2004 Preseason All-ACC Defense
by Jeff Ouellet, 8/17/04

While offense sells tickets, the true tale of the tape in college football is on the defensive side of the ball. Witness the 2003 Hokies, who had a standout rusher, a record-setting receiver, two solid quarterbacks and the best center in the country, yet still failed to finish in the top half of their league because their defense wasn’t up to snuff.

In the ACC, much of the top talent is still in the junior and sophomore class, so there will be a lot of emerging playmakers as the year progresses. FSU and Miami in particular will be playing some new faces, but don’t be lulled into thinking they are any less talented than the departed ones.

Defensive Line

Chris Canty, UVa, 6'7", 280 SR (DE) – Lightly recruited out of high school, Canty added a significant amount of weight onto his impressive frame after matriculating and has become a top notch NFL prospect. In addition to having ideal defensive end measureables, Canty has been productive leading ACC defensive linemen in tackles two years running. His tackle for loss stats are slightly misleading as he does a lot of the dirty work up front to help the linebackers make plays. He projects as a first rounder next April.

Orien Harris, Miami, 6’4", 299 JR (DT) – The next big time Cane defensive tackle, Harris has great quickness and a nasty disposition. He is a disruptive force on the interior, and is more Russell Maryland (quick, penetrating) than Vince Wilfork (massive run stuffer). Brother Kwame was a first round pick by the NFL, but he may only be the second best prospect in his immediate family. My guess is that Harris has the best year of any Canes defensive player.

Eric Henderson, GT, 6’3", 265 JR (DE) – Henderson is coming off an incredibly productive year in Jon Tenuta’s defense as he recorded 11 sacks and 24 tackles for a loss. As his numbers suggest, he spends a lot of time in opposing backfields and also will benefit from the move of speed rusher Travis Parker to the outside.

Eric Moore, FSU, 6’4", 244 SR (DE) – Other than quarterback, the biggest difference between the perennial top five Noles and their less potent recent editions has been the lack of blue chip talent to rush the passer. FSU coaches seem to think the position has been reinforced this season despite the loss of three starters on the line. The returning starter is Moore, a player who seems poised to explode after a 7.5 sack campaign last fall. He lacks ideal size, but is quick off the edge and will be isolated as much as possible by veteran defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. FSU also has enough depth to play eight guys regularly, so he should be fresh on third down.

Others to watch: Jim Davis, VT, 6’4", 265 SR (DE/DT who should have a big campaign and could crack first team all-conference if he can stay healthy); Mario Williams, NC St., 6’7", 265 SO (DE) (has evoked images of Julius Peppers athletically and dominated this past spring, so he might be poised to establish himself as an all-america in ‘05); Phillip Alexander, Duke, 6’4", 255 SR (DE) (he deserves preseason acclaim based on his production last year, but the tragic death of bookend DE Micah Harris will ensure he sees a lot of double teams this fall); Darryl Tapp, VT, 6’1", 265 JR (DE) (he should be the "numbers" guy on this VT defense with his relentless, attacking style and increased strength); Baraka Atkins, UM, 6’4", 263 SO (DE) (he is coming off a great debut with 5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries last year; he has great speed and was strong enough that he played some defensive tackle last fall).


Ahmad Brooks, UVa, 6’4", 250 SO – Brooks does need to continue to refine his technique and increase his production, but his size, speed and athleticism is virtually unparalleled at linebacker in the college ranks. His productivity rose last year as he gained more experience (he finished with 117 tackles and had a big game in the Continental Tire Bowl versus Pitt), and there is no reason to believe he’ll do anything but progress. He runs as well for his size as any player in college football. If he has the kind of year I think he will, he is bound for the top half of the first round of the NFL draft next April. UVa has the best front seven in the ACC and he is one reason why.

D’Qwell Jackson, Maryland, 6’1", 224 JR – Jackson is undersized for the middle and will be hurt by the early departure of Randy Starks, but he is tough, instinctive and led the team with 132 tackles. Jackson is a Florida kid that wasn’t wanted by the Big Three and he has taken it upon himself to prove them wrong. This is the glory position in the Maryland defense (he took over for E.J. Henderson), and Jackson should be in line for plenty of accolades after this year.

