ACC: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
Your time-waster of the day: An oral history of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
Wake Forest defensive coordinator Mike Elko said a total of nine defensive linemen were available for the Deacs’ scrimmage on Friday.

Total. Nobody sidelined with an injury.

[+] EnlargeDesmond Floyd
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMIDesmond Floyd played in six games last season and now finds himself with a starting role.
“That’s what we’ve got,” Elko said. “Obviously the sell in recruiting around here is, ‘If you want to play early, come play D-line at Wake.’”

The situation didn’t improve on Tuesday, when the school confirmed that sophomore backup lineman James Looney will transfer. The coaching staff has no choice but to rely on the incoming freshman class for some help, as only five starters return on defense – none up front. Elko said the starting lineup for the defensive line heading into Saturday’s spring game will be: defensive ends Zachary “Ziggy” Allen and Desmond Floyd, defensive tackle Josh Banks and nose guard Johnny Garcia.

Looney only played in six games last year as a true freshman and made three tackles, but at this point, the Deacs will take all of the help they can get. Gone is standout noseguard Nikita Whitlock, the heart and soul of the defense, along with defensive ends Kristopher Redding and Zach Thompson. Gone is the old 3-4 scheme, replaced by Elko’s 4-2-5 zone-based system.

“The D-line situation is obviously not ideal,” Elko said. “Switching from the three-down to the four-down has been a challenge, but we’ve had a couple of kids step up. Josh Banks, who played a little bit of a limited role last year, is actually a better fit for the four-down defense playing three-technique, so he’s had a really good spring for us. Des Floyd is another kid who played some last year who’s moved to our rush-drop end spot, who’s had a pretty good spring. I think our frontline will be OK. The challenge we’re going to have is our depth, and how people will wear us down as the year goes on.”

Elko said the staff installed about 80 percent of the new defense this spring, and spent much of the time moving players around to different positions, particularly among the front seven. He said he prefers the 4-2-5 because it gives the staff more flexibility to play to the athletes’ strengths and “find homes for more kids.”

The next step? Finding more kids.

“I think it’s probably going to take two full recruiting classes in here before the depth is where we want it to be,” Elko said. “I think you’re dealing with some kids getting caught in the wash with the switch defensively so you don’t have the full allotment of numbers you’re looking for. But I think the starting 11 will be a very good starting 11. One or two recruiting classes should help fill in the missing pieces.”

ACC's great unknowns

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
As spring practices come to a close this week in the ACC, some lessons were learned, but as is usual for this time of year, there was no real insight as to just how good some of these teams might be this fall. How will Louisville fit into the Atlantic Division race without Teddy Bridgewater and with an entirely new staff? Is Clemson’s defense really good enough to compensate for the losses on offense? What will BC look like without Andre Williams?

There are three teams, though, that are arguably the greatest unknowns heading into summer camp:

1. Virginia Tech: Not only don’t we have any idea who the quarterback might be this fall, but in an unusual twist, the traditionally stingy defense is also a question mark. Virginia Tech’s front seven has to replace three starters on the defensive line and two linebackers, including Jack Tyler, who was the leading tackler in each of the past two seasons. The offense, though, still remains the bigger concern. Those within the program have put a positive spin on the offensive progress that was made in the second season under Scot Loeffler, but they’ll also concede that without a dependable quarterback emerging this summer, it won’t amount to much. Can the Hokies find a quarterback this summer who can lead them back to the top of the Coastal Division standings?

2. Miami: The ACL injury to Ryan Williams left Kevin Olsen the leading candidate to be the starting quarterback -- an even bigger question for the position than when spring ball began in Coral Gables. Olsen’s maturity has been called into question, and he completed just 7 of 21 passes for 65 yards and an interception in the spring game. So … does that mean Miami’s defense finally woke up, or that it’s going to be a long August for the quarterbacks? The truth lies somewhere in between, but both Miami’s defense and the unproven quarterbacks will have to make major strides this fall for Miami to continue the improvement under coach Al Golden and make another run at the Coastal Division.

