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The Quarterbacks

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

April 25, 2005 Everyone agrees that quarterback is the most important position in football. Last year, that wasn't particularly good news for the ACC, and some already are wondering if a similar situation will unfold in 2005. The conference failed to produce a serious national championship contender in 2004, in part because of inconsistent quarterback play. Florida State, Clemson, Maryland and N.C. State, in particular, underachieved as a direct result of their problems behind center. Despite very solid teams overall, the Terps and the Wolfpack failed to even qualify for a bowl. In another slap in the face, the league's three most productive signal-callers from last season — seniors Bryan Randall of Virginia Tech, Brock Berlin of Miami and Darian Durant of North Carolina — didn't get even a sniff at the NFL draft in April. Several pro teams called Randall, the league's player of the year, and asked him to work out for them — as a projected wide receiver. He declined and went undrafted. The Pac-10 (three), SEC (two), Big East (two), Conference USA (two), Big 12 (one), Big Ten (one), Mid-American (one), Mountain West (one) and Ivy League (one) all had at least one player ranked among this year's top 15 quarterback prospects. The ACC had no representation there or among the 14 signal-callers who were selected in the seven-round, 255-pick draft, unless you count former FSU quarterback Adrian McPherson. He became a fifth-round pick via the Arena League, long after being dismissed by the Seminoles in 2002. Here's a brief look (in alphabetical order) at the quarterback situations around the ACC, as they stood coming out of 2005 spring practice. Boston College Probable Starter: Fifth-year senior Quinton Porter started 10 of 13 games (with a 5-5 record) in 2003, then redshirted last fall after losing a preseason battle with now-departed Paul Peterson. In 21 career games, Porter has completed 154 of 270 passes (57 percent) for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns. He shows excellent ball-handling skills on play-action passes but never has displayed star qualities. Other Options: redshirt sophomore Matt Ryan, redshirt freshman Chris Crane, redshirt junior Karim El Nokali. Ryan played some last fall and is a clear-cut No. 2. Quote: "I think (Porter) has gotten better," coach Tom O'Brien said. "He's gotten more into the rhythm of things as spring has gone on. He's gotten back into being in the leadership position that the quarterback requires. I think he looks more like the guy he was a couple of years ago, and not just last year when he was down there flinging it around on the scout team." Clemson Probable Starter: Fifth-year senior Charlie Whitehurst is starting over after an absolutely disastrous (seven TD passes, 17 interceptions) junior season. Working with first-year coordinator Rob Spence, Whitehurst learned a new offense this spring. He'll be asked to make lots of audibles at the line and throw more short, high-percentage passes with accuracy this fall, theoretically setting up his well-established deep balls. Other Options: redshirt junior Will Proctor, redshirt freshman Cullen Harper, redshirt freshman Tribble Reese. Proctor made significant strides this spring and is a clear-cut No. 2. Quote: "I look for Charlie to have an outstanding final year," coach Tommy Bowden said. "There is not that big a difference between the schemes we have run here since Charlie has been at Clemson and what (Spence) does. Quarterbacks have had a high completion percentage under Coach Spence, and I would look for Charlie to make an improvement in that area and his efficiency. That will hopefully translate into more production for our offense and victories." Duke Probable Starter: Redshirt junior Mike Schneider is a tough kid with good size and some skill, but he's like a circus act working without a safety net. He learned a new system this spring under first-year coordinator Bill O'Brien, while playing behind a question-filled line and without a capable backup in sight. Other Options: redshirt junior Curt Dukes, true freshman Zack Asack, true freshman Gene Delle Donne, true freshman Marcus Jones. Dukes also plays several other offensive positions. Jones also plays wide receiver and safety. Quote: "I was really pleased with (Schneider) this spring," coach Ted Roof said. "His commitment to learn the ins and outs of this offense and being a quarterback on this level was really positive. He has made some major strides, and also I'm pleased in the way he leads. Your quarterback needs to be a leader for