The ACC has seen new developments in the past few weeks that are sure to change how we view this upcoming season. With a new coaching staff and offense, plus some of the top players returning, there is no telling what will happen this year.
The “ACC spring football recaps” is a blog that recaps the ACC’s spring football games. Read more in detail here: acc football.
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Senior Writer for ESPN
- Reporter for the ACC.
- In 2010, he joined ESPN.com.
- University of Florida graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Hale, David M.
- Reporter for the ACC.
- In 2012, he joined ESPN.
- The University of Delaware has awarded me a bachelor’s degree.
Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned and what we still need to learn for each ACC club now that spring football is over and another season is only four months away. Is Clemson’s QB situation under control? Is Mario Cristobal capable of making an immediate impact? What will Pitt do if Jordan Addison, the Biletnikoff champion, goes on? Let’s take a look at what’s going on.
Division of the Atlantic
What we learned this spring: Clemson’s quarterback troubles aren’t going away anytime soon. If supporters were anticipating that highly rated freshman Cade Klubnik would provide a viable alternative to much-maligned D.J. Uiagalelei this spring, there was little sign of it. After arriving with a slimmed-down body and a newfound concentration on football, Uiagalelei garnered a lot of acclaim from coaches. Meanwhile, Klubnik made his fair share of rookie errors. That much was maybe anticipated, but after Clemson saw early hints that Deshaun Watson or Trevor Lawrence would eventually oust a veteran ahead of them on the depth chart during their first spring practices, there’s a lot more gray space with Klubnik and plenty of doubts about Uiagalelei remain.
By Week 1, we should have figured out pretty much everything about the offense. After a season marred by offensive injuries and incompetence, Clemson’s spring football was dominated by… offensive ailments and ineptitude. There was development in a few areas, as new offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter and passing game coach Kyle Richardson discussed a trimmed-down playbook targeted at allowing playmakers to create plays at length. The problem was that during spring ball, there weren’t many playmakers on the field. There weren’t many quarterbacks to choose from, from Beaux Collins to Will Shipley to Kobe Pace and Will Taylor. While Dabo Swinney has said that he is looking for a transfer on the offensive line, the current bunch remains a work in progress. In other words, after spring, the only offensive certainty is that there is still a lot of uncertainty.
What we learned this spring: On defense, there is grounds for hope. It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from the Demon Deacons’ spring game, but the defense looked considerably better under new coach Brad Lambert. Of course, there wasn’t much tackling, and Wake Forest’s starters only got a few plays. Nonetheless, Lambert’s transition seemed to be going well, and although there are still a lot of issues, notably at linebacker, there are enough pieces in place to argue that Wake’s defense won’t be the huge problem it was in 2021. It’s a unit that may look a lot better come Week 1 if the trend line continues to go higher.
What we need to know before the end of the first week: Who is carrying the rock? Kenneth Walker III moved away a year ago, and despite the fact that he went on to thrive at Michigan State, the Demon Deacons didn’t skip a beat with a three-headed monster at tailback. Christian Beal-Smith, who led the team in running with 604 yards in 2021, made it to the gateway this year. Wake has strong alternatives in Justice Ellison and Christian Turner, but Dave Clawson has emphasized depth at the position in the hopes of preventing any one back from overworking. Perhaps more importantly, Wake averaged a yard per play more with Beal-Smith on the field last year than with each of the other two backs.
What we learnt this spring: The offense could resemble Dino Babers’ offenses a little bit more. With an up-tempo passing strategy, new offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who performed wonders with Virginia’s offense a year ago, could fit in perfectly with Babers’ history of fast-paced play. Last year, Syracuse’s ground game was heavily reliant on All-ACC running back Sean Tucker and QB Garrett Shrader’s wheels, but the Orange showed some passing game versatility this spring, with Justin Lamson making his case for the starting quarterback job with a strong spring game and a few young receivers like Damien Alford and Donovan Brown flashing real potential.
What we need to know before Week 1: Will Babers be able to get any defensive line assistance via the transfer portal? The Orange lost all three starters from last year’s squad, and the remaining players are inexperienced and tiny. The lack of depth is clear, but if Syracuse wants to improve its defense, it’ll need to enlist the aid of the portal to bring in at least one quality player up front.
What we learned this spring: Devin Leary should be considered the top quarterback in the ACC, if not the nation. Leary continues to fly under the national radar, but NC State fans were well aware of his abilities following a 2021 season in which he threw 35 touchdowns and just five interceptions. In the spring game, he showed off his arm once again, throwing for 355 yards and three touchdowns, indicating that the NC State passing offense is primed to be one of the most explosive in the conference. People outside of Raleigh will eventually notice.
What we need to know by Week 1: The ground game is in desperate need of a workhorse. NC State had minimal success rushing the ball last year, even with veterans Bam Knight and Ricky Person. Now that they’re both gone, Dave Doeren believes he has some alternatives, but the spring did nothing to help create a clear pecking order. Jordan Houston, Demie Sumo-Karngbaye, Delbert Mimms, and Michael Allen may all get carries, but with the departure of standout left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, the problem of finding someone who can move the ball on the ground might be the largest roadblock to a historic 2022 season for NC State.
