By Brandon Boatwright
Wake Forest's Campus Correspondent
Coming off of its first losing season since 2005, Wake Forest's 5-7 (3-5 ACC) record last season didn't exactly measure up to the championship standard Jim Grobe has set in Winston-Salem. In the midst of what seems to be a rebuilding period for the Demon Deacons, Grobe will have a host of problems to address entering the 2010 season. The most pressing of which is certainly replacing record-breaking quarterback Riley Skinner - especially considering that none of his potential replacements have attempted a pass in a competition.
Aside from that, this article addresses both the optimistic and problematic issues aspects of the Demon Deacons' 2010 campaign.
Give'em the run-around
This year the Demon Deacons may boast one of the best one-two punches at running back in the ACC. Senior Josh Adams and junior Brandon Pendergrass combined for just under 1,000 yards and five touchdowns last season. With enough touches this year, both have the capability to put up some gaudy offensive statistics if they can stay healthy.
Adams enters the 2010 campaign with a vengeance. After being nagged by injuries for much of his career, Adams has never fully blossomed into the star many expected him to be after earning in 2007 ACC Rookie of the Year accolades. Nevertheless, the senior from Cary, N.C. returns for his final year as a Demon Deacon having led the team with 541 rushing yards and four touchdowns last season. Also an effective receiver, Adams will be crucial in the development of the Deacs' new starting quarterback as a reliable option out of the backfield.
Splitting time with Adams for his third consecutive year is Pendergrass. The 5-9, 200 pound back finished with 399 yards and a touchdown on 83 carries last fall. With an effective mixture of a low center of gravity and next-level speed, Pendergrass is not easy to take down in the open field.
Sophomore fullback Tommy Bohanon will get the starting nod with Mike Rinfrette out of eligibility. The 6-2, 240 pound Bohanon will not be as effective at lead blocking as Rinfrette was initially, but is certainly a threat on short yardage situations. Look for Bohanon to be an interesting change of pace that will add a new wrinkle to Grobe's stable of running backs entering the fall.
Replacing Riley: What now?
For the first time in four years, Wake Forest will take the field this fall without the familiar face of Riley Skinner at quarterback. After a tremendous career, one that included a conference championship in 2006 and a trip to the Orange Bowl. Skinner left the Demon Deacons as the school's record-holder for touchdown passes with 60 and was just the second player in ACC history to throw for more than 2,000 yards in each of his four seasons. The only other player to complete this feat was Philip Rivers.
But now the Deacs have quite the conundrum on their hands. Of the five quarterbacks listed on Wake Forest's depth chart, none have thrown a single pass in an NCAA FBS game. In the search for Skinner's replacement, however, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Enter junior Skylar Jones. The Middleton, Ohio native is a stark contrast to the prototypical pocket passer of Skinner. Instead, Jones is an athletic, improvisational quarterback who tailors to Grobe's love of the triple option. Having been clocked at 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, Jones is a speed demon that can burn anyone foolish enough to enter a foot race with him and has the agility to make people miss in the open field. Jones has the potential to be a suitable replacement for Skinner and an even greater compliment to an already talented offensive backfield joining Adams and Pendergrass. If Grobe goes back to his triple option roots, the Wake Forest rushing offense could be near the top of the conference.
The passing game will certainly have to take shape if the Deacs are going to avoid becoming too one-dimensional. While Jones is athletic, he's untested and certainly isn't as crisp as Skinner through the air. Sophomore Ted Stachitas, the high school replacement of Tim Tebow, could be the best pure passer out of the potential suitors but has been hindered by a nagging hamstring injury.
On the bright side, whichever quarterback gets the starting nod in 2010 will benefit from having junior Devon Brown and senior Marshall Williams catching their passes. Brown and Williams, two of the most dynamic receivers in the conference, combined for more than 1,500 yards through the air with 12 touchdowns in 2009.
Buffet Busters lead the way
With three starters missing from last year's already problematic unit, the offensive line may have the most to prove this coming season. Senior center Russell Nenon will be the anchor for the young group this season. A three-year starter, Nenon has been named to the preseason watch list for the Rimington Award-given annually to the nation's best center-and is the most experienced leader the Demon Deacon front has to offer. He is coming off a shoulder surgery, however, that sidelined him for the spring but should be ready to go come September.
