ACC Atlantic Notes from Greensboro
By Brandon Rink
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Atlantic Division notes from the recent ACC Media Days in Greensboro.
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was named preseason ACC Player of the Year and was the only unanimous All-ACC selection by the media last week at ACC Media Days.
But instead of the accolades, the attention this week was still fixed on Tiger head coach Dabo Swinney’s decision regarding Watkins’ punishment, stemming from the star sophomore’s arrest back in May for possession of marijuana and ADHD drugs.
Grilled by local and national media alike, Swinney didn’t budge on the stance he’s taken in delaying his ruling, which he says will come towards the start of fall camp (begins Aug. 3).
“I really don’t worry about what everyone else thinks,” Swinney said. “And I just got to do what I believe is fair and best for Clemson and for our team and for Sammy.”
When pressed on if he was giving Watkins special treatment, Swinney said there was no “cookie-cutter” way to make these kind of decisions.
“I haven’t had an issue like this,” Swinney said. “It’s not any type of drama or anything like that. My decision to wait and render the punishment is really a challenge to Sammy. There’s some things that I wanted him to do.
“I’ve told him, ‘Here’s your high end of punishment and the low end, and it’s really up to you and how you handle yourself.’ Responding to a crisis is actually more important than the actual mistake. He’s gone above and beyond what’s required of him, and if he continues to do that, he’ll kinda get the low end of the punishment. As far as dragging it out, I’m not going to do that.”
Swinney left the door open recently to a punishment where Watkins could play in the Auburn opener in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 1, but has guaranteed at least once this summer that the All-ACC target will miss playing time to some extent.
Atlantic coaches see a tough, balanced division
Florida State, in a shocker to absolutely no one, was the overwhelming ACC Atlantic and overall conference favorite at the ACC Kickoff.
The coach of the reigning ACC champs even agreed.
“They’re a great team,” Swinney said. “They’re probably the best team in this conference. They’re loaded with talent. Well-coached – recruiting at a high level – bunch of guys back. Good vote on [the media’s] part.”
Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe doesn’t see a Seminoles’ domination though.
“[There’s a] lot of balance,” Grobe said. “Anybody in our division can beat everybody. I know everybody is picking Florida State to run away with things. There are a lot of good teams in our division and it will be a battle every Saturday.”
Ironically, Grobe believes a couple conference teams need to lead the ACC on the national stage consistently for it to gain some respect, especially with the four-team playoff coming to college football in 2014.
“I can’t imagine a better conference top-to-bottom,” he said. “…Getting through the entire year in this league without getting upset is hard, but somebody needs to do it."
When a member of the media pointed out that his team is usually involved in those upsets, he said with a smile, “Well, I hope that continues.”
Asked about a possible addition of Notre Dame to the conference, the never-shy Boston College coach Frank Spaziani offered his spin on the ACC.
“There’s enough challenges in there,” Spaziani said. “Notre Dame will figure it out. We got a real good league, real good players, real good coaches.
“It’s like a Broadway play. It’s not the review of the play – it’s the review of the actor and we need a couple actors to step up in the league. And nobody would be talking about anything but a powerful league in the ACC.”
Sitting in a position to be that team, FSU’s Jimbo Fisher doesn’t believe it’s all that complicated.
“Gotta play better,” he said. “Be more consistent. We’ve had good teams. We just haven’t had a 12-1 or 13-0 team. We need one of those to run the gamut.”
Fisher hopes establishing a consistent offense, both in production and players on the field, will lead the ‘Noles towards that promised land.
“Continuity on offense, I say this all the time, ‘It’s harder to be good on offense than defense,’” Fisher said. “…Timing, rhythm, consistency. Effort and toughness sometimes on defense, when you don’t do things technically right, can make up. Offense is sometimes like golf. The harder you try – the harder you hit it out of bounds.”
FSU returns its top passer (E.J. Manuel) and rusher (Devonta Freeman) and six of its top seven receivers from 2011, but the o-line will determine the Seminoles' season one way or another. The offensive line has produced lackluster numbers over the last couple of seasons, and likely will feature four underclassmen starters this season
Deacs looking forleadership, new wrinkles on offense
To say third-year Wake Forest starting quarterback Tanner Price’s running ability wasn’t a threat in 2011 would be an understatement.