you. I was pleased with his decision-making, his commitment to prepare, and also his leadership." Florida State Probable Starter: Redshirt junior Wyatt Sexton came out of nowhere to relieve Chris Rix and start seven times in 2004, but his performance suffered significantly after opponents had a few of his games to watch on film. Sexton remained the starter after spring drills, but he's done nothing so far to stamp himself as the long-term answer for the Seminoles. Other Options: redshirt freshman Xavier Lee, redshirt freshman Drew Weatherford. Lee made more mistakes and was less accurate than the others this spring but nevertheless got his team into the end zone as much as anyone else. Quote: "I think you keep (the post-spring depth chart) just like you've got it right now," offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden said. "Wyatt, then Xavier/Drew, and let's see what happens in two-a-days (in August). We've got a healthy battle going on. I hope Drew and Xavier will keep pushing, because that's going to push Wyatt. If Wyatt can sit there comfortably and not get pushed, we're not going to improve enough at that position." Georgia Tech Probable Starter: Junior Reggie Ball will be the starter for the third straight season in Atlanta, but he still has a long way to go to earn the complete trust of the Tech coaching staff. With each year, he's making fewer mistakes and more big plays, but (at 5-11) he continues to miss open passing lanes and commit unforced errors. Other Options: redshirt freshman Taylor Bennett, redshirt freshman Kyle Manley, true freshman Jonathan Garner. Tech's coaches said Bennett challenged for the top spot at some point this spring, but most outside observers didn't see it that way at all. Quote: "(Ball is) a solid No. 1 at quarterback for us," coach Chan Gailey said. "There's a definite one and two quarterback. Reggie has taken a step in being more mature. But if Taylor needs to step in, he can." Maryland Probable Starter: Redshirt junior Sam Hollenbach emerged from spring practice as the starter after committing few mistakes in his one 2004 start, but there's absolutely no excitement and little confidence around the quarterback position in College Park. Like the Terps' other candidates, the long and lean Hollenbach has several shortcomings, which in his case include subpar athleticism and an inability to run the option. Other Options: redshirt junior Joel Staham (2004 starter), sophomore Jordan Steffy, true freshman Chris Turner. Walk-on Bobby Sheehin will sit out the 2005 season under NCAA rules after transferring from West Virginia. This is the most difficult situation in the ACC to predict, considering the experience of Statham and with the talented Steffy the wild card after missing much of spring drills with injuries. Quote: "I think (Hollenbach) is throwing the ball better, but he's not very fast," coach Ralph Friedgen said. "He's very mechanical, he's not fluid. It's a slow process, but I do see him getting better. It's just not as fast as I hoped it would be. … When I look at all the stats, he's the more accurate passer. He sees more right now than the other guys." Miami Probable Starter: Redshirt sophomore Kyle Wright is a former five-star prospect who once drew raves from the Miami coaches for his work with the scout team, but his performance hasn't yet come close to the big things expected of him. On consecutive plays, he still can flash the form and arm of a future NFL all-star, then the inadequacies of a confused underclassman. The pace of his continued progress is vital for the Hurricanes. Other Options: redshirt freshman Kirby Freeman, redshirt freshman walk-on Trey Burklin. The Hurricanes expected at one point to also have long-time Class of 2005 commitment Derek Shaw, but he made a late switch to Arizona State before signing day. Quote: "I feel very comfortable with both (Wright and Freeman)," coach Larry Coker said. "Ability-wise, it's close. Both have outstanding ability. Kirby has got a tremendously quick release. They both have strong arms. Kyle is a little more poised now, a little more comfortable in the offense, and of course he's been here a year longer. I don't want to short-change Kirby just because Kyle's been here longer in the system. Both are really good talents. We didn't miss with either one, I don't think." North Carolina Probable Starter: Fifth-year senior Matt Baker didn't face many pressure situations while playing behind Darian Durant, but he does have the advantage of spending his entire career under the same coach (Gary Tranquill) and in the same system. While at Virginia, Tranquill pulled a zero-to-hero season out of little-known fifth-year senior