3. Wake Forest: Quick, name three players on the two-deep. Busted. Only the uniforms are familiar anymore, as the Deacs have undergone a complete overhaul with a new staff and an unheralded two-deep. Without former receiver Michael Campanaro and nose guard Nikita Whitlock on the roster, this is a program in search of an identity under first-year coach Dave Clawson. In the Deacs’ scrimmage on Friday night, Orville Reynolds was a highlight, scoring twice and finishing with 78 yards on 14 carries. The two scholarship quarterbacks, Tyler Cameron and Kevin Sousa, split time, with Sousa completing 10 of 23 passes for 128 yards. The expectations for the program in Year 1 aren’t the mystery here. It’s a transition year, and Clawson gets a hall pass if the Deacs are home for the holidays again. The bigger unknown is what exactly the on-field product will look like in the first year in more than a decade without Jim Grobe.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
Wishing everybody a great holiday weekend!

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
Bo Pelini is the cat's meow.

ACC mailblog

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
Lots of mail this week. Thanks to everybody who wrote in. Now to some questions ...

theschnauzers writes: Re: the Miami offense with (Kevin) Olsen and Duke (Johnson). I wouldn't underestimate Kevin Olsen in this situation, which I think both you and Heather are doing in your recent articles and blog entries. There are those of us who felt that if all other things were equal it was likely Kevin might have been the starter before season's end; what is clear is that unlike Morris and Harris, Kevin does read the defense and the plays, and based on all reports about the two closed scrimmages, he has done as well as Ryan Williams did before the injury in the second scrimmage, and Golden has used the words "exceptional" and "excellent" to Kevin's performance in the second half of that scrimmage. Guess we'll know more after the "spring game" Saturday, but I am among those U alumni who have confidence Kevin will step up and get the job done.

Andrea Adelson: Here is my point of view on Olsen. He is a terrific talent, and we could very well be underestimating him. But during my visit down to Coral Gables three weeks ago, I was not given any indication that the competition between Olsen and Williams was particularly close. Williams was clearly going to start, and Olsen still had a lot of learning to do to even really push Williams. The fact there was no "real" competition before Williams got hurt speaks more to where Olsen stands, in my opinion. Yes, Miami started giving Olsen more reps with the first team and he handled them nicely. But there is no denying that Williams had an edge both in terms of maturity and game experience. That could be a factor for Miami this year.


Ted in Lexington, Ky., writes: I think Wake Forest pulled off a steal in getting Dave Clawson. He turned around three programs, but this year I am scared because (1) Wake is so young; (2) our nonconference schedule is rough, especially Sept. 13 at Utah State. They knocked off Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. If Wake Forest wins six, Dave Clawson should be the ACC Coach of the Year.

Adelson writes: I also like this hire. I think most impressive is the fact he won at smaller schools that have a similar type of profile as Wake Forest, the smallest school in the ACC. That should absolutely give Deacs fans hope for the future. But I agree 2014 might not be the year Wake goes back to a bowl game. Not only are the players young, they are learning entirely new schemes and have depth issues at several positions. Utah State will be a very tough game, but so will going on the road to play ULM, which beat the Deacs a year ago. If Clawson can scratch out six wins, he should be mentioned for national coach of the year given what he has to work with this year.


Kevin Portale in Louisville writes: I just read your article on the Cards. I really enjoyed it. It was short and to the point. Since Louisville is new to the ACC, how well do you think their chances are to be in the top three of the conference?

Adelson writes: Thanks, Kevin. At this point, I think there is a gap between Louisville and Florida State/Clemson but no real gap between the Cards and everybody else in the league. Despite the changes, this is a team that should still have an opportunity to win every game it plays. After talking to players, watching practice and spending time with the staff, I still think Louisville finishes third in the Atlantic. But given the difficulty of the schedule and some of the personnel losses the Cardinals have to overcome, I am not sure this team ends the season ranked in the Top 25.


Alex in Syracuse writes: Why do you think Pitt will be so good and expect nothing from Syracuse? If Aaron Donald doesn't block an extra point, if (Paul) Chryst doesn't barely get a timeout in, Syracuse would have had eight wins last year and Pitt does not even make a bowl game. Syracuse was a pretty good program only a little over a decade ago and then went through a down period. They're coming back up now, why doesn't anyone care or see this happening?

Adelson writes: I think you are making an assumption here that because I think Pitt has a chance to win the Coastal, I expect nothing out of Syracuse. One does not really correlate with the other. Pitt is in a much more winnable division and has an easier nonconference schedule than the Orange, which is why my expectations might be slightly higher. I thought Syracuse did a nice job toward the end of last season but it's hard to overlook how the Orange got blown out by the top two teams in the division. I do think they should be a bowl team this year given what they return on offense, but they are not quite ready to compete for a division title.


