ACC: Joe Birdsong
And he was also the slowest quarterback this staff had ever coached.
That could change this fall, and so could Wake Forest’s offense.
It’s the first time since 1957 that Wake Forest has had zero passing attempts among its returning quarterbacks. When the Deacs begin practice on Thursday, the most experienced passer on the roster will be wide receiver Marshall Williams, who went 3-for-3 for 52 yards last year, throwing off reverses. Ted Stachitas is the only other quarterback who has taken a snap in a game. He was in for the final six plays of Wake’s 35-7 win over Elon last year.
Offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke said the staff will take about 12 practices and a few scrimmages to figure out who the starting quarterback will be. Only then will it begin to build an offense around him.
“It could be different,” Lobotzke said. “Whoever ends up being that guy is going to drive two things: How much do we do in the run game because of that kid’s mobility and feet? How good of a runner is he? The faster the runner, the bigger the run game. The slower the runner, the smaller the run game, Riley being the bare minimum.”
A fast player who can make all of the throws would obviously be the ideal. A slow player who can’t make the throws?
“Then I’m probably home for Christmas,” Lobotzke said.
Skylar Jones enters Thursday’s practice as the leader by default -- he was the healthiest of the bunch coming out of the spring. If his durability holds up and he continues to progress, it’s his job to lose.
Equally as important is the offensive line, where the Deacs have to replace four-year starter Chris DeGeare at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Steven Chase was moved over from the defense this past spring, where he had about eight practices, but he’s not DeGeare. Dennis Godfrey was expected to be, but he missed some spring ball with a concussion and his weight has been too high.
“I don’t know what the answer is there,” Lobotzke said. “Two-a-days are going to tell me a lot about both of those guys. That’s my big question mark. If I can find that position and keep my other four healthy, I feel pretty good.”
Staying healthy is critical up front for the Deacs, because the offensive line just isn’t dependable enough with the two-deep rotation yet.
Russell Nenon at center has progressed well this offseason after having elective shoulder surgery and missing the spring. Joe Looney is in his third season starting at left guard and the staff is confident in his ability. The right tackle was a carousel position last year with Jeff Griffin and Joe Birdsong. Doug Weaver has emerged as a solid player there and Lobotzke said he now thinks it’s Weaver’s time. At right guard, Lobotzke is waiting to see if Mike Hoag is healthy from a hamstring injury that hampered him this spring.
Unfortunately for Wake Forest, the two biggest offensive concerns are at the two most important positions, but if the Deacs can solidify that this summer, they could surprise some teams this fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There are some teams in the ACC that are stacked at a particular position or positions -- meaning there's not just depth there, but depth and legitimate all-conference talent. Here's a quick look at who in the conference is simply loaded:
UNC front seven: All four starters return on the defensive line, and there is outstanding depth both there and in the secondary. On the line, tackle Cam Thompson is coming off his best season at UNC, tackle Marvin Austin and end E.J. Wilson both started the majority of games last season, and Robert Quinn had 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant both started every game last season, and the position is the deepest it's been in recent years. Carter led the team with 11 tackles for loss and Sturdivant led the nation with 87 solo tackles.
Georgia Tech secondary: Morgan Burnett, Rashaad Reid, Mario Butler, Dominique Reese, and Cooper Taylor all have experience, and the group also welcomes back Jerrard Tarrant from a suspension.
Boston College secondary: The Eagles return DeLeon Gause, Wes Davis and Roderick Rollins, who have combined for 32 career starts. This should be the best group BC has had in a while.
Clemson defensive line: The Tigers return three starters across the front, and coach Dabo Swinney has said this unit could be the strength of the entire team. Ricky Sapp is the leader, senior Kevin Alexander is a returning starter, and there are really three starters returning for the two defensive end positions, including DaQuan Bowers, who started six games last year and finished with 47 tackles, the most among the linemen.
Miami wide receivers: Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson, Thearon Collier, LaRon Byrd, Kendal Thompkins, Tommy Streeter ... the Hurricanes could field a team that consists entirely of receivers.
Florida State offensive line: The Noles are oozing with talent here. Tackle Andrew Datko, guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon combined to start all but one game last season. What was the youngest offensive line in the FBS last season could be one of the best this year. For the first time since 2004, all five starters return.
Wake Forest offensive line: The Demon Deacons return eight offensive linemen with a total of 118 career starts among them. Jeff Griffin and Joe Birdsong are Wake's returning starters at tackle while Barrett McMillin and Joe Looney each started at guard in 2008. Russell Nenon, who started the season at guard, moved to center at midseason following an injury to Trey Bailey. Bailey returns after fully healing from a broken ankle. The Deacons also welcome back Chris DeGeare who missed the 2008 season while getting his academics in order.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe gave his players two "academic days" this week to catch up on their class work before returning to practice Wednesday following their stunning 24-17 loss to Navy on Saturday.
