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March 18, 2010

Boring offseason a good thing for BC

Boston College hasn't made much news this offseason. Consider that a refreshing change.

Perhaps no program in the country endured a more turbulent offseason last year. The Eagles endured a coaching change, lost their quarterback for academic reasons and temporarily lost the heart and soul of their defense to a life-threatening illness.

Boston College somehow managed to overcome all that adversity to go 8-5 and reach the Emerald Bowl. The Eagles have reason to believe they can do even better this season.

Linebacker Mark Herzlich, the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year, is cancer-free and ready to return to the field. Frank Spaziani is back for his second year as coach. The Eagles also return one of the nation's most exciting running backs in Montel Harris.

Here's a look at Boston College heading into spring practice.

BOSTON COLLEGE AT-A-GLANCE
Montel Harris rushed for 1,457 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.
THE BASICS
Coach: Frank Spaziani
Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in the ACC. Lost 24-13 to USC in the Emerald Bowl.
Spring dates: March 18-April 24
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum of six starts)
Offense (8): TE Lars Anderson, T Anthony Castonzo, G Thomas Claiborne, TB Montel Harris, T Rich Lapham, TE Chris Pantale, G Nathan Richman, QB Dave Shinskie.
Defense (8): E Alex Albright, FS Wes Davis, CB DeLeon Gause, LB Luke Kuechly, LB Dominick LeGrande, LB Mike Morrissey, DE Brad Newman and T Damik Scafe.
Special teams (1): P Ryan Quigley.
Positions of strength

The return of four starters on the offensive line and Harris' presence should give Boston College a potent rushing attack. The list of returning starters on the line is headed by Castonzo, a fourth-year starter who earned first-team All-ACC honors last season. Castonzo and Co. helped pave the way for Harris to rush for 1,457 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. If Herzlich is back at full strength after sitting out last season to undergo treatment for Ewing's sarcoma, he will team with Luke Kuechly to give Boston College one of the nation's most explosive linebacker tandems.

Help is needed

The lack of depth on the defensive line is a major worry. The Eagles are still trying to figure out who will start alongside Damik Scafe at tackle. Alex Albright is BC's top pass rusher, but his history of injuries is cause for concern. Dave Shinskie returns as the Eagles' starting quarterback, but he must improve his consistency. BC's receiving corps faces the challenge of replacing Rich Gunnell, who caught more than twice as many passes as any of his teammates last season.

Three guys to watch

LB Mark Herzlich: Perhaps no player in the nation will be watched more closely this spring. Herzlich had 113 tackles and six interceptions in 2008 to help Boston College win the ACC Atlantic Division, but he sat out last season after being diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Now that his cancer is in remission, Herzlich is back on the practice field with intentions of returning to action this fall.

WR Colin Larmond: Boston College needs someone to emerge as a big-play threat in the receiving corps now that Gunnell isn't around anymore. Larmond is as good a candidate as anyone. Larmond finished last season with 29 catches for 596 yards and five touchdowns. If he gains consistency and improves his hands, Larmond has the potential to develop into a go-to receiver.

LB Dominick LeGrande: After making 36 tackles and picking off two passes as a part-time player at linebacker last season, LeGrande could move to the secondary this season. BC coaches believe LeGrande could serve as an ideal replacement for departed SS Marcellus Bowman. LeGrande likely would make a smooth transition because he played safety as well as quarterback at Curtis High School in Staten Island, N.Y.

The pressure is on

TE Jordon McMichael: Rated as the No. 4 tight end recruit in the country when he signed with Boston College in 2006, this former Rivals250 prospect has caught a total of five passes in his college career. He was passed on the depth chart last season by Chris Pantale, who caught 25 passes as a redshirt freshman. A hip problem hampered McMichael earlier in his career and may have contributed to his lack of development. McMichael showed his potential against Wake Forest when he turned a one-handed catch into a 50-yard touchdown, but he needs to stay healthy and develop into a more reliable performer when he gets his opportunities.

The buzz

Boston College lost its biggest weapon from a passing game that ranked 93rd in the nation, so the Eagles clearly need to spend the spring upgrading their aerial attack. But the biggest story this spring obviously surrounds the return of Herzlich, who could give a serious boost to the Eagles' defense and psyche. BC has made a habit of outperforming preseason expectations. They were the surprise winners of the Atlantic Division in 2007 and '08. They were picked to finish last in the Atlantic a year ago and instead went bowling again. If Shinskie takes a giant step forward and Herzlich regains his 2008 form, the Eagles could confound the experts once more.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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