ACC: Kevin Johnson

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
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Enjoy the weekend.

Wake Forest season preview

August, 6, 2013
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Today we’re looking at the Deacs as they try to get back to a bowl game in 2013:

Wake Forest

Coach: Jim Grobe (106-107-1 overall, 73-74 in 12 years at school)

2012 record: 5-7

Key losses: FB Tommy Bohanon, C Garrick Williams, LB Joey Ehrmann, LB Riley Haynes, CB Kenny Okoro

[+] EnlargeMichael Campanaro
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Michael Campanaro leads a Deacs team looking to rebound from a 5-7 season in 2012.
Key returnees: QB Tanner Price, WR Michael Campanaro, TB Josh Harris, G Frank Souza, G Antonio Ford, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Merrill Noel, FS A.J. Marshall, LB Justin Jackson, LB Mike Olson, NG Nikita Whitlock, DE Zach Thompson

Newcomer to watch: Cory Helms, center. The Alpharetta, Ga., native was recruited by Jonathan Himebauch and chose the Deacs over offers from North Carolina, Syracuse and Florida. He was rated the No. 74 offensive guard in his class by ESPN.com, but the Deacs plan on using him as a center.

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 5 vs. NC State; Nov. 23 vs. Duke; Nov. 2 at Syracuse

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The running backs. Top running back Josh Harris is still awaiting word from the NCAA as to whether he will be academically eligible. Harris led the team with 608 yards and five touchdowns last fall. Deandre Martin (484 yards) would be next in line. "That running back group is probably the biggest disaster we've got right now,” Grobe said at ACC media days. “We don't have a dependable guy right now. We'll see how it sorts out.”

Forecast: Things should be looking up for the Deacs, who haven’t had a winning season since 2008. Wake Forest got to a bowl game in 2011, and the goal is to return to the postseason this fall. With a veteran quarterback in Tanner Price, who is entering his fourth season as a starter, and a stingy defense, it’s a realistic goal.

Wake Forest returns 17 starters -- including eight on defense -- and both specialists. The headliner of the group is receiver Michael Campanaro, who leads all active ACC players with 162 catches. The Deacs will need somebody to complement him, and they’ve got to find some depth up front on the offensive line. The Deacs feel good about their starting five, as long as they can all stay healthy. Guard Antonio Ford broke his leg in three places last fall at Maryland, and he was still recovering this spring. Tackle Steven Chase missed spring practices with a torn ACL. Senior center Whit Barnes, senior right guard Frank Souza and Ford, a junior at left guard, will give the group a veteran look, but a freshman or sophomore will likely have to fill in at right tackle.

Defensively, this could be one of the best groups Grobe has had in recent years. The Deacs have put an emphasis on takeaways this offseason -- a trademark of the most successful years under Grobe. Noseguard Nikita Whitlock (three sacks, 5.5 TFLs) returns, along with cornerback Kevin Johnson, who finished eighth nationally last year in passes defended with 18. Two starters also return at linebacker, including Mike Olson and Justin Jackson.

This year’s schedule is conducive to a six-win season for the Deacs, but there’s no margin for error with Clemson and Florida State both in the Atlantic Division. Wake Forest should come out of its nonconference schedule with at least three wins (Presbyterian, Louisiana-Monroe, at Army, at Vanderbilt), and should find a way to steal a few wins against the likes of Boston College, NC State, Maryland, Syracuse and/or Duke.
The watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is presented to the nation's best defensive back, was released today. Here are your ACC candidates:
The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 each had eight candidates, while the ACC and SEC each had four.

The ACC has some talented defensive backs returning this season, some of whom didn't make the watch list. Four returning ACC defensive backs ranked among the top 20 in the nation last fall in passes defended, led by Virginia Tech’s Exum:


Wake Forest spring wrap

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
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2012 record: 5-7

2012 conference record: 3-5 (fourth in the Atlantic Division)

Returning starters: Offense: 8; Defense: 8; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners:

QB Tanner Price, WR Michael Campanaro, TB Josh Harris, G Frank Souza, G Antonio Ford, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Merrill Noel, FS A.J. Marshall, LB Justin Jackson, LB Mike Olson, NG Nikita Whitlock, DE Zach Thompson

Key losses:

FB Tommy Bohanon, C Garrick Williams, LB Joey Ehrmann, LB Riley Haynes, CB Kenny Okoro

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Harris* (608 yards)

Passing: Price* (2,300)

Receiving: Campanaro* (763 yards)

Tackles: Jackson* (81)

Sacks: Jackson* (4)

Interceptions: Johnson* (3)

Spring answers:

1. Camp’s complement: An ankle injury to Campanaro opened the door for Orville Reynolds to emerge as a dependable No. 2 receiver. Reynolds was voted by his teammates as the most improved player on offense this spring. The staff is trying to get the receivers more involved in the running game, and Reynolds, a converted running back, could be the perfect match for it.

