Busy Weekend for Our Soon to be Vanquished Foes

The Hokies don't hold their spring game until next week. But this Saturday will mark the end of spring practice for three of our four out of conference opponents and five ACC teams. Duke, Georgia Tech, NC State, france and Wake Forest will all hold their spring games Saturday.

Next week I'll have the talking points from the aftermath of the following spring extravaganzas.

Alabama

Its quarterback situation is all-but-settled with senior Greg McElroy taking the reins. One of the questions facing the Tide is who his back-up will be. Star Jackson is the high-touted youngster, but he's being out played by walk-on Thomas Darrah.

The real position battles to watch with the Tide are at offensive line and in the secondary. The Tide have a lot of talent to replace on a line that struggled against Utah without Andre Smith at right tackle.

The Tide had trouble with pass blocking in the Sugar Bowl and have had trouble running ball in the spring. Although a lot of that has to do with how good Alabama's front seven on defense is. Reading Roll Bama Roll, it appears the Tide's OL is in the same predicament Tech's was the last two seasons:

Do not set that one in stone just yet, though, because with Pendry's philosophy of getting the best five on the field, an injury to just one lineman or the emergence of just one other lineman could completely alter the composition of the starting five.



Nebraska

The Huskers have to replace quarterback Joe Ganz and the three contenders for the starting job have a combined five career passing yards. Those yards belong to Zac Lee, who will likely land the starting job.

The passing situation just gets worse for the Huskers. They lost their two top receivers in Nate Swift and Todd Peterson as well as do-everything running back Marlon Lucky, who was versatile out of the backfield. However, despite the loss of Lucky, the Huskers will be fine on the ground Roy Helu and Quentin Castille are a solid 1-2 punch for Nebraska. Castille ran all over Clemson in Nebraska's second half comeback in the Gator Bowl.

On defense, Nebraska has an excellent defensive line, but is questionable at linebacker and secondary. Both units looked very slow in the two games I saw last year (Tech and Oklahoma). However, I believe Nebraska will be improved at secondary next year. The Huskers have three returnees in the secondary and have added depth with incoming players and another who missed last year due to injury.

Corn Nation believes the depth in the secondary is a strong point for the Huskers:

Depth is a key for the Huskers as they look ahead into the 2009 season. Like the linebacking unit, competition will be heavy for the starting positions. The more defensive secondary players that are available, the more flexibility will be afforded Bo Pelini.



East Carolina

Patrick Pinkney is back to haunt our dreams, but the Pirates have new (OK, old) blood at running back.

Although his career efforts to date have added up to 607 rush yards and six touchdowns, Lindsay has been with the program longer than any other back on the team and was a member of head coach Skip Holtz's first recruiting class.

As hard as Lindsay said it was to be immobilized for the season and lose much of the momentum he'd built the previous three years, the layoff gave him a new perspective on the game.

"It was great in that I really got to watch the game,” he said. “I became a fan. Every time somebody did something good, it made me happy because you always want to see your teammates succeed. But at the same time, I thought, they did all this without me. But I was happy for them. They accomplished all of the goals we set out to accomplish last year."



Duke

Due to injury, graduation and attrition, the Blue Devils only have 57 players in uniform this spring. The real progress for Duke will come in the fall when it has everyone on campus.

Duke only returns 10 starters (five per side of the ball) and that may not be a bad thing. The players leaving may have been part of Duke's four-win season last year, but they were also a part of the atrocious Duke teams of the two previous seasons.

"We have less bodies and more football players," head coach David Cutcliffe said during this week's ACC teleconference. "At this time a year ago we had eight players ready to play defense to some degree of effectiveness in the ACC and on offense we had seven. We are at double-digits in both categories as we evaluate ourselves going into the last week of spring practice."

The important thing for the Devils is the return of their best player, QB Thaddeus Lewis. And unlike last year, he may have a running game to lighten his load. RB Re'quan Boyette returns after missing 2008 with a torn ACL. Cutcliffe said he is back at full speed.

