Wake Forest defensive coordinator Mike Elko said a total of nine defensive linemen were available for the Deacs’ scrimmage on Friday.
Total. Nobody sidelined with an injury.
“That’s what we’ve got,” Elko said. “Obviously the sell in recruiting around here is, ‘If you want to play early, come play D-line at Wake.’”
The situation didn’t improve on Tuesday, when the school confirmed that sophomore backup lineman James Looney will transfer. The coaching staff has no choice but to rely on the incoming freshman class for some help, as only five starters return on defense – none up front. Elko said the starting lineup for the defensive line heading into Saturday’s spring game will be: defensive ends Zachary “Ziggy” Allen and Desmond Floyd, defensive tackle Josh Banks and nose guard Johnny Garcia.
Looney only played in six games last year as a true freshman and made three tackles, but at this point, the Deacs will take all of the help they can get. Gone is standout noseguard Nikita Whitlock, the heart and soul of the defense, along with defensive ends Kristopher Redding and Zach Thompson. Gone is the old 3-4 scheme, replaced by Elko’s 4-2-5 zone-based system.
“The D-line situation is obviously not ideal,” Elko said. “Switching from the three-down to the four-down has been a challenge, but we’ve had a couple of kids step up. Josh Banks, who played a little bit of a limited role last year, is actually a better fit for the four-down defense playing three-technique, so he’s had a really good spring for us. Des Floyd is another kid who played some last year who’s moved to our rush-drop end spot, who’s had a pretty good spring. I think our frontline will be OK. The challenge we’re going to have is our depth, and how people will wear us down as the year goes on.”
Elko said the staff installed about 80 percent of the new defense this spring, and spent much of the time moving players around to different positions, particularly among the front seven. He said he prefers the 4-2-5 because it gives the staff more flexibility to play to the athletes’ strengths and “find homes for more kids.”
The next step? Finding more kids.
“I think it’s probably going to take two full recruiting classes in here before the depth is where we want it to be,” Elko said. “I think you’re dealing with some kids getting caught in the wash with the switch defensively so you don’t have the full allotment of numbers you’re looking for. But I think the starting 11 will be a very good starting 11. One or two recruiting classes should help fill in the missing pieces.”