Bill Hass on the ACC: 2010 Spring Football Review

April 24, 2010

By Bill Hass

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Perhaps the best news coming out of the ACC’s spring football practices is that two of its top defensive players, Mark Herzlich of Boston College and Nate Irving of NC State, could be back on the field this fall.

Herzlich, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, missed last season while undergoing treatment for Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that typically strikes young men. Irving missed the season while recovering from serious injuries sustained in a car accident.

During a coaches’ teleconference about spring football earlier this week, Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said Herzlich participated in some drills but was held out of contact. The linebacker had a titanium rod inserted in one leg and it remains to be seen if he can play with it.

“We let Mark do what he could do,” Spaziani said. “He’s certainly nowhere near ready to play, but it’s remarkable to see him where he’s at right now. I’m hoping that it works out for him but it remains to be seen; there are too many variables.

“Once he’s physically ready and he feels like he’s 100 percent and he can do everything, then psychologically has to be able to adjust or overcome. He looks great, he walks in the room and you wouldn’t think he had skipped a beat.”

Herzlich’s outside linebacker spot was taken over by Luke Kuechly, who had an outstanding freshman season. Kuechly was moved to the middle for spring practice. Spaziani isn’t concerned about where Herzlich will play if he can return.

“If he’s ready to go, there’s a spot for him, trust me,” Spaziani said.

Irving was cleared for practice just three weeks before it began. NC State Coach Tom O’Brien said his linebacker participated in about half the practices and played half the spring game. O’Brien compared the situation to running back Toney Baker, who returned in 2009 after missing two seasons with knee injuries.

“Nate is much more advanced physically at this point than Toney Baker was in spring practice,” O’Brien said. “Hopefully he can get back to where he was before his accident … and maybe even make some strides in the strength and conditioning areas. I think he’ll be fine.”

Also at NC State, quarterback Russell Wilson missed spring practice to play baseball. Wilson is eligible for the baseball draft in June, but O’Brien said “he intends to come back and play this year.”

At Clemson, the quarterback situation isn’t as clear-cut. Kyle Parker practiced nine of the 15 days allotted, playing baseball the other six practices. Parker, who plays outfield and first base, is hitting .372 with 15 homers and 40 RBIs. Considered an excellent baseball prospect, he could be a high draft pick in June.

Football coach Dabo Swinney said Parker will have to consider who picks him, where he is selected and whether the money he is offered will be “life-changing.”

“Is it going to be enough … to get him to consider walking away from all that he has – he’s the starting quarterback at Clemson, he’s got another year of baseball, he’s walking away from school,” Swinney said. “I would think there’s going to be a value on him as a baseball player, but there’s also got to be a value on him as far as what he’s walking away from.

“We just don’t really know for sure until June when the draft comes and we’ll just have to react at that time. I really anticipate him being under the center for the Tigers. We’ll adapt or adjust whichever way. I just know that with him we’re a much better team, in particular early in the season, than we will be without him.”

Here are some quick hits from the other teams around the league.

DUKE: The Blue Devils lose four-year starter Thaddeus Lewis at quarterback, but coach David Cutcliffe is encouraged by a group of four players there. He said the starter will be sophomore Sean Renfree, who is coming back from a torn ACL but participated in all 7-on-7 drills and was throwing the ball well. The backup candidates are freshmen Sean Schroeder, a redshirt last season, Brandon Connette, who enrolled in January, and Anthony Boone, who will join the team in the fall.

“I like our athleticism at quarterback,” Cutcliffe said. “These are maybe four guys who are as talented as I’ve been around at any one time in a program. They’re just young.”

FLORIDA STATE: Long-time head-coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher takes over for the legendary Bobby Bowden. He said the Seminole defense “started getting the little details” in the second half of practice and made considerable progress.

“The spring went very well,” Fisher said. “I really like our attitude and our work ethic. The kids really bought into the little changes and nuances that we’re doing. We’re not where we want to be but we’re where I thought we’d be going into the summer.”

On offense, Fisher said, quarterback Christian Ponder, sidelined late last season by a shoulder injury, helped the development of the skill position players.

GEORGIA TECH: Two of the key members of last year’s team, defensive end Derrick Morgan and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, were taken in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night. Some other key losses were running back Jonathan Dwyer and safety Morgan Burnett.