What we learned in spring: In addition to Malik Cunningham, the offense features some playmakers. Too frequently in 2021, Louisville’s success hinged on Cunningham’s ability to execute his best version of Lamar Jackson. However, the depth of a promising backfield, headed by transfer Tiyon Evans, was highlighted this spring, while a healthy Braden Smith provides a much-needed threat in the passing game. Tyler Hudson, an FCS transfer from Central Arkansas, was perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise of the season, displaying the potential to be a true star.
By Week 1, we’ll know whether Louisville can go after the quarterback. The secondary took a beating last season, but the Cardinals believe they’ll be better in 2022. However, generating a little more pressure from the defensive line could be the most important factor. Despite a strong season by outside linebacker Yasir Abdullah (10 sacks, 16.5 TFL), Louisville’s pressure rate was 12th in the ACC. The Cardinals’ greatest outstanding challenge is how to generate greater explosion at the line of scrimmage, and that might be the key to their ambitions for 2022.
What we learned in spring: The Seminoles’ ground game has the potential to be spectacular. Do you want to instill optimism in Tallahassee? Begin on the ground level. The trend line was already indicating a positive trend. After two years of mediocrity under Willie Taggart (4.27 yards per carry in 2018 and 2019), FSU has averaged 5.76 yards per carry over the last two seasons, which is the second-best figure in the ACC. Mobile quarterback Jordan Travis helps, but the backfield is loaded with talent, including Tresha Ward, Lawrence Toafili, and D.J. Williams, but Trey Benson was the spring’s breakthrough star. The Oregon transfer is coming off a knee injury, but he appeared healthy in the spring game, collecting 77 yards on seven attempts.
What we need to know before Week 1: If FSU’s ground game is the foundation, the passing game is still a big unknown. In 2021, Florida State’s receivers were among the worst in the league, and although only Andrew Parchment is gone, there’s no assurance the squad can improve much in 2022. In the spring game alone, the receivers dropped four passes. Still, with four transfers aiming to make an impact, the Seminoles receivers may be in a stronger position come fall camp if they enjoy a complete summer.
What we learned this spring: The greatest worry heading into the spring at BC was the significant offensive line upheaval, which saw four starters — including Zion Johnson — go. Even though their capacity to duplicate their predecessors’ performance remains a significant question mark, the spring provided some insights on the possible successors. Christian Mahogany, a right guard, is the lone returner, alongside left tackle Jack Conley, left guard Finn Dirstine, center Drew Kendall, and right tackle Ozzy Trapilo. The team still has a lot to show, but building some chemistry among the probable starters in the spring will be a good start.
What we need to know by Week 1: Can Boston College enhance its pass rush without changing its defensive line drastically? Marcus Valdez leads an experienced front seven for the Eagles, but not all experience is good experience. Last season, BC had just 55 tackles for loss, ranking 13th in the ACC, and Valdez was the only defensive lineman with more than three sacks. On defense, the Eagles had the lowest pressure rate in the ACC and ranked 124th overall. An optimist would claim they’re due for a breakthrough, given that all four expected starters on the line have at least three years of experience in the program. If things were going to be much better, the pessimist could argue, we would have seen indicators by now.
Division of the Coast
What we learned this spring: After a dismal ACC season replete with issues across the board a year ago, new coach Mike Elko wants to instill a change of mentality in his players. That endeavor began with a changed tone at practice, where players were urged to be considerably more active and competition was open to everyone. On defense, this meant reinforcing correct tackling methods and principles, since the Blue Devils failed in both categories last season. As a consequence, the squad has been re-energized.
What we need to know before Week 1: There are significant gaps to be filled throughout the board, but the two most significant are on offense. First, the quarterback battle between dual threat Jordan Moore and Riley Leonard is still open. Then there’s the matter of who will replace Mataeo Durant, the team’s greatest offensive player. In the spring game, Jordan Moore topped all players in rushing, but expect Jaylen Coleman, Jaquez Moore, Jordan Waters, and potentially newcomers Terry Moore and Eric Weatherly to emerge from the pack.
This April, we discovered: This April, we discovered: After winning just three games in each of his first three seasons, coach Geoff Collins approaches a crucial fourth year. He’s retooled a big section of his staff, including offensive coordinator Chip Long, who is now in charge of the offense. Despite the fact that Jeff Sims is back as quarterback, the offense should be different. Sims snapped from under center in the spring, and given Long’s history, a focus on the run is anticipated. Sims has showed glimpses of promise throughout his career, but never with the consistency that the position requires. Perhaps a change in coordinator will help, as will Chris Weinke’s appointment as quarterbacks coach.
What we need to know by Week 1: Running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who transferred to Alabama, was the Yellow Jackets’ finest player. With 1,805 all-purpose yards last season, Gibbs was ranked third in the country, and it did not seem clear who would take his place in the spring. Dontae Smith and Louisville transfer Hassan Hall are both in the competition for the starting job at running back, but neither has taken command of the position. In addition, Georgia Tech will have to replace three starting offensive lineman, making the challenge of establishing the run much more difficult.
