Last week, we identified some key defensive players in the ACC Coastal division to watch in the upcoming season. Today, we look at the noteworthy names in the ACC Atlantic division.
Boston College - Steele Divitto, LB
The Eagles have had some tremendous success at linebacker recently, starting with Mark Herzlich and continuing with Luke Kuechly the past two seasons, but now Kuechly is hone and head coach Frank Spaziani needs someone to step up. Kevin Pierre-Louis is the biggest name at linebacker going into 2012, but the junior Divitto is going to put up big numbers as well. Kuechly led the team with 191 tackles last season, with Pierre-Louis (74) and Divitto (72) "right" behind him. With so many tackles available that need to be made, look for Divitto to break the century mark this year.
Clemson - Corey Crawford, DE
The Tigers lost three starters on the defensive line, namely DE Andre Branch. One of the players tasked with replacing him is Crawford, who played sparingly as a freshman last season. Crawford spent a year at Hargrave as well, so he is definitely more than ready to step into a starting role physically. The Tigers lost a ton of production and are going to be under the microscope defensively in 2012, so they will need a large improvement from Crawford on his 29 tackles from last year.
Florida State - Vince Williams, LB
The 'Noles look to be loaded defensively this year, as they likely have the top defensive line and secondary in the conference, which should make the job of whoever plays linebacker in Tallahassee pretty easy. One of those guys is Williams, who is entering his senior season after recording 54 stops in 2011. Nigel Bradham and Christian Jones, both of which were in the top three for tacklers, overshadowed him last year. With Bradham graduated and Nick Moody stepping in his spot, Williams figures to at least be the second best linebacker for the 'Noles and if that is the case, he is going to have a big year.
Maryland - Kenny Tate, LB
Tate was an all-conference caliber safety two seasons ago, before Randy Edsall moved him closing to the line of scrimmage in 2011. The Terps struggled through a miserable season, and Tate wasn't nearly the impact player everyone expected him to be. New defensive coordinator Brian Stewart has made another change, implementing a 3-4 defense that will see Tate line up outside in a position where he can use his athleticism to get to the quarterback and also help cover the slot. Look for a big rebound year from Tate and the Terps, who have 10 defensive starters returning.
NC State- Rodman Noel, OLB
Noel is a sophomore who played secondary in 2011, but was moved to outside linebacker this past spring. At six foot three, 210 pounds, he still looks very much like a safety. Every single one of his snaps came on special teams last year, so he is going to have to gain some experience quickly this fall. Noel is battling with senior Rickey Dowdy for a starting role, but the Wolfpack are going to look to get Noel in the game one way or another.
Wake Forest - Nikita Whitlock, NT
Whitlock was a second team all-ACC performer last season, so perhaps you should already know his name. Whitlock had 64 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks last year and returns to anchor the defensive line for the Deacs. He's an undersized nose guard at just five foot eleven, 260 pounds and he came to Winston Salem playing linebacker, but he has definitely proven that the middle of the line of scrimmage is where he needs to be.
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