ACC Positional Rankings – DBs

As TDD continues counting down to kick off, it's time to preview the ACC's Defensive Backs. The Blue Devils look to have a group that could move up into the upper half of the league if the upperclassmen can continue to lead.

*- Part One - QBs
*- Part Two - RBs
*- Part Three - WRs
*- Part Four - OL
*- Part Five - DL
*- Part Six - LBs

1. Clemson – Despite all of their questions up front, the Tigers are rock-solid in the secondary. All four starters return, including All-American candidate CB Justin Miller. Not to be outdone, rover Jamal Fudge, CB Tye Hill and FS Travis Pugh are all quality ACC players. The Tigers' depth at both safety and corner are outstanding as well.

2. FSU – The Noles only return 4 starters from their 2003 defense, however, 3 of them line up in the defensive backfield. Rover Jerome Carter, CB Bryant McFadden, and FS B.J. Ward will be strength of the Seminole defense. Top reserve Leroy Smith will probably handle the other corner position. Having started 3 games in 2003, he will have no difficulty handling the assignment. The depth here is outstanding as FSU has 6 seniors on the two deep. Only Clemson can come close to matching that expereince.

3. Miami – Future top-10 NFL pick CB Antrel Rolle leads the Canes backfield. Despite the loss of outstanding FS Sean Taylor, the Canes return plenty of talent in CB Kelly Jennings and new FS Brandon Merriweather. Greg Threat will most likely handle the strong safety duties. There are outstanding athletes in the secondary, but their relative youth might make them prone to early-season mistakes.

4. NC State – The Wolfpack return virtually their entire depth chart in the secondary. Their leader, senior SS Andre Maddox, is probably pound for pound the most ferocious hitter in the conference. Fellow senior Troy Graham provides a solid center fielder for the defense. The Pack is also blessed with 4 starting quality cornerbacks. Last year's starters Lamont Reid and Dovonte Edwards will be pushed for playing time by A.J. Davis and Marcus Hudson. None of the corners are outstanding, but all of them would see the field for any team in the conference.

5. GT – First team all-ACC selection James Butler leads the Tech unit into 2004. Butler might be the top free safety in the country, and is sure to be a first round selection in next years' NFL draft. Returning starters SS Dawan Landry and CB Reuben Houston are solid players. Talented sophomore Kenny Scott is slated to start at the other corner spot, replacing Jonathan Cox. One of the best names in college football, I-Perfection Harris, should see lots of playing time on passing downs.

6. Wake – Definitely the strength of the Deacon defense, the secondary returns 3 of 4 starters, including first team all-ACC selection CB Eric King. Also back are CB Marcus McGruder and FS Warren Braxton. Despite being the starter in 2003, Braxton finds himself in a reserve role behind sophomore Josh Gaddis heading into this season. Sophomore Patrick Ghee or junior Dominic Anderson will man the strong safety position. Depth for Wake is pretty solid, though they would struggle should King go down with injury. He makes their entire secondary better.

7. Duke – The Blue Devils lose one player from 2003, 2nd team all-ACC SS Terrell Smith. They will, however, return the rest of the depth chart, plus add a few more players who might figure into the mix. At one corner, 3-year starter Kenny Stanford returns. Stanford was among the conference leaders in passes defended, and provides speed in the secondary. 2-year starter Alex Green will once again line up at FS. He has good ball-hawking skills, and could be an all-conference type performer if he can improve his consistency. 2-year starting CB, Brian Greene, has moved into the vacant SS spot. He doesn't hit like Terrell Smith, but provides much more size and speed at the position, and is better in coverage. Sophomore John Talley will man the other CB spot. Talley showed flashes of greatness against Clemson last season, intercepting two Charlie Whitehurst passes in the end-zone. Depth at the safety spots is good, with junior CJ Woodard and sophomore Jeramy Edwards. Corner depth is a bit unproven, but freshmen Cedric Mason and Evalio Harrell have exciting ability. Brian Greene can also slide over to CB if necessary.

8. Maryland – Despite the graduation of heralded free safety Madieu Williams, CB Curome Cox, and SS Dennard Wilson, the Terps will still manage. CB Dominique Foxworth is a 3-year starter and one of the top cover corners in the ACC. Maryland will need his shutdown ability as they will be breaking in 3 new starters. Reuben Haigler, Gerrick McPhearson, and Chris Choice will compete for the CB spot opposite Foxworth. The SS position is up for grabs, with senior Chris Kelly and sophomore Marcus Wimbush as the top candidates. Senior Ray Custis will take over at FS.

9. UVA –There is talent in the Cavalier secondary, but little experience other than the 2 returning starters, safety Jermaine Hardy and CB Tony Franklin. Sophomore Marcus Hamilton will slide over from the nickel back to take the other CB position. No other corner on the roster, however, has taken a college snap. Robbie Catterton and Lance Evans have seen time at safety and will get a chance to fill the other open DB spot. Marquis Weeks, a former RB and special teams standout, will also figure into to the mix.

10. VT – The Hokies lost both starting CBs from last year: 1st round draft pick DeAngelo Hall and Garnell Wilds. In addition, 2nd team all-Big East rover Michael Crawford graduated, leaving VT with unproven players all around. The lone returning starter, FS Jimmy Williams, will line up at CB this fall. He is an imposing 6'3", which could pay big dividens providing he can handle the quickness demands of the position. Last year's backup FS Vincent Fuller will graduate to starting duty. Senior Eric Green, who saw limited action last season because of a 2002 injury will man the other CB position. JUCO transfer James Griffin is slated to start at SS, but will be pushed by former WLB Mike Daniels.

11. UNC – The outlook for the Tarheels is not good. They lost their two top defensive backs, FS Dexter Reid and CB Michael Waddell, from a unit that recorded only two interceptions all season (and they were both in the same game), and had a pitiful pass defense efficiency of 162.9. Returning starter Lionel Green provides game experience at CB. Starting opposite Green will be sophomore Jacoby Watkins. Sitting atop the depth chart at SS is senior Gerald Sensebaugh, while sophomore D.J. Walker will replace Reid at FS. There is little experienced depth behind the starters.

Best Cornerback: Antrel Rolle (Miami) – He is a sure-fire top 10 pick in the 2005 NFL draft. He has it all, good size, smooth hips and great recovery speed.

Best Strong Safety/Rover: Andre Maddox (NC State) – He is great in run support, hitting like a freight train and stopping runners dead in the tracks. He is also a solid cover guy, which should once again place him on the all-ACC first team.

Best Free Safety: James Butler (GT) – Butler has outstanding size for the position (6'3", 210 lbs) and is a ballhawk. He will probably be a first round selection in the NFL draft next year.

Chance to surprise: Jimmy Williams (VT) – Already a solid free safety, he is being moved to CB this fall. He has great size for the position, and is a good tackler. If he shows he can cover, he will be a force on the outside.

On the spot: Justin Miller (Clemson) –Miller had a sensational 2002 season when he was 1st team all-conference as s freshman. In 2003, Miller was only able to crack the all-ACC list as an honorable mention. For Clemson to compete for the league title, they need the 2002 version of Miller to reappear and make big plays. If he is able to recapture that magic, the Clemson secondary, led by Miller, will make life really difficult for opposing passing games.

Underrated: Dominique Foxworth (Maryland) – The 3 new starters for the Terps will have an easier job than many newcomers because of the presense of Foxworth. He is a 3-year starter and is capable of covering the best receivers the ACC has to offer. When great ACC CBs are mentioned the names Rolle and Miller are most frequently mentioned. Foxworth should be included in that list.

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