Tag:Spring Practice Preview
Posted on: March 7, 2012 6:07 pm
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Spring Practice Primer: Clemson



Posted by Chip Patterson


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Clemson.

Spring Practice Starts: March 7

Spring Game: April 14

Three Things To Look For

1. Raised expectations. The hope of returning the ACC title to Clemson had driven Tigers' programs for two decades until Dabo Swinney finally delivered the crown in December. But after the 2011 team "broke through the walls," as Swinney put it several times, the expectations changed completely for 2012. Bringing back all of the primary offensive skill players but Dwayne Allen, and hiring Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables has made 2012 a BCS or bust season. No longer will Clemson fans hope to avoid a letdown, instead they expect to compete for hardware from opening day. Not even a record-setting blowout loss in South Beach could shake the confidence of a new-attitude program hungry for more titles.

2. Improving the offensive line. With Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, and Andre Ellington all back, the Tigers are set with All-ACC talent at the skill positions. However, troubles along the offensive line prevented the unit from clicking during their late-season slide in 2011. The success of the offense relied too heavily on individuals like left tackle Phillip Price, and this spring should be an opportunity for offensive coordinator Chad Morris to get some depth and a solid rotation along the line. Price and fellow tackle Landon Walker are gone, leaving center Dalton Freeman as the only lineman with any significant game experience. Conditioning should no longer be an issue for offseason practice, either, with one full year of Morris' system under their belts.

3. Brent Venables' impact. The Tigers return just six starters on defense, and have a huge need on the defensive line to replace All-ACC graduates Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch. Former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables enters as one of the most praised (and highest-paid) defensive coordinators in the ACC, but will have his work cut out with this young group of defenders. On one hand, it might be easier to teach a new system rather than have to un-teach Kevin Steele's complex scheme. On the other, he could end up seeing the same youthful mistakes that plagued the Tigers in 2011. Venables will have all eyes on his defense in 2012, and getting through to his unit this spring will be essential for Clemson's success in the fall.

For much more on Clemson as they go through Spring Practice, including the Top 3 Position Battles for the spring, follow Travis Sawchik's Tigers' RapidReports. For more spring previews around the ACC check out Spring Practice Home.

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Posted on: March 6, 2012 2:22 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Wake Forest



Posted by Chip Patterson


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Wake Forest.

Spring Practice Starts: TBD (March 1 and March 3 practices were delayed, March 6 is the next scheduled practice) 

Spring Game: April 14

Three Things To Look For:

1. Tanner Price finding new favorite target. One of the things that made Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price so successful in 2011 was his ability to distribute the ball from the spread and allow the skill position players to make plays in the open field. No player did so more prolifically than wide receiver Chris Givens, who led the ACC with 1,330 yards and totaled nine touchdowns before deciding to leave a year early for the NFL. The Demon Deacons return junior wideout Michael Campanaro - who racked up 833 receiving yards of his own - but will be looking for another player to step up as that second option in the spread attack. Head coach Jim Grobe has already singled out Terence Davis, a redshirt senior who has battled through injury during his first season's at Wake Forest, as one player expected to step up this season.

2. Replacing four starters on the offensive line. Wake Forest's biggest offensive concern heading into the year lies along the offensive line. The Demon Deacons aren't just replacing four starters, but three redshirt seniors and All-ACC second team guard Joe Looney. Center Garrick Williams is the only returning starter, and the coaches will be looking for some players to step up this spring. Grobe believes this is a talented and athletic group, but nearly every other position will be up for grabs this spring. Redshirt junior Steven Chase is one player to keep an eye on this spring. The 6-foot-7, 305 pound left tackle will be an important piece in establishing the line and pass protecting for Tanner Price.

