Normally in spring practice, everything is positive. Everyone is undefeated and coaches are more than happy to run through a list of players that are “competing” and “working on fundamentals” during this period of organized, yet regulated, team activities. But that’s not the real world, where injuries and depth concerns loom large along with program stability and ticket sales.
Below, we’ve got some worst-case spring practice scenarios for the ACC. Some are serious, many are not, but all of the potential topics would not be good news if they surfaced at the end of April when the final spring games are done.
|The momentum doesn’t carry over through spring: A lot of folks don’t believe in momentum, at least in terms of a boost that a team or program can use to spark more success in the future. After last year’s wild and weird year finished with a 36-30 bowl win against Maryland, Steve Addazio said the Eagles had their best winter yet and observed a noticeable vibe among the players when spring practices started. It’s not crazy to think BC will be a beast in 2017, with star defensive end Harold Landry back and a healthy offensive backfield, but they’ll need to continue this current streak into the fall to compete in the challenging ACC Atlantic.|
|Christian Wilkins stops dancing: It’s hard to think that anything is a bad scenario in the upstate after reaching college football’s mountain top in January, but while nerves are suppressed this spring in the wake of the national title, they exist. Those nerves exist with the thought of Clemson’s offense without Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams and Wayne Gallman. There’s also the issue of Ben Boulware’s absence, and what that might for the defense, but as long as Christian Wilkins is still dancing, I feel confident things are going well for C-L-E-M-S-O-[Wilkins does a split]-N.|
|A team without a face, or voice: Jimbo Fisher has an FSU roster that can compete for the national title in 2017, but one thing he’s noted in spring practice is the absence of a “dominant” personality -- “there’s just not a lot of those vocal, vocal guys on this team,” he told Seminoles.com on Monday. Dalvin Cook carried a lot of that responsibility (along with the a lot of the offensive production) last year and there’s not much time to find that leadership in the fall with Alabama in Atlanta as FSU’s season-opener.|
|New defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon isn’t confident heading into the fall: Louisville will be able to score points next season, a lot of them. Lamar Jackson isn’t going to regress, even with the target on his back in film rooms across the country this offseason, and the Cardinals offense in Year 4 with Bobby Petrino should be fully installed. Year 4 with Louisville (the first time) and Arkansas ended big-time bowl wins and a top-10 finish, but that’s not going to be the case if the Cardinals aren’t strong defensively.|
|Basically any changes from where we are now: For the first time since Dave Doeren arrived in Raleigh, things are mostly calm on the football front. The Wolfpack have one of the best offensive backfields in the ACC with Reggie Gallaspy, Dakwa Nichols and Nyheim Hines are all back, a 3,000-yard passer with Ryan Finley and play-whatever-position-you-want talent in Jaylen Samuels, last seen running by the entire Vanderbilt defense. Bradley Chubb also turned down the NFL to anchor a great defensive line and all of it has Doeren dangerously close to breaking a four-year streak of sub-.500 conference records.|
|Finding new targets for gets Amba Etta-Tawo’s touches: Quarterback Eric Dungey is back in spring practice, but one of his favorite targets is gone. Amba Etta-Tawo was one of the most prolific receivers in the country last year, pulling down 94 catches for 1,482 yards and 14 touchdowns. Dino Babers runs a wide-open offense with lots of touches to go around, but the depth behind Ervin Philips and Steve Ishmael is a big question mark going into 2017.|
|Any setback for quarterback Kendall Hinton: Dave Clawson is sticking with Hinton, the dynamic dual threat option, as his starting quarterback for 2017 but has Jon Wolford at the ready, pushing for reps and creating competition that coaches hope will contribute to improvement. Hinton suffered a knee injury in the third week of the season last year and Wolford, an off-and-on starter for the last three seasons, carried the offense into the postseason. Having both Hinton and Wolford at full strength and productive is a huge boost for an offense that is still battling to take a big step forward after ranking No. 115 or worse in yards per play for four straight seasons.|