2. Depth on defense: The defensive line found a solid rotation two-deep, and the linebackers emerged as a group that should be the strength of the defense this season. Inside linebacker Brandon Chubb had a particularly good spring and got some first-team reps at the expense of Olson, who had some nagging shoulder issues.

3. Opting for the option: The Deacs have changed their offense to incorporate more option and get Price running more. Offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke said the staff is interested in integrating standard spread-option runs, zone reads and quarterback draws.

Fall questions:

1. The offensive line. It’s the biggest concern on the team, and was the weak link last season. With so many injuries in 2012 that carried into the spring, there was little time for a five-step drop, and Price was constantly making throws under pressure. Until this group is solidified, Lobotzke won’t rest easy.

2. Impact freshmen. The redshirting policy is on hold for now, as the staff has made it clear that they are willing to play whomever is capable of helping the team win now. True freshmen will be given a legitimate chance to contribute immediately, but until they arrive this summer, nobody knows who or how many will contribute.

3. Can running back Josh Harris be consistent? Harris made a name for himself in 2010 when, in his first career start, he ran for 241 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against Virginia Tech. Since then he has battled injuries and his durability has come into question. Now, as a redshirt senior, he has a chance to lead the Deacs’ ground game, but can he stay healthy enough and be consistent enough to reassert himself as one of the ACC’s best backs?

Heather Dinich talks about Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson as the Deacs' top performer this spring.

2012 report cards: Wake Forest

February, 1, 2013
2/01/13
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We wrap up our report cards series today!

WAKE FOREST

OFFENSE: Wake Forest slipped on offense in 2012, thanks in large part to a number of injuries along the offensive line and receiver. The numbers are pretty bad (look away if you must!). Wake Forest ranked No. 114 in the nation in scoring, averaging 18.5 points per game. That is a whopping 7.5 fewer points than 2011, when Wake averaged 26 points per game. Not exactly great shakes there, either, but that is a scoring bonanza compared to this past season. In other NCAA rankings, Wake Forest finished No. 113 in rushing offense (100.5 ypg), No. 91 in passing offense (200.8 ypg) and No. 117 in total offense (301.3 ypg). The Deacs were shut out twice on the season, and scored 20 points or fewer seven times. You get the point. The biggest issue was no consistency on the offensive line, where injuries decimated the roster. Wake Forest ended up playing more young, inexperienced players than it wanted. The lone bright spot was ACC second-team receiver Michael Campanaro, but even he missed time with a broken hand. In the end, this was a season to forget for this offense. GRADE: F

DEFENSE: Injuries piled up on the defense as well, costing players like Nikita Whitlock and Merrill "Bud" Noel playing time. They happened to be two of the best players returning to the group. Though Whitlock did earn second-team coaches' honors and safety AJ Marshall and cornerback Kevin Johnson got honorable mention, there was simply no consistency out of this group. The stats were nearly as bad on defense as they were on offense. Wake Forest ranked in the bottom third of the ACC in all four major statistical categories (rushing, total, scoring, passing). In passing defense, total defense and scoring defense, Wake was No. 88 or worse in the NCAA stats. Hard to ignore the final three games of the season, when the Deacs gave up a total of 130 points GRADE: D

OVERALL: This was a tough year for Wake in more ways than one. Coach Jim Grobe had to deal with more injuries than he has had to in quite some time, and that impacted the overall performance of his team. But off-the-field issues were a major distraction as well, as Grobe suspended eight players for violations of team rules. Four were starters at the time. When the season ended, there was finger pointing and negative chatter on various social media sites, wondering whether a change was needed in Winston-Salem. Losing seasons will do that. Grobe has been incredibly successful in his time at the program, and has an experienced team returning for 2013. But there is no doubt the results in 2012 fell far below expectations. GRADE: D

More grades

ACC announces players of the week

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
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Here are the ACC players of the week, as announced by the league office Monday.