It was a loss in which veteran players made uncharacteristic mistakes, including offensive lineman Joe Birdsong, who was ejected from the game in the first half for striking a Navy player on his helmet.
"I'll get to know Joe Birdsong a little bit better today," Grobe quipped.
Grobe and his staff have earned a reputation for getting the most out of their players every Saturday, and for having them prepared, but in the past two weeks, the Demon Deacons have struggled to play complete games, particularly on offense. Against Navy, they finally got a taste of their own medicine -- turnovers.
While Wake Forest is still as much in the race for the ACC title as just about anyone, the Deacs know they've got to cut down on the mistakes before Clemson visits on Oct. 9.
Wake Forest was leading the ACC with a turnover margin of plus-10. In their win against Florida State, the Demon Deacons forced seven turnovers. In their loss to Navy, Wake Forest turned the ball over a season-high six times, and the Midshipmen converted them into 24 points.
"You never really can put a finger on performance from week to week," Grobe said. "Certainly that's our challenge as coaches, we've got to do a good job trying to have our kids ready to play every Saturday and there's no science to it. It's a tough task to get the same level of effort week in and week out."
Quarterback Riley Skinner entered Saturday's game with a streak of 131 passes without an interception. He threw four against the Midshipmen, who entered the game 104th in the nation in pass defense.
"Obviously we didn't feel like Riley played very good, but we felt he had a lot of company," Grobe said. "He wasn't the only guy. That's kind of the way we approach it. I don't think we can single Riley out as the reason we lost the football game. He certainly knows he didn't play very well, but I thought we had a lot of supporting cast guys that didn't play very well either."
Both Wake Forest and Clemson have a bye this week to correct mistakes before facing each other at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 9 in Winston-Salem, N.C. It will be a key game for the Atlantic Division standings. The Demon Deacons are 1-0 in the conference and Clemson is 1-1 after its loss to Maryland.
"You always want to win your next game, especially when you lost your last one," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "... As far as the importance of it, a must-win, they [the players] want to win them all, and their attitude seems to be the same every week."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Like most coaches in the ACC, Jim Grobe is a little concerned about his offensive line heading into the season opener against Baylor. One of the biggest questions heading into summer camp was how center Trey Bailey would handle filling the gaping hole left by All-American Steve Justice.
All indications from within the program are that Bailey is finally starting to shake the shadow of his predecessor. Bailey played in seven games last year, but his season-high 10 snaps against Clemson pale in comparison to the role he'll have against the Tigers this year.
"He was a little bit worried about it until we got a few practices in, and now he's so worn out, he can't take the time to worry," Grobe said. "He's just fighting for a chance to protect our quarterback. He's more worried about his assignments right now and doing his job than any of that kind of stuff."
The big question now is who will be Bailey's backup. Right now, there are two freshmen behind him, so odds are Grobe will bump starting left guard Russ Nenon to center.
So far, the Demon Deacons' offensive line looks like this:
LT -- Joe Birdsong
LG -- Russ Nenon
C -- Bailey
RG -- Barrett McMillin
RT -- Jeff GriffinThese guys know they have something to prove.
"Coming in we heard a lot of question marks about us, losing a great player like Steve Justice," Birdsong said. "I mean, he's an All-American. You have a big responsibility to fill those holes. I just think they've done a great job of bringing us slowly along. Trey Bailey has been waiting for two years. He could've been playing in this league since he was a freshman."
Now Bailey has the chance to show it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Well, this is it -- the last of the position battles to watch. When one of your most pressing needs is a long snapper, the future is bright. Wake Forest lost nine starters, but has experience returning, which is why this one is more like a look at who the new faces will be in Winston-Salem. Except, of course, for that long-snapper job. It's open.
CENTER -- Filling the shoes of Steve Justice won't be easy, but coach Jim Grobe liked what he saw this spring from Trey Bailey. As backup to Justice last year, Bailey got a season-high 10 snaps against Clemson and played in seven games.
RECEIVER -- Somebody needs to replace Kenny Moore, who set an ACC record with 98 receptions last year. Chip Brinkman started each of the final nine regular season games and finished fourth on the team in receptions and receiving yards. D.J. Boldin played in all 13 games and finished with 11 catches for 127 yards.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE -- Both Louis Frazier and Matt Brim are gone. Joe Birdsong started six of the first nine games at right tackle and missed the final three with an ankle injury. Jeff Griffin started five games at right tackle and played extensively in every game.
