In my opinion it’s never too soon to talk college football. Apparently, the football coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference agree.
Wednesday morning, the ACC held it’s Spring Football Media Teleconference. Fourteen of the league’s coaches took time to break down their teams at the conclusion of spring football practice.
The three triangle ACC schools – Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina – all expect to return to a bowl game next season. Expectations are at an all-time high for each of the three programs, which should make for an exciting fall on the gridiron. Here are the highlights of the teleconference for the local schools.
North Carolina Tar Heels
2014 record: 6-7, 4-4 in ACC
Head Coach: Larry Fedora
Returning starters: 17
2015 season opener: Sept 3 vs. South Carolina (In Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium)
The Tar Heels wrapped up spring practice with an open scrimmage on April 11 in Charlotte. Kenan Stadium, UNC’s home turf, is having some work done, so Fedora took his troops on the road. What better place to put the Heels on display than Charlotte, one city Fedora has own in recruiting battles since he arrived in Chapel Hill. Charlotte is the hometown of returning quarterback Marquise Williams, who had plenty of time to rest this spring. After leading UNC in rushing and passing in 2014, Quise sat out spring drills after undergoing surgery on his hip in January. Fedora said Williams is ahead of schedule when it comes to his recovery.
“I’d say things are going very well. He’s got to stick to the plan, but we anticipate him being back to full speed in just a few weeks.”
Without Williams, redshirt sophomore Mitch Trubisky ran with the first team offense this spring. Trubisky was no stranger to running with the starters. He appeared in nine games last season, throwing for 394 yards and four touchdowns.
“Mitch got a lot of reps … a lot of meaningful reps. I thought it was beneficial. We made the most of it. I would have loved for Quise to be there so he could have gotten a bunch of reps, but he has the most reps of anyone on the offense, so if it had to happen to anybody, I think it was good for him.”
Fedora made it clear Williams will be the starter when camp rolls around this summer, unlike last August when Williams and Trubisky battled for the top spot and Fedora kept it a secret until the season opener. On the conference call the fourth year coach said Williams will be the starter versus South Carolina on September 3rd.
A big talking point for UNC this spring was the hiring of former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik as the defensive coordinator. Chizik brings two national title rings to Chapel Hill, as well as a new found attitude on that side of the ball according to Fedora.
“Gene is going to have a tremendous impact on our defense. He’s running a completely new scheme. He’s installing his style of coaching, his style of the way he wants those guys to play. I’m just excited to see the end result once the season gets here.”
To put it bluntly, the kicking situation was horrible for UNC a year ago. Naturally, Fedora was asked to assess the place kicking duties after spring practice.
“I thought both of them progress. We got three guys competing for that job. Nick Weiler will be our kickoff guy next year. But I thought they all made progress and I thought they were all better than they were during the season. I anticipate us getting much more out of that position.”
Duke Blue Devils
2014 record: 9-4, 5-3 in ACC
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe
Returning starters: 15
2015 season opener: Sept. 3 at Tulane
David Cutcliffe continues his miracle in Durham. Once a laughing stock of the ACC, the Duke Blue Devils are a respectable program, and a legitimate threat in the Coastal Division. Duke won nine games a year ago, and was in the hunt for a return trip to the ACC title game for most of the season. Cutcliffe has Duke winning, and winning consistently. With 15 starters returning from a nine-win team, the Blue Devils have an experienced defense (even after losing three starters up front), but must replace the winningest quarterback in school history and one the top pass catchers to wear Duke Blue. Duke wrapped up its spring game on February 28th, way earlier than the other schools in the ACC. The Blue Devils went to work right after National Signing Day on Feb. 4.
“Replacing Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder, that’s our focus. But, we like their work ethic and we just have to go see what we can do on the field at this point. Our guys are working hard in the off season and that’s what we like to see.”
Duke returns its entire secondary in 2015, including safety Jeremey Cash, who flirted with entering the NFL draft, and Cutcliffe singled out that group when asked who some of his leaders were this spring.