OFFENSIVE BACK: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson. Boyd completed 16-of-23 passes for 344 yards and five touchdowns in the Tigers’ 56-20 win over Duke. He guided the Clemson offense to 718 yards of total offense, the second most in school history and the most by an ACC team this year. Boyd threw all five of his touchdown passes in the first half and also scored on a 21-yard run, giving him six TDR, the most by an ACC player in a game this year. He finished with 416 yards of total offense and a passing efficiency rating of 240, the third best in school history given a minimum of 20 attempts.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Brandon Thomas, OL, Clemson. Thomas graded 95 percent for his 62 snaps in the win over Duke and had five knockdown blocks in helping the Tigers score 56 points, the most in the program’s history in Wallace Wade Stadium. The 95 percent grade was the highest of his career and the highest for a Clemson starting offensive lineman in a game this year. His blocking was a big reason Clemson rushed for 334 yards and a 6.5 yards per carry average on 52 attempts. Clemson finished the game with 718 yards of total offense, second most in Clemson history, 10th most in ACC history and the most by an ACC team this year.

RECEIVER: Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest. Campanaro set a school record and tied the ACC mark with 16 receptions in Wake Forest’s 28-14 win over Boston College. He had 123 receiving yards and tied the school record with three touchdown catches. His touchdown receptions were on passes of 5, 27 and 16 yards from Tanner Price. Campanaro broke the previous Wake Forest record of 15 which was shared by three players. The ACC mark of 16 was last accomplished by Alvin Pearman of Virginia in 2003.

DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: Chris Brathwaite, DT, Virginia. Brathwaite helped the Cavalier defense hold NC State to a season low 216 yards of offense (19 rushing yards) in Virginia’s 33-6 victory in Raleigh. The Wolfpack entered the game averaging 429.2 yards per game. Brathwaite had five tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss while also forcing a fumble. The six points and 19 rushing yards were season lows for NC State.

LINEBACKER: Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech. Attaochu matched a career-high with three sacks, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble in Georgia Tech’s 33-13 win at Maryland. Attaochu joins Derrick Morgan as the only Tech players over the last five seasons to record three sacks in one game. Attaochu, playing in his hometown, upped his career totals to 22 tackles for loss and 14 sacks.

CO-DEFENSIVE BACK: Maurice Canady, CB, Virginia. Canady started his first game and led Virginia’s defense with seven tackles and had an interception with a return of 39 yards in the Cavaliers’ 33-6 win over NC State. He helped limit the Wolfpack passing game to just 197 yards, a season low. The Wolfpack entered the game averaging 306.9 yards per game. NC State’s longest reception during the game was 14 yards. The last time NC State did not have a reception in a game for at least 15 yards was its season opener in 2006, a streak of 84 games. The Cavaliers also ended NC State’s Bryan Underwood’s streak of catching a touchdown in eight straight games this season, preventing him from tying Virginia’s Herman Moore’s streak of nine straight games with a touchdown catch in 1990.

CO-DEFENSIVE BACK: Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest. Johnson was second on the team with seven tackles in Saturday’s 28-14 win over Boston College. Johnson had five solo tackles and two assists. He also intercepted a pass for the third time in the last four games and broke up two passes.

SPECIALIST: Gabe Terry, LB, Miami. Terry blocked a Virginia Tech punt that led to the Miami Hurricanes’ first score of the night during their 30-12 win Thursday over the Hokies. On the Virginia Tech 41, Terry blocked the punt and it was recovered by Rayshawn Jenkins at the Virginia Tech 16 to set up the Miami score two plays later. It was Miami’s first blocked punt since 2008 against UCF and first in ACC play since 2004, also against Virginia Tech.

ROOKIE: Duke Johnson, RB, Miami. Johnson notched his second 100-yard rushing game of the season, collecting 100 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries in Miami’s 30-12 win over Virginia Tech. Sixty-five of his 100 yards came in the first half on one rush, a new career long. Johnson later added a fourth quarter touchdown, his sixth rushing score of the season and first since Sept. 29 vs. NC State. He finished the night with 217 all-purpose yards, his fourth 200 yard all-purpose game of the season. Johnson had 118 returning yards on two returns, including an 81-yard scamper. He now has 13 plays of 25-plus yards, including seven for 50 or more yards.

Wake Forest holds on to beat UVa

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
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Wake Forest did not have to do much on offense against Virginia, not with the way the defense played on Saturday.

The Deacs got three field goals from Chad Hedlund in his first career start and held on to win 16-10, handing the Hoos their sixth straight loss. Virginia hit a new low point on the season, scoring a season low for points while turning the ball over way too much once again.

