We’ve looked at each team individually heading into spring practices, but now that more than half the conference has actually started practicing, let’s take a broader view of the questions facing the ACC as an entire conference this spring:
1. How quickly will the returning injured stars shake off the rust? Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans, NC State linebacker Nate Irving, and Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich all missed the 2009 season and are hoping to make impacts this fall. Evans’ progress will help determine the redshirt status of David Wilson in addition to how the carries are shared with Ryan Williams. Regardless of how much he is able to contribute on the field, Irving’s mere presence has been a boost to a struggling defense in need of one. And Herzlich’s return, coupled with the maturation of teammate Luke Kuechly, could give the Eagles one of the best linebacking corps in the country.
2. Which quarterbacks will emerge this spring? With starters Jacory Harris, Josh Nesbitt, Sean Renfree and Russell Wilson not participating in spring ball, the door has opened for their backups. (Unless you’re at Florida State, where backup quarterback E.J. Manuel will miss his second straight spring session with an injury.) There are quarterback competitions from Chestnut Hill to Coral Gables this spring, and whether or not Wilson and Clemson’s Kyle Parker choose baseball careers could shake up the conference race.
3. How quickly can the defenses rebuild? The ACC has earned a reputation as a defensive conference, but several programs will be under new leadership this spring. At Georgia Tech, the defense is switching to a 3-4 under Al Groh. Virginia is switching back to a 4-3 now that Groh is gone. Marion Hobby will now call the plays for Duke and at Florida State, new coordinator Mark Stoops is tasked with turning around one of the nation’s worst defenses in ‘09. At NC State, former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta has taken over the linebackers and all four defensive linemen will be new starters. Virginia Tech will be missing seven starters this spring and the best defensive player in the conference -- former Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan -- is simply irreplaceable.