“I think we’ve got some other good players,” said coach Paul Johnson. “We’ve got 15 starters back from our team that won the league. We’re not ready to throw in the towel; we’re still going to show up. Those guys were good players and somebody else will have an opportunity.”

The Jackets seem particularly deep at running back. Anthony Allen moves over to take the B-back position Dwyer played so well and Richard Watson shows potential. To replace Thomas, who caught most of the team’s passes, the Yellow Jackets will look at Stephen Hill, Tyler Melton and Quintin Sims.

MARYLAND: Coach Ralph Friedgen is encouraged by the progress of the offensive line, crippled by injuries last year. Friedgen said Paul Pinegar has moved to center, where he has been “better than I expected.” Also nailing down spots were left tackle Justin Gilbert, left guard Andrew Gunnella and right tackle R.J. Dill. Right guard is the area of concern.

The Terps lost veteran quarterback Chris Turner, but Friedgen said three candidates have emerged. The leader is Jamar Robinson, who “had an excellent spring, has really matured and is playing at a very high level.” He will be pushed in the fall by redshirt freshmen Danny Obrien and C.J. Brown.

MIAMI: Coach Randy Shannon said this spring practice was “the best we’ve had” in the four years he has been the head coach. The reason was the Hurricanes had enough players to compete for positions and get physical in practice.

Quarterback Jacory Harris sat out while recovering from hand surgery, but Shannon expects him to be ready for fall camp. Shannon saw good things at quarterback from A.J. Highsmith, Spencer Whipple and Stephen Morris.

One area of concern is tight end, where there were only two on hand this spring. They will be joined in fall camp by four players from junior college and high school.

“That’s going to be a position where somebody is really going to have to grow fast and develop,” Shannon said.

NORTH CAROLINA: Although several offensive linemen missed practice while healing from injuries, coach Butch Davis said there was competition at other positions. One goal of the spring was to build depth on defense. It was an excellent unit overall, with standouts like linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter, cornerback Kendric Burney, safety Deunta Williams and end Robert Quinn. But many of them were on the field too much.

“We looked at the number of snaps a lot of our guys played, “ Davis said, “and about the only position we were able to rotate and keep people fresh was the defensive line, where we played seven to nine every game. At linebacker and in the secondary, we taxed those guys. They played 50 to 65 snaps in a ball game. That was a big emphasis.”

VIRGINIA: New coach Mike London said his players became acclimated to the systems, schemes and wrinkles of his staff.

“We’re a work in progress,” he said. “I’m pleased with the way we ended up spring practice.”

Marc Verica earned the No. 1 spot at quarterback, but redshirt freshman Ross Metheny and true freshman Michael Strauss will push him in the fall, when “every position is still up to be re-evaluated.”

Among the offensive players who caught London’s eye were running back Perry Jones and wide receiver Tim Smith.

VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies have what opponents would consider an embarrassment of riches at running back. All-ACC runner Ryan Williams gained 1,655 yards last season and coming back from knee surgery is Darren Evans, the 2008 ACC Rookie of the Year. That’s not to mention two other runners coach Frank Beamer likes, sophomore David Wilson and redshirt freshman Tony Gregory.

Evans, Beamer said, participated in all spring drills and looks better than ever physically.

“We’re blessed to have some good players at the tailback position,” Beamer said. “We’re going to let them decide who’s going to play and how much. Certainly we will try to get a couple of them in the game at the same time. Two tailbacks in game will be part of our offense.”

WAKE FOREST: Riley Skinner guided the Deacons to the best four-year period of their football history, including three straight bowls. But now he’s gone and the Deacons are still sorting out his replacement.

Asked how Wake will get the ball to a talented corps of receivers, coach Jim Grobe laughed and said , “we might have to hand it to them, go back to the old days where everything was an orbit sweep, or pitching them the football.”

The Deacons will likely return to being more of a running team. Skylar Jones, the No. 1 quarterback coming out of the spring, is fast and mobile. Ted Stachitas also runs well. Brendan Cross is the best passer among the quarterbacks.

“We’ll find a guy who can get the ball out there,” Grobe said. “It just won’t be as many times as we did with Riley.”  

Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

E-mail Bill Hass

This article can not be copied or reproduced without the express written consent of the Atlantic Coast Conference.