Considering Wake Forest ranked 110th in the nation last year in scoring defense, allowing 35.83 points per game, it would seem the Deacs would need all of the help they can get this year.
Despite the loss of two players with starting experience, coach Jim Grobe said recently his defense won't regress without cornerback Kevin Johnson and defensive end Kevin Smith.
Johnson will redshirt this season while he’s academically ineligible, and Smith has been dismissed for disciplinary issues. They both played in 11 games last year with five starts each, but both are at positions where depth wasn’t a concern.
“There were a couple of positions we couldn’t afford to lose anybody, but of the two kids we lost, it couldn’t have worked out better to have it be a defensive front guy or a corner because we’ve got enough depth there,” Grobe said.
It’s the second straight season that the Deacs’ secondary has taken a hit for academics. Last year, Dominique Tate was academically ineligible, but his return this fall is one of the reasons Grobeisn’t concerned about Johnson’s absence. Smith, an undersized defensive end who was moved around a lot to make use of his athleticism, was held out of spring practices because of off-field issues that were never resolved. The staff has already had a chance to move some other players around to compensate for his departure.
At corner, Kenny Okoro and Merrill Noel both had productive springs and A.J. Marshall stared as a true freshman last year. The return of Tate makes the cornerback position one of the deepest on the roster.
“I think most people are hopeful to have three corners and I think we’ve got four corners we can win with, so I feel pretty good about that position,” Grobe said.
He'd probably feel even better if the defense made a quantum leap this fall.