A look at football players in the Atlantic Coast Conference this spring who are poised to break out this fall:
AJ DILLON, RB, Jr. - Dillon rushed for 1,500 yards as a freshman and added 1,108 yards last season - fourth-best in the ACC - despite an ankle injury that limited him to just 10 games. He's expected to carry much of the Eagles' offensive load this season, if he's healthy.
XAVIER THOMAS, DE, Soph. - Thomas had 10 tackles for losses, fourth among the Tigers' national championship defense, despite playing as a freshman on a defensive line that had four NFL-caliber starters. Count on him to show off his speed and quickness fulltime in continuing the team's dominance up front.
TAMORRION TERRY, WR, Soph. - Terry is coming off a year in which he set the program's receiving yardage record for freshmen with 744, and added eight touchdowns. His 6-foot-4 frame makes him a tough matchup for cornerbacks.
EVAN CONLEY, QB, Fr. - Conley could be the wild card as he competes for the starting job with returnees Malik Cunningham and Jawon Pass. Conley, a dual-threat QB, committed to Scott Satterfield when he coached at Appalachian State and signed with the Cardinals after he was hired to replace Bobby Petrino.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE
THAYER THOMAS, WR, Soph. - Thomas in just two years has gone from walk-on to key receiver, and with several top wideouts gone to the NFL, he could be a frequent target for whomever replaces three-year starter Ryan Finley at quarterback.
TOMMY DEVITO, QB, Soph. - Devito is the heir apparent to graduated starter Eric Dungey, and threw for 525 yards with four touchdown passes in a relief role. He took most of the first-team snaps during spring ball in 2018 while Dungey healed from injuries, so he was comfortable in that spot this spring.
DE SHAMAR MCCOLLUM, DE, Fr. - McCollum, who enrolled early at Wake Forest, showed promise during the spring as a 6-foot-4 pass rusher and could team with Boogie Basham to give the Demon Deacons a strong defensive line.
JAKE BOBO, WR, Soph. - Bobo caught 10 passes for 167 yards during his freshman season, and showed some chemistry with presumptive starting QB Quentin Harris during the spring game, with the only touchdown catch of the night.
TYLER EVANS, TE, Sr. - For the first time in more than a decade, the Yellow Jackets will actually have a tight end - after not needing one during retired coach Paul Johnson's 11-year run with the triple option. It's worth watching the ways new coach Geoff Collins uses the graduate transfer from UConn.
SAM HOWELL, QB, Fr. - Howell flipped his recruitment from Florida State to UNC shortly after new coach Mack Brown's arrival, and took the first snaps of the spring game. He might have the inside track to the starting position in his battle with two redshirt freshmen.
TATE MARTELL, QB, Soph. - The Hurricanes landed one of the highest profile transfers of the offseason, and he received a waiver from the NCAA that allows him to play right away. The question is whether Martell can handle the hype and beat out returnees N'Kozi Perry and Jarren Williams.
V'LIQUE CARTER, RB-CB, Soph. - Carter could see double-duty in the fall for the Panthers. He had four tackles in Pitt's spring game, and rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns in a key victory over Duke last fall. Pitt could use him like it did with Jordan Whitehead from 2015-17.
PK KIER, RB, Jr. - He'll enter the season as the likely replacement for 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Ellis, despite rushing for just 80 yards in 2018. He might also become a target out of the backfield with the team trying to replace career receptions leader Olamide Zaccheaus.
DAMON HAZLETON, WR, Jr. - He led the team last year with 51 catches and eight TDs. And he could have an even bigger role with the transfer of No. 2 receiver Eric Kumah to Old Dominion.
RALEIGH, N.C. - Dabo Swinney's quarterback situation at Clemson seems settled for a while. Not many of his colleagues around the Atlantic Coast Conference can say the same thing.
Ten schools faced questions of varying degrees of urgency at QB this spring. Eight of those schools lost a starter from last year either due to graduation, transfer, early NFL draft declaration or disciplinary issues.
So as the league transitions into summer conditioning and with a little over four months until the season starts, only a handful of schools seem to have solidified their QB spots and the ACC's quarterback club shapes up as Tigers star Trevor Lawrence and a bunch of new faces.
Duke's Daniel Jones left school a year early to enter the draft and is a potential first-round pick. Virginia Tech's Josh Jackson (Maryland) and North Carolina's Nathan Elliott (Arkansas State) transferred. Deondre Francois was kicked off the Florida State team in February. And among the QBs who exhausted their eligibility are Syracuse's Eric Dungey and North Carolina State's Ryan Finley.
The eight departed starters combined to throw for 16,822 yards and 107 touchdowns in 2018 while rushing for 2,402 yards and 40 more scores.
For some, the solution seems pretty simple: Duke heir apparent Quentin Harris made two starts last season while Jones was injured, and Ryan Willis started the final 10 games for the Hokies after Jackson's season-ending injury.
For others, it's a bit more up in the air: UNC has two redshirt freshmen and a true freshman vying for the job, new Louisville coach Scott Satterfield will likely choose between Jawon Pass and Malik Cunningham, and Miami could turn to Ohio State transfer Tate Martell or stick with N'Kosi Perry.
But the ACC certainly won't be bereft of quarterback talent - not as long as Lawrence is around. After taking over midway through last season and leading the Tigers to their second College Football Playoff title, he enters his sophomore year as the unquestioned star among ACC quarterbacks.
"This time last year he was just trying to prove it, kind of getting in line," Swinney said. "Now, it's a different dynamic for him. He is in command and now we need him to lead, not get in line."
There are four new head coaches in the conference this season, though one is anything but new to the league. Satterfield took over for the fired Bobby Petrino at Louisville while Geoff Collins (Georgia Tech) and Manny Diaz (Miami) both left Temple to replace retired veterans.
And then there's Mack Brown, back for a second stint at North Carolina after more than two decades away. He led the Tar Heels to consecutive top-10 finishes in 1996 and '97 before moving to Texas, then spending the past few years in broadcasting.
There was no easing into the spring for Brown: "We're just pressing them to see who's going to step up and who's going to step back," he said.
The biggest reconstruction job at Clemson revolves around the defense, which lost seven starters - including all four members of its NFL-ready defensive line and cornerback Trayvon Mullen, the MVP of the national championship game. Coordinator Brent Venables has been working in more than a handful of promising, young players, and the best of them could be sophomore defensive end Xavier Thomas, one of the nation's highest-rated recruits in the class of 2018.
Georgia Tech could face some significant growing pains with a roster full of players recruited to run the triple-option offense favored by retired coach Paul Johnson - not the more traditional scheme run by Collins. The Yellow Jackets are heavy on running backs and light on tight ends, so the key priority in Atlanta is figuring out how to best utilize the returning players while Collins fills out a few recruiting classes with guys who more closely fit his philosophy.
WELCOME BACK, BLACKMAN
Florida State coach Willie Taggart's top - and perhaps only - option at quarterback is redshirt sophomore James Blackman, the full-time starter in 2017 when Francois missed virtually the entire season with a ruptured patellar tendon. Blackman threw only 51 passes last season as Francois' backup but moved to the front of the line when Francois was dismissed. Blackman is the only eligible quarterback on the Seminoles' roster.
"I've seen James just this offseason watch more film than he's ever watched being here, being up in our offices more than he's ever been up there and it's made a difference on the football field," Taggart said.
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