The rising junior amassed a whopping minus-53 rushing yards last season, but if his coach has any say (and he does) – that changes in 2012.
After finishing 99th nationally in rushing offense, Grobe just wants to move the ball with the running game period.
“We’d like to run the ball more,” Grobe said. “Honestly, I’d like to see Tanner run the ball more. I don’t want to get him killed…a lot of our running plays, he has the option to pull the ball and run the perimeter. I’d feel pretty comfortable with getting him out on the perimeter.”
You don’t have to go far to find concern with a more mobile Price. The Texan gunslinger was injured in his second-career start in 2010, suffering a concussion on a run against Florida State. Depth behind Price is an issue, with wide receiver Michael Campanaro amassing more career pass attempts than any Demon Deacon backup (four, with two touchdowns and an interception, oddly enough).
Wake Forest will count on Campanaro for catches though, replacing the ACC’s leading receiver Chris Givens (1,330 yards/nine touchdowns).
Grobe said Campanaro was having an “all-solar system” spring before breaking his finger in workouts, forcing him to miss the back end of practices and the spring game, but the jury is still out on if he can step into a much-needed leadership role.
Going into his 12th season coaching in Winston-Salem, Grobe likened the junior to former Demon Deacons receiver Kenny Moore (2004-07), who was a threat in the receiving, running and return game, and accounted for over 2,000 all-purpose yards in his first-team All-ACC senior season.
Finding options around Campanaro is another key, with only one other leading returning receiver back (Terence Davis, 269 yards last season).
“The real key is to not just have Camp – if we don’t have a little bit of balance, it will be too easy to take him away,” Grobe said.
Atlantic Quick Hits
* By now, the book on Maryland’s offseason is out – a rash of transfers left Randy Edsall and co. in an unenviable spot going into 2012. But senior defensive tackle Joe Vellano, at least, is sold on the coach. “Coach Edsall is one of those guys that preaches you can’t play football forever,” he said. “He’s a players’ coach.” Vellano, who racked up 94 tackles last season and moves to defensive end in a new 3-4 scheme, says his teammates are on the right track. “They’re doing stuff outside of our summer workouts just to get better and watch film,” Vellano said. “I’m ready to go – the last go around really. Everybody is ready to get back to winning. Just need to win and get some confidence back. We can win with the guys in this room.”
* Looking up and down the NC State offensive depth chart, there’s a veteran QB (Mike Glennon), three solid running backs (Tony Creecy, James Washington and Mustafa Greene) and over 100 starts back on the offensive line, but at receiver, the Wolfpack must replace three of its top four for a second-straight season. Glennon isn’t worried. “I’m fully confident in our receivers,” Glennon said. “They’re ready to go. They worked really hard. They saw where we were in the same situation (as last season) and they stepped up to the occasion. This will be no different. The core of our offense will be the offensive line. Establishing a run game that sets up the passing game.” The senior QB also credits a strong NC State secondary for refining him and the offense. “It’s great competition,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ll face a secondary as tough as ours'.” Glennon, with fellow ACC QBs Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech) and E.J. Manuel (FSU), worked at the Manning Passing Academy this summer. He said he got the most out of hour-long Q&A sessions with the Mannings, and credited those sessions with learning more about fundamentals and game-week approach.
* Quarterbacks of the ACC – be aware that there’s a leaner, looser Florida State defensive end Brandon Jenkins going into the season. Jenkins said he is down to 250 pounds and ready to make a name for himself this season, even as the ACC’s leading returner in sacks two seasons in a row. “I just want to leave my mark,” Jenkins said. “Came back for a reason and I’ve got no choice but to grind.” The senior said he’s been watching film “24/7” making use of the DVR with one or two games watched per day, envisioning making plays and picking up technique tips.
* It's no secret that the Frank Spaziani era in Boston College is in limbo, at least with the fans, after recent struggles (11-14 over the last two seasons) and the exit of all-time leading rusher Montel Harris (who Spaziani said he's "rooting for" and hopes his Temple career "works out for him"). Going into his 16th year in a coaching role in Chestnut Hill, Spaziani thinks this team is ready to learn from mistakes coming off the school's first losing season since 1998. “They’re really young and really enthusiastic and understand the pain from last year," Spaziani said. "They learned what it’s going to take and how hard it is to win. We’ll see, but the look in their eyes is they understand.”