ACC football: who has the most to prove post-spring?
Now that ACC spring football has wrapped up, there are plenty of players who have something left in the fall for a variety of different reasons. Whether they’re replacing an outgoing great player or being pushed by young and talented backups, they’re going to be important to their teams’ relative success in 2014.
RB Tyler Rouse/RB Myles Willis, Boston College. After the nation’s leading rusher Andre Williams graduated, that left a huge hole in the Boston College backfield. While head coach Steve Addazio (entering his second season) said the offense will likely be more diverse next season, his brand of football still features more the running game than the passing game. Rouse and Willis combined for 143 yards in the spring game — not bad, but not great — but Addazio is high on them. "They’ll both play. They aren’t the style of running back that Andre (Williams) was. You have to split them up," Addazio said. "We have a few young guys and I’m sure we will play three or four backs."
QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson. The freshmen quarterback didn’t play in the spring game with a collarbone injury, and while he’ll be healthy enough to compete for the job when camp begins, he didn’t get a chance to show the fans what he could do. Ideally, the staff would have loved to have redshirted Watson, and that decision has yet to be made. But he’s clearly shown them enough to let him compete for the job. "Deshaun Watson is as talented a freshman at any position that I’ve ever been around. … He’s just going to continue to rise and get better, and he’ll have an opportunity certainly to play this year," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "Deshaun Watson I know is going to continue to compete and see if he can win that job." Stoudt is a senior who knows the offense very well and is more than capable of running it. He finished the spring game 15-of-23 for 158 yards and two touchdowns. It’s going to take quite a bit of work for Watson to unseat Stoudt, but maybe a year sitting behind the senior wouldn’t be the worst thing for him anyway.
QB Anthony Boone, Duke. The most experienced quarterback in the ACC not named Jameis Winston, Boone is entering his redshirt senior season as the guy for the Blue Devils. But now that backup quarterback Brandon Connette — who often split time with Boone, and had a few packages of his own in the offense — is transferring, Boone will have to be called upon to do more. He continued to get better and better each week last year that he was healthy, seemingly, but he finished with 13 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. And he’s going to have a new offensive coordinator in Scottie Montgomery (who was Duke’s wide receivers’ coach last year). A slight lack of continuity aside, it’s all there for Boone if he can stay healthy. But he finished the spring game 10-of-13 for just 33 yards, so he’s still far from a finished product. And his head coach David Cutcliffe has made it clear he’s going to continue to give other quarterbacks reps in games, even with Connette out of the picture.
P Cason Beatty, Florida State. Yes, a punter. Because here’s the thing — Florida State was almost a perfect team last year, dominating opponents in nearly every area in all three phases of the game. Athletes and dominant physical specimens on offense, defense and special teams — even an accurate redshirt freshman field-goal kicker — but their punting was a huge problem. Fortunately for FSU, the Seminoles didn’t have to punt much. But when they did, it was a problem. The national title game spotlighted that. And then his first two punts in the spring game were 18 and 33 yards, respectively. Not going to work this year as the Seminoles will still be great on both sides of the ball, but likely not as dominant as they were a year ago and with less of a margin for error in the "hidden yardage" part of the game.
WR DeAndre Smelter/WR Darren Waller, Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets were inconsistent offensively last year as quarterback Vad Lee struggled to run the offense crisply. But they also didn’t have a real threat offensively beyond A-back Robert Godhigh in terms of a playmaker. That could change quickly as the Yellow Jackets return three of their top four receivers from a year ago not named Godhigh, led by Smelter (21 catches for 345 yards) and Waller (17 catches for 367 yards). With two new quarterbacks that have a chance to compete for the starting job (though it will likely belong to Justin Thomas), one or both of Smelter or Waller need to step up and be that go-to guy that makes Georgia Tech’s offense so much more dangerous in terms of stretching the field.
QB Kevin Olsen, Miami. After Ryan Williams tore his ACL in the spring, a battle — that Williams was leading, by the way — for the starting quarterback spot became a one-man show. And that’s Olsen, who finished the spring game 7-of-21 for 65 yards and one pick. Olsen has said he didn’t come to Miami to be a backup, and that’s all well and good, but Miami absolutely has to have good quarterback play this season. The Hurricanes have a myriad of offensive weapons, like a (hopefully healthy) tailback in Duke Johnson and a plethora of talented wide receivers. All Miami needs is for someone to get those playmakers the ball successfully. Can Olsen be that guy?
