemson. Lovett begins preseason practice with a defense that returns eight starters and has been ridiculously young the past two seasons. He also gets three 2007 starters-defensive end Eric Moncour, safety Randy Phillips, and linebacker Colin McCarthy-all of whom missed most of last season with injuries. Look for Lovett to set a good tempo in preseason practice because the Hurricanes open on Sept. 7 at Florida State. “I feel good about what John has done with our defense,” Shannon said. “We’ve finally got some guys with experience.”
5. Can the Duke defense take another step forward? We know the Duke offense is going to be pretty good. Senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is in his second year in David Cutcliffe’s system and the Blue Devils have some weapons on that side of the ball. What I’m looking for in the preseason is whether or not the defense will improve for the second straight year. Six starters are missing from a group that went from giving up 33.2 points per game in 2007 to 23.4 points per game last season. Two big-time players are still there in DT Vince Oghobaase and LB Vincent Rey. Oghobaase (6-6, 300) has 29 career tackles for loss and is an All-ACC pick. Rey wasn’t a preseason All-ACC pick but he should have been. This guy can play with 100 or more tackles in each of the past two seasons. If Duke’s defense can get a little bit better, it is possible for Duke to improve on 4-8 last season and qualify for a bowl.
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