Leroy Hill, Clemson, 6’1", 220 SR – He came from obscurity to rack up 145 tackles, including a whopping 27 for a loss (second nationally), and plays the game based on feel and instinct (think Dat Nguyen – undersized and quick to the hole). You can’t argue with his past performance. He is the leader of the Tiger defense.

Others to watch: A.J. Nicholson, FSU, 6’2", 235 JR (former blue chip recruit who should put up huge numbers and plenty of big hits in ’04; he tallied 55 tackles in limited time last year); Darryl Blackstock, UVa, 6’4", 230 (JR) (numbers suffered with the addition of Brooks and Parham, but he still has all the tolls to be a terrific edge rusher on third down); Kai Parham, UVa, 6’3", 238 SO (Parham gets overlooked because of Brooks and Blackstock, but he’s got terrific strength and probably has the best instincts of anyone in the Cavs linebacker corps); Larry Edwards, UNC, 6’3", 232 SO (a rising star who has great size for a weakside linebacker, Edwards had 88 tackles last fall and could be poised for bigger things as a sophomore).

Defensive Backs

Antrel Rolle, Miami, 6'1", 200 SR (CB) – Rolle is a big, talented corner who would have been a late first round pick last year had he left school early. Rolle had a very good game against Larry Fitzgerald last year and has excellent ball skills. However, Rolle isn’t perfect: he does not have great recovery speed. He’s good, very good, but I’m not sold on him as the best defensive player on his own team yet.

James Butler, GT, 6’3", 212 SR (S) – In addition to his five interceptions last year, Butler recorded 119 tackles, a record for a GT defensive back. He always seems to be around the ball, and coupled with his physical prowess that makes him the type of safety that always must be accounted for by the opposing quarterback. Butler is the best free safety in the conference.

Justin Miller, Clemson, 5’11", 200 JR (CB) – Miller made a real splash as a true freshman before struggling at times last fall. He should be able to put things together this fall, as he probably is the fastest returning DB in the conference. Much like DeAngelo Hall last year, he’s simply a better athlete than almost everyone he covers and that will help him make some spectacular plays. If he is more consistent making the routine ones, he could be the best defensive back in the conference.

Andre Maddox, NC State, 6’1", 200 SR (S) – The prototype strong safety and a returning first team all-conference player, Maddox had 145 tackles last fall. He also made plays every game, and that consistency separated him from many of his peers. He is the leader of an all senior Wolfpack secondary (but watch out for a talented pair of backup corners, A.J. Davis and Marcus Hudson).

Others to watch: Domonique Foxworth, Maryland, 5’11", 177 SR (CB) (a two year starter and all-conference pick, Foxworth understands his role and is incredibly competitive with the ball in the air); Jimmy Williams, VT, 6’3", 219 JR (CB) (Williams is gifted and has the look of a first round NFL player, but he slumped badly last fall at free safety; he should flourish this fall if VT allows him to play to his physical strengths by blitzing and playing some bump and run); Bryant McFadden, FSU, 6’0", 186 (CB) (not the jaw dropping athlete like an Antonio Cromartie, but McFadden has good ball skills and can make plays; if FSU returns to more aggressive coverage this fall, he’ll get numbers); Eric Green, VT, 6’0", 198 (CB) (received strong praise from Whammy Ward after his work this spring; consistency is the missing piece).

Punter/Punt Returner

Ryan Plackemeier, Wake Forest, 6’4", 246 JR (P) – The returning all-conference selection, he’s got a big leg as he averaged 45.6 yards per punt. If he can work on his touch, he could contend for some national acclaim.

Others to watch: Adam Podlesh, UMd, 5’11", 209 SO (second team all-conference last year, he averaged 42.3 per punt last year and will look to build on his great freshman campaign); Vinnie Burns, VT, 5’11", 202 SR (great leg with the ability to really hang the ball, but inexplicably struggled during the latter stages of last year).

Steve Suter, Maryland, 5’9", 192 SR (PR) – He only averaged nine yards per return last year, but he is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Suter has six career punt returns for touchdowns, only one behind the all time NCAA Division I career record.

Others to watch: Tramain Hall, NC St., 5’11", 187 SR (averaged a solid 10.6 per return last year and has the ability to cut on a dime); Roscoe Parrish, UM, 5’9", 170 JR (perhaps the quickest player in the conference, he makes everyone in the stands hold their breath on punt returns).

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