TIGHT END -- Ben Wooster made a name for himself this spring, which is good, because the Demon Deacons graduated both John Tereshinski and Zac Selmon. Wooster played in every game last year and started in the win over Connecticut in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
LONG SNAPPER -- Four-year starter Nick Jarvis, who was selected to both the Hula Bowl and East-West Shrine game, is gone. Ryan McManus, the Deacs' No. 3 quarterback and a walk-on, was on the punt coverage team last year, was the long snapper this spring and was also the holder last year. He's actually listed as both the holder and long snapper (which would indeed be a neat trick). McManus' dad played at Wake, was an assistant coach and is now an assistant at Kent State, so football is in his genes, but Russell Nenon can also long snap.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Here they are, the unheralded linemen. The guys who do the dirty work and make their teammates look good. Check out who's got the best:
1. Maryland -- The Terps have just one starting job open here and five of the top six linemen are seniors. The experience younger players like Bruce Campbell and Paul Pinegar gained last year at the misfortune of injured teammates should pay dividends this season. The Terps' depth is why they're ahead of the Hokies.
2. Virginia Tech -- Four starters are back, including Ed Wang, who moved from right to left tackle; left guard Nick Marshman, who at 6-foot-5, 357-pounds was the largest man on the roster but dropped 25 pounds in the offseason; center Ryan Shuman, who missed the spring because of offseason knee surgery; and right guard Sergio Render, who has already caught the eye of NFL scouts. Wang's backup, Greg Nosal, is a redshirt freshman moving from tight end. Marshman's reserve is Hivera Green, who hasn't played.
3. North Carolina -- The Tar Heels have struggled in the past, but with four starters returning and the second season under Butch Davis, it should see improvement. Senior tackle Garrett Reynolds and junior tackle Kyle Jolly -- who missed the spring with an injured left foot -- lead a group that has 67 total starts.
4. Wake Forest -- This group should be better than people think, despite having to replace center Steve Justice. Barrett McMillin has starting experience at right guard, and left tackle Joe Birdsong and right tackle Jeff Griffin both split time at one of the tackle spots last season. Left guard Russell Nenon didn't start but picked up a lot of playing time toward the end of the season. Center is a question mark. Because he was stuck behind Justice, center Trey Bailey has the most catching up to do.
5. Boston College -- There are still two spots up for grabs. Sophomore Anthony Castonzo, who holds the distinction of becoming the school's first offensive lineman in a decade to start as a true freshman, moved from right to left tackle to replace Gosder Cherilus. Matt Tennant is back at center along with returning staritng guard Clif Ramsey. Former defensive lineman Thomas Claiborne moved to right guard this spring.
6. NC State -- Moving defensive linemen Ted Larsen to center and John Bedics to left guard will only help this football team, but neither of them has taken a snap on offense yet in a college game. Jake Vermiglio, a hulking tackle who played well against Chris Long as a freshman last year, moved to guard behind Bedics (which shows Tom O'Brien's confidence in that move). Andy Barbee, a redshirt junior, was a longtime backup at center. Depth is a question mark, but the Wolfpack has three returning starters in right tackle Meares Green (who played at guard, center AND tackle last year), right guard Curtis Crouch, and Julian Williams, who is in his second full year starting at left tackle.
7. Miami -- The Hurricanes are looking for a starting center but have two starters back in Jason Fox and Reggie Youngblood. They've got experience in Orlando Franklin, Joel Figueroa (a key reserve) and Chris Rutledge (split time as a starter).
8. Virginia -- The loss of Branden Albert and two other starters left a gaping hole. The best thing the Cavaliers have going for them is senior Eugene Monroe, who might be the best offensive lineman in the ACC. He didn't allow a sack last year at left tackle. There's also experience at right tackle, where Will Barker has 25 career starts.
9. Georgia Tech -- The good news is that left tackle Andrew Gardner came back instead of heading for the NFL. The bad news is the cohesiveness of this unit is mostly gone because Gardner is the lone full-time returning starter. Cord Howard missed the spring because of foot surgery, but he and Dan Voss, who started the final seven games of last season at left guard, at least have starting experience.
10. Clemson -- Finally. A flaw. Tommy Bowden had to replace four starters, and named all but the two guard spots. Still, Cory Lambert has never started a game at left tackle and three of the four players competing to be guards are redshirt freshmen. Freshman Antoine McClain, who was ranked the No. 6 offensive tackle prospect [Insider] in the country by ESPN.com, could help.
11. Duke -- The Blue Devils have three starters back, including both tackles -- Fred Roland and Cameron Goldberg -- and guard Rob Schirmann. The reason they're not last? They've got one more body with experience than the 'Noles.
12. Florida State -- For the first time in school history, there's not one junior or senior on the line. That doesn't mean there's not talent, but much of it is unproven. What the Seminoles do have is sophomores Ryan McMahon and Rodney Hudson. McMahon was the only freshman or sophomore in the FBS to take every offensive snap for his team at center. Redshirt freshman Antwane Greenlee, a bulky 302-pound tackle who was very highly recruited, still hasn't played. A true freshman will most likely start somewhere, but first the coaches have to find the best one they have.