Q&A with Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe

Despite its 6-7 overall record in 2011, Wake Forest came within a field goal from playing for the ACC title. With key pieces such as two-year starting quarterback Tanner Price returning, the Demon Deacons are looking to build off that success in 2012. Here, head coach Jim Grobe talks about expectations entering his 12th year leading the program.

The offensive line is replacing four starters. How important was the spring season for them from a developmental standpoint?

Jim Grobe: Well I thought it was really good. I think we've got three kids going forward that we can count on: Garrick Williams, our center, started for us last year so we feel really good about him. I think Colin Summers, our right tackle, is a kid who has the potential to be one of the better offensive linemen in the league, as does Antonio Ford, our left guard. I think all three of those kids really have the ability to get the job done for us. And then the rest of it's gonna be a toss-up. I think we've got some talented kids. I think Dylan Heartsill's a kid that's had some back issues at left tackle but we have great hopes for him and hopefully he'll get healthy. So we moved Frank Souza over to left tackle from nose guard -- he was backing up Nikita Whitlock on defense and we didn't feel like there was much future in that. So we moved Frank over to left tackle. I think that's gonna be a great move for us, he looked really good the last half of the spring.

We need somebody to step up at right guard; I'm hopeful that [Daniel] Blitch or [Dylan] Intemann or one of the younger guys will be that guy, so it's kind of a mixed bag. We don't have a starting five yet but I think three of those guys are really good players. If we can get a couple more guys to step up I think we can at least put a really good starting five on the field at the start of the year.

You know what you have under center in Tanner Price. Going into his third year now, what kind of strides does he need to make to take the next step?

JG: Well it's huge when you've got your quarterback coming back, especially if he's a good one. I think Tanner thew for a little over 3,000 [yards] last year, [20] touchdowns, only had six picks. So he's a guy that takes pretty good care of the football. Really smart guy. a lot of Riley Skinner-type intangible stuff with Tanner. Tanner's got a more live arm than Riley had but he doesn't do as good of a job on the underneath stuff, and I think that's where his biggest improvements needs to come and I think we saw that this spring. We really challenged him to be a little more accurate with the touch stuff and I think we saw that this spring. I think he just looked better to me this spring than he did last fall and I thought he did good things last fall. So his biggest deal is just gonna be completion percentage. If we can bump that completion percentage up, we've got a guy that can win games for us.

It's been said that Michael Campanaro be that go-to guy for him, with Chris Givens now gone. Is finding a No. 2 target more pressing right now? Who has stood out in that role for you?

JG: Yeah I think so. I don't think there's any question. That's my concern. I think Campanero, you look at Chris last year, but in reality we had two guys -- Camp, he didn't catch as many balls as Chris, but he was close. They were really a 1-2 punch for us last year, so I think Camp, if he stays healthy, is ready for a big big year. So the key for us is we've gotta find some body else. If Camp's the only guy we've got to go to then defense are gonna make it really tough on us. So a guy like Terence Davis, Matt James, Brandon Terry, Sherman Ragland -- somebody in that group's gotta step up and kind of balance things out so that they can't just double-cover Camp and leave those other guys alone.

Also on offense, how important is it for Josh Harris to stay healthy, and what's that bring to the run game?

JG: Well obviously at the running back position, very few people have more than one. And I think if you've got too many guys sometimes — Virginia Tech's a little of an exception; they always seem to have two or three running backs that are really, really solid. But in our case I don't think that we've had anybody that's stepped to the forefront but I really like Orville Reynolds, I think Josh Harris, DeAndre Martin are three guys. Even a kid, Tyler Jackson, a walk-on who did some things this spring.

But I think the best thing for Josh Harris right now is he's got great competition from Orville Reynolds and DeAndre Martin, and then if those kids continue to improve then I think Josh is gonna continue to improve. And I think this spring is a good example. We had no problems with Josh's hamstring. He actually had a really nice spring game, ran a little bit more physically between the tackles. So I think competition makes you better and I think that we've got three kids right now that I feel pretty good about going into the fall.

You had a little bit of a different spring, as there was more turnover on your staff than usual. What have you liked about the changes so far?

