*- Part One - QBs
*- Part Two - RBs
*- Part Three - WRs
*- Part Four - OL
1. Miami – Despite the loss of mammoth DT Wince Wilfork, the Canes have plenty of players to step in. Senior DT Orien Harris will be counted on to make big plays in the middle of the line. He will be flanked by DT Santonio Thomas, and ends Alton Wright and Javon Nanton. Bryan Pata will push Nanton for playing time.
2. Florida State – The Noles lost 4-year starting DT Darnell Dockett, DT Jeff Womble, and pass rushing specialist Kevin Emanuel. However, with returning starting DE Eric Moore, and players like DE Kamerion Wimbley and DT Travis Johnson, the Noles will be solid once again.
3. Virginia – With all of their starters returning, however, UVA seems to be set along the DL in 2004. Second team all-conference DE Chris Canty might be the conference’s best returning lineman. He is joined by 2-year starters DE Brennan Schmidt and NT Andrew Hoffman. Depth is a bit limited however, as only six Virginia defensive lineman have ever taken a college snap.
4. NC State – With a year of experience under their belt, this unit is poised to take a giant leap forward in 2004. DE Mario Williams is the headliner; he should become one of the ACC’s premier 2-way defensive linemen. End Manny Lawson is the conference’s fastest linemen, having competed on NCSU’s track team in the 4X200 relay. DT John McCargo was less heralded than Williams but had just as good a freshman season.
5. Maryland – The Terrapins will be inexperienced, but there will be lots of talent ready to step in. 2nd team all-ACC end Kevin Eli returns, but will be working with true sophomore Conrad Bolston and Rob Armstrong in the middle. Look for redshirt freshmen Omar Savage and Patrick Powell to see lots of action at the other end spot.
6. Clemson – The Tigers lost their anchor in the middle, DT Donnell Washington, to the NFL draft as well at Khalid Vaughn and DeJuan Polk to graduation. DE Maurice Fountain must lead the unit, which will include senior ends Vontrel Jamison and Eric Coleman who have played lots of snaps in reserve duty. Trey Tate will most likely man the other tackle spot.
7. Virginia Tech – The traditionally strong Hokies defensive line will have lots of question marks entering 2004. Despte losing both starting ends to graduation, Daryl Tapp and Noland Burchetter should prove to be adequate replacements. Also Jim Davis and his 23 career tackles for loss are back after sitting out 2003 due to injury. Finding consistent play on the interior is the biggest question the Hokies face.
8. Georgia Tech – Returning starter Eric Henderson will lead this relatively young group. The Tech defense was stout against the run last season, but will need solid performances from DTs Joe Anoai and Mansfield Wrotto to repeat the performance of 2003.
9. Duke –With the graduation of first team all-ACC performer Matt Zielenski, and the tragic death of starting DE Micah Harris, Duke has two holes to fill on the defensive line. The two returning starters, DT Orrin Thompson and DE Philip Alexander, should provide senior leadership and contend for post-season honors. Part-time starting DE Casey Camero was moved to DT in the off-season. With the absence of Harris, he could be moved back outside. If Camero stays inside, Harris’s vacant DE position will be filled by either sophomore Eli Nichols or junior David Martin. Demetrius Warrick provides depth and plenty of game experience at tackle.
10. Wake - The Deacon will be returning starting LE Jerome Nichols, NT Goryal Scales up front. The other end position will be manned by either 2003 starter Jyles Tucker or freshman Matthew Robinson. After 2 years of a 3-5-3 style defense, the Deacons will also be reverting to a more traditional 4-3 look, thanks to better personnel on the line.
11. UNC – The Heels have some young talent along the defensive line. Unfortunately, they are going to struggle in their initial ACC campaign. With such highly regarded recruits, as DT Isaiah Thomas, and DE Kahlif “Mount” Mitchell, however, the future looks bright. They have potential to rise on this list, but must show improvement from their ACC-worst performance of 2003.
Best player: DT Orien Harris (Miami) – Harris is a tall, athletic tackle that has NFL written all over him. He is definitely the cream of the crop of a position in the ACC that was weakened by graduation (Zielenski, Dockett) and early-entries (Starks, Wilfork, Washington).
Best chance to surprise: DT Orrin Thompson (Duke) – He was overshadowed in 2003 by first team all-ACC selection Matt Zielenski. However, Thompson has as much physical ability as any lineman in the conference. At 325 pounds, he also has the size. Coach Ted Roof seems to know how to motivate Thompson, and the Duke defense will reap the benefits.
Most Improved: DE Mairo Williams (NCSU) – Williams showed flashes of brilliance in his freshman season, but also was overmatched on many occasions. With a year under his belt, he should contend for all-ACC honors.
Impact Freshman: DE Khalif Mitchell (UNC) – He is already penciled in as a starter for the Heels. The fans are expecting big things right away, but there will be a learning curve. He is a big, strong addition to what was a weak defensive front in 2003.
Underrated: NT Goryal Scales (Wake Forest) – Scales has spent the last two season taking on multiple lineman in Wake’s 3-man front. Despite being undersized, he is a battler and makes some plays. With the shift to a 4-3 front this season, Scales should excel.