Anybody who tuned in knows this game was unwatchable at times. Virginia had plenty of opportunities to win, but Wake Forest came up big time and again. Down 16-10, Phillip Sims had the Hoos driving early in the fourth quarter. But he threw an ill-advised pass down the field that was intercepted by Kevin Johnson near the goal line.

Later in the period, Virginia (2-6, 0-4) had the ball down to the Wake 36, but the Deacs defense came up with back-to-back plays behind the line of scrimmage. The first was a tackle on Clifton Richardson for a 6-yard loss. Nikita Whitlock was forced out of the game because he lost his helmet. His replacement, Tylor Harris, came up with a huge sack on Sims on third down.

Virginia nearly had one final attempt to win, but Khalek Shepherd fumbled a punt with two minutes to go, and Wake Forest recovered.

So on the day, the Hoos had three turnovers and finished minus-3 in turnover ratio, with just 301 yards of total offense.

They actually outgained Wake Forest (4-3, 2-3), which had 215 yards of total offense and only converted one of 14 third-down opportunities. Tanner Price only had 102 yards passing (7-of-19). Its only touchdown of the day was set up because of a terrific return on special teams by Lovell Jackson. But that is a fine formula to win: solid special teams, solid defense and limit your own mistakes.

ACC power rankings: Week 1

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
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There was plenty of news in the ACC this summer, some of which has affected the order of the power ranking since it was last released post-spring. The biggest difference is at the bottom, where Maryland has sunk following the season-ending injury to starting quarterback C.J. Brown. The first five teams remained the same, but UNC got a small boost after positive reviews by the staff and players who were learning the new systems and terminology of first-year coach Larry Fedora.

This list will change with the season, but for now, here is the starting point for how the ACC teams stack up heading into Week 1:

1. Florida State: There is no excuse for coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff not to take advantage of the ubertalented roster this year and run away with it. The biggest questions remaining are how the Noles will handle the loss of cornerback Greg Reid, and how much better the offensive line will look than it did a year ago.

2. Clemson: The Tigers will be without suspended starting receiver Sammy Watkins for the opener against Auburn, but there are enough other options that Clemson’s offense should still be productive. The depth on the offensive line remains a question, though, and the pressure is on first-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables to help Clemson fans forget the Orange Bowl.

3. Virginia Tech: The Hokies are confident in the speed, talent and athleticism of their young running backs and receivers, but the lack of experience remains a concern. Bud Foster’s defense should again be the strength of the team, particularly early, but with Georgia Tech on the schedule for Labor Day, there’s no time for a tuneup.

4. NC State: The Wolfpack kicks off the season against Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl trying to sustain the positive momentum with which it ended 2011. Coach Tom O’Brien has said this is the deepest, most talented team he has had since he was hired in Raleigh, but will it be good enough to beat Florida State and Clemson in the same season?

5. Georgia Tech: The Jackets could sneak up on some teams this year, as they have one of the best offensive lines coach Paul Johnson has had since he was hired there. Expectations are higher for the defense in Year 3 under coordinator Al Groh, and the hire of assistant Dave Walkosky should help the special teams.

6. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have the potential to play spoiler this year, or they could have a particularly bumpy ride given the complete overhaul in staff, schemes and philosophy. The players have bought in, though, and quarterback Bryn Renner adapted well to the spread offense this summer.

7. Wake Forest: Coach Jim Grobe has some hidden gems on this team, as players like receiver Michael Campanaro, nose guard Nikita Whitlock and cornerback Kevin Johnson are all-conference candidates. Questions still remain, though, about the offensive line, and two league games in the first three weeks won’t be easy.

8. Virginia: Coach Mike London is expected to release a depth chart today naming his starting quarterback, but the bigger concern should be a secondary that has to replace three starters. The Hoos have two of the best offensive tackles in the country, though, in Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi. They could pave the way for Perry Jones to have a 1,000-yard season.

9. Miami: Quarterback Stephen Morris earned the starting job this summer, and his leadership will be critical to a young offense that must replace seven starters. The Canes will continue to play with the NCAA investigation hanging over their heads, but those within the program say it hasn’t been a distraction.

10. Duke: The Blue Devils have one of the most talented quarterbacks in the ACC in Sean Renfree, but they need to stay healthy and show improvement on the defensive line in order to have a chance at a bowl game. Duke has a legitimately tough task in getting past FIU in a game that will set the course for its season – and possibly postseason.