One of the top recruits from the 2008 class, junior left guard Joe Looney has solidified his spot on the line. Looney started all but one game last year as a sophomore and impressed the coaches with his ability to move well for his size.
With Nenon and Looney holding steady in the trenches, Wake will look for some of its young talent to step up and effectively anchor the offense. But what the three new starters lack in experience they make up for in sheer size. Redshirt freshman Steven Chase who will join Looney on the left side checks in at 6-7, 285 pounds. Junior Doug Weaver is a seasoned veteran, having played in all 12 games last year, but has never cracked the starting lineup. The 6-8, 295 pounder is slated to be the opening day starter at right tackle. Rounding out the front men for the Demon Deacons is 6-3, 315 pound right guard Gabe Irby.
The Haynes Brothers
Moving from the weakside linebacker position - where he started six games last season - to middle linebacker, senior Hunter Haynes will see his most significant action in 2010. Haynes finished seventh on the team in tackles last season with 41 and is highly likely to flirt with triple digits this year. A big, physical player at 6-2, 240 pounds, Hunter is an effective run-stopper with the ability to make the right reads to get to the ball quickly and forcefully.
Hunter's younger brother, redshirt sophomore Riley Haynes, will line up next to him on the weakside. Though slightly smaller than his older brother, Riley is well-coached in the fundamentals. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to square his shoulders and take down a ball carrier in the open field. Look for the Haynes brothers to make a substantial impact on the defensive side this fall.
Rookies in the trenches.
While junior defensive ends Tristan Dorty and Kyle Wilber have all but solidified their starting roles on the fringe, Wake Forest is faced with replacing another pair of outstanding tackles in John Russell and Boo Robinson. Another gem of the 2008 recruiting class will be called upon to take a leading role in the 2010 campaign. Sophomore Ramon Booi has the potential to fill the gaps along the line. Booi is a beast physically at 6-6, 300 pounds. That size alone will command double teams along the offensive line, opening up opportunities for the Haynes brothers and other Demon Deacon linebackers to step up against the run.
Nose guard may be a little murkier. Redshirt freshman Frank Souza is the leading candidate to nab the starting role come September. The former three-star prospect from Nease High School in Florida is a hard-worker with a non-stop motor. Coaches have been impressed with his offseason work in the weight room and on the practice field, but he's still young. A rookie nose guard in the ACC can sometimes be written off as a death sentence for many teams, but Souza is different. A typical recruiting target from a coach like Jim Grobe, Souza is smart, tough and very coachable.
Souza and Booi may have to be the go-to guys on the interior, seeing as they're just about all the Demon Deacons have at the moment. The senior member of that front, junior Will Wright, has only 14 tackles in 11 games.
The interior of the defensive line may very well be the key to this Demon Deacon defense which ranked tenth in the league last year, giving up an average of 383 yards per game.
With so much talent and youth on the team, and with the coaching of Jim Grobe it is hard to deny that the Demon Deacons will put up a fight in the Atlantic Division.
Look for Grobe to make the best with what he has. And that means look for a substantial shift in offensive philosophy for 2010. The Demon Deacons will rely on their athletic backfield and will transition from the pro-style offense under Riley Skinner to more of a triple option attack under new starter Skylar Jones.
The defense will revolve around a lot of young talent, particularly along the line. Though inexperienced, this Wake Forest defense has a ton of upside with the potential to develop into one of the better units in the conference. It probably won't be this year, though.
The season will be a success if the Demon Deacons can win six games and reach the post season. With the 2010 schedule, though, this won't be easy.
|Head Coach Jim Grobe|
In December 2000, Jim Grobe was hired to take
over a Wake Forest football program long regarded
as an afterthought in the ACC. Now, entering
his 10th season, he has helped engineer one of
the most dramatic turnarounds in NCAA history
guiding the Deacons to a 33-19 record over the
past three seasons far and away the best fouryear
span in Deacon history including an 11-3
record, the 2006 ACC Football Championship
and a berth in 2007 FedEx Orange Bowl game
and a No. 18 final national AP ranking. The Deacons followed that with a 9-4
record in 2007 which included a triumph over Connecticut in the Meinke Car
Care Bowl. In 2008, Grobe led the Deacons to an 8-5 record and a win over
Navy in the EagleBank Bowl, giving Wake three consecutive years with 8 or
more wins and bowl appearances for the first time in school history. Though
Wake fell to 5-7 last year, the Deacons were oh-so-close to another winning
campaign as they dropped five games by a combined total of 14 points including
two overtime contests. Still, QB Riley Skinner completed his career as one
of the most accurate passers in ACC history (.669) and finished 4th on the ACC
career list in passing yardage, 4th in total offense and 2nd in pass completions.
