Sizing up the ACC: Without Bowers, Clemson d-line still strong in the conference ranks

The Clemson Sports Blog

Brandon Thompson

Photo by Mark Crammer

Brandon Thompson

The ACC had the nation’s leader in sacks last season – you may remember the name (Da’Quan Bowers).

Of the 18 players with 10 or more sacks in 2010 nationally, the ACC had three – two of those three return in Florida State’s Brandon Jenkins and UNC’s Quinton Coples.

ACC leading returners in sacks (2010 Stats)

Florida State: DE Brandon Jenkins – 13.5.

UNC: DE Quinton Coples – 10; Donte Paige-Moss – 7.

Virginia: DE Cam Johnson – 6.5.

Miami: DE Olivier Vernon – 6; DE Adewale Ojomo – 5.

NC State: DT J.R. Sweezy – 5.5.

Clemson: DE Andre Branch – 5.

Virginia Tech: DE J.R. Collins – 5.

Maryland: DT Joe Vellano – 5.

North Carolina Quinton Coples  (90) sacks Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010, in Piscataway, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

North Carolina Quinton Coples (90) sacks Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010, in Piscataway, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The Tar Heels’ bookends of Coples and Donte Paige-Moss are the ACC’s top sack duo after racking up 17 last season.

Miami has the next closest with DE Olivier Vernon and Adewale Ojomo’s 11 sacks.

Senior DE Andre Branch is Clemson’s leader in sacks by a mile with five as the next nearest Tiger on the d-line has two in defensive tackle Rennie Moore.

Looking at tackles for loss...

ACC leading returners in tackles for loss (Defensive lineman, 2010 stats)

Florida State: DE Brandon Jenkins – 21.5

UNC: DE Quinton Coples – 15.5; DE Donte Paige-Moss – 13.5

Virginia: DE Cam Johnson – 14.5

Boston College: DE Max Holloway – 14

Miami: DT Marcus Forston – 12; DE Olivier Vernon – 10.5

NC State: DT J.R. Sweezy – 11.5

Wake Forest: DT Nikita Whitlock – 10.5

Rebuilding the d-line

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A couple of names that aren’t in the top sack list who appear here are BC’s Max Holloway, Miami’s Marcus Forston and Wake Forest’s Nikita Whitlock.

Andre Branch is Clemson’s leader in tackles for loss as well with 8.5 on the line – MLB Corico Hawkins is the overall leader with 10.

Projecting the ACC Defensive Lines

1) Florida State – DE Brandon Jenkins

Outlook: FSU has not only the ACC’s sack leader, but also five lineman with experience and a junior college transfer expected to play.

2) UNC – DE Quinton Coples, DE Donte Paige-Moss

Outlook: After last year’s NCAA investigations sat DT Marvin Austin and DE Robert Quinn, the next in line on the depth chart came in and did pretty well last season. UNC should have four upperclassmen starting in 2011.

3) Clemson – DE Andre Branch, DT Brandon Thompson

Outlook: With Bowers gone, Andre Branch and Malliciah Goodman have to step into the role of pressuring the QB. Brandon Thompson is the man in the middle in Jarvis Jenkins’ absence.

4) Virginia – DE Cam Johnson

Outlook: Led by senior DE Cam Johnson, the Cavaliers have three starters back in year two of the transition to a 4-3 defense.

5) Miami – DE Micanor Regis, DT Marcus Forston, DE Olivier Vernon

Outlook: The Hurricanes have one of the better defensive tackle tandems with senior Micanor Regis and junior Marcus Forston – and the second-best DEs duo in sacks with juniors Olivier Vernon and Adewale Ojomo.

6) Boston College – DE Max Holloway, DT Kaleb Ramsey

Outlook: DE Max Holloway finished 7th in the ACC in tackles for loss on the nation’s best rush defense last season. He and defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey anchor a defensive line with two underclassmen expected to man the other spots this season.

7) NC State – DT J.R. Sweezy

Outlook: The Wolfpack finished in the top 15 in rushing defense and fourth overall in sacks nationally, but pass defense was lacking last season. NC State returns half of the d-line led by senior defensive tackle J.R. Sweezy.

8) Maryland – DTs A.J. Francis, Joe Vellano

Outlook: Two juniors in A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano plug the middle. Vellano had a breakout sophomore season in 2010 with 63 tackles (10.5 for loss).

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer enters his 25th year with the Hokies and defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins is his lone returning starter on the defensive line. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer enters his 25th year with the Hokies and defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins is his lone returning starter on the defensive line. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

9) Virginia Tech – DT Antoine Hopkins

Outlook: The Hokies return one starter from the 2010 ACC Championship campaign – DT Antoine Hopkins, who posted 45 tackles last season.

10) Georgia Tech – DE Jason Peters

Outlook: It’s year two for the Yellow Jackets’ move to a 3-4 scheme under former Virginia coach Al Groh. Georgia Tech returns all three starters off a unit that struggled last season.

11) Wake Forest – NT Nikita Whitlock

Outlook: Like Georgia Tech, it’s season two in a move to a four linebacker – three lineman defensive formation for the Deacs. Nose tackle Nikita Whitlock finished among the top in the ACC in tackles for loss last season.

12) Duke - NG Charlie Hatcher

Outlook: The Blue Devils finished a very unlucky 113th in sacks and rushing defense last season. They lose their top sack guy from last season, but nose guard Charlie Hatcher had a team-leading 6.5 tackles for loss among returning starters.

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