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April 27, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Who’s the starting quarterback?
That’s the first thing most football fans want to know about their team. That position commands the spotlight and, fairly or not, is the one that most reflects the success or failure of a season.
ACC fans will have to get used to a bundle of new quarterbacks this fall. Gone are such familiar names as Tyrod Taylor, Christian Ponder, TJ Yates, Kyle Parker, Joshua Nesbitt and Marc Verica.
Russell Wilson has another year of eligibility at NC State, but since he’s playing baseball in the farm system of the Colorado Rockies, the Wolfpack is moving on without him in their plans.
Five incumbents return – Sean Renfree at Duke, Danny O’Brien at Maryland, Tanner Price at Wake Forest, Chase Rettig at Boston College and Jacory Harris at Miami. And Harris is by no means assured of keeping his starting job.
Heir apparents have been chosen at four schools – Logan Thomas for Taylor at Virginia Tech, Bryn Renner for Yates at North Carolina, Mike Glennon for Wilson at NC State and Tajh Boyd for Parker at Clemson.
Two teams will have new starters with experience – EJ Manuel at Florida State and Tevin Washington at Georgia Tech.
That leaves Virginia, which has a wide-open competition that hasn’t been settled.
Eleven teams have wrapped up spring practice and Maryland will do so with its spring game this Saturday. Following is a breakdown of each team’s quarterback situation through the spring and heading into fall practice in August.
BOSTON COLLEGE: Chase Rettig started the last eight games in 2010 for the Eagles and returns for his sophomore season.
“The spring helped,” said coach Frank Spaziani. “He got better, and it looks like we’ve got to get some depth over there and we’ll move forward. But we still have a long way to go there.”
The Eagles have a new offensive coordinator, Kevin Rogers, and were able to implement his system during the spring. Spaziani said the changes won’t be radical.
“There aren’t many new plays in football,” he said. “We’re not going to the spread or we’re not going to the wishbone. Though I’ve been tinkering with the Canadian (Football League) philosophy of putting a 12th man out there. Other than that, we’ll be all right.”
CLEMSON: The Tigers will also unveil a new offense. New coordinator Chad Morris is installing a no-huddle system to take advantage of Boyd’s skills.
“I felt that we’d be able to be a little unique within this conference and play at a fast tempo, spread the field make people have to defend the patch of grass that’s out there,” said coach Dabo Swinney.
“The main thing is Tajh Boyd is a dynamic young player who can really do some things throwing the football, but also running the football. I wanted to involve every ounce of his skill set, and I think this system will do that.”
Boyd will be a sophomore this season.
DUKE: The Blue Devils will have one of the most prolific passers in the league in Sean Renfree, a redshirt junior who threw for 3,131 yards and 14 touchdowns last season as a sophomore. Coach David Cutcliffe said Renfree had a great spring.
“He was really, really special,” Cutcliffe said. “You could tell the top of his level is way up, his skill level is up, and his knee is well. (He is) very confident now.”
Backups Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone also played well in the spring. Connette ran for 321 yards and eight TDs as a freshman and will definitely play. Boone is a redshirt freshman who may also work into the mix. Cutcliffe wants them to challenge Renfree, which will make Duke a better team.
And there may be a surprise or two with Connette and Boone.
“We’re tinkering with a few things that I think are going to be fun,” Cutcliffe said. “There is no question you’re going to see them some.”
FLORIDA STATE: EJ Manuel started six games over the last two years, producing a 4-2 record, when Ponder was injured. The transition to full-time starter should be seamless. Manuel has run for 366 yards and three scores and passed for 1,678 yards and six TDs.
“I thought he had an exceptional spring,” said coach Jimbo Fisher. “He is accurate, runs well, has great command. He’s a natural leader, very tough. Our guys respond to him well. I would be shocked if he didn’t have a very successful season. We have to continue to get healthy around him and be consistent. He’ll do what he has to do,
Fisher said he wasn’t concerned about whatever pressure Manuel might feel.
“I don’t think it’s pressure that he can’t handle,” Fisher said. “I say he can revert back to that ‘I have done this before and been very successful’ (mindset). So I expect him to handle it well. But I do expect that he’ll challenge himself. He’s harder on himself than I ever am, that’s for sure.”
GEORGIA TECH: When Nesbitt injured his knee in the ninth game last season, Tevin Washington finished it and started the last four in the Yellow Jackets’ option offense. Coach Paul Johnson said Washington has a “significant edge” over Synjyn Davis in the competition.
“(Washington has) been here now going into his third year,” Johnson said. “He’s had a lot of reps and a lot of turns, started the last (four) games a year ago. So the experience factor is definitely in his advantage.”
Washington showed improvement during spring practice.
“He’s done a much better job this spring with ball security,” Johnson said. “Just valuing the ball and making better decisions than you would hope a guy would do that’s played some now. But the more he plays, the more comfortable he gets, the more he understands how the offense works and what he’s trying to accomplish.”
MARYLAND: O’Brien should fit right into the system of new coach Randy Edsall. The sophomore started 10 games last season, producing 2,438 yards and 22 TDs.
