ACC: Jonathan Jones
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Wake Forest linebacker Jonathan Jones, who had the unenviable task of making his first start in the same spot once filled by Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry, had a respectable first half, leading the Deacs with seven tackles, but he didn't make one in the third quarter.
Still, it's not good when a guy in your secondary -- the last line of defense -- is leading the team in tackles. Good thing for the Deacs Brandon Ghee is back there.
Overall, Wake's defense has allowed too many big plays today, but credit must be given to outstanding Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin. He's rushed nine times for 29 yards and completed 14 of 19 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. One of the biggest differences is in the yards per play. Baylor is averaging 7.2 while Wake averages 4.4.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. –- Yes, the Wake Forest defense has some questions to answer, but don’t count the Deacs out because they lost some of their best players in school history.
After all, how many programs have a Butkus Award winner on their roster, along with an Alphonso Smith?
What Wake Forest has is a group of redshirt juniors and seniors up front who are disciplined players and know the system? Their biggest question mark might be in the secondary, where they had to replace three of four starters, save for redshirt senior Brandon Ghee.
But this is where Jim Grobe’s redshirting philosophy pays off. Look at the new linebackers –- there is not a freshman or a sophomore in the starting lineup. Jonathan Jones, who is taking over for Aaron Curry, is a redshirt senior. Matt Woodlief in the middle is a redshirt junior, as is weakside linebacker Hunter Haynes. It’s not like these guys are taking their first collegiate snaps.
There’s no question Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin is a special player, and one who will test each unit on Wake’s defense, but if the Demon Deacons play the kind of disciplined football Grobe usually demands, and if they rely on their strength up front, there’s no reason Wake Forest can’t come up with another win over the Big 12.
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.
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."
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."
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."
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.
"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.
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Anyone who has counted out Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe in the past should have learned by now that the man can work some magic.
The offense, though, won't need any of that.
It's the defense that's under reconstruction. Defensive coordinator Brad Lambert will spend this summer searching for the players who can replace a pair of All-Americans, the entire linebacking corps and three of four starters in the secondary. Not many teams got hit as hard by the NFL Draft as Wake Forest did (now there's a sentence you once probably never thought you'd read). It's true, though - The Deacs lost Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux and safety Chip Vaughn to the NFL. This is the kind of year when Grobe's redshirting pays off, as there are still numerous upperclassmen for Lambert to lean on. The strength of the entire team might be the defensive line, where seniors John Russell and Boo Robinson return.
For the first time in years, though, roles have reversed and Wake's offense will be helping out the defense. Only two starters are gone from the offense, but they were both receivers in D.J. Boldin and Chip Brinkman. Marshall Williams and Devon Brown topped the preseason depth chart as their replacements. Williams is the top returning receiver from a year ago, as he started two games and made 26 catches for 390 yards.
Aside from the return of veteran quarterback Riley Skinner, possibly the best news for Wake is that seven players return to the offensive line who have starting experience. The biggest difference there will be the return of Chris DeGeare, who missed last year for academic reasons.
Another thing that will help is that Grobe has decided on his offensive philosophy. Last year, he said he put too much on Skinner, and then went too run-heavy at Miami. This year, he's looking for a little more balance, and Wake has the speed and talent to make that happen.
Of course, everyone's got issues:
1. Who will plug the holes in the secondary? Cornerbacks Josh Bush and Kenny Okoro both looked impressive this spring while competing for Alphonso Smith's old position. They got a lot of reps with injured starter Brandon Ghee out and began to establish themselves as capable replacements. Ghee will be back this summer, though, and is going to be the leader of that group.
2. Can the Demon Deacons really compete for the Atlantic Division title? Definitely. In fact, because Wake has so much talent returning on offense, it wouldn't surprise me if they had one of the most productive offenses in the conference along with Georgia Tech. Obviously the key is how the defense comes together, but it all starts up front, and Wake's defensive line should be one of the best in the ACC.
3. How long will it take the linebackers to come together? First let's figure out who they are. Jonathan Jones, Matt Woodlief and Hunter Haynes are the players listed at the top of the preseason depth chart, but combined they've started two career games. Realistically, this is a wide-open contest.
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Each team is going to need a little bit of help this fall (some more than others). Here's a look at where everyone in the ACC needs the most help heading into summer camp:
BOSTON COLLEGE -- Quarterback. It's easily the biggest question mark in Chestnut Hill, and it will also be one of Frank Spaziani's first major decisions as head coach. Regardless of whom he picks -- Dominique Davis, Codi Boek or Justin Tuggle -- experience will be at a minimum.
CLEMSON -- Wide receivers. Somebody needs to help Jacoby Ford, and Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham are no longer around to do it. Xavier Dye didn't quite have the consistency he'd hoped for this spring. Marquan Jones and Terrence Ashe could also be factors.