The 5 victories also gave the Deacons 61 for the decade, the most successful
in school history with Grobe responsible for 59 of the wins, as he inherited
a 2-9 team in 2001. Grobe was honored as the 2006 National Coach of the
Year by The Associated Press, The American Football Coaches Association,
The Sporting News, The Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation and CBS
Sportsline. Wake's 11 wins in 2006 and nine in 2007 both bettered the previous
school record of eight, and its 2006 ACC title was its first since 1970. The
unanimous choice for ACC Coach of the Year, Grobe led Wake to a seven-win
swing from 4-7 to 11-3, the nation's most improved team. With a record of
59-51 Grobe has recorded more wins at Wake Forest than all but one coach in
Deacon history. The levels of excitement and expectation surrounding Demon
Deacon football have reached unprecedented heights. Grobe owns an overall
92-84-1 in 15 seasons as a head coach. Before Grobe arrived at Wake, the
Deacons went a combined 26-63 in eight previous seasons. He came to Wake
Forest after turning a struggling Ohio University program into a Mid-American
Conference contender. In the 10 seasons before Grobe's arrival in Athens,
the Bobcats won 17 games. In the six years under Grobe, they won 33 and
finished with winning records in the Mid-American Conference five straight
seasons. A native of Huntington, W. Va., Grobe earned his undergraduate and
Master's degrees in 1975 and 1978 from Virginia where he was a two-year
starter for the Cavaliers and was a member of the 1974 All-Academic ACC
Football Team. Grobe and his wife, Holly, have two sons, Matt and Ben.
||Presbyterian (ESPN3.com, 6:30 p.m.)
||Duke (RAYCOM, noon)|
||at Stanford (ESPN2, 11:15 p.m.)|
||at Florida State|
||at Virginia Tech|
||at NC State|
|Nov. 27||at Vanderbilt|
|2010 Preseason Information|
If ever "close but not quite" described a season accurately. it did
for Wake Forest in 2009. For the first time in four years, Wake did
not earn trip to a post-season bowl game, but only by the slimmest
of margins, as the Deacons fell victim to a series of close losses
which resulted in a 5-7 overall record, a 3-5 mark in the ACC and
a 4th-place finish in the Atlantic Division. Five of Wake's seven
defeats were each decided by three or fewer points in all by a
total of 13 points in the five games including two of the contests
which were decided in overtime. The Deacons, especially after
a spate of early season injuries, struggled with a young defense,
but offensively, led by QB Riley Skinner, Wake was potent. A
fourth-year starter, Skinner ranked 14th nationally in pass effi-
ciency and was 4th in the ACC in total offense as he completed 66
percent of his passes for a career-high 3,160 yards and 26 TDs.
He finished with 9,923 yards of total offense, the 4th-best figure
in ACC history. Skinner also finished with 903 pass completions,
the 2nd-highest total by an ACC player and also finished second
in pass completion percentage by just .0005 . Skinner was named
Honorable Mention All-ACC and was also honored as the winner
of the ACC's Jim Tatum Award, given annually to the conference's
top football scholar-athlete. DT John Russell, who led
Wake in tackles for loss (8.0) and QB sacks (4.5), was named
to the All-ACC second-team while Skinner, WR Marshall Williams,
T Chris DeGeare, G Jeff Griffin and CB Kenny Okoro
were all named Honorable Mention All-ACC. WR Chris Givens
and Okoro were both named 2nd-team Freshmen All-Americas by
CFN and Rivals.com.
Wake Forest loses 9 starters, 5 of them on defense led by Skinner,
who started 49 games over the past four years. Also missing
from the offense will be FB Mike Rinfrette and three starters
on the O-Line in Gs Barrett McMillin and Jeff Griffin and T
Chris DeGeare, who combined to make 104 starts. Defensively,
the Deacons will lose four starters including All-ACC 2nd-team
DT John Russell, NT Boo Robinson, LB Jonathan Jones and
CB Brandon Ghee.