3. Breaking in new faces on the coaching staff. Head coach Jim Grobe is one of the most tenured coaches in the ACC at his current post, and staff shakeups have not been normal since his arrival in Winston-Salem over a decade ago. The Demon Deacons entire 2012 with a pair of new hires, and some slight rearranging of the duties on the coaching staff. Jonathan Himebauch, of the CFL's Toronto Argonauts, will coach the offensive line, allowing Steed Lebotzke to focus on his responsibilities as offensive coordinator. Derrick Jackson has also been brought on to assist with the outside linebackers, which should take some weight off of defensive coordinator Brian Knorr. Grobe feels confident these additions will be improvements, but spring practice will be crucial as the entire staff adjusts to the new responsibilities.  Steve Russ recently left Wake Forest to return to his alma mater Air Force, and the defensive back duties will reportedly be taken by soon-to-be hired Tim Duffie from Colorado State

Catch up on the rest of the ACC and BCS conferences at the Spring Practice Home

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Posted on: March 6, 2012 12:37 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Miami



Posted by Chip Patterson


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Miami.

Spring Practice Started: March 3

Spring Game: April 14

Three things to look for:

1. Replacing key defensive playmakers.  The Hurricanes have said goodbye to several upperclassmen who contributed significantly on the defensive side. With players like Sean Spence, Marcus Robinson, Micanor Regis, JoJo Nicolas gone; Al Golden will be looking to a collection of unproven defensive players to step up. Rookie standouts Anthony Chickillo and Denzel Perryman return for their sophomore campaigns, but the rest of the front seven will need to be filled in with to-be-determined playmakers. One player to keep an eye on along the defensive line is redshirt junior Shayon Green, who has received praise from the coaching staff for his offseason work.

2. Ryan Williams' chance to challenge Stephen Morris.  Offseason back surgery will keep junior quarterback Stephen Morris out of contact drills for Miami's spring practice. Morris battled with former quarterback Jacory Harris for the 2011 starting job for nearly six months before losing what nearly everyone close to the program called a "neck-and-neck" battle. But while game experience gives him an edge on freshmen Gray Crow and Preston Dewey, he will still likely have to beat Memphis transfer Ryan Williams for the job in the fall. As a freshman in 2010, Williams won the Tigers' starting job in the second game of the season. A former Florida 6A State Championship MVP, Williams will be looking to put on a show in his return to the South Florida area.

3. Settling on an offensive line.  Miami never settled on a single offensive line rotation during the 2011 season. As players battled through injuries and other setbacks, the coaching staff kept competition for snaps open in practice. The results were mixed, and the lack of continuity along the unit seemed to hold back the offense at points during the season. Spring practice has already started with trouble on the line, with tackle Seantrel Henderson getting hit with a brief suspension for a violation of team policy. Henderson, once considered the future of the unit, will face tough competition from one of the deepest positions in spring ball for the Hurricanes.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the opening kick of the year all the way through the offseason, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview.

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Posted on: February 21, 2012 9:35 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Boston College



Posted by Chip Patterson


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Boston College.

Spring Practice Started: Saturday, February 18

Spring Game: Saturday, March 31

Three Things To Look For:

1. Replacing Luke Kuechly. Arguably one of the most dominant and decorated defensive players in recent Boston College history, Kuechly's early departure to the NFL has left a huge hole in the unit. Not only did Kuechly put up nation-leading tackle numbers for the last three seasons, but he was a swarming ball-hawk, exhibiting sideline-to-sideline speed and awareness that helped prevent the home run offensive play. That responsibility will fall now on sophomore Sean Duggan and junior Steele Vivitto - who likely will play outside linebacker. Kuechly was a leader by example for Boston College, and setting that same tone - both on the field and in the film room - is a responsibility to be claimed this spring.

2. With Montel Harris shut down, what is the identity of the offense? First-year offensive coordinator Doug Martin, formerly with New Mexico State and Kent State, has seen on film how the Eagles offense sputtered without Harris in 2011. It only took one practice for Harris to re-aggravate that left knee injury that kept him out of 10 contests last season, and questioning his availability for an entire 2012 season is a legitimate concern. Martin will have both Chase Rettig and Josh Bordner in competition for snaps at quarterback this spring, and he will have the (unfortunate) opportunity of creating his Montel Harris-less backup plan this spring.

