Coming off another disappointing season, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons showed head coach Jim Grobe the door and replaced him with Dave Clawson, who has built a reputation as a program-fixer of sorts with successful remodeling jobs for the Fordham Rams and Richmond Spiders.
Clawson has arrived with mandate to rebuild with a new philosophy, scheme and personnel, including a new 4-2-5 defense and a balanced offense capable of adapting based on the unit’s strengths. With much turnover anticipated, let’s examine how the Demon Deacons will look in 2014.
Unfortunately for Clawson, he didn’t inherit much proven talent on offense. The majority of that unit is no longer in uniform, as the Deacs will replace their leading passer, two leading receivers, top two rushers and two starting offensive lineman. The good news? Those players led the team to a 14th-place finish in the conference in total offense, 13th in scoring, 13th in rushing and 11th in passing.
Clawson’s teams have always been balanced, but finding production from either the passing or running game will be a huge task. The quarterback competition is remain unresolved, as last year’s backup Tyler Cameron failed to secure the job with inconsistency in spring practices and an uninspiring spring game.
Behind him, experience is lacking, as his only competition will be junior Kevin Sousa, who was a WR last season, and incoming freshmen Travis Smith and John Wolford. The job is Cameron’s to lose, but don’t be surprised if he does before the season starts.
The running game is similarly in flux as senior Orville Reynolds appears to be the leader, though he also spent last season primarily at WR. Sophomore Dominique Gibson will be the short-yardage back, though that’s likely all he will offer. Behind him, two freshman backs and a converted safety will push for playing time.
The Deacons will also be looking for some underclassmen to step up as reliable options at receiver, where Wake Forest lost about half of its 2013 receiving yards and receptions, and over 60 percent of its touchdown grabs. Sophomores Tyree Harris and Jared Crump and Virginia transfer E.J. Scott appear to be the best candidates, with Zach Gordon filling in at TE.
The O-line will also be young inside, but LG Ty Hayworth and C Cory Helms started most of last season, and RG Josh Harris also saw considerable time as a backup. The tackle positions could go a variety of ways depending on whether Cameron is under center.
The Demon Deacons’ switch from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 zone-based defense won’t be seamless, with a lack of depth and experience on the line being the biggest issues. A couple of linebackers have been moved up to help, with Zachary Allen grabbing a starting spot at DE. Desmond Floyd has the potential to fill in nicely as the other end, and nose tackle Johnny Garcia should be reliable.
Marquel Lee looks like a great fit for the 4-2-5 and plays well in both run support and coverage. Brandon Chubb returns with 87 tackles, but Teddy Matthews impressed in the spring and could also see the field.
The secondary should be the team’s bright spot in 2014, as corners Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel will be a terrific tandem yet again. Last season, the duo combined for 111 tackles and six interceptions. Hunter Williams will play the hybrid-linebacker spot, while Ryan Janvion and Anthony Wooding Jr. hold down the strong and free safety spots.
Sophomore safety Thomas Brown was a standout in the spring game and should also be in the mix.
With a road game against Utah State serving as the only potential road block, a 4-0 start is entirely possible for Wake Forest with a road opener against Louisiana-Monroe and home games against Gardner-Webb and Army all serving as winnable non-conference games.
From there, however, the Demon Deacons will get a brutal reminder of the ACC pecking order with away games against Louisville and Florida State. The next three games (Syracuse, Boston College and Clemson) will be at home, but the Deacs will likely be underdogs.
In-state road trips to take on North Carolina State and Duke will sandwich a home game against Virginia Tech — none of which provide a guaranteed victory needed to boost the Deacons’ bowl game chances. A 6-6 finish might not require a miracle, but it looks to be as good as it can get for the Deacs in 2014.