Tim in Christiansburg, Va., writes: re: ACC dream games. I understand all the love for FSU. I can see UT/Duke and the Petrino bowls. Clemson/Oregon would be exhausting to watch. But think outside the box a little. What sets college football apart is what happens off the field as much as on the field sometimes. The pageantry and hoopla that surrounds college football is what makes it so unique. That being said, what about VT/Texas A&M? These are the only two public schools with regular students that maintain on campus cadet corps that feed directly into the military. VT always marches out the cadets prior to the game for the national anthem. They are an important part of every home game, as they should be. Some military alum flies a billion dollar plane overhead. Skipper roars. Now multiply that by two. Plus the game would be pretty good, too. The first two were.

Adelson writes: Add it on the list!

ACC Friday mailblog

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
Talk to me ...

Greg in Washington, D.C., writes: Heather, reading some of the stories about Dave Clawson coming out of the Wake Forest spring practices, the inevitable comparisons to Jim Grobe have brought to mind a couple of questions: First, did the program really get that stale under Grobe? The on-field results and consistently mediocre recruiting over the previous four or five years sure seemed to indicate that complacency had inundated the program, but there were never stories about a lack of turnout at workouts and lateness to meetings (which is the implication behind the stories that all of a sudden the players are springing into action with Clawson at the helm). I guess everyone thought that Grobe was too nice a guy to come right out and say that he lost the edge? Or maybe we're just in the midst of the typical "change of culture" story that occurs whenever a new coach arrives? Second, how do you think that Clawson is balancing the "new sheriff in town" routine, which runs the danger of getting old and losing the team (see Randy Edsall at Maryland), with truly instilling a winning attitude by providing clear expectations and the support/instruction necessary to achieve them? Thanks, as always, for your insights.

HD: I don't think Grobe ever lost his edge. Don't forget that Grobe's name was once associated with openings at Arkansas, Michigan and Nebraska, but he opted to stay at Wake Forest and continue to build something. Wake's decline was a combination of factors, and if anything was going to change after last season, I thought it would have been the offensive coordinator position. To me, Wake's two biggest problems the past few years have been finding an offensive identity and a slide in recruiting. Granted, all of those things fall back on the head coach, but I don't think it was a matter of complacency within the locker room or Grobe's ability to coach on game days. They didn't have the answers, talent or depth to combat injuries on the offensive line, and never really settled on a scheme that worked for them. They also set a standard they couldn't maintain with the 2006 team. Dave Clawson will run into similar challenges regarding recruiting at Wake Forest, but he's doing exactly what he has to do and should do to get this group to buy in. I don't think he's in danger of "losing the team." It seems like they are ready to embrace the change and want to be better. Wake Forest can definitely be better, and should be a more consistent bowl team, and every now and then surprise a Florida State or Clemson. Grobe proved that. Now it's up to Clawson to not only prove it again, but to maintain it.

Jim in West Friendship, Md., writes: Who wins the QB competition at Clemson? Also, can they compete with FSU this year, or this a rebuilding year after losing Tajh and Sammy?

HD: First, let me ask you a question. I live in Maryland, too, and I swear I see more Clemson paws on cars, hats and T-shirts around here than the Terps. (Well, OK, maybe not that many, but it seems unusually high.) What gives? As for the quarterbacks, not even Dabo Swinney knows that answer, and I sincerely doubt he will until the summer. I thought it was a great idea to let the QBs go live in the last scrimmage to help separate them and see how they respond, and I also think we'll know more after the next scrimmage, when Cole Stoudt will get a chance to handle the opening drive. As for competing with FSU ... heck yeah, they'll compete. Clemson should still be a Top 25 team and the No. 2 team in the ACC. The Tigers could have a better defense than FSU this year, and at the very least, it should be an elite defense that keeps them in the hunt for the ACC title. My vote goes to reload, not rebuild.

Jason in Miami writes: How many games will the Canes win this year? And after FSU, who seems to be their toughest opponent?

