The biggest questions of the spring all seem to surround quarterbacks, a spot where stars such as Deshaun Watson, Brad Kaaya, Mitchell Trubisky and Jerod Evans have bolted early for the NFL. But the QBs shouldn’t be hogging all the spotlight. These five position battles are every bit as significant for the 2017 ACC season.
Clemson running back
Dabo Swinney says the top spots on the depth chart belong to the veterans, C.J. Fuller and Adam Choice, but the most talented back on the roster this spring is certainly Tavien Feaster. As a freshman last season, Feaster flashed some of the playmaking skill that earned him comparisons to C.J. Spiller coming out of high school, but he needed to become a more well-rounded player. If he can show significant progress in blitz pickup, pass protection and other nuances of the position, he could easily become the next offensive superstar for the Tigers.
North Carolina receiver
Austin Proehl should fit nicely in the slot, and while expecting him to replicate Ryan Switzer’s production is a lot to ask, he’s at least a known commodity. Outside of that, however, UNC has some big question marks, and finding receivers to match up on the outside with bigger corners is a concern. The best bet might be Jordan Cunningham, a one-time recruiting star who transferred from Vanderbilt in 2015 and has yet to make a real mark at UNC. But the spring could also be a chance for early enrollee J.T. Cauthen, a 6-1, 220-pound, four-star recruit to get his feet wet and earn a regular job for 2017.
Virginia Tech defensive line
The Hokies’ defense returns a lot of talent this year, and Bud Foster always plays an aggressive style. But up front, there are some questions. Ken Ekanem, Woody Baron, Nigel Williams and Seth Dooley are all gone, leaving some major holes to fill. The most noteworthy contender for a job is Tim Settle, the behemoth defensive tackle who finished with seven tackles for loss last season in a limited role as a redshirt freshman. If Settle is the safe bet, his supporting cast is a lot less - um — settled. Trevon Hill and Vinny Mihota are likely out for the spring, so Jimmie Taylor, Houshun Gaines, Ricky Walker and Settle appear to be the only holdovers likely to see work.
Miami offensive line
The good news for the Hurricanes is there appear to be plenty of options for filling out the O-line, which must replace center Alex Gall and guard Danny Isidora. The question, however, is how Miami will mix and match those options this spring to try to find a consistent five-man front. Kc McDermott and Trevor Darling are the veterans, and they’re capable of playing both tackle and guard. George Brown Jr., who transferred from LSU last season, will be in the mix at tackle, Tyler Gauthier could see work at guard or center, and freshmen Navaughn Donaldson and Zach Dykstra both enrolled early. Donaldson, in particular, is a monster at 6-5, 340, and could complete for a starting job immediately.
Florida State cornerback
OK, the more prominent question for FSU is probably on the O-line, particularly at tackle, but the more entertaining one is corner. Marquez White is gone and Tarvarus McFadden will miss the spring, which means plenty of reps to go around for an enormously talented group of young DBs. Levonta Taylor was the No. 1 corner in the country in 2016’s signing class, and while Kyle Meyers didn’t arrive nearly as highly regarded, he earned favor with the coaching staff late last season. Stanford Samuels, one of the top recruits for 2017, is an early enrollee and should be in the mix, too. Add sophomore Carlos Becker and junior Marcus Lewis to the mix, and it should be an incredibly competitive battle to replace White this spring.