It was easy to spot all the quarterback uncertainty during the spring for Atlantic Division teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It starts with the health of Deshaun Watson at Clemson and how Florida State will replace Jameis Winston. But the questions extend beyond the two teams who have finished alone atop the division for three straight seasons, whether due to personnel loss at Boston College, injury at Louisville or a new scheme at Syracuse.
Watson is a potential all-ACC star after an impressive freshman season, but he’s recovering from surgery for a torn knee ligament. The injury kept him out of the bowl win against Oklahoma, then limited his spring activity while the team broke in new co-offensive coordinators.
“He was able to do a lot this spring from a football standpoint, drill work and things like that, throwing,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I really just basically had him with me the whole time when we would do our competitive team stuff, so he had to really mentally stay sharp.”
The Seminoles spent the spring preparing for life after Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner and possible top overall NFL draft pick.
Rising junior Sean Maguire won a start against Clemson last year when Winston was suspended, and led the spring race as FSU’s most experienced quarterback. But he had an up-and-down spring game to head into the offseason.
“We’ve got to play better around him,” coach Jimbo Fisher said afterward, “but he has to play a little better, too.”
The questions linger elsewhere in the division.
Louisville is waiting for starter Will Gardner to get healthy after missing spring drills after knee surgery. The Cardinals spent the spring looking at Reggie Bonnafon (who started after Gardner’s injury), Kyle Bolin (who started the bowl after Bonnafon was hurt) and Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson.
BC lost the nation’s top rushing quarterback in Tyler Murphy. And at Syracuse, dual-threat starter Terrel Hunt is learning a new offense under coordinator Tim Lester.
That leaves only North Carolina State and Wake Forest with healthy returning starters running the same offense.
The Wolfpack had a big first year with Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, who helped Dave Doeren’s team have a five-win improvement from the previous year. The Demon Deacons are hoping for growth from John Wolford, who set numerous program freshman records in coach Dave Clawson’s first year and ran with the first team again during spring practices.
A look at the focus for each team in the Atlantic Division during spring drills or headed into the summer:
BOSTON COLLEGE: The offensive will be a focus for BC, after losing all five starters. “It just depends sometimes how long it takes to mature that group,” coach Steve Addazio said. “But the five, six, seven guys we have right now, we still feel like those guys did pretty darn well this spring and gave us a lot of productivity.”
CLEMSON: Work began to retool the defense after losing eight starters. That included virtually the entire defensive front, led by potential high NFL draft pick Vic Beasley.
FLORIDA STATE: FSU must replenish an offense that lost eight starters, including Jameis Winston, career leading receiver Rashad Greene and four offensive linemen - a group that helped Florida State win the national title in 2013 and reach last year’s playoff.
LOUISVILLE: DeVante Parker is gone, so the Cardinals need a new go-to receiver. James Quick stood out in the spring game with seven catches for 127 yards. “I think we’re a little taller as a group,” coach Bobby Petrino said. “We have more speed. We’re just inexperienced.”
N.C. STATE: The Wolfpack has work to do on both the offensive and defensive lines, but found some possible playmakers during the spring game. January enrollee Reggie Gallaspy II showed plenty of burst by running for 131 yards, while Jaylen Samuels had 93 total yards as a running and receiving threat.
SYRACUSE: The team lost eight defensive starters and its top five tacklers. Marqez Hodge moved out of middle linebacker and coach Scott Shafer said Zaire Franklin is there “running the show for us now.” Shafer said nose tackle Kayton Samuels was the spring’s most improved defensive player.
WAKE FOREST: The focus was an offense that ranked last nationally in yardage (216.2) and next to last scoring (14.8). The Demon Deacons still need to find explosive playmakers, though coach Dave Clawson is hoping an influx of young tailbacks and receivers this summer could help in preseason camp.
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