It's here. Yay? The first day of fall camp. If you like you can call it the first day of football season. Personally I wait until Monday of the first game week for that, because that's when I get this machine moving into its football rhythm, but today is just fine too if it suits you.
I do not write a full-blown preview of the season until I see how camp went, because stuff always changes. Always. But I do whet your appetite just a little every year with what I think are the questions that we need to answer by the end of August. Something a little more specific than just "what are the freshmen going to look like?" That is what we'll do today. These are the issues I think are most important for this year's practices.
1. Will Mike London keep his promise to pick a quarterback and stick with him?
You'll note that the QB thing is most emphatically not "Lambert or Watford?" It doesn't matter. It's a different question than last year entirely. When the choice was between Rocco and Sims, it was a question of experience and stability vs. dazzling potential. It mattered a bit more. This year it doesn't. Watford has played a little, but his limited run in 2011 isn't very informative and so much has happened since then that it wouldn't be fair to base any judgments on it. Both are close to equally inexperienced.
So no, I don't think it matters whether the coaches choose Watford or Lambert, and anyway it looks like the answer is leaning toward Watford. Really, I have minimal patience for people who pick one (especially when the candidates have been on the field so little) and root for that one to win and then get all pissy on message boards when their choice disagrees with the coaches. It smacks of individual over team, it starts unnecessary fights, and its arrogant to think you're that much smarter than the coaches when you don't get to see anything of practice, the film room, or the weight room. So the real question is: Are we going to have to put up with the wishy-washy stuff again? After two years of platoonery, it's clear that it doesn't work and probably stunts the growth of both QBs involved. There's a reason very smart coaches have said that if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any. 1 + 1 = 1/2. If just one quarterback takes all the starters snaps this season, it'll produce benefits both this year and in future years. If not, we'll probably look back at the London era and decide that the reason it was shorter than the Groh era was because he couldn't ever make up his mind about quarterbacks.
2. How will we deal with the Sean Cascarano situation?
Cascarano's hip is more and more sounding like a medical scholarship waiting to happen. At the very least he's not ready for the start of camp, and at this point, it's a bonus if he can play at all. Tough situation for the team to lose an experienced senior who's capable of playing both tackle and guard. Cascarano probably would've lined up at RG, so for starters, the coaches need to decide who takes his place (Conner Davis would be the leading candidate) and then, who steps up to the two-deep. Might Ross Burbank see some action at guard as well as being the backup center? (Currently, Jackson Matteo is listed as the starter.) Ryan Doull is listed as the backup LG and Sean Karl the third-string RG. That's getting into redshirt freshman territory.
The line is otherwise fairly set. Jackson Matteo enters camp as the starting center, and that's the only other place where it looks like a change is possible (though not wildly likely), barring further injury. Morgan Moses and Jay Whitmire look pretty set as the tackles, and Luke Bowanko will have a starting role regardless of where he plays - which is LG at the moment.
3. How much playing time will Taquan Mizzell get?
Kevin Parks is probably going to get carries regardless. Khalek Shepherd keeps getting talked up, and we barely know a thing about Kye Morgan, who redshirted last year. (And just as a wild card, LaChaston Smith starts off the fall listed as a running back. Not terribly surprising, since Smith talked about wanting a shot there, and the depth chart is a little thin at tailback. But I think ultimately, Smith lands back on defense.)
Most of this won't matter if Mizzell is all that's been advertised. Parks is a fixture, but Shepherd and Morgan probably won't get in the way if Smoke is Smoke. Mizzell is said to be an outstanding pass-catcher in addition to all his physical talents as a ballcarrier, which only adds to the likelihood of seeing him on the field. How big will his role be? We'll probably know by the end of camp whether he'll see starters carries or not.
4. Can Jake McGee round out his game?
McGee got a few votes for the preseason all-ACC team because he's one hell of a pass-catching weapon, as demonstrated last year. But as a blocker he's not there yet, or at least, wasn't last year. He's up 15 pounds from last season, a good sign in that regard as long as it doesn't detract from his fluidity downfield. If he can really mature into being a true all-around tight end that can road-grade linebackers in the running game, protect against blitzers in pass-blocking, and go downfield as a receiver, he's got the chops to be first-team in the conference at some point.
5. What does the two-deep look like at defensive tackle?
Losing Justin Renfrow was a nasty hit to the depth there. You've got David Dean and Brent Urban as the starters; that's a good foundation. DT generally requires three really good options for a rotation, though, or the starters will wear down. Can Marco Jones be ready? (He might be needed more at DE, too.) The rest is freshmen. Andre Miles-Redmond is coming off a redshirt year, and there's true freshmen Tyrell Chavis (after FUMA-shirting) and Donta Wilkins. Any or all of them might have to show up on the field at some point, but fall camp will be crucial in establishing a pecking order there.
6. Who wins the placekicking battle?
Ian Frye and Dylan Sims are the main candidates. Let's hope at least one of them can kick well enough that by October, watching the kicker trot onto the field isn't a reason to have a nervous breakdown.
Obviously, there are all sorts of other things to be worked on. It'll be interesting to see how the schemes of Jon Tenuta and Steve Fairchild develop. Same goes for the special teams expertise of Larry Lewis, and Tom O'Brien's contributions to game management, but these won't really be noticed until game time. And yeah, I do kinda want to see what the freshmen will look like, both the true and the redshirted variety. All this in just four short weeks; it'll be game time any minute now.