3. Can Spaziani get back on track? Boston College may not leap off the page as an ACC power house to many, but until 2011 the Eagles had shown a constancy that that only a few of their fellow league members have displayed. The Eagles went to 12 straight bowl games from 1999-2010 before going 4-8 and missing the postseason. In recent years, bowl trips have helped cool "Frank Spaziani hot seat" talk, but now he needs results. The responsibility will eventually fall on Spaziani to get this new coaching staff on the same page this spring. The offensive staff for 2012 includes new faces at four of the five positions, including offensive coordinator Doug Martin. Improving the offense, which ranked dead last in scoring and total offense in the ACC in 2011, will be essential to getting the Eagles back to their bowling ways in 2012.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the opening kick of the year all the way through the offseason, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview.

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Posted on: February 21, 2012 9:35 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Boston College



Posted by Chip Patterson


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Boston College.

Spring Practice Started: Saturday, February 18

Spring Game: Saturday, March 31

Three Things To Look For:

1. Replacing Luke Kuechly. Arguably one of the most dominant and decorated defensive players in recent Boston College history, Kuechly's early departure to the NFL has left a huge hole in the unit. Not only did Kuechly put up nation-leading tackle numbers for the last three seasons, but he was a swarming ball-hawk, exhibiting sideline-to-sideline speed and awareness that helped prevent the home run offensive play. That responsibility will fall now on sophomore Sean Duggan and junior Steele Vivitto - who likely will play outside linebacker. Kuechly was a leader by example for Boston College, and setting that same tone - both on the field and in the film room - is a responsibility to be claimed this spring.

2. With Montel Harris shut down, what is the identity of the offense? First-year offensive coordinator Doug Martin, formerly with New Mexico State and Kent State, has seen on film how the Eagles offense sputtered without Harris in 2011. It only took one practice for Harris to re-aggravate that left knee injury that kept him out of 10 contests last season, and questioning his availability for an entire 2012 season is a legitimate concern. Martin will have both Chase Rettig and Josh Bordner in competition for snaps at quarterback this spring, and he will have the (unfortunate) opportunity of creating his Montel Harris-less backup plan this spring.

3. Can Spaziani get back on track? Boston College may not leap off the page as an ACC power house to many, but until 2011 the Eagles had shown a constancy that that only a few of their fellow league members have displayed. The Eagles went to 12 straight bowl games from 1999-2010 before going 4-8 and missing the postseason. In recent years, bowl trips have helped cool "Frank Spaziani hot seat" talk, but now he needs results. The responsibility will eventually fall on Spaziani to get this new coaching staff on the same page this spring. The offensive staff for 2012 includes new faces at four of the five positions, including offensive coordinator Doug Martin. Improving the offense, which ranked dead last in scoring and total offense in the ACC in 2011, will be essential to getting the Eagles back to their bowling ways in 2012.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the opening kick of the year all the way through the offseason, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. View a preview.

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Posted on: April 7, 2011 5:15 pm
Edited on: April 7, 2011 5:27 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Cincinnati

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Cincinnati , who started spring practice last Tuesday.


Can Butch Jones and Cincinnati prove that 2010 was just a fluke, and get back on track in 2011

When Brian Kelly left Cincinnati, he had the Bearcats sitting high and mighty. Coming off three-straight 10+ win seasons and back-to-back Big East titles, the thought was that new head coach Butch Jones was walking into to a dream setup. Jones, a promising young coach from Central Michigan, had succeeded Kelly at his previous job as well. He took the Chippewas to three straight postseason appearances and finished 2009 ranked 25th in the final AP Poll.