11. Boston College: The Eagles couldn’t seem to get a break this offseason, as injuries piled up and athletic director Gene DeFilippo announced his retirement. Coach Frank Spaziani enters this season with the hottest seat in the ACC. It’s only Week 1, but the game against Miami is a must-win for the Eagles.

12. Maryland: Barring something catastrophic, the season-ending injury to quarterback C.J. Brown was arguably the worst thing that could have happened to the Terps this offseason. The offense will be in the hands of true freshman Perry Hills, and Maryland will adjust to two new coordinators in its quest to turn around last season’s 2-10 finish.

Defense highlights Wake scrimmage

August, 21, 2012
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Wake Forest held its second scrimmage of the preseason on Tuesday morning at BB&T Field. Here are the highlights, according to the team's practice report:

Offensive highlights: Sherman Ragland III had three catches for 32 yards and scored both touchdowns. Michael Campanaro caught three passes for 31 yards. For the second straight scrimmage, Tyler Jackson was the leading rusher with 44 yards on nine carries. Orville Reynolds rushed the ball just five times but gained 26 yards, including an 18-yard run.

Jackson carried the ball eight times on an 11-play scoring drive. He had seven carries for 34 yards on the drive and caught a pass from Patrick Thompson for 11 yards. Tanner Price completed 8 of 18 passes for 78 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Defensive highlights: The Deacs held the offense scoreless for the first 13 possessions and finished with nine tackles for loss, including five sacks, and two turnovers. Zach Thompson led with two sacks, while Nikita Whitlock, Kris Redding and Joey Ehrmann each made one sack. Kevin Johnson had an interception, and Chibuikem Okoro recovered a fumble on a botched handoff. Johnson also broke up one pass, as did Ehrmann, Tylor Harris and Hunter Williams. Merrill Noel and Brandon Chubb each had five tackles.
This summer you'll hear plenty about NC State cornerback David Amerson and safety Earl Wolff, about Florida State's secondary, about Kyle Fuller at Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech's veteran defensive backs.

Odds are you won't hear much, though, about a cornerback named Kevin Johnson.

That should change this fall.

Johnson, a redshirt sophomore, was one of three true freshmen to play for coach Jim Grobe in 2010. For those of you who unfamiliar with Grobe's philosophy on redshirting, playing as a true freshman at Wake Forest is a rarity. Johnson was good enough to start in five games in 2010, but he was declared academically ineligible last fall. Now he's back, and he's one of several hidden gems on the Deacs' roster that could make their secondary sneaky-good this year.

Merrill "Bud" Noel, the ACC's 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year, will be the face of the group, but don't be surprised to see Johnson push past three-year starter Kenny Okoro on the depth chart. Johnson is that good. With Noel, Johnson and Okoro as the starting nickel back, few if any teams in the ACC have three corners as capable as Wake Forest.

The dependability of the safeties remains a question heading into summer camp, but the talent at cornerback could help ease that transition. So might the hiring of secondary coach Tim Duffie, who made significant strides with the group this spring.

This is how Wake Forest rolls -- it lures some unheralded talent, develops it, and suddenly you're watching a guy like Noel. Keep an eye on Johnson. He could be next.
As advertised ...

1. Florida State: The Noles have one of the best cornerback duos in the country in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. They combined for 33 passes defended last season, the most of any pair of cornerbacks in the nation. Mike Harris had 41 tackles and four picks as a reserve.

[+] EnlargeGreg Reid
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireFlorida State cornerback Greg Reid is also one of the ACC's top return men.
2. Virginia Tech: Jayron Hosley is one of the top boundary corners in the country, and the Hokies also have Kyle Fuller, who had six deflections last season, and Cris Hill (two deflections) at field corner.

3. Maryland: The Terps return both starters in Cameron Chism and Trenton Hughes, who combined for 36 career starts. Chism is a strong cover corner who had 70 tackles and eight deflections last season. Hughes had nine pass deflections.

4. NC State: Both starters return in C.J. Wilson and David Amerson. Wilson had 46 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups, and Amerson had 57 tackles. Justin Byers and Gary Grant also have experience.

5. North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost some remarkable talent in their secondary, including cornerback Kendric Burney, but there is a lot of depth at the position. Jabari Price started four games last season, Charles Brown has 22 career starts but sat out last season, and Mywan Jackson and Tre Boston both have at least four starts each.

