RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A look at football players in the Atlantic Coast Conference this spring who are poised to break out this fall:
QB Darius Wade, redshirt junior: The Eagles are looking for a replacement for Patrick Towles, and Wade and Anthony Brown are the top candidates to take over. Wade put up better numbers in the spring game, completing 16 of 27 passes for 194 yards while earning praise from coach Steve Addazio, who described his spring as “exceptional.”
QB Kelly Bryant, junior: Any time a reigning national champion loses its star quarterback, the battle to succeed him is always a must-watch. Bryant looks like the favorite to win the four-man battle to replace two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson, with coach Dabo Swinney saying “if we played today, he’d be the guy.” Bryant’s passing performance in the spring game — 4 of 13, 94 yards, one interception — was mitigated by the tendon in his finger that he tore on his first play. He also rushed for 66 yards and a 3-yard score.
S Derwin James, sophomore: James looks to be back at 100 percent after playing only two games last season and suffering a knee injury on Sept. 10 against Charleston Southern. He is considered the team’s top player and one of the top sophomore defensive players in the country. He also returned punts during the spring game.
WR Dez Fitzpatrick, redshirt freshman: Fitzpatrick seemingly has developed a strong rapport with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson , and put on a show in the spring game by catching nine passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinals’ receiving corps lost three key seniors but a big season from Fitzpatrick can only help Jackson’s candidacy for a second Heisman.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE
RB Nyheim Hines, junior: Hines has the tough job of replacing Matt Dayes, a 1,000-yard rusher whose graduation creates one of the few holes in an offense that returns QB Ryan Finley, do-it-all threat Jaylen Samuels and four starting offensive linemen. The Wolfpack are looking to take another step forward and contend in a top-heavy division, and a big year from Hines will help.
DE Josh Allen, junior, junior-college transfer: Defense was a big problem during coach Dino Babers’ first season. To address the issue, the Orange this spring signed Allen, who averaged about a sack every other game and had 29 tackles for losses in 21 games at Long Beach City College in California.
QB Kendall Hinton, redshirt sophomore: Hinton is healthy again after playing just three games last season before spraining a left knee ligament in mid-September. His recovery sets up the latest battle for the job with three-year starter John Wolford after neither player seized it during the 2016 preseason. They split time last season before Hinton’s injury in Game 3 gave the job to Wolford by default, though he did respond with Wake Forest’s first bowl win since 2008.
RB Brittain Brown, redshirt freshman: The Blue Devils were patient with this four-star recruit in 2016, preserving his redshirt despite injuries to leading rusher Jela Duncan. Brown — who wound up leading all rushers with 24 yards in the abbreviated scrimmage portion of Duke’s final spring practice — figures to push expected starter Shaun Wilson during preseason camp.
QB Matthew Jordan, redshirt junior: Jordan looks like the favorite to replace Justin Thomas, a three-year starter and MVP of the 2015 Orange Bowl, but missed the spring game after injuring his ankle three weeks ago in practice. Coach Paul Johnson says his injury created opportunities for three redshirt freshmen who are competing with Jordan, with the coach saying “I think we can play with any of those guys.”
QB Malik Rosier, junior: Three-year starter Brad Kaaya’s departure for the NFL leaves a significant hole at quarterback. Coach Mark Richt says he doesn’t plan to pick a successor until preseason camp, but Rosier — who has completed 31 of 61 passes for 370 yards in his career — would seem to have the advantage of experience.
WR Juval Mollette, redshirt sophomore: The Tar Heels need help at receiver after losing Ryan Switzer (96 catches, 1,112 yards), big-play threat Mack Hollins and Bug Howard (eight TDs). While Austin Proehl is poised for a big role as a senior, the Tar Heels could use a guy like Juval Mollette to emerge as a complementary threat. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver would give Mitch Trubisky’s successor at quarterback (likely to remain undetermined until well into preseason camp) an inviting red-zone target.
DL Dewayne Hendrix, redshirt junior, transfer from Tennessee: The addition of Hendrix should help a Pitt defense that allowed at least 31 points in seven of its last eight games. Hendrix sat out the 2015 season after transferring, and began last year as a starter but suffered a season-ending foot injury in that victory over Villanova.
RB Jordan Ellis, redshirt junior. The Cavaliers need a replacement for do-it-all running back Taquan Mizzell. With the Cavaliers wrapping up spring practice Saturday, Ellis looks like the leader to win the job. He has 135 total yards rushing on 38 carries over two seasons.
WR Cam Phillips, senior. Phillips spent the past few seasons a bit overshadowed by Hokies targets Bucky Hodges and Isaiah Ford. He’ll likely enter his senior year as the team’s featured receiver and is 45 receptions and 904 yards shy of the career receiving records set last season by Ford. His pursuit of those marks might hinge on who wins the crowded race to replace QB Jerod Evans.
AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill; Hank Kurz Jr. in Charlottesville, Virginia; Charles Odum in Atlanta and Associated Press writers Joe Reedy in Tallahassee, Florida, and Jeffrey Collins in Clemson, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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