Three things we learned in the spring for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons:
1. Clawson means business.
When Dave Clawson replaced Jim Grobe as head coach, it was with an understanding that the culture had grown stale at Wake Forest and the Demon Deacons needed a fresh start. It hasn’t taken long for Clawson to shake things up. He’s instituted strict rules for his players, changing everything from workout routines to practice habits to film study. It’s a demanding approach, but it’s also won over a hefty chunk of the roster already. For now, Clawson knows he’ll need to tailor the playbook to hide some serious talent gaps, but off the field, the expectations he’s setting are immense.
2. The offense needs a lot of work.
The silver lining for a team that lost its starting quarterback, top tight end, best receiver and leading rusher is that, even with all those players around, Wake was still among the worst offenses in the country last year. Still, there’s no doubt that the Deacons are thin at nearly every skill position on offense. Clawson had to do some position-swapping just to fill out a depth chart at tailback before the spring. Although Clawson hopes more answers will be found before fall camp opens, it seems clear that points will be at a premium for Wake this season.
3. Few jobs are safe.
Clawson said there’s not a position on offense that’s playing at an acceptable level. On defense, the cornerbacks are about the only established starters. Incoming freshmen will get a chance to win jobs this fall. The bottom line: It’s a new era at Wake, and Clawson isn’t handing a job to anyone. There’s a lot of work to be done before the Deacons are ready for ACC play, but that also means there’s a lot of opportunity for youngsters to win jobs.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Who’s playing quarterback?
Tyler Cameron was last year’s No. 2, but his spring was a mixed bag, ending with an ugly spring-game performance in which he completed just 9 of 26 passes. Kevin Sousa fared a bit better in the spring game and adds the option of picking up yards with his legs, but Clawson didn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement of him, either. For now, the QB battle remains up in the air, which seems appropriate given how many other questions Wake has on offense.
2. Who’s running the ball?
Orville Reynolds had a 33-yard run in the spring game that underscored why Clawson believes he can be a good fit at tailback after spending his early career at Wake playing receiver. But, of course, Reynolds’ other 20 carries netted a grand total of 20 yards, so the enthusiasm only went so far. James Ward was also moved from safety to tailback, but he suffered a leg injury in the spring game and his status for summer workouts is murky. Dominique Gibson is the only other scholarship running back. He had 24 yards on 15 carries in the spring game.
3. Can the front seven jell quickly?
The spring offered some optimism in this department, highlighted by the impressive spring game performances from linebackers Marquel Lee (9 tackles) and defensive end Desmond Floyd (3.5 TFL). But replacing Nikita Whitlock and a host of veterans up front won’t be easy. The upside for Wake is that the secondary returns plenty of talent, but the Deacons will need to develop quickly on the D line.
One way-too-early prediction:
Odds are it’s going to be a rough first year for Clawson in Winston-Salem, but he also isn’t likely to be judging his team’s progress simply on wins and losses. Clawson is trying to change the culture at Wake Forest, and that’s a long-term project. In time, he’ll be able to sell recruits on that culture, restock a barren roster and get the Deacons back on track. But for now, Clawson will have to make the best of what he’s got — which means six wins is likely a long way off.