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Deacs head into scrimmage with players emerging

8/20/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

As Wake Forest heads into its afternoon scrimmage Thursday, it does so with several key issues still lingering before the Sept. 5 Baylor game. If the Demon Deacons get consistency at the following positions, there's no reason they shouldn't be a dark-horse candidate in the Atlantic Division. I got a chance to speak with coach Jim Grobe on Thursday morning and he helped break down which players are starting to emerge at some of the key spots.

BACKUP QUARTERBACK

Like almost everyone else in the ACC, the Deacs don't have any experience behind their starter, and keeping Riley Skinner healthy this fall will be critical. Following the season-ending injury to receiver Terence Davis, backup quarterback candidate Skylar Jones moved to receiver to help that group. Ryan McManus, a former walk-on who has earned a scholarship, is the backup right now.

"The only thing with any of our kids, we've never seen them in live fire against another football team," Grobe said. "They get comfortable going against each other. They know who the defensive guys are. With no fans in the stands, nobody really watching them play, you start getting an idea who you think might be the quarterback, but more than any other position, a quarterback position you've just got to have something special about you."

The third-string quarterback right now is Ted Stachitas, who had shoulder surgery his senior year in high school and a second surgery on it once he got to Wake Forest. He went for about an entire year without throwing a football and looked like it when he made his first throws last spring.

"This fall he's been good," Grobe said. "His arm's healthy, his shoulder feels good now. I wouldn't say he's back to where it used to be, but we liked him in high school as a thrower and a runner and he's starting to throw the ball better and he's pain free. So now he's smiling once in a while."

If they needed to, Grobe would bring Jones back to quarterback. That would give them a different offensive look, though, and the Deacs would add more option to their offense.

One thing is clear: Grobe isn't thinking like NC State coach Tom O'Brien, or Duke coach David Cutcliffe in that he is intent on ushering in the next Wake Forest starting quarterback with playing time this fall.

"He's pretty much it and everybody knows it," Grobe said of Sinner. "It's not a deal where anybody is hopeful of taking snaps away from Riley. He's our guy."

SECONDARY

The upcoming players to watch are on the defense, starting with Mike Williams at corner. He and Josh Bush are splitting reps at the one corner. Brandon Ghee has locked down the other. Grobe will likely play more than one corner and more than one safety, so Kenny Okoro will get some snaps. Bush has also been playing some safety, as the staff isn't necessarily as comfortable at safety, where Alex Fry and Cyhl Quarles are listed as the starters on the preseason depth chart. Junior Petit-Jean can be a good safety, but he'll have an occasional "mental bust."

LINEBACKER

Matt Woodlief and Hunter Haynes are the two players the staff feels most confident in, as they both got significant snaps last year despite being behind a trio of outstanding veterans. One player who has been a pleasant surprise this camp was Jonathan Jones, who is slated to take over for Aaron Curry. At the beginning of August, Jones hadn't showed the durability or consistency the staff was looking for. He started as a wide receiver, moved to the secondary and kept getting bigger, so they moved him again to linebacker.

"He's been pretty physical this August," Grobe said. "He's made quite a few plays. The other day in the scrimmage he probably had as many bonus points as any of the other defensive players. He's just come on a little bit. I think he sees it as his turn. That's been fun."

"The thing we don't have is, we don't have any Aaron Curry in that group," Grobe said. "Of course not too many people have an Aaron Curry. We don't have one of those kind of guys right now, but we do have a bunch of guys like Stan Arnoux and Chantz McClinic, guys we had last year. We've got a lot of good solid players who aren't flashy, maybe not quite the big-play guy Aaron Curry was, but they're good football players, and we've got a handful of guys fighting for spots. Even though we don't have the marquee guy, we've probably got as good a depth as we've ever had at linebacker."

RECEIVER

Grobe wasn't happy with this group last year, and the loss of Davis to a torn ACL earlier this week didn't help, as Davis had a good scrimmage and was starting to come on. Marshall Williams has been the leader of the group, and Grobe has been impressed with his work ethic and toughness.

Another player who's fallen off the radar since playing as a true freshman but has made an impact this spring is Jordan Williams. Devon Brown, who had a bad back last year and wore a brace in all of the games, wasn't as effective because he was hurt last year but has started to contribute more this summer. He and Chris Givens have been playing the slot positions.
Another player who's been in the background that might come to the forefront is Danny Dembry.

"A lot of these guys are OK with being on the back burner," Grobe said. "They're OK with sitting back there on simmer for a while. As they get older, they start seeing their career disappear. Danny's one of those guys that wants to play now. It's important to him, and he's stepped up."

Skylar Jones is one of the faster players on the football team, and could also contribute immediately as long as he learns the position quickly.

KICKER/PUNTER

"I hate to say anything," Grobe said with a laugh. "As soon as I say something good, they'll come out today at the scrimmage and kick like goats."

So far, though, so good.

Cline Beam, a former soccer player, came out in the spring and kicked a bit with the team, and looked average but clearly had a strong leg. He worked all summer, though, and has become a contender this August.

"He has a chance to be our kicker if we started tomorrow," Grobe said. "He's that close. He's got a really good leg. He's kicking off good, he's hitting some long field goals for us, so he looks good."

Freshman Jimmy Newman also shows a lot of promise and is competing with Beam for the kicking duties.

Grobe wants to get back to the days of having a kicker and a punter, instead of depending on one player -- like Sam Swank -- to pull double duty. Their situation this year will likely allow them to do that, with Shane Popham handling the punting. Grobe said he'll take anothe
r week or so to make a final decision.