But Jones did not enter the season without doubters. With only three years of head coaching experience, Bearcats fans were worried that Jones might not be ready for a job of this magnitude yet. From a program standpoint, finishing 2010 4-8 after Kelly's success is either a fluke or disaster. Jones' job beginning in spring practice will be to prove that last season was the former rather than the latter.

Cincinnati returns all eleven defensive starters from 2010's squad. Normally, that would be an immediate sign of good things to come. But with the Bearcats' defensive performance in 2010, it only serves as a starting point for improvement this spring. Cincinnati ranked dead last in scoring defense (28.0 points per game), and next to last in total defense (369.4 yards per game). But the defense will not magically improve just by being a year older, they need to begin improving as a unit this spring.

One thing working in their advantage is another year with the same staff and scheme. Co-coordinators Tim Banks and John Jancek are back, and it will be the first time in three seasons the defense has not had to adjust to a new defensive coordinator. The front line should be strong, as evidence by Cincinnati's (relative) success against the run last season. But the secondary still is a point of major concern for Jones. In 2010 the secondary gave up 234 yards per game through the air, ranking dead last in the Big East. Keep an eye on junior college transfer Malcom Murray, who will get to see some time at safety this spring with Wes Richardson sitting out with an injury. Jones also is hoping that an open competition among a handful of corners will breed development that should benefit the position heading into fall practice.

Offensively the Bearcats aren't as stacked with returning starters, but there are enough key pieces returning and new additions to expect little drop-off from last year's production. Cincinnati did lead the conference last season with 417.3 yards per game of total offense. Much of that success can be credited to senior quarterback Zach Collaros. Collaros led the Big East in passing yardage and touchdowns last season, and was unanimously selected to all-Big East first team. On paper, not a bad finish for Collaros' first full season as a starter, except for 14 interceptions and that 4-8 record. As a senior Collaros must not only improve his own turnover count, but become a leader for this offense and this team. Leadership is one of the things that many have felt the Bearcats lacked in 2010, and that can not be changed alone by a second-year coach. Collaros was on the roster for the peak of Cincinnati football, and he knows what it will take to get back into Big East title contention.

Collaros loses one of his primary weapons from a season ago, but gains a few new pieces that have turned some heads so far this spring. Gone is Armon Binns, the first-team all-conference wide receiver who was the only 1,000 yard wideout in the Big East. But back is D.J. Woods, the big-play threat who finished second in the conference right behind Binns with 898 yards on the season. But the receiver who has been making a strong impression so far this spring is Kenbrell Thompkins. Thompkins was a JUCO transfer originally signed with Lane Kiffin at Tennessee. When Kiffin left, so did Thompkins. Now after sitting out last year it is time for him to live up to the hype. Most observations from practice thus far make it sound like he is doing just that.

The Bearcats offense also gets Isaiah Pead returning at running back. Pead saw an increase in his workload in 2010, and responded with his first 2010 season. Like Collaros, he was on the roster for both Big East titles and will be a crucial extension of the coaching staff in the locker room. But one of the biggest stories this spring on offense is the return of (now) tight end Travis Kelce from his one suspension.

Formerly a defensive end, Kelce has been turning heads since making the move to tight end in the offseason. Kelce, a 6-foot-6, 252 pound junior, was recruited to Cincinnati as a quarterback to join his older brother Jason -- the Bearcats' starting center in 2010. Kelce ran the Wildcat occasionally in 2009, but was suspended for a year just before the Sugar Bowl for an off-field issue. Kelce spent the entire 2010 regular season as a member of the scout team, awaiting his return to the Bearcats.

 “He came to work every day,” Jones said of Kelce's efforts while suspended. “It’s hard for an individual when they know that they’re not going to be playing and it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of times they’ll pace themselves and go through the motions. He was one of the individuals that brought it every day on the scout team. He was extremely competitive and I thought he made the most of his situation.”

