Spring practice marked by change in ACC Coastal
Plenty has changed around the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division in the past few months.
Pittsburgh has a new coach who previously won a league championship as a defensive coordinator. North Carolina has a new defensive coordinator who previously won a national title as a head coach.
Miami is looking for a new Duke Johnson, while the Duke Blue Devils will have a new quarterback.
And yet plenty remains the same for reigning division champion Georgia Tech — including that triple-option offense — but the Yellow Jackets are making room for their newest trophy, which they earned by beating Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.
“We’re excited the way we finished up the 2014 season and we wanted to try to carry some of that momentum into spring, and I felt like we did,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “We got a lot accomplished and started to lay the foundation for the 2015 season.”
The rest of his colleagues in the Coastal were doing the same thing even as they got adjusted to the changes on their campuses.
The division’s only new head coach is Pat Narduzzi, who came to Pitt after coordinating Mark Dantonio’s defenses at Cincinnati and Michigan State and helping the Spartans claim the 2013 Big Ten title.
“Day by day, we’ve built to put this program back where we expect it to be here in Pittsburgh and the ACC,” Narduzzi said.
The biggest new name in the division is Gene Chizik — who led Cam Newton and Auburn to the national championship in 2010 and took over as North Carolina’s defensive coordinator with the charge to overhaul one of the nation’s worst units a year ago. The Tar Heels gave up the most points (507) and yards (6,472) in school history.
So in came Chizik and three defensive assistants to install the 4-3.
“He’s installing his style of coaching, his style of way, the way he wants those guys to play,” coach Larry Fedora said. “I’m just excited about seeing the end result once the season gets here.”
Here’s a quick look at the top priorities each Coastal school had this spring:
DUKE: Thomas Sirk tops the list of candidates to replace Anthony Boone, who graduated as the winningest QB in school history. Sirk spelled Boone in short-yardage situations last year. Coach David Cutcliffe says redshirt sophomore Parker Boehme will enter preseason camp as his backup with redshirt freshman Nico Pierre also in the mix.
GEORGIA TECH: Fullback Patrick Skov, a graduate transfer from Stanford, adds another weapon to Johnson’s option offense, which had two key rushers injured this spring. “He gives us a little older, more mature guy at that position,” Johnson said.
NORTH CAROLINA: Fedora also brought in linebackers coach John Papuchis, defensive backs coach Charlton Warren and defensive line coach Tray Scott to rebuild a defense that gave up 39 points and nearly 500 total yards per game. He says the secondary has made the most improvement because “they’ve adapted well to the new scheme and the new techniques.”
MIAMI: The Hurricanes must find a rusher to replace Duke Johnson, who set or tied at least 11 school records before entering the NFL Draft early. Coach Al Golden calls it “a great challenge for our guys” and says Gus Edwards and Joe Yearby top a list of five players who could win the job this fall.
PITTSBURGH: Narduzzi says he wants the Panthers to adopt the same practice habits that his Michigan State teams had — especially on defense. “You win championships with defense,” Narduzzi said. That “would be the No. 1 thing.”
VIRGINIA: Coach Mike London is rebuilding a defense that lost three starting linebackers. Veteran assistant John Tenuta is working with a group that includes Micah Kiser, Zach Bradshaw and Mark Hall and getting them “to step up and step into important roles.”
VIRGINIA TECH: The challenge for coach Frank Beamer is to coax some improvement out of an offense that ranked 12th in the ACC both in total yardage and points. He says having experienced QBs Michael Brewer and Brenden Motley back and “some real toughness” on the offensive line will help. “For the most part,” he says, “we’ve been good and have been scoring points.”
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