When toe meets leather for the Demon Deacons on Aug. 28 against UL-Monroe, everything will be different. A new season, new starters at quarterback, running back and receiver, and not to mention, a new head coach. In sum, the Deacs exemplify a program in flux following the departure of longtime head coach Jim Grobe.
Grobe left Wake Forest as the all-time leader in wins at the school, but five straight losses to close out the 2013 campaign and a lack of experienced talent will make treading in the ACC a strenuous task for new head coach Dave Clawson.
The former head coach of Bowling Green brings with him a reputation for building programs, though, and the Deacs' first hurdle will be buying into a new philosophy and system. The defense will switch from a 3-4 system to Clawson’s 4-2-5 zone-based scheme. While roving linebacker Marquel Lee will be a perfect fit, the Deacs lack an obvious answer for a second, equally versatile linebacker, and the transfer of James Looney leaves the line vulnerable at best.
Thus, the Deacs will rely on what should be the team’s greatest strength in 2014—the secondary. The cornerback tandem of Merrill Noel and Kevin Johnson will be second to none in the ACC. If an inexperienced offensive line can find a way to pressure opposing quarterbacks, the secondary should be able to lock down most of the passing attacks it faces.
On offense, the Deacs may need to begin fall practices with name tags. Michael Briggs of RantSports.com sums up the obvious gaps with a positive spin:
“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.”
Clearly, a breath of fresh talent may be just what Clawson needs to begin the rebuilding process. Last year’s backup quarterback Tyler Cameron was in prime position to become the starter, but an inconsistent spring has the Deacons searching for alternative solutions.
Two incoming 3-star recruits, Travis Smith and John Wolford, are poised to make immediate impacts should Cameron continue to struggle. Regardless of who lines up under center, Wake will need consistent play from the position if it hopes to flourish in year one of the Clawson era.
This first year could very well be one of progress that doesn’t translate to scoreboards on Saturdays, but as Clawson has shown in his previous stints at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green, building an eventual conference champion takes time.
The non-conference slate features an away date with a tough Utah State squad, but if the Deacs can take care of business against the likes of Gardner-Webb and Army at home and steal a couple conference wins, a 6-6 season would be monumental as the program looks to turn things around.
Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.