What we learned this spring: Both head coach Mario Cristobal (a former offensive lineman) and offensive line coach Alex Mirabal credited the Miami offensive line for making great progress over the spring. This has been a source of instability over the previous several seasons, but seeing progress with quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and a quality bunch of running backs is crucial. Several transfers, notably Ole Miss transfer running back Henry Parrish Jr. and USC transfer defensive end Jacob Lichtenstein, seem to be ready to contribute right away.
What we need to know before Week 1: Miami has pounded the marketplace in search of defensive line and linebacker reinforcements. Miami has also acquired four more defensive lineman to their roster, in addition to Lichtenstein. Who will start now that a number of excellent players have returned to the front line? Perhaps the most important question lies with the recipient. Charleston Rambo, the club’s top receiver in 2021, is no longer with the organization, and Miami is still looking for a wide receiver who can stretch the field. The receivers had way too many drops in the spring game. This group has a lot of promise, but it will need to demonstrate a little more in fall camp to address doubts about who will step up.
What we learned this spring: Coach Mack Brown’s first priority this spring was to go back to fundamentals, re-establish the culture that enabled the Tar Heels reach the Orange Bowl after the 2020 season. Perhaps the team’s expectations got the better of them last year, and Brown is the first to say he didn’t do a good job of holding his players responsible during the season. Only part of that rigorous review was bringing in Gene Chizik to coach the defense, and after 15 sessions, it looks the defensive front might emerge as a strength.
By Week 1, we’ll have figured out who the quarterback is. It will be difficult to replace Sam Howell, who was such an important component of the offense a year ago. Phil Longo, the offensive coordinator, must choose between Drake Maye and Jacolby Criswell, and the battle will continue until fall camp. Improving the offensive line, which struggled last season, goes hand in hand with that. The major benefit Jack Bicknell has over Stacy Searles is his experience with both Longo and the offensive strategy he prefers to use. Getting these two groups to work together is certainly crucial heading into the season.
What we discovered this spring: Unfortunately for Pitt, we found out after spring practice had concluded, when Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison started pondering a move away from the Panthers, with USC the most probable destination. The Panthers have already had to replace quarterback Kenny Pickett, so the news that Addison might contemplate leaving the organization where he became a star is a major blow. With him, the receiving corps seems to be deep and skilled, owing to the signing of Akron’s Konata Mumpfield, a Freshman All-American. But it’s all up in the air right now. In terms of the defense, following excellent springs from Solomon DeShields and Bangally Kamara, as well as the signing of Notre Dame transfer Shayne Simon, some important issues at linebacker seem to be resolved.
What we need to know before Week 1: If Addison is truly cut, the Panthers would have to replace their top two players from last season, jeopardizing their prospects of repeating as Coastal champions. Coach Pat Narduzzi wanted to watch how USC transfer Kedon Slovis and Nick Patti competed throughout the summer and into fall camp, but Pitt departed spring without a starting quarterback announcement. Given his past starting experience, Slovis is supposed to have the advantage, although Patti seemed somewhat crisper in the spring game. Another thing to remember is that new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. will be in charge, and he will adopt a more run-first strategy. That might have influenced Addison’s choice.
What we learned this spring: The Cavaliers have a great set of receivers in return quarterback Brennan Armstrong and Dontayvion Wicks, Keytaon Thompson, Billy Kemp IV, and Lavel Davis Jr. (working his way back from a knee injury). To that end, the new coaching staff wants to relieve Armstrong of the rushing burden and place a greater emphasis on the running backs in terms of carries and yards. At this stage, it may be easier said than done. After the spring, there was no clear-cut starter at running back due to injuries, and the offensive line is still a work in progress. If the line does not come together, Armstrong may wind up scrambling more than anybody wants.
What we need to learn by Week 1: The offensive line remains a huge question mark. Virginia has to replace all its starters and was down to eight scholarship players for the spring game. But the truth is, offense was not the problem last year in Charlottesville. The defense could not stop anyone, and that is the area that ultimately must make the most improvement for Virginia to challenge in the Division of the Coast. There were glimpses in the spring — including better tackling — and new coach Tony Elliott made sure to note the improvement by his defensive linemen.
This April, we discovered: This spring, first-year coach Brent Pry performed a lot of scouting to see what positions would best suit his players. Connor Blumrick, a converted quarterback who Pry characterized as one of the team’s 22 finest players, is one of the most prominent. Blumrick is classified on the roster as a ‘athlete,’ and during the spring, he tried out at receiver, tight end, and a little H-back. Gunner Givens, Lakeem Rudolph, Jorden McDonald, and Keonta Jenkins were all moved about on defense by Pry.
What we need to know before Week 1: The most important is who will start as quarterback, where two transfers, Grant Wells (Marshall) and Jason Brown, are vying for the position (South Carolina). Even though Pry has been tight-lipped about who would start, Wells seems to have a small advantage based on the spring game. The Hokies have battled at this position in recent seasons, so getting it right in Year 1 may help set the tone for the rest of the season.
The “usc football” is a program that recaps the ACC spring football games. The team will also provide coverage of other college sports as well.
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