Kelce has been described by his teammates as a "freak." He is physical, fast, and the coaching staff has been complimenting his ability to block and use his hands. He has honed skills all over the field, playing that defensive end position while on the scout team last season. Now making the move to tight end, Kelce has the possibility to be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Even scarier? Coach Jones has not ruled out the possibility of using Kelce on the defensive end.

"Travis can be a weapon," Jones said. "He can do so many things. When we feel comfortable with him, we may cross train him to be a third-down specialist at the defensive end position."

Attention will be paid on all aspects of the Cincinnati team this spring. Normally falling from 12-1 to 4-8 would be grounds for a coaching change, and Jones knows that. Many of the players have admitted that they didn't quite buy into the new coaching staff last year, but after watching the disastrous results they have no choice. The players must buy into the toughness and attention to detail being preached in spring practice. With so many returning starters there is little learning curve necessary, and Cincinnati should be able to improve quickly. However, it also means there is less room for excuses should the win column not improve as well.

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Posted on: April 5, 2011 4:25 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 4:32 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Virginia Tech

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Virginia Tech , who started spring practice on Wednesday.


With turnover at several key positions, will the Hokies be able to fill the holes and successfully defend their position atop the ACC?

After Virginia Tech started last season with losses to Boise State and James Madison in a five day span, the college football world was ready to file the 2010 Hokies into the "bust" category. But when the Hokies fell from the spotlight, they dug down and pulled off an 11-game win streak that finished with their fourth ACC Championship in seven years. As the Hokies lifted the trophy in Charlotte under a monsoon of oranges, head coach Frank Beamer spoke about the character and fight of a Hokie squad that refused to quit. At season's end, eleven players were named to either the first or second all-conference teams, and senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor was crowned the ACC Player of the Year.

But as the Hokies are preparing for 2011, things look a little different in Blacksburg. The Hokies bring back 12 starters from 2010, including five of those all-conference selections. But many of the names and faces that helped bring in three ACC Championships in the last four years are now gone, leaving those positions open for the next crop of headline-grabbing Hokies in 2011.

The most noticeable and arguably most important transition is at the quarterback position. With Taylor gone, the signal-calling responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of redshirt sophomore Logan Thomas. Don't try to hit Thomas with questions about "filling Tyrod Taylor's shoes," because the 6-foot-6 245 pound quarterback wears size-18. Thomas has spent the last two years in meetings with Taylor, watching what he watches becoming familiar with quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain. Recruited by some as a tight end that could see the field right away, Thomas opted to bide his time waiting behind Taylor. His arm strength has been praised by anyone who has watched him throw, and his reported 4.6 40-yard dash makes him just as much of a threat running the ball as Taylor was before him. If Thomas can get in a rhythm with his receivers and improve his accuracy, he could prove to eventually be just as much of an offensive threat at Taylor was in 2010. He knows the history of quarterbacks under Frank Beamer, and Thomas appears to understand the importance of that leadership quality. On the first day of spring ball, he was asked if he had a mental checklist of things to improve.

“I was writing down some goals today for the spring," Thomas explained. "Just get command of the offense, get used to my players, more familiar with the playbook, get great accuracy and just get the team to feel more comfortable with me and how I play, just get the respect from the coaches and everyone around. It’s written down in the first page of my playbook.”

Virginia Tech will also suffer from the loss of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Both running backs had stellar freshman seasons, with Evans being named the Orange Bowl MVP at the end of the 2008 season and Williams earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2009. Last season was the first time that both backs saw the field at the same time, which combined with David Wilson's emergence made for one of the most dangerous backfields in the conference. But in that system with three all-conference caliber running backs, the responsibility was evenly spread week in and week out. With Evans and Williams taking their talents to the next level, Wilson must carry a significantly larger load in the Hokies backfield.