Grobe welcomes back 15 returning starters among his 48 returning
lettermen. Offensively six starters return led by the WR
tandem of Marshall Williams (60) and Devon Brown (61) who
combined for 121 pass receptions last year. WR Jack Givens
also returns after making 45 catches a year ago, 8 of them for
touchdowns. TE Andrew Parker, who started 10 games as
a freshman last fall, is one of three starters returning upfront.
Parker is joined by C Russell Nenon, who has 25 career starts
and could contend for national honors this year and G Joe Looney
(18 starts). Three other offensive linemen emerged from spring as
starters in redshirt freshman T Steven Chase, sophomore G Gabe
Irby and junior T Doug Weaver. Wake's top two rushers from
a year are back in RB Josh Adams (541 yds), and his back-up
in RB Brandon Pendergrass (399 yds). Adams enters the year
with 1,896 rushing in his career, 4th-best among ACC returning
backs. Senior QB Skylar Jones heads into the fall as the leader
for Skinner's starting job but will receive fall competition from
redshirt freshman QB Brendan Cross and sophomore QB Ted
Stachitas. Defensively, the Deacons return seven starters, plus
several other lettermen who started at least one game last fall.
On the line, both starting DEs return in junior Kyle Wilber, who
missed 7 games with a broken leg, and junior Tristan Dorty who
started 11 games with 41 tackles, including 6 for loss and 3 QB
sacks. They are joined by NG Ramon Booi and DT Frank Souza.
The linebacker corps was re-shuffl ed in the spring with sophomore
LB Joey Erhmann, senior LB Hunter Haynes and his
brother, sophomore LB Riley Haynes emerging as starters. But
Scott Betros, Matt Woodlief and Kyle Jarrett all saw significant
playing time there last year. In the secondary, three of four starters
return led by sophomore CB Kenny Okoro, who earned Honorable
Mention All-ACC honors after tying for 15th nationally in
passes defended with 14 including 3 pass interceptions. Okoro
was slowed in spring drills by an injury and junior CB Michael
Williams actually moved ahead of him on the depth chart. Joining
them are FS Cyhl Quarles, who was the 2nd-leading tackler
for the Deacons with 62 hits,CB Josh Bush, who made 6 starts
and had 25 tackles and senior FS Alex Frye. Wake's kicking
game should benefit from a year of experience by sophomore PK
Jimmy Newman, who made 11 of 17 FG attempts, with three of
his misses from beyond 50 yards as well as by P Shane Popham
who averaged 38.9 yards a punt with 18 downed inside Wake Forest's
opponents' 20-yard line and 18 more resulting in fair catches.
2 - Wake Forest's brother combination of linebackers
Hunter Haynes, a fifth-year senior, and Riley Haynes
a third-year sophomore, head into this year's fall camp
as the starters at their positions Haynes at middle linebacker
and Riley at weakside both are from Ponte Vedra
5 - Five of Wake Forest's seven losses in 2009 were
by 3 or fewer points and by a combined total of just 13
points (2.6 avg.) including overtime defeats at the hands
of Boston College and Georgia Tech.
6 - Senior C Russell Nenon is one of five ACC pivotment
who are honored by selection to the pre-season
Watch List for the Rimington Award, given annually to
the nation's top center.
8 - Redshirt freshman WR Chris Givens hauled in eight
TD pass receptions this past year, the most of any firstyear
player in the nation. Givens was named a 2nd-team
Freshman All-America by CFN and Rivals.com
14 - Redshirt freshman CB Kenny Okoro was 2nd in the
ACC and tied for 15th-place nationally in passes defended
in his first season as a collegian in 2009. Okoro had
3 pass interceptions and 11 pass defl ections for a total of
14 passes defended.
61 - The recently-concluded decade was the most successful
for Wake Forest's football program in its history
as Jim Grobe's teams compiled 59 of the 61 wins
his 9 years at the helm of the Deacons (59-51). That
included winning the 2006 ACC Football Championship
and three straight post-season bowl appearances after the
2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons.
166 - Wake Forest's top three returning pass receivers
Devon Brown (61), Marshall Williams (60) and Chris
Givens (45) combined to make 166 catches last fall for
2,167 yards and 20 TDs the most catches of any returning
trio this year in the ACC.
1,896- Senior TB Josh Adams has rushed for 1,896
yards in his first three seasons, placing him 4th among
returning active career runners in the ACC. He needs
just 28 this fall yards to move into Wake Forest's Top
10 career rushers.