On Tuesday, we went around the ACC and looked at the spring practice sessions of everyone in the Atlantic Division. Today, we move across the line and take a look at the Coastal Division.
Mike London enters his third year with a big mission, to prove he is indeed moving n the right direction. For the first few years he has been working with former head coach Al Groh's players, but right now there are quite a few players that London has recruited personally that are ready to go. One of those is quarterback Mike Rocco, who is trying to take the next step from solid game manager to talented playmaker during his third year on campus. The 'Hoos are also looking for someone to step up at wide receiver, most likely junior Tim Smith, and at cornerback, most likely Drequan Hoskey or Brandon Phelps, as both are competing for the job. The 'Hoos are going to be young defensively, especially at safety where they must replace departed starters Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley. Sophomore Ant Harris, who played sparingly last season, is poised to take over one of those spots this spring.
The Blue Devils started spring practice way back on February 22nd and held their annual spring game on March 31st. Head coach David Cutcliffe was missing four starters on both sides of the ball, but that allowed a number of young players to get extra time. With star wideout Conner Vernon out with an injury, sophomore Blair Holliday emerged as a playmaker at receiver. Sean Renfree will return as the starting quarterback in Durham, but Cutcliffe again plans to use two quarterbacks, with the running oriented Brandon Connette likely being the other one. A name to remember for the future is freshman quarterback Thomas Sirk. Sirk, who enrolled in January, seems to be the heir apparent for Renfree and completed 11-of-13 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns during the spring game.
The Yellow Jackets were dealt a tough blow when their spring session commenced, as it was announced that talented linebacker Julian Burnett will likely miss the 2012 season with an undisclosed injury. It is suspected the injury occurred on a tackle during Georgia Tech's bowl game, but it has not been specified exactly what the issue is. Tevin Washington returns as the quarterback for head coach Paul Johnson, which is always a plus, especially in Georgia Tech's complicated offensive system. The big story has to be on defense though, where defensive coordinator Al Groh is going to have to find a way to replace Burnett while continuing to move the defense forward. Rod Sweeting and Louis Young return to give Groh two talented cover corners, but there will be two new starts on the defensive line and two new starters at linebacker, which could pose an issue.
Larry Fedora is in his first spring as the headman in Chapel Hill and the big thing going on this spring for the Tar Heels is the movement from a 4-3 defense to a new 4-2-5 scheme under defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. Koenning has previously served as the defensive coordinator at Clemson, Kansas State, and Illinois. Koenning is looking for someone to fill the "bandit" position, a hybrid position between a defensive end and a linebacker. Koenning's biggest success at that position was DeMarcus Ware way back when he was at Troy. Right now, senior Dion Guy and junior Curtis Campbell are working at the position, which is interesting since Campbell went to North Carolina as a defensive back and has worked closer and closer to the line of scrimmage ever since arriving. Another storyline to watch is the development of quarterback Byrn Renner. Renner played fairly well last year in his first year as a starter, throwing 26 touchdowns on the year. The Heels have a ton of talent returning offensively, namely running back Giovanni Bernard and wide receiver Jheranie Boyd, so if Renner can take the next step in his development then good things are sure to happen.
Al Golden returns just four starters on offense from last year, which means this spring is about a complete retooling on that side of the ball. The most pressing issue right now is under center for the 'Canes, as expected starter Stephen Morris is out till the fall with an injury. In his absence, Ryan Williams, a transfer from Memphis, has stepped up and really made it a competition heading into the fall. With guys like Travis Benjamin and Tommy Streeter having departed out wide, the 'Canes also need guys to step up at receiver. Rashawn Scott, a sophomore who missed most of last year with a shoulder injury, is one of the players. He caught five passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns in a recent scrimmage and Golden has identified him as one of the stars of the spring for the 'Canes. On defense, the 'Canes must replace longtime stalwart Sean Spence at linebacker, but other than that they should be pretty good in 2012. Anthony Chickillo returns at defensive end and is looking to break out this spring and the unit is loaded at safety, where Ray Ray Armstrong, A.J. Highsmith, and Vaughn Telemaque all return.
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