JG: Well I think it's been really good. I think sometimes you need new energy. It's easy to become kind of complacent if you're not careful. Sometimes you need fresh ideas. I think it just helps you just have a little better energy. And that's what we noticed this spring. I really think Jon Himebauch's doing a great job with the offensive line. I think our offensive linemen are probably as excited right now as they've been in a long, long time just with a new guy on watch and somebody that's pushing them a little bit in different ways. I think that's really been good for us. I think moving [Steed] Lobotzke over to tight ends and fullbacks has been good for him, because I think it's hard to coordinate the offense when you're coaching five guys and actually you're coaching 15. By the time you look at reps from everybody that's at practice, it takes a lot of time to do that. So I think it's gonna help Lobotzke.

And I'm really excited about what we've done defensively. I like Tim Duffie. I thought [he] did a great job in a short amount of time with our secondary. Our secondary's just playing really good fundamental football right now I think that can actually be a strength for us. And then I think Derrick Jackson, working with the outside linebackers, he's a very good fundamental coach. I think he's really teaching all of the things that you like to see: the good stance, the good effort, getting to the football, pad level. All the kind of things he's doing with those outside backers I like this spring. So I think what's happened is we've got some new guys and I guess I was most pleased with how quickly they picked up our schemes and just kind of fit right in with what we're doing. But the thing that you did notice this spring was there was a little bit more energy on the field and that's always good.

Another, albeit minor, change this spring: You went with a new system for your spring game this year. Did you sense a little more fun among the guys going out there in front of the crowd?

JG: Oh yeah. Our guys had a ball. They had a lot of fun. And we always did that at the Air Force Academy when we had too many kids out for football. It was easy to have a spring game, and we've had trouble here honestly depth-wise because we don't get many walk-ons at Wake Forest, it's very expensive to go to school. So we don't get a lot of walk-ons. And I think most of the teams that have gotten used to playing spring games not only have their 85 scholarship guys. Of course you don't have the freshmen that are coming in so you're probably looking at 65 scholarship guys. But then if you've got 30 or 40 walk-ons it gives your numbers a boost, and we don't have that here. So we just hesitated doing that because we didn't know how long we could have a game if we had too many kids sprain an ankle or bruise a shoulder. But we got through it great. We didn't have anybody hurt. We had a really physical game.

We actually played a game. We only went 10-minute quarters but we didn't use running quarters. We had ACC officials and we kept the clock like we would in a regular game. We didn't go in at halftime; we just stayed out and took a little break at the start of the third quarter. But it was a lot of fun. The game went kind of down to the wire, both teams had a chance to win and I think our kids had a lot of fun. So it turned out to be a great experience, more so for me as a head football coach that we didn't get anybody hurt, but also that we were able to play the game and the kids had fun, so it was great.

Thinking a little big-picture now. You guys went 3-9 two years ago. Last year you came within a field goal of playing for the conference title. With all that you have returning, what's the goal that you tell the players this year and how do you look to build upon last season's success?

JG: We've got a good football team coming back. I just like our team. I think we've got potentially the best speed that we've had in a long time on defense, overall team speed. I don't know that we've got an Aaron Curry on defense right now, but we've got a lot of good players and as group they really run well. They get to the football. I like that. I think we've got a chance to go back to being stronger on defense. Offensively I think that offensive line's got to jell, but the other pieces are there. We've got some talent at running back and wide receiver. [If we] get that offensive line to jell, I think that give us a shot. We need our kickers and punters to do better and I think we can. I thought we didn't work too much on special teams, we worked some, but I think coming back in August we've got the ability to be better on specials teams. So I'm really excited about where we're headed.

I think our guys were happy to be back in a bowl game. That's something that we really, really missed. I think some programs take bowl games for granted, and after being off for a couple years we were a hungry football team last year. And we wanted to get back to a bowl game. We were a field goal away from playing for the championship this past season and I think our guys have the ACC championship in their mind. But I think more so than anything I think our guys are excited about having a good football team. The problem at Wake Forest is we've got a really good football team but we play a great schedule every year, and last year playing Syracuse on the road to open the season, playing Notre Dame, playing Vanderbilt, a really good team out in the SEC. You play those really good ACC games and then you play a really tough schedule nonconference, you can actually have a heck of a good football team and not be in a bowl game at the end of the year.

So I think it's important for us to want to win and to go to bowl games, and if we happen to have the ball bounce right, I think our kids know that we can play for all of it. But more important for us is just trying to focus on being a better team this year than we were last year, and I think we can be.