This is part 1 of my annual year in review. Here are the top surprises. Many players stepped up and a few others will be acknowledged in next sections but these three particularly performed beyond the preseason expectations.
1. Ryan Poles. Poles' great start was one of the early highlights of the season. I am not sure if it was the coaching change, scheme change or just old-fashioned maturity, but a guy who had been wildly inconsistent and never played to his potential looked fantastic to start the season. He was moving well and dominating his assignments. He’d be giving Ryan an extra second on a roll out on one play and then leading Callender down the field on the next. Watching it all finally click was exhilarating. The abrupt end of his year and college career was equally sad. Poles’ Achilles tendon turned into the OLine’s Achilles heel. After he went down our screens and running game were not as effective. I hope he is able to recover and make an NFL roster. If he plays like he did this fall, he can be an NFL lineman.
2. Taji Morris. Morris is another guy who had bounced around for five years. First he’s a DB, then a Running Back and then back to Corner. The only consistent thing about his career was minimal playing time. That changed this year. Thrust into the starting spot opposite Tribble, Morris played much better than I expected. He proved to be good in run support and a good tackler (a big requirement for Corners in our scheme). He never became an All-ACC, shutdown type, but in every good year you need some guys to play better than they ever have. Morris exemplified that.
3. Rich Gunnell. If this had been written before the bowl game, I probably would have featured someone else. But Gunnell deserves credit for the Champs Bowl and his growing playmaking skills. Early in the season he dropped a few balls and I thought he’d be just another in a long line of adequate BC WRs. However, the second half of the year saw him blossom into a sure-handed and smart wideout. His adjustments were noted in the Champs broadcast, but his same smarts paid dividends in the Clemson game. Rich also showed surprising speed and strength. Gunnell’s emergence, along with the return of Robinson and Purvis give me hope that whoever is throwing the ball for us next season may put up some good numbers.
Honorable mention for biggest surprises: Matt Tennant, Nick Rossi, and James McCluskey. A year ago, few BC fans would have predicted how well these guys would play given their history or limited experience.