HD: I can't even get past the season opener against Louisville, Jason, as far as predictions go. I have no idea who's going to win that one. If it were at Miami, I'd pick the Canes, but on a Monday night, nationally televised, Louisville's first game in the ACC? That might be your answer right there to the second question, especially considering what happened in the bowl game (*shudders). There's also the Thursday night game in Lane Stadium. A trip to Nebraska. Oh, and don't forget Duke did win the Coastal Division last season and can do it again. I think the Canes win at least seven games, but I still don't see them taking the leap from good to great. Ask me again after Week 1. I think that game against Louisville will tell us a lot.

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
Pro days are now in the rearview mirror, with a month remaining between now and the NFL draft. With that, let's take a look back at some notable performances from ACC pro days this year.

Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyClemson WR Sammy Watkins in all likelihood will be the first ACC player drafted in May.
Clemson (March 6)
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.

Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).

Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.

Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.

Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.

Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.

North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.

NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.

Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.

Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.

Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.

Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
Lots of injuries, not a lot of quarterbacks ...
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It was cold and muddy with sleet pelting the field as Wake Forest opened spring practice last week, vestiges of a long, dark winter still lingering. For the Demon Deacons, however, it was the dawn of a new era.

Players filtered out to the field early, the new normal under first-year coach Dave Clawson. The voices echoing amid the chaos were unfamiliar, but even the established veterans were eager to listen. The depth chart is thin in nearly every corner, but players moved fluidly through drills, finally putting three months of offseason study into action.

“It feels like someone just pressed the restart button,” senior Orville Reynolds said. “Now we’re just rebuilding the program, and it feels really good.”

The changes are ubiquitous, but for Wake Forest, a clean slate was necessary.

After a 4-8 campaign in 2013, longtime coach Jim Grobe resigned. Clawson arrived with a new staff, new scheme, and a new attitude.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesNew Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is tasked with rebuilding a program that lost a fair share of production from 2013.
Thirteen senior starters from last year’s team are gone, including the quarterback, tight end, leading rusher, leading receiver, an All-ACC defensive tackle and two other regulars on the line.

Even Reynolds, one of the few veterans remaining, is scrambling to recalibrate after shifting from receiver to running back, a move made out of necessity because Clawson simply didn’t have enough bodies to fill a spring depth chart.

“Right now, what’s most important is we need playmakers all over the field,” Reynolds said. “So every day I come out, and I can’t be comfortable. I’ve got to be ready for battle every day.”

That’s a mind-set Clawson has worked hard to instill during his first three months on the job.

With so few established starters on the roster and limited game film of his team to study, the pre-spring regimen at Wake was all about building a culture before Clawson gets to the dirty work of piecing together a game plan.

It started with the clocks. Everyone’s on “Deacon time” now, Reynolds said. It’s Clawson’s mantra that if players aren’t 10 minutes early for meetings, lifts, film study or practice, they’re late, and punishment is handed out accordingly.

The competition during offseason drills was ramped up, too. Mat drills were more grueling than ever, and the voluntary Saturday workouts in the weight room are now packed with players.

“Going in on Saturdays the previous season, you had 10 people working out,” linebacker Brandon Chubb said. “Now the whole team is in there.”

And then there’s the matter of the depth chart, which is effectively a blank canvas at this point.

Clawson doesn’t try to put a positive spin on the personnel limitations he’s faced with. If Michael Campanaro and Nikita Whitlock could get another year of eligibility, Clawson would do cartwheels to celebrate. Instead, the former Bowling Green coach is simply shuffling pieces to see where they might fit, and every practice brings new questions and, he hopes, a few answers.

But if Clawson understands the enormity of the job, the players also see the opportunity. It’s what’s motivated them to push workouts to another level, to arrive for practice prepared to work. So much change can be overwhelming, but the Deacons understand it was necessary.

“Everything is just completely different from literally every standpoint,” center Cory Helms said. “He’s basically making a 180 with this program. It’s a big change but everybody’s adjusting.”

Clawson’s approach has made the adjustment a bit easier, too.

At 46, Clawson is 16 years younger than his predecessor, and Chubb said there’s a youthful exuberance that his new coach has brought to the team. He’s quick to laugh and joke, building an instant rapport with even wary veterans. But when it’s time to work, Clawson is intensely demanding.

Grobe, who won an ACC title at Wake Forest in 2006, was renowned for maximizing his players’ potential. Clawson is asking them to dig even deeper.

