Depth? Check. Talent? The ACC has that too on the d-line in 2013, with Clemson in the lead group.
Of the new 14-team league, nine return at least two-thirds of their starters and four return their whole unit from last season.
Preseason watch list candidates line the group, including Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Outland), Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle (Bednarik, Nagurski), Syracuse defensive tackle Jay Bromley (Lombardi, Outland) and FSU defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (Lombardi, Outland).
Clemson’s d-line success clicked just about midseason in 2012. In its first six games, Brent Venables’ unit compiled seven sacks. In the final seven? 27, to finish third in the ACC and 22nd nationally in the stat.
Tiger defensive ends Malliciah Goodman (Atlanta Falcons’ draft pick) and Vic Beasley (returning junior) showed the most improvement. All seven of Goodman’s sacks came in the final seven games, while 6-of-8 from Beasley were also in that final stretch.
A look at the leading returners (2012 stats)…
1) GT DE Jeremiah Attaochu – 10*
2) Clemson DE Vic Beasley – 8
3) NC State DE Darryl Cato-Bishop – 6
Tackles for Loss
1) Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald – 18.5
2) UNC DE Kevin Martin – 15.5
3) GT DE Jeremiah Attaochu – 12
1) GT DE Jeremiah Attaochu – 69
2) Miami DE Shayon Green – 67
3) Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald – 64
*Converting from a 3-4 linebacker role to defensive end.
Projecting the ACC D-lines
(If you haven’t been around with us before, the rankings are based on production/field impact – not a straight measure of their abilities like a NFL draft board. We’re looking at not only the player’s ability, but the surrounding cast that can help him get the W's and numbers.)
1) Virginia Tech – DE James Gayle, DT Derrick Hopkins
Outlook: The Hokies have depth – and quality depth at that – to lead the ACC. They return a conference-high 22.5 sacks from ’12 after finishing second only to FSU in the ACC last year. Gayle has 16 career sacks in playing time over three seasons.
2) Clemson – DT Grady Jarrett, DE Vic Beasley
Outlook: The light has turned on for Vic Beasley after a couple position moves. The Tigers have a healthy rotation and competition at defensive tackle that’s keeping the unit sharp. Add in more young talent like prep school DE signee (and local product) Shaq Lawson – this group will be hard to handle.
3) Florida State – DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Demonte McAllister
Outlook: FSU has been stockpiling the talent on the d-line, and after four d-line ‘Noles were taken in the 2013 NFL draft, the spotlight is on for the young unit, under a new defensive coordinator. Jernigan posted eight tackles for loss last season and has 14 in his career.
4) NC State – DE Art Norman, DT T.Y. McGill
Outlook: The Wolfpack return the second-most 2012 sacks (21.5) – led by DE duo Darryl Cato-Bishop (6.5) and Art Norman (5.5).
5) Pittsburgh – DT Aaron Donald, DT Tyrone Engell
Outlook: Donald, maybe more than any other incoming player, is a favorite to crack All-ACC in the move from the artist formerly known as the Big East. He has 34.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks over the last two seasons. The Panthers finished 22nd nationally in total defense in 2012.
6) UNC – DE Kareem Martin, DT Tim Jackson
Outlook: UNC has been a D-line U of late – sending talent to the NFL and last season, ranking ninth nationally in sacks. Martin is the ACC’s second-best returner in tackles for loss (15.5).
7) Miami – DE Anthony Chickillo, DT Curtis Porter
Outlook: Miami is one of the four returning all four starters on the d-line, but are still looking for the production. The ‘Canes ranked 113th in sacks and 116th in total defense in 2012.
8) Wake Forest – DE Zach Thompson, DT Nikita Whitlock
Outlook: The Deacs, much like Miami, bring everybody back after a tough season (88th in total D), but they did finish 55th in sacks nationally.
9) Duke – DE Kenny Anunike
Outlook: A hard-luck injury case, Anunike returns for a sixth-year after finishing in the top-15 in the ACC in sacks last year (5). Duke, which ranked 66th nationally in sacks last season (highest ranking since 2008), returns the third-most in the conference (19.5) and all four starters.
10) Georgia Tech – DE Jeremiah Attaochu, DE Emmanuel Dieke
Outlook: Georgia Tech is in the midst of a transition from three to four lineman by scheme with Ted Roof taking over. Playmaking OLB Jeremiah Attaochu will put his hand in the dirt at defensive end now. Attaochu is the ACC’s returning leader in sacks (10) and has led the Jackets both years on campus in the stat (16 career sacks).
11) Virginia – DE Jake Snyder
Outlook: The Cavaliers haven’t been a sack-geared team (98th and 90th nationally in 2012 and 2011), but have held the line in the running game, with back-to-back top-50 efforts.
12) Boston College – DE Kasim Edebali, DT Kaleb Ramsey
Outlook: Dead-last. 120 out of 120. That was BC’s rank in sacks last season. They return four of their SIX sacks from 2012 on the d-line, in Edebali (1.5), Brian Mihalik (1), Malachi Moore (1) and Jaryd Rudolph (.5). Nowhere to go but up I guess.
13) Maryland – DT Darius Kilgo
Outlook: While the Terps still languished to a 4-8 mark last season, the defense was greatly improved thanks to a pair of veteran ends and a solid noseguard up the middle to a top-25 mark (336.8 YPG allowed). Just the noseguard in that mix is back (Kilgo), but they do have Keith Bowers on one end, who has eight career tackles for loss.
14) Syracuse – Jay Bromley
Outlook: The ‘Cuse replaces the most starters in the ACC (3) thanks to end Markus Pierce-Brewster being dismissed for a “violation of team rules.” On the interior, Bromley is on multiple watch lists, but overall, the unit returns just four sacks from ’12 (tied with BC for the lowest).
Sizing up the ACC series