“Those guys have great energy and tempo. Then flip quickly over to the offensive side, Matt Skura, our fine center, Lucas Patrick, a starting guard, that are both seniors and really do a tremendous job. Shaquille Powell, our starting running back, is a good a leader that I’ve been around, and Max McCaffrey, our wide receiver. I thought our habits, our work habits all spring were outstanding. Those guys really set a tempo.”
Cutcliffe has had a few months to break down the film from spring practice and many want to know what he thought of his defensive line, having to replace three starters up front.
“I was really pleased with our starters. A.J. Wolf solidified himself, starting alongside Carlos Wray. He has just become more and more powerful. He’s ready. Then Kyler Brown is comfortable at defensive end. Just a lot of positives and the more we study it, the more we like what we are seeing.”
Naturally, when a team loses a starting quarterback who was as successful as Boone, people want to know who is the next guy in line. Thomas Sirk has the most experience. He only passed for 67 yards and three TDs last season, but running was more of his style. Sirk rushed for 238 and 8 TDs in 12 games in 2014.
“Right now Thomas Sirk is our number one. Parker Boehme is our number two, and Parker had a great spring. I just gained more and more confidence in both of them. I trust both of them in every aspect of who they are. They are talented, they throw it well. Then you throw Nico Pierre in there as the number three, as a threesome they are the best running quarterbacks we ever had, but they can throw it as well. I thought Thomas Sirk had a great spring throwing the football. It’s going to be an interesting continuous battle, but we like to play multiple quarterbacks and these guys are going to allow us to do that.”
North Carolina State Wolfpack
2014 record: 8-5, 3-5 in ACC
Head Coach: Dave Doeren
Returning starters: 14
2015 season opener: Sept. 5 vs. Troy
The Wolfpack wrapped up spring drills on April 11 with the Kay Yow Spring Game at Carter-Finley Stadium. The NCSU defense, which returns 8 starters, were the dominate force in the scrimmage, but the star of the day was an offensive player. Freshman running back Reggie Gallaspy, an early enrollee, stole the day, rushing for more than 120 yards in the scrimmage. That only adds to the excitement surrounding the Wolfpack program after winning four of their last five games in 2014. The return of quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a stable of running backs, and veterans up front, only add to the optimism coming out of Raleigh this spring from Doeren.
“We entered the offseason with a lot of good energy, good confidence. It was fun to be the head coach here this spring. There was a lot of competition at various positions.”
Like UNC, there is no doubt who the starting QB will be for NCSU on Sept. 5. However, redshirt freshman Jalan McClendon emerged from the spring as a solid No. 2 behind Brissett. Doeren is impressed by the strong arm of the Charlotte native, who made some big throws in the scrimmage against the first-team defense.
“Jalan is going through the learning curve we saw Jacoby go through a couple of springs ago. He’s got tremendous leadership skills, very competitive, very coachable. It was fun watching him through the spring. I’m excited to have a guy as Jalan behind Jacoby. You can look at Ohio State and see how important your next quarterback is. We are excited about the quality of both of our guys.”
Gallaspy made a name for himself this spring, but the early enrollee who played with the first-team unit was defensive end Darian Roseboro, who has made the smooth transition from high school to college.
“I’m glad he was able to come in early. He had two great plays in the spring game, so I’m excited for Darian. Now it’s just a matter of getting in shape so he can play the way he wants to play every snap. The conditioning factor is completely different from the high school level.”
The NCSU defense returns eight starters, but many starters sat out the spring with injuries. They are expected to make a full recovery in time for fall camp, and Doeren knows that unit should build off the success of the 2014 season, especially with the added depth across the board.
“A lot of guys are back, so the chemistry, the ability to communicate with each other and know where each other’s going to be. You just see how well they function as a unit together now. The guys are excited about what they’re doing and they understand what’s happening.”
Doeren was very excited about the defensive line, which must replace Art Norman and Thomas Teal, but will return several young players who saw snaps a year ago.
“Mike Rose is back, so is B.J. Hill who played in every game as a true freshman last year. We moved Kentavius Street to defensive tackle and he had a really good spring. Bradley Chubb was probably one of the best surprises of the spring on the defensive line. Then we have a number of players who played last year who are coming back in the fall from injuries. We feel good about the depth, and we recruited well on that side of the ball, so we are excited to get those four bodies in here.”