A couple of schools (Duke, Miami) around the ACC Coastal completed spring practice last Saturday but still a lot of questions remain as April approaches. As it turns out there are a lot of quarterback issues on this side of the league. We’ll deal with those today in our Five Burning Questions about the ACC Coastal.
But first I want to discuss Georgia Tech, the defending ACC champions, and ask this:
1. Who will step up and be the “difference makers” for Georgia Tech? Obviously Georgia Tech has to find a backup quarterback this spring. Starter Josh Nesbitt is sitting out practice because of a bad ankle and, quite frankly, Paul Johnson knows what Nesbitt can do. Nesbitt is going to get banged up running this offense. That is a given. And Jaybo Shaw has transferred. So everybody knows Johnson has to find another quarterback he can trust not to turn the ball over if Nesbitt has to come out.
But the question that keeps coming back to me as Georgia Tech begins spring practice is: Who are going to be the difference makers? A very good team always has 4-5 exceptional athletes who, when nothing else is working, can make an individual play to win a game. Last season Georgia Tech had at least five such athletes: Nesbitt, RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR “Bay Bay” Thomas, DE Derrick Morgan, and FS Morgan Burnett. These guys could play for anybody in the country and had the ability to change a game single-handedly. Four of those guys are gone.
Nesbitt is back and Anthony Allen (618 yards, 9.7 avg.) certainly has the ability to play the B-Back position vacated by Dwyer and has proven he has home-run ability. CB Jerrard Tarrant is an exceptional talent, who had four returns for touchdowns. LB Brad Jefferson had 95 tackles last season and could be one of those guys. The spring is when these kinds of players start to emerge. It will be interesting to watch.
2. Virginia Tech has an embarrassment of riches at tailback. How do the Hokies handle that? Darren Evans was the 2008 ACC rookie of the year and had the best rushing season ever (1,265 yards) by a freshman in league history. But Evans was lost for the entire 2009 season due to a knee injury. Virginia Tech then turned to another freshman, Ryan Williams. All Williams did was break the record set by Evans and become the first freshman to lead the ACC in rushing (1,655 yards). Both players return in 2010 along with quarterback Tyrod Taylor and three starters on the offensive line. Could Virginia Tech have two backs go over 1,000 yards this season? Think Boise State, Virginia Tech’s first opponent (at FedEx Field on Sept. 6), has noticed?
3. Who replaces Thaddeus Lewis as the Duke quarterback? Lewis made the most of his two years with Coach David Cutcliffe. He left with 48 school records and 10,065 career yards passing. Sophomore Sean Renfree, who completed 34 of 50 passes in relief of Lewis last season, sat out the spring after suffering a torn ACL. But in last Saturday’s spring game true freshman Brandon Connette, who enrolled in January, completed 8 of 19 passes for 67 yards. He also rushed for 91 yards. Redshirt freshman Sean Schroeder completed four of 20 passes for 23 yards. Connette was named the most improved offensive player of the spring.
4. Who is going to be the backup quarterback at Miami? Starting quarterback Jacory Harris sat out the spring as he recovered from thumb surgery on this throwing hand. But the Hurricanes have to find a backup in case Harris gets banged up or struggles. Miami really didn’t have another option at quarterback last season. This season my money is on sophomore A.J. Highsmith who completed 11 of 20 passes for 131 yards in last Saturday’s Spring game. Incoming freshman Stephen Morris might get a look after completing 12 of 20 for 131 yards in the spring game. There is no doubt that Harris is the leader of this Miami team. In two seasons he has completed 60 percent of his passes for 4,547 yards and 36 touchdowns. Harris has made great strides under offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. But Harris does go through stretches when he presses and tries to make plays that simply aren’t there. Whipple needs another option to let Harris just watch for a series.
5. Can quarterback T.J. Yates stay healthy and find some consistency? There were high hopes for the Marietta native in 2009 when he returned after an ankle injury that caused him to missed five games in 2008. While Yates completed 60.3 percent of his passes, he also threw 15 interceptions and only 14 touchdown passes. Now he is a senior and one of 10 returning starters on a North Carolina offense that finished 11th in the ACC at only 307.8 yards per game. Yates came under some intense criticism last season during the stretches when he and the offense were not playing well. Can he shake that off and have a memorable senior season? We’ll find out early as the Tar Heels open the 2010 season on Sept. 4 in Atlanta against LSU.
What does Mike London bring to the table at Virginia? In two seasons as the head coach at Richmond, the former Virginia assistant took the Spiders to the 2008 Division I-AA national championship game and the 2009 playoffs. He is going to make some changes, including a shift back to the 4-3 defense from the 3-4 preferred by former head coach Al Groh. It looks like a tough first year for London and the Cavaliers.
Please follow me on Twitter: