Spring is over and the NFL draft has come and gone, which seems like a good time to check in on how ACC teams are planning to replace their most irreplaceable parts. Yesterday we previewed the Atlantic Division. Next up, the Coastal Division.
Biggest loss: LB David Helton
Replacement plan: Duke has some major changes on the offensive side of the ball, too, but it’s the loss of Helton and his 267 tackles over the past two seasons that creates the biggest void. The best answer on D for Duke is a healthy Kelby Brown. He missed all of last year (and this spring) with a knee injury, but his rehab has gone well according to defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who thinks Brown could work in a hybrid role this season similar to how Arizona used Scooby Wright -- the only defensive player to earn Heisman votes -- in 2014.
Biggest loss: WR DeAndre Smelter
Replacement plan: There’s a lot of turnover at key positions on offense for Georgia Tech, but perhaps the toughest thing to replace will be size at receiver. Both Smelter and Darren Waller were drafted, and while Micheal Summers can create some separation with his speed, it’s the emergence of 6-foot-3 sophomore Ricky Jeune this spring that likely offers the most direct comparison to what Smelter brought to the table last season. Jeune doesn’t have a reception at the college level, but he made strides this spring and figures to be a prime target for Justin Thomas in 2015.
Biggest loss: LT Ereck Flowers
Replacement plan: Much will be made of replacing Clive Walford, Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett, but all that means is that the onus for offensive production shifts more to QB Brad Kaaya. And the onus for protecting Kaaya is on an O-line that faces significant turnover, particularly in replacing Flowers, who was selected ninth overall in this year’s NFL draft. The spring results on the O line were a mixed bag, summed up by Kaaya: “I feel like they should be a lot nastier this season than they were this spring, but I see a lot of potential.” Youth may be the answer there, with juco transfer and spring enrollee Jahair Jones likely the most talented option at left tackle.
Biggest loss: OLB Norkeithus Otis
Replacement plan: Technically Otis played the bandit position last season, and with new coordinator Gene Chizik taking the reins on defense, that won’t exist anymore. Instead, UNC is shifting its linebackers around — moving some inside, some up to the line and a few back to safety. That likely means Otis’ workload from 2014 will be divided up a bit in 2015. Look for Shakeel Rashad, who moves from bandit to a more traditional LB role, and Joe Jackson, who moves into the starting Will LB spot vacated by Travis Hughes, to step up. Both had strong springs, Jackson perhaps the Tar Heels' most improved player. That combo offers some excitement for UNC fans eager to see massive improvement on D.
Biggest loss: RT T.J. Clemmings
Replacement plan: Pitt’s offense has tons of potential this year, but the key to ensuring the Panthers capitalize is rebuilding the right side of the O-line after Clemmings and Matt Rotheram departed. Jaryd Jones-Smith appears to have the upper hand in replacing Clemmings at tackle, and new line coach John Peterson offered plenty of praise for the redshirt sophomore this spring. Jones-Smith has three starts under his belt, so while meeting the lofty standard set by Clemmings is a lot to ask, there’s hope that the drop-off won’t be significant.
Biggest loss: DE Eli Harold
Replacement plan: The pass rush was the strength of Virginia’s team last year, but with Harold and linebacker Max Valles departing, there were big question marks in that area this spring. Mike Moore is a veteran on the opposite side of the D line, but replacing Harold is no easy task. Senior Kwontie Moore is atop the depth chart currently, but a pair of redshirt freshmen -- Darrious Carter and Chris Peace -- could continue to push for snaps, while a trio of true freshmen could add some intrigue this fall.
Biggest loss: Rover Kyshoen Jarrett
Replacement plan: Right now, senior Donovan Riley sits atop the depth chart. He's shuffled around Virginia Tech’s secondary throughout his career but earned praise from coaches this spring. The more intriguing option, however, is sophomore C.J. Reavis, who racked up nine tackles in the spring game. He’s probably a step up from Jarrett in coverage, but there are some questions about how effective he’ll be closer to the line of scrimmage.