Wake Forest was a pleasant surprise last season, advancing to a bowl despite dire preseason prognostications.
Well, preseason prognostications likely will be somewhat dire this season, too, because of an offense searching for eight new starters.
Wake Forest at-a-glance
Coach: Jim Grobe (12th season)
Last season: 6-7 overall, 5-3 in ACC
Spring practice dates: March 1-April 14
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (3): FB Tommy Bohanon, QB Tanner Price, C Garrick Williams
Defense (7): LB Scott Betros, E Joey Ehrmann, LB Riley Haynes, CB Merrill Noel, CB Kenny Okoro, E Zach Thompson, NT Nikita Whitlock
Special teams (2): K Jimmy Newman, P Alex Wulfeck
Because of all the offensive holes, this should be a busy spring for coach Jim Grobe and a revamped coaching staff. The top priority is rebuilding the offensive line, which lost four starters off a unit that struggled at times last season.
Another big loss will be star wide receiver Chris Givens, who turned pro a year early. Wake needs someone to emerge as the go-to guy for quarterback Tanner Price. It also would help Price if junior tailback Josh Harris can prove he can be the feature back. Harris has had some big games in his career, but he also was called out last season by Grobe for a lack of toughness.
The defense has far fewer questions. Safety is a concern with the loss of both starters. Wake also has to find someone who can provide a consistent pass rush. To say Wake's pass rush was "anemic" last season is an understatement; the Demon Deacons had just 11 sacks and that must change.
[ACC spring preview: Clemson among those with work ahead]
The biggest problem: Offensive line. Graduation hurts the line, a position where the Demon Deacons already were weak. After allowing 35 sacks last season, the Deacs must replace four starting linemen and two tight ends, including All-ACC G Joe Looney. Wake finished ninth in the ACC in rushing (114.6 yards per game). Improving in that area will hinge on how quickly the new starters develop. C Garrick Williams is the only returning starter. His experience is invaluable, but he must lose weight and improve his conditioning after ballooning from 315 pounds to more than 340 by the end of last season.
On the spot: TB Josh Harris. Coach Jim Grobe last season questioned the toughness of Harris, who twice took himself out of games because of a strained hamstring. A strong performance this spring from Harris would go a long way to making Harris the frontrunner at the position going into fall camp. Pressure also will be on junior Daniel Mack as he replaces Josh Bush at free safety. Mack battled a midseason shoulder injury, but returned to help as a key reserve.
On the verge: WR Sherman Ragland. His name was a popular one around the practice field last season. Grobe and his staff expect big things from Ragland, a redshirt freshman, and junior Michael Campanaro after record-setting receiver Chris Givens left early for the NFL. The Demon Deacons were among the ACC's worst teams when it came to rushing the passer in 2011, tying for last in the conference with just 11 sacks. Wake Forest also has high hopes for redshirt freshman DE Desmond Floyd, who caught the attention of his coaches and teammates in practice.
General overview: Question marks surround the Deacs. There are numerous vacant starting spots, and several staff changes have been made. The return of QB Tanner Price (3,017 yards, 20 touchdowns, six interceptions) for his third season under center should quell some of the anxiety. All-ACC NT Nikita Whitlock, four capable inside linebackers and freshman All-America CB Merrill Noel bring stability and playmaking ability to the defense. While Wake does have holes to fill, especially on its offensive line, it appears poised to keep pace with the rest of the conference and is capable of duplicating or improving on last season's performance.
For in-depth coverage of Wake Forest athletics, go to DeaconsIllustrated.com
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