|Thomas Sirk’s exit haunts the team: After starting 12 games last season as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 2,800 yards and 16 touchdowns, Daniel Jones is the guy at Duke. Thomas Sirk, the co-MVP of Duke’s only bowl win under David Cutcliffe, received a medical hardship from the NCAA but decided to transfer out of the program, and it left Jones as the most experienced returning starter under center in the ACC Coastal. Sirk is a dual-threat talent that might have found a spot in Duke’s offense, but even as he leaves the program on good terms with Cutcliffe and the staff, you hope there’s not a moment where you wish No. 1 was still on the sideline.|
|The media swarm suddenly wakes up to GT’s buzz: Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets are flying a little bit below the radar right now. Sure, you have to replace Justin Thomas (Matthew Jordan is the No. 1, but TaQuon Marshall, Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones will all have a chance to beat him out), and QB competitions are always good for attention, but other than that, you’re not hearing chatter of Georgia Tech’s 16 returning starters (8 offense, 8 defense) or their shot to win the ACC Coastal in 2017. Last year seemed like a “down” year because GT was out of the ACC title hunt, but this is a team that beat Georgia and Kentucky on the way to finishing 9-4. Johnson’s teams always seem to have their best finishes when no one is picking them to win the division, so maybe this lack of attention is a good thing.|
|Chad Thomas doubles down on his music career: The former high school All-American defensive end emerged as one of Miami’s best playmakers last season, but Thomas also emerged as the Hurricanes’ premiere beat-maker this spring. Thomas contributed to Rick Ross’ new album “Rather You Than Me,” receiving a producers’ credit for “Apple of My Eye” as “Major Nine.” As long as the 6-foot-6, 275-pound star who wears No. 9 can continue the impressive balance of being a potential All-ACC player and being “Major Nine,” the defense -- much improved already in 2016 -- will only get better.|
|Brandon Harris isn’t a good fit: With Mitch Trubisky gone, North Carolina reached out to the graduate transfer market to bring in some starting experience to the quarterback room in Chapel Hill. But just because former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris has starting experience doesn’t mean we should pencil him in as the starter. Larry Fedora even made Trubisky, soon to be a first round NFL Draft pick, fight for snaps for years behind Marquise Williams before getting the permanent call-up and the UNC coach has been clear that no promises were made in the recruiting process. Harris adds experience, but he needs to be a good fit for the Tar Heels to cash in on that in 2017.|
|Three OCs in three years catches up to the Pitt: Assistant coaches move all the time, it’s part of the business. Often times those changes can be overcome with the consistency of a head coach, support staff and the relationships established with teammates. But when there’s a new offensive coordinator, and a new quarterback -- like Pitt has with OC Shawn Watson replacing Matt Canada and Nathan Peterman gone -- the installation of a new system is going to take some time. That group, which does return Quadree Henderson and Jester Weah, did a great job of picking up Canada’s offense a year ago and finding success in the fall. Can they do it again?|
|Patience starts to wear thin: Bronco Mendhenhall has proven himself to be a very good football coach during his time at BYU, but not all good football coaches find success at every stop. Mendenhall and his staff have remained positive in the face of tremendous struggles last season -- a 1-7 ACC record, a loss to FCS Richmond and a 42-point blowout to rival Virginia Tech -- but enter 2017 with a pair of senior leaders on defense, linebacker Micah Kiser and defensive back Quin Blanding, ready to be the face of Bronco’s rebuild in Charlottesville.|
|Quarterback gets settled, but nothing else is: Justin Fuente is happy with the quarterback competition. But for all the lip service given to the signal callers, what happens if no one else steps elsewhere? Fuente could name his starter, but if the staff isn’t comfortable with the play from the new faces at the skill positions it’s going to be hard for that new quarterback -- be it Josh Jackson, early enrollee Hendon Hooker or junior college transfer AJ Bush -- to be successful.|