The junior from Danville, VA was one of the Hokies' all-conference selections for his work as a return specialist. Wilson led the ACC last season averaging 26.55 yards per kickoff return, and ran back two for touchdowns. Even sharing snaps at running back, Wilson displayed his "home-run" potential. Wilson broke at least one run of 15 yards or more in eight different appearances last season, averaged 15.6 yards per reception as a dangerous threat in the passing game.

If Wilson can maintain that level of production consistently, he will easily become one of the most important pieces to the Hokies' success. The big question for the spring will be how the rest of the depth chart shapes out behind him. Unfortunately for the Hokies, Josh Oglesby (converted from fullback) and Tony Gregory are the only other scholarship players at the position. Wilson not only will have the opportunity to shine in the running attack, it will be expected.

Virginia Tech also is dealing with depth issues on the defensive line. Starters Steven Friday and John Graves have graduated, and Chris Drager has been moved to tight end. Bud Foster's best defenses have been anchored by a solid defensive line that seems to cue turnovers by winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Kwamaine Battle will return to the field after tearing his ACL in the second game of the season, as will his replacement Antoine Hopkins. But the Hokies will be putting a lot of faith in redshirt freshmen James Gayle and J.R. Collins to contribute immediately.

But even amidst the depth and development questions, you can't help but feel like the Hokies are still going to contend for the ACC Coastal Division title. Frank Beamer has led the Hokies to double-digit wins in 10 of the last 12 seasons. This is far from the first time he has entered spring practice with question marks on the depth chart, and it will certainly not be his last. Beamer knows what it will take to make a return visit to the ACC Championship Game, and being in contention is absolutely a realistic expectation for Virginia Tech fans.

A quick glance at the schedule for 2011 will show a slate that should work perfectly for a team breaking in a new starting quarterback. Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State, and Marshall will be the first opponents for the Hokies before hosting Clemson and Miami in back-to-back weeks. Their toughest road opponents will be Georgia Tech and Virginia, but those matchups don't come until the last month of the season. There may not be a lot of national hype around this year's bunch from Blacksburg, but it is not unreasonable to think that they could be back in Charlotte for a rematch with Florida State in the ACC Championship game in December.

If that happens, you can bet Logan Thomas' size-18's will be ready to do the best Tyrod Taylor impression you've ever seen.

Click here for more Spring Practice Primers
Posted on: March 30, 2011 5:23 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2011 5:29 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Georgia Tech

Posted by Chip Patterson

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football  will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Georgia Tech, who started spring practice on Monda
y.

Will Georgia Tech be able to erase the turnovers and mental mistakes that plagued them in 2010?

Coming into the 2010 season, Georgia Tech was riding pretty high. The Yellow Jackets were fresh off an ACC Championship and a BCS bowl berth. Head coach Paul Johnson's flexbone option offense was working immediately, delivering at least a share of two Coastal Division crowns in his first two seasons at the helm. With a preseason #16 ranking, Georgia Tech held the fate of the 2010 season in their hands.

Then they dropped it, literally.

Georgia Tech fumbled the ball 20 times in 2010, more that any other team in Division I. The turnovers and mental mistakes were not the only reason that Georgia Tech finished with their worst record since 1994, but they certainly played a big role in the Yellow Jackets' struggles. A fumbling issue is particularly damaging for a team that rushes the ball an average of 57.9 times a game. For comparison, the rest of the ACC averaged 30-40 rushing attempts per game. But the Jackets not only led the conference with 323.31 yards per game, but also in yards per carry. So clearly the offense was working, as long as the Yellow Jackets were holding onto the ball.

So what was the issue for Georgia Tech? One word that has been floating around Atlanta as spring practice has kicked off is "complacency."

“I think there was a sense of complacency to a degree,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Not with everybody. But when you win nine games the first year and then you win 11 games, I think some guys just think, ‘Well, this is going to happen again.’ It doesn’t work like that.”