“There’s a level we have to meet,” Reynolds said. “We’ve got to get to that. Whether we’ve got it in us or not, you better find it. I feel like he’s definitely pulling that out of us.”

Clawson said he believes in setting a high standard from the outset, and he sees the hard work his players have already put in as a good sign that the culture is taking hold in the locker room.

There’s still so much work to be done rebuilding a program so desperately in need of a fresh start. This spring, he’ll install a base offense and defense, but Clawson still isn’t sure who his playmakers will be. Coaches have pushed for new leaders to emerge, and Chubb is among the veterans still learning to be a louder voice in the locker room. The depth chart remains fluid, but Clawson is as optimistic as ever that the answers will appear.

“I’m more excited about this job now,” Clawson said, “than when I took it.”
The theme throughout this spring across the ACC has been turnover and uncertainty at quarterback.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesWith Anthony Boone (and Brandon Connette), Duke has plenty of experience at the QB position in 2014.
But what about those schools that return a good amount of starting experience? Duke returns more career starts than any team in the ACC, just ahead of Florida State. Quarterbacks Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette have combined to start 16 games for the Blue Devils, while Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has 14 starts for the Noles.

That should give both teams and edge when it comes to defending their respective division crowns. How much of an edge? Depends on the viewpoint. Relying on returning quarterback data alone to predict how a team will do often fails to look at the big picture.

Go back to last season. Duke and Florida State went into 2013 having to replace veterans at quarterback — EJ Manuel had 31 career starts for the Noles, while Sean Renfree had 35 career starts for the Blue Devils. Questions about experience at quarterback followed both teams into the season. Indeed, Clemson was picked to finish ahead of Florida State thanks in large part to returning starter Tajh Boyd, going into his third season behind center.

Those questions, however, were quickly answered as both Duke and Florida State went on to play for the ACC championship. Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina -- all picked to finish ahead of Duke -- returned multi-year starters at quarterback but that was not enough to win the division. Boyd did not help Clemson win an ACC title, but the Tigers did make a BCS game and won 11 contests. Tanner Price, one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the ACC last season, could not help Wake Forest get back to a bowl game.

Still, returning a starting quarterback is almost always preferable. Not every redshirt freshman is going to win the Heisman the way Winston did in Year 1 as a starter. Boone, who had his share of ups and downs early last season as he transitioned to a starting role, has now been on both sides.

“You’re obviously going to have some growing pains with quarterbacks who haven’t played many snaps, young quarterbacks going into their first year as a starter,” Boone said recently. “I just feel like that’s something we’re capable of avoiding, that’s something that should be to our advantage, having the knowledge of different teams in our league, just knowing tendencies of what team plays what kind of defense, just having that knowledge going into next year. I feel like it’s good to if you have one, but we have two who have been there. It’s a good feeling. It lets our offensive coordinator be at ease because we have the ability to fix a lot of play calls that have been called, if something happens. I feel that knowledge is a huge winning edge for us, compared to guys who may not know the system as well.”

Returning career starts at quarterback:

Duke: 16
Florida State: 14
Virginia: 12
Syracuse 10
Miami: 10*
Boston College: 6*
North Carolina: 5
NC State: 3*
Clemson: 0
Georgia Tech: 0
Louisville: 0
Pittsburgh: 0
Virginia Tech: 0
Wake Forest: 0

*-QBs at these schools made their starts while playing for other programs.

Change in W-L record for teams that returned starting quarterbacks in 2013.

Boston College: +5
Miami: +2
Louisville: +1
Virginia Tech: +1
North Carolina: -1
Clemson: No change
Wake Forest: -1

Change in W-L record for teams that started first-time quarterbacks in 2013.

Duke: +4
Florida State: +2
Pitt: +1
Georgia Tech: No change
Syracuse: -1
Virginia: -2
NC State: -4
The job for first-year Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson this spring is both immensely simplistic and unbelievably big. For a team that struggled offensively throughout a 4-8 season in 2013, the Demon Deacons lost their starting quarterback, leading rusher, top tight end and their best all-around playmaker in wideout Michael Campanaro this offseason.

In other words, 2014 is a blank canvas offensively, and that means Clawson is on the prowl for players who can add any kind of a spark.

“How are we going to run the offense?” Clawson said. “Who are we going to feature? Are we going to be more of a throwing team or does somebody really step up and we find out we have a big-time player there? I always say it’s players, not plays, that really dictate who you are on offense, and right now, it’s a blank slate.”