“I like everything I’ve seen about Danny,” Edsall said. “He’s a great kid. He’s a talented young man. He’s a student of the game. He’s a worker, he’s a leader. He has all of the things that I’m looking for in a quarterback.”
O’Brien got off to a slow start in the spring, as often happens with a new system and new terminology. But he adapted.
“You can just see him getting very comfortable with what we’re doing,” Edsall said. “He’s really starting to play very, very well, which I knew would happen based on being around him and talking to him and how good he wants to be. He wants to know it all. He’s a sponge. I couldn’t be any happier with how he’s progressing.”
MIAMI: This is one of the two schools where the starting quarterback wasn’t decided in the spring. Senior Jacory Harris, who has 50 career TD passes, is being pushed hard by sophomore Stephen Morris.
New coach Al Golden said he was pleased with the decision-making of both quarterbacks in the spring.
“I’m really not leaning (to one or the other),” Golden said. “I thought both of them did a good job. We had over 300 scrimmage reps, and I think we only totaled five or six interceptions. They both showed a better command of the huddle, better leadership. They both made plays down the field in terms of explosive plays.
“So I think this is going to go right up until the middle of August in terms of who we’re going to select at that time and then build our offense around them. But clearly the competition has a long way to go.”
NORTH CAROLINA: Coach Butch Davis said the transition from a four-year starting quarterback to a new one is “uncharted territory.” But he likes what he saw of Bryn Renner, who will be a sophomore.
“He’s talented, he’s got skills, but it’s a learning experience every day,” Davis said. “I love his attitude. I love his hunger to work hard and to get better, and we think that he’s definitely moving in the right direction.”
Davis said he was impressed by Renner’s desire to learn and get better by studying film of Yates and his own practices last year.
“He’s passionate, he loves to work, he wants to be good,” Davis said. “He’s got that certain air of charisma that when he steps in the huddle I think the rest of the team believes that he’s going to find a way to make that play work. We’re optimistic that he’s going to find a way to make that play work.”
NC STATE: If Wilson, who passed for 28 TDs and ran for nine more in 2010, chooses to return for his senior season, coach Tom O’Brien said he’ll be the backup.
“We’ve made our decision,” O’Brien said. “We’re going forward with Michael Glennon as our quarterback, and we look forward to what Mike can do. It’s just a matter of him getting to play.”
Since Wilson has chosen a baseball career, O’Brien said, the team is moving on.
“That was the decision we made a long time ago,” he said. “We can’t be beholden to outside interests of who’s going to run our football program.”
Glennon has plenty of experience running the team in the spring while Wilson was playing baseball for the Wolfpack.
“You know, this is the third (year) that he’s been the quarterback, the No. 1 guy in the spring,” O’Brien said. “So I think he’s ready to take control of this offense. He’s as talented as any quarterback that I’ve had. All those guys (I had) at Boston College, he’s got as much or more talent than all of them.
“He has a tremendous arm. He can make every throw that has to be made on the football field. He has good leadership, he has a great understanding of the game, and he’s a very mature individual.”
VIRGINIA: There are four QB candidates for the Cavaliers and they haven’t sorted themselves out. Ross Metheny and Michael Rocco are sophomores who have seen some game action. Michael Strauss is a redshirt freshman and David Watford a true freshman who enrolled in January.
“All of them have something that they’re very talented at doing,” said coach Mike London. “They just need to separate themselves and do it on a consistent basis and distribute the ball to what I think will be some pretty good skill players.”
London said Metheny has the most experience and good understanding of decision-making. Rocco, coached in high school by his father, also makes good decisions. Strauss has “a cannon of an arm” but sometimes will throw deep into coverage. Watford is poised but just learning to be more vocal.
“So each of them has something that they bring to the table,” London said, “but they’re going to have to get better at what the other (people have) over them in order to separate themselves.”
VIRGINIA TECH: Taylor, the ACC Player of the Year and MVP in the championship game victory over Florida State, led the Hokies to more wins in his career than any other quarterback.
“But I’ll tell you, Logan (Thomas) has a lot of the same qualities,” said coach Frank Beamer. “He’s a good person, a good leader, just exactly the right temperament, I think, to be a quarterback, very smart like Tyrod was.”
Beamer said the rising sophomore did everything the staff wanted in the spring, throwing the ball well, being calm in the pocket and keeping plays alive at times. At 6-4, his height helps Thomas to see the field well, a particular advantage on screen passes and delays.
Mark Leal and Ju-Ju Clayton are backups that Beamer would like to see challenge Thomas to make him better.
WAKE FOREST: Tanner Price was thrown into the fire in 2010 and had a typical season for a true freshman, filled with ups and downs. Coach Jim Grobe said the best thing for him was to go through spring practice this year.
“You know, last year we threw him in the mix without a lot of preparation,” Grobe said, “and so I think this has been a great spring for him. He’s obviously improved physically, but I think by the end of spring practice he was starting to really feel comfortable with all the decisions that he needed to make and just seemed more like a veteran quarterback rather than a wide-eyed rookie.”
Ted Stachitis, who runs the option well, earned the backup job and will definitely see playing time, Grobe said.
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 theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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