So for starters, the Yellow Jackets will be focusing on a new mentality this spring. According to Johnson, inspiring this bunch didn't take much extra push from the coaching staff. All any of the Yellow Jackets would need to do is think back to the horrendous 14-7 Independence Bowl loss to Air Force. With two muffed punts to compliment three lost fumbles an interception, it was the perfect microcosm of what went wrong with the Yellow Jackets last season.

“Our guys aren’t dumb, they know what happened,” Johnson said. “We’re light years ahead of where we were last year at this time. We have a lot more togetherness as a group. You can see our focus, our desire. I can look out my office window [onto the practice field] and see guys working, doing things we didn’t do last year. There’s a different aura.”

The aura is different and so will be a lot of the faces in 2011. Georgia Tech only returns six offensive and five defensive starters from last year's squad. What that will mean for the Yellow Jackets in spring practice is open competition for some the most important positions on the field. If complacency was an issue for the offense, that could be eliminated as several candidates enter spring ball competing for the quarterback, A-back, and B-back positions in Johnson's flexbone option.

Junior quarterback Tevin Washington took over as the starting quarterback when Joshua Nesbitt broke his arm against Virginia Tech. At the time, the Jackets were 5-3 and in a position to knock off the Hokies for a huge division victory. Washington was inconsistent on the field, showing both flashes of brilliance and mind-numbingly bad decision making sometimes in the same drive. This spring he'll go head-to-head against Synjyn Days, a 6-2 sophomore from Powder Spring, GA. Days ran an option offense in high school and got to see some time running with the first team in practice near the end of last season. Days will have an opportunity, but according to Johnson the starting spot will remain with Washington for now.

"[Washington] is the starter coming in, and I think that he has earned that," Johnson explained. It is very similar to a lot of the positions, the depth chart is always fluid. He has been taking snaps. This is why I try not to get too hyped up on the freshmen. Synjyn (Days) has a lot of ability, but he has to beat Tevin out. It's Tevins' job."

Another concern for Georgia Tech's offense this spring is replacing B-back Anthony Allen, who led all rushers in 2010 with 1,316 yards. The position previously held by Allen and ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer before him will be up for grabs among four different backs. Richard Watson, Preston Lyons, Charles Perkins, and former quarterback David Sims will compete this spring for their spot in the rotation. With all that talent, you would think that the Yellow Jackets could benefit from a running back-by-committee approach. But as Doug Roberson points out, Johnson has rarely done that in his 14 seasons as a head coach.

At A-back, the leaders would appear to be Orwin Smith (516 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Roddy Jones (353 yards, 4 touchdowns). In Johnson's system, the A-back needs to have that home-run capability that demands attention from the the opposing linebackers and secondary. Both backs have shown the ability to do that at times, but with another year of experience spring will be the time to show improvement and earn that top spot in Paul Johnson's fluid depth chart.

Georgia Tech will also need to fill holes on the offensive line and hopefully Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton have developed as more consistent wide receivers. The wideouts don't need to catch a lot of balls each Saturday. But when the pigskin is tossed their way, they are expected to pull it in. Defensively Johnson is expecting to see some major improvements in the second season under the direction of defensive coordinator Al Groh, but does not seem to place any of the blame for 2010 on that side of the ball.

"If you look at the [defensive] stats from two years ago to last year, there really wasn't a lot of difference," Johnson explained before the first spring practice. "We probably had a few less turnovers last year and gave up a few less big plays. But the total yardage, points per game, all that was pretty much right in line with where we had been. You hope that in the second year (of the 3-4) there is a little more familiarity. The bottom line is winning and losing the game is determined on how many points you give up. That is the bottom line."

If the mentality has changed, as Johnson suggested, you might see a brand new Yellow Jackets squad in 2011. The expectations are not what they were a year ago in Atlanta, but that does not mean you can count Georgia Tech out of the Coastal Division race. There is a lot of buzz around Miami with Al Golden's arrival, and you can never count out Virginia Tech, but if the Yellow Jackets can eliminate the turnovers and special teams issues they should see significant improvement in the fall.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com