Of course, for Wake Forest, erasing the blackboard and starting from scratch offensively might not be the worst idea. While Clawson joked that he wished Campanaro had another year of eligibility remaining to provide an offensive foundation, the truth is the Deacons were far too reliant on their senior receiver last season, and the numbers tell a gruesome story.

Wake was 120th-ranked offense in the nation in 2013 (by yards per play), but Campanaro was a bright spot. Since the start of the 2011 campaign, he’d been a fixture in the offense, but never was the significance of his role more on display than last season.

Wake’s offense with Campanaro vs. its offense without him was night and day.

On plays when Campanaro didn't touch the football, Wake Forest averaged 4 yards less per play than national champion (and fellow ACC Atlantic Division member) Florida State. Even if accounting for all plays in which Campanaro was the intended target in 2013, Wake averaged 7.7 yards per play, as opposed to 3.7 when he wasn't involved in the play at all.

Campanaro went down with an injury early in Wake’s Nov. 2 game against Syracuse -- a game in which the Orange defense pitched a shutout -- and didn't return. In the seven games against FBS foes preceding that injury, Wake averaged 4.8 yards per play -- a troubling number that would’ve ranked 109th nationally. But take Campanaro away, and the Deacons mustered just 3.41 yards per play the rest of the way. How bad is that? Only two other teams in the country averaged fewer than 4.2 yards per play vs. FBS teams last year -- Miami, Ohio (3.7 YPP) and Florida International (3.6 YPP). Not since Washington State in 2008 has any team come close to a number that bad over a full season.

It’s hard to believe one player could make that much of a difference, but Campanaro wasn’t simply the most productive player on a mediocre offense. He was the safety net. He played in just a little more than seven games, and yet he was still the seventh-most targeted receiver in the ACC in 2013, on the receiving end of 25 percent of Wake’s total passing attempts for the year.

“A lot of times in our last offense, we’d have a run, but we’d have it tagged with, ‘If it doesn’t look right, throw it to Camp,' ” said senior Orville Reynolds. “Now, as an offense, we all have to do our part.”

This spring, the safety net is gone. So, too, are most of the vestiges of last year’s dismal offense.

That leaves a sizable chasm for Clawson to fill, and the options at this point are limited. Reynolds has moved from receiver to tailback out of necessity. So, too, has James Ward, a cornerback last season. The receiving corps will consist largely of rising sophomores, and the quarterback battle is between players with a total of 24 attempts between them last season.

On the upside, there’s nowhere to go but up for Wake Forest, and Clawson is staying patient in his quest to identify playmakers on offense. In fact, just a year ago, he found himself in a similar spot at Bowling Green, when he moved Travis Greene -- a high school receiver and corner with one career college carry -- to tailback. Greene finished the season with nearly 1,600 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.

So for Clawson, there’s hope. There just aren’t many answers at the moment.

ACC's lunch links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
Want to know why you’re not famous? It might be that you were born in the wrong spot, according to this incredibly fascinating New York Times piece about how geography relates to fame. This completely explains why Delaware boasts Judge Reinhold, Delino Deshields and me.

ACC's lunch links

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
Want to feel old? Happy 30th anniversary for “The Breakfast Club.”
It’s been just three months since Dave Clawson was hired as Wake Forest’s coach, and the job of ironing out a depth chart and implementing a new culture is still in its infancy. But Clawson will take his first big step in evaluating his team when the Demon Deacons open spring practice this week. We talked with Clawson about the challenges the Deacons face and how many answers he can expect to find during the next few weeks.

Q: Your first couple months on the job had to focus on recruiting. Since signing day, how much of a feel have you been able to get for the players you already have on campus?

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesNew Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson hasn't been able to spend much time with his team since he was hired in December.
A: We’ve seen them in the weight room, done some of the offseason workouts and mat drills. But we’re certainly excited, and in the next five weeks, we’ll have a much better feel. We’ve watched our guys run, change direction, do football-type movements. But when you get to watch them play football, that’s a big difference.

Q: Wake loses its starting quarterback, leading rusher, top receiver, top tight end and nearly all its key contributors on the defensive line from last year. Does that make for an intimidating proposition this spring or are players embracing the opportunity with so many jobs up for grabs?