"He had a tremendous scrimmage Friday and was explosively fast," he said. "I saw Re'quan back to where he's going to be a factor. He cut himself loose for the first time Friday and looked like an All-Star performer."

While Duke loses its best offensive weapon in WR Eron Riley, it may have gained one in Boyette. The question will be whether the offensive line will allow him to produce the numbers on the ground Duke needs to be successful with its pro-style offense.

Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets' offense tore through the ACC and Georgia at the end of last season before being halted by LSU in the Peach Bowl. They return all of their star players from 2008 and will certainly reap the benefits of going young on that side of the ball last year.

Yes, teams will go into 2009 having seen Georgia Tech's offense and won't be surprised by what it does. However,in head coach Paul Johnson's words, while teams will get better at defending the flexbone, the Jackets will get better at running it.

The defense will be a different story. While the Yellow Jacket offense is fearsome, it's D will certainly lack the bite it had last year. Gone are DE Michael Johnson, DT Daryl Richard and DT Vance Walker.

Johnson will have to fill those key holes in order to have a shot at the Coastal Division in 2009.

"We have some guys who haven't played a lot but they've been in games," he said during the teleconference. "It's going to be by committee a little bit but they've had a decent spring."

I'll be looking forward to a full report from Georgia Tech's T-Day from our friends at The Legacy x4. While usually I'd encourage them to drink enough to not remember anything from the spring game, we could use some good info, so try to stay conscious, guys.

NC State

Like Duke, the Wolfpack are getting an important piece back that was missing from 2008. Running back Toney Baker returns from his own catastrophic knee injury he suffered in 2007.

Because of the nature of Baker's injury, head coach Tom O'Brien is cautiously optimistic about his progress.

"I don't think Toney's 100 percent," O'Brien said during the teleconference. "I don't know how he could be. It's the first time he's been on the field since September of 2007. He has made some strides and it's going to take a while. The good news is he's been out there, competing and working hard."

Baker will replace Andre Brown, who started 12 games last season. Who will be handing the ball off to him may not be as set in stone as it seemed at the end of last year. QB Russell Wilson was first-team all-conference and led the Wolfpack to four consecutive wins to finish the regular season.

However, an injury in the bowl game and the current NC State baseball season has hampered Wilson's progress. Wilson's participation in Saturday's spring game iwll even be limited due to that afternoon's baseball game. Redshirt FR Mike Glennon has had an excellent spring and could demand playing time come September.

"He's worked hard this spring and done a great job," O'Brien said. "Every job is open here and we give everybody the opportunity to challenge for a job. Competition makes your team better."

Virginia

The Hoos will install a new offense under Gregg Brandon this season. Who will be running that offense is up for debate.

Marc Verica, Jameel Sewell and Vic Hall will compete to be the starting quarterback in Brandon's spread attack. Hall ran a wildcat-type offense effectively in the first half against Virginia Tech.

The Wahoos started to go in the spread direction last year. However, the loss of Sewell to academics and emergence of Peter Lalich and Verica as UVa's two options at QB caused it to abandon the spread. Head coach Al Groh said during the teleconference that Brandon was one of the coaches the UVa staff talked to while trying to implement the new offense.

The Hoos' spread attack will be on display for the first time Saturday during festivus. How it looks and who runs it best will be the most interesting thing to watch.

"Until all 11 guys on the line get it, it doesn't look too good," Groh said. "I think looking at it position-by-position, we're starting to gain momentum."

Groh said the progress of the offense will be slow under the new system.

"It's been successful at many other places but by the same token it's not Star Wars," he said. "It's not something no one has ever figured out how to play against. Gregg has done a heckuva job for us and is a bright coach but he's not the Tooth Fairy. He's not going to instantly make it a 70 point per game offense. It's up to player performance and it's player execution that scores points."

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