DUKE -- Offensive line. The Blue Devils lost three starters there and moved a fourth (Kyle Hill from left guard to left tackle), so it will have an entirely new look. The one player back in his original position is center Bryan Morgan.
FLORIDA STATE -- Receivers. FSU is waiting until the legal process unfolds to determine the length of Rod Owens' suspension, and it's uncertain how quickly Taiwan Easterling will be cleared to play after an injury to his Achilles. Bert Reed, Louis Givens and Jarmon Fortson will be heavily depended upon.
GEORGIA TECH -- Linemen. The Yellow Jackets have to replace three of four starters on the defensive line, and injuries to Cord Howard, Dan Voss and Nick Claytor slowed the progress on the offensive line this spring.
MARYLAND -- Offensive line. The Terps lost three starters and will have four players in new positions. Phil Costa should be the leader of an otherwise inexperienced group.
MIAMI -- Linebacker depth. There were a few position changes, and Colin McCarthy missed the spring. Sean Spence is proven, but depth remains a concern.
NORTH CAROLINA -- Receivers. This group had to be completely rebuilt, as UNC lost players who accounted for 17 of 21 receiving touchdowns last year. Greg Little had a good spring and should be the leader now, and freshman Joshua Adams benefitted from enrolling early.
NC STATE -- Safety. This is coach Tom O'Brien's biggest concern, and the Pack need Javon Walker, who tore his ACL and missed the spring, back and healthy. Clem Johnson played well last year despite being hindered by several injuries. O'Brien is looking for more from Jimmaul Simmons and Justin Byers.
VIRGINIA -- Linebackers. The backups to Antonio Appleby, Jon Copper and Clint Sintim rarely played, as Al Groh wanted to keep his best players on the field. Darren Childs, Steve Greer, Aaron Taliaferro, Cam Johnson, and Darnell Carter will have to grow up quickly.
VIRGINIA TECH -- Kicker. For the third straight year, Frank Beamer is in search of a new kicker, this time to replace Dustin Keys. Matt Waldron was the leading candidate out of the spring, but the competition is wide open.
WAKE FOREST -- Linebackers. Gone are Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux and Chantz McClinic. Introducing Gelo Orange. Yes, that's his name. Orange, along with Hunter Haynes, Jonathan Jones and a host of others have some big shoes to fill.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
As we head into spring football, there will be some pretty big names missing from the rosters -- Clemson needs to replace its starting quarterback, safety and running back, Duke lost the ACC's leading tackler, Virginia lost its leading receiver and rusher, BC lost its starting defensive tackles, Georgia Tech needs to replace three of its four starting defensive linemen, and UNC needs to replace all of its top receivers -- just to name a few. There will also be plenty of replacements within coaching staffs.
Here are the five biggest shoes to fill in the ACC this spring:
|Mark Goldman/Icon SMI|
|Aaron Curry finished his career at Wake Forest with 332 tackles.|
Virginia Tech cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris -- Not only will the Hokies lose one of their top defenders, they'll also lose a true leader. Last season, Harris had 14 passes defended and six interceptions -- including two returned for touchdowns -- and two forced fumbles. One option is to move Stephan Virgil to the other side like the staff did when Brandon Flowers left. Another is to let a few players battle it out. Rashad Carmichael started the game Harris missed due to injury.
Florida State defensive end Everette Brown -- He led the league in sacks and tackles for loss. Brown's season sack total was 13.5 and his career sack total was 23. Markus White, who was Brown's backup in 2008, earned his first sack against Clemson, and is the front-runner to succeed Brown. Kevin McNeil also has experience at the end position.
Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry -- The Butkus Award winner finished the regular season with a team-leading 101 tackles and 15 tackles for loss. Curry finished his career with 332 tackles and a school-record 278 career interception return yards. Jonathan Jones was Curry's backup last season and has some experience there.
UNC receiver Hakeem Nicks -- Nicks set UNC single-season records in 2008 for receiving yards (1,222) and touchdowns (12). In just three seasons, Nicks established 14 school records at UNC, including career receptions (181), career receiving yards (2,580) and career touchdowns (21). The staff recruited several receivers who are expected to compete for time this fall, but Joshua Adams, who enrolled in January, could have a slight edge because he'll be practicing this spring. Sophomore Dwight Jones should also be in the mix, along with Todd Harrelson and Rashad Mason.
Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski -- He took the Eagles to back-to-back ACC title games, including 2008, when little was expected of the Eagles in their first season without Matt Ryan. Jagodzinski left Boston College with a 20-8 record (11-3 in 2007, 9-5 in 2008). Former defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani will be in his first season as a head coach.