Scott Secules in 1987. Can the veteran offensive guru turn the same trick with Baker? Other Options: sophomore Roger Heinz, redshirt freshman Joey Bozich, true freshman Bobby Rome, true freshman Cameron Sexton. Heinz is a clear-cut No. 2. Sexton, a prep All-American who enrolled in January, suffered a broken ankle during spring practice and is expected to miss the 2005 season. Quote: "I think (Baker) had a great spring, he really did," coach John Bunting said. "I think he's throwing the ball exceptionally well. I think his decision-making process has gotten much better. That is where (Durant's) game picked up year after year after year. Matt's only got one year to do it, and I think he is going to work really hard to be an excellent signal-caller and a leader out there on the field." N.C. State Probable Starter: Fifth-year senior Jay Davis played pretty well last season when his line was healthy, then poorly after the injury bug bit the Wolfpack up front. The son of a coach, he adjusted well this spring to first-year coordinator Marc Trestman, whose focus on quick, short throws and smart decision-making in the passing game should be a better fit for Davis than for anyone else on the NCSU roster. Other Options: redshirt sophomore Marcus Stone, redshirt freshman Daniel Evans, redshirt junior Chris Moore, true freshman Mike Greco. Stone, a prep All-American, showed flashes but remained significantly behind Davis after spring drills. Quote: "I thought at times both (Davis and Stone) did good," coach Chuck Amato said. "At times they both did some really good things. I think their decision-making has got better, but at times they couldn't make a decision (because of the pass rush). You can't fault them for that stuff. They have improved, though." Virginia Probable Starter: Fifth-year senior Marques Hagans is still 5-10 and may never be a polished passer, but the UVa coaches are hoping the second-year starter can make the same kind of leap (thanks to the experience factor) seen in the ACC last fall from Bryan Randall at Virginia Tech and Brock Berlin at Miami. Hagans' running ability is another big plus. Other Options: redshirt junior Christian Olsen, redshirt sophomore Kevin McCabe, redshirt freshman Scott Deke, true freshman Vic Hall, true freshman Jameel Sewell. Olsen served as the backup in 2004, but this is definitely Hagans' team again. Quote: "Most of the carries Marques had last year were on pass plays," coach Al Groh said. "They turned into runs rather than throws. I think we had three runs of 50 yards or more, so they were pretty dramatic and pretty successful plays for us. What I have told him is that he's been blessed with an ability to do things that other quarterbacks wish they could, and that's part of his game. We certainly are encouraging him to do that." Virginia Tech Probable Starter: Redshirt junior Marcus Vick returned from his discipline-related suspension and lived up to his family name this spring, beginning drills at No. 3 on the depth chart but finishing as a clear-cut No. 1. Everyone knows about his athleticism, but he also showed lots of poise and plenty of polish for a guy who was away from the game last fall. Other Options: sophomore Sean Glennon, redshirt freshman Cory Holt, true freshman Ike Whitaker, true freshman Greg Boone. The distance from Vick to Glennon is large, as is the distance from Glennon to the others. Quote: "I don't have a crystal ball, but I believe (Vick) has a chance to be a special player," quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers said. "Guys like him have got a chance to make the other 10 guys better." Wake Forest Probable Starter: Redshirt sophomore Ben Mauk, a record-setting passer in high school, took advantage of the Demon Deacons' focus on the aerial game this spring. Another coach's son, he also adapted well to Wake's decision to give its quarterbacks more opportunities to call audibles at the line of scrimmage. There's still plenty of work ahead, but Mauk may be a star in the making. Other Options: fifth-year senior Cory Randolph (2004 starter), redshirt freshman Allan Holland, true freshman Brett Hodges, true freshman Riley Skinner. The Mauk-Randolph race probably was the closest call in the ACC this spring. Quote: "We didn't achieve what I would have liked for us to achieve at the quarterback position last year, but I don't think it was as much the competition between Ben and Cory as it was not having the supporting cast," coach Jim Grobe said. "I do think that both Ben and Cory have grown up quite a bit. I think last year they maybe kind of eyeballed each other too much. I think right now they're just playing football, and that's all we need."