A: The whole thing this spring is really twofold: No. 1, you want to get in your systems, and No. 2, you want to see guys compete. If you’ve been a player here that hasn’t played much, between all the open jobs and a brand new staff, you’re going to have your opportunity. We’ll see who takes advantage and steps up. That’s what’s so exciting about the next five weeks for us. This interview, if it happens five weeks from now, I’ll have a much better feel for who we’re building the offense and defense around and key special-teams guys. Right now, they’re just kind of names on a board.

Q: Establishing your culture is always key for a new coach. How can you go about doing that this spring?

A: A lot of that is already occurring. It has to go with how we run the weight room, how we run the offseason program, the accountability we demand in terms of academics and off-field behavior. We’ve had three months to start establishing that culture, and there are certainly things that come up during the course of the day or week or months that give you an opportunity to reinforce that culture. And we’re doing that on a daily basis.

Q: You’ve said you want to build the offensive identity around the strengths of your personnel, but with so many big question marks entering spring, how do you begin to implement that game plan before you find answers?

A: We have a core offense, a core run game, a core pass game. Formationally, there’s a core of what we do. It’s a base install. Then how you develop and break away from that core, and what things you add, what becomes the things you emphasize, is really how you grow through the spring. So right now, we have a base offense we’ve installed the last five years -- here’s our core run game, these are our core protections, these are our core routes -- and as we install, we evaluate. As we get away from that core, which might be 60 percent of the offense, what do we do with the other 40 percent? That’s certainly going to be based on personnel and what we’re doing well and to take advantage of where we feel our strengths are and minimize where we don’t have strengths.

... I think establishing a foundation and establishing the culture are probably more important than any individual position battle or scheme we're going to run. We need to establish the Wake Forest way of doing things.

New coach Dave Clawson on Year 1 at Wake Forest
Right now, we’re saying we’re thin at tailback. We might come out of spring and say, holy cow, Orville Reynolds could be a big-time player, and [Dominique] Gibson has gotten so much better and improved and James Ward is going to have a role. And now you’ve got two guys coming in and Dez Wortham, who will be healthy. Next thing you know, you go from a concern to a position of strength. That happened last year at Bowling Green.

Q: In addition to the tailbacks, the quarterback position appears up for grabs. How do you view that competition heading into spring?

A: It’s primarily a competition between Tyler Cameron and Kevin Sousa. We signed two guys. Obviously the two guys here have a chance to get all the reps and take advantage, but we don’t have -- we’re just so thin at that position, too. Tyler didn’t play much last year and Kevin actually played another position. You can convert safeties to tailback or move a receiver. It’s hard to take a defensive tackle and make him a quarterback. That’s a harder position to fill from within, and that right there -- I don’t want to say I’m concerned, but the one thing at quarterback, you get a great one through competition and we just don’t have a lot of competition there in the spring.

Q: You’ve lost a lot of talent on the defensive line, but you return a number of starters on the back end. Is that something where those guys in the secondary are going to have to carry the load early on?

A: Our secondary is going to have to play well. You have two returning senior starters at corner, a returning senior starter at safety and a returning sophomore starter at safety. We lost a lot up front on defense, but we return a lot in the back end. Those guys are going to have to provide stability. We may have to put a little more pressure on those guys next year to allow us to grow up up front.

Q: If you project ahead five weeks, what is the best-case scenario for how this spring plays out for you? What are the most important things you need to accomplish?

A: No. 1, I just want to see guys play fast. Whenever you’re installing new systems, it makes guys think more, makes them process more. We’ve got to get through that as quick as we can. We’ve got to make sure guys understand our core systems moving forward. No. 2 is the offensive skill position -- quarterback to running back to receiver to tight end -- you’d like to come out of spring saying, "These are the three or four guys we can really count on to make plays." The third part is shoring up the defensive front.

But as the new head coach at Wake Forest, with a new staff, I think establishing a foundation and establishing the culture are probably more important than any individual position battle or scheme we’re going to run. We need to establish the Wake Forest way of doing things. That’s what I’m most excited about, and that’s the part of the program I enjoy the most, having been through this before. You start seeing little victories -- not necessarily on the scoreboard but behind the scenes in terms of strength gains or grade improvement, little signs guys are buying in. Part of that is just the attitude and effort we practice with. That’s what we’ve got to get accomplished and set in stone the next five weeks here.