QB Marquise Williams, UNC. The junior quarterback did a great job after Bryn Renner went out with injury last season, stepping in and making the transition to being the starter (after having split time in the games before that) relatively seamlessly. But the heir apparent for that spot, before Williams’ good play to end last season, was a guy who was redshirting — Mitch Trubisky. And the redshirt freshman is coming for Williams. Trubisky finished the spring game at 20-of-32 for 183 yards and one interception while Williams was 22-of-32 for 135 yards and one pick, but Trubisky generally looked like the more settled, capable quarterback. It’s the spring game, so there’s not a ton to take from it, but UNC head coach Larry Fedora has continued to insist this race is still a dead heat and he won’t name a starter for awhile. Williams clearly has a lot of work to do.
RB Shadrach Thornton, NC State. Thornton, a rising junior, has had some nice moments for NC State. But right now, he’s unfortunately better known for his legal troubles than any on-field success. He was suspended indefinitely in December after being named in a sexual battery case and charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, and that’s not counting a charge of assault on a female last June that resulted in a previous suspension. The marijuana charges were dismissed and he wasn’t charged in the sexual battery case (the assault remains unresolved), but these are the kinds of distractions second-year head coach Dave Doeren does not need right now. But he might need Thornton, who’s probably the Wolfpack’s best option at tailback. Thornton needs to keep it together in the off-season — not to mention do better than he did in the spring game when he does get his opportunities (nine attempts for seven yards).
RB James Conner, Pittsburgh. The rising sophomore tailback was an absolute wrecking ball last season for the Panthers, in spite of playing behind a shaky offensive line. He averaged 5.5 yards a carry and scored eight touchdowns, and he should only continue to get better this year. Pitt’s going to need that from him, too, as the Panthers are going to be breaking in a new quarterback in Chad Voytik. Conner, along with rising sophomore receiver Tyler Boyd, are going to be the best players on this team, and Conner in particular is probably going to have to carry the offense a bit — especially earlier in the season.
QB Terrel Hunt, Syracuse. By default, he’s one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the ACC. And his job is among the most secure, too. But head coach Scott Shafer has shown he’s not shy about playing the quarterback who’s going to give the team the best chance to win, and by all indications, Hunt is getting a challenge from the younger QBs on the roster. Hunt was 12-of-15 for 95 yards himself, though, and Shafer has done nothing but praise his leadership in the spring. So that’s a good sign for him, but he’s going to have to watch his back. He finished last season strong after a strong start, though he did have a six-game stretch without a passing touchdown, but he finished the year with three touchdowns and one interception in the last three games after that previous six-game drought.
QB Greyson Lambert, Virginia. By the numbers, it’s actually David Watford, not Lambert, who’s one of the more experienced quarterbacks in the ACC. But the coaches are pretty high on Lambert, which showed by the fact that he got most of the first-team reps in the spring and was 18-of-31 for 220 yards in the spring game. Watford, in spite of being more experienced, was the second quarterback to play in the game and was just 4-of-14 passing. This job is right there for Lambert, a redshirt sophomore, to take. But no one has been able to come out and take the Virginia starting quarterback job for seemingly quite some time now. Can he do it?
RB Trey Edmunds, Virginia Tech. There are still questions about who the Virginia Tech quarterback will be, of course. But Edmunds was expected to hang on to the starting tailback job by virtue of his experience. He sat out the spring with a broken leg, though, and in his absence, freshman Marshawn Williams impressed everyone throughout the spring. J.C. Coleman also returns, though Edmunds is still likely ahead of him. And there’s other talent at that spot. The Virginia Tech run game was pretty ineffective all of last season, and Edmunds has every-down-back kinds of skills — but can he make it work?
QB Tyler Cameron, Wake Forest. He was Tanner Price’s backup last year, and anytime he’s seen significant action, the redshirt sophomore hasn’t exactly impressed. (To be fair, his only game action last year came against Florida State’s stout defense.) And after the spring, though first-year head coach Dave Clawson is not going to name a post-spring starter, Cameron seems to have been passed by QB-turned-WR-turned-QB Kevin Sousa. Cameron’s spring game performance was underwhelming — 9-of-26 for 83 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Clawson is going to keep the job open to the incoming freshmen, but Cameron might find himself third or fourth on the depth chart if he’s not careful.