6. Boston College: The Eagles will miss DeLeon Gause, but Donnie Fletcher has 17 career starts, 56 tackles last season, and led the team with five picks. C.J. Jones played in 12 games as a backup last season with 16 tackles. Dominique Williams also saw some time and had four tackles, and true freshman Al Louis-Jean, who was the No. 9 cornerback in the nation as ranked by ESPN Recruiting, enrolled early.

7. Clemson: It’s a young group, as the Tigers had to replace Marcus Gilchrist and Byron Maxwell. Xavier Brewer had 10 starts with 50 tackles and two interceptions last season, Coty Sensabaugh had 31 tackles in three starts, and senior Mansa Joseph will also be competing for playing time with sophomore Martin Jenkins.

8. Virginia: The Cavaliers return both starters in Chase Minnifield and Devin Wallace, but Wallace was suspended and missed spring ball and is still suspended. Wallace had 38 tackles and six breakups last season. Chris Broadnax, Rijo Walker, Drequan Hoskey and Pablo Alvarez will all compete for playing time.

9. Miami: The Hurricanes have to replace both starters in Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill. Jo-Jo Nicholas moved to corner and Brandon McGee, who was the nickel back last season, will compete along with Lee Chambers, Keion Payne, Nathan Gholston and true freshman Thomas Finnie, who had a great spring.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets had to replace their entire secondary, including cornerbacks Mario Butler and Dominique Reese. They’ve still got several cornerbacks with experience in Rashaad Reid, who started 14 games in 2008 and 2009, Rod Sweeting (38 tackles, seven pass breakups, one interception), Louis Young (10 tackles), and Michael Peterson (six tackles, one pass breakup).

11. Wake Forest: The Deacs have a deep enough secondary that they can live without the experience of cornerback Kevin Johnson, who started five games last season but will sit out this season while academically ineligible. Josh Bush had 33 tackles and four pass breakups last season, Kenny Okoro is a rising star, A.J. Marshall has three starts and Dominique Tate returns after missing last season while on academic suspension.

12. Duke: Ross Cockrell is a returning starter and finished last season with 60 tackles and 10 passes defended. He was only a freshman but he tied for eighth in the ACC with passes defended with 10 in 12 games. Johnny Williams had four pass breakups last season.
Considering Wake Forest ranked 110th in the nation last year in scoring defense, allowing 35.83 points per game, it would seem the Deacs would need all of the help they can get this year.

Despite the loss of two players with starting experience, coach Jim Grobe said recently his defense won't regress without cornerback Kevin Johnson and defensive end Kevin Smith.

Johnson will redshirt this season while he’s academically ineligible, and Smith has been dismissed for disciplinary issues. They both played in 11 games last year with five starts each, but both are at positions where depth wasn’t a concern.

“There were a couple of positions we couldn’t afford to lose anybody, but of the two kids we lost, it couldn’t have worked out better to have it be a defensive front guy or a corner because we’ve got enough depth there,” Grobe said.

It’s the second straight season that the Deacs’ secondary has taken a hit for academics. Last year, Dominique Tate was academically ineligible, but his return this fall is one of the reasons Grobeisn’t concerned about Johnson’s absence. Smith, an undersized defensive end who was moved around a lot to make use of his athleticism, was held out of spring practices because of off-field issues that were never resolved. The staff has already had a chance to move some other players around to compensate for his departure.

At corner, Kenny Okoro and Merrill Noel both had productive springs and A.J. Marshall stared as a true freshman last year. The return of Tate makes the cornerback position one of the deepest on the roster.

“I think most people are hopeful to have three corners and I think we’ve got four corners we can win with, so I feel pretty good about that position,” Grobe said.

He'd probably feel even better if the defense made a quantum leap this fall.

Hope and concern: Wake Forest

June, 10, 2011
6/10/11
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The hope and concern series continues today with Wake Forest:

Biggest reason for hope: Maturity on defense

Wake Forest finished 2010 ranked 110th in the country in scoring defense and 101 in total defense. The only way to go is up, and they appear to be headed in that direction. Some of the most measurable progress on the team should be found in the secondary, where all four starters return in cornerback Josh Bush, strong safety Cyhl Quarles, free safety Daniel Mack and cornerback Kevin Johnson. The Deacs are two-deep at every position in the secondary, as opposed to last year when Wake had to start two true freshmen cornerbacks. Wake Forest has also adapted to and embraced the new 3-4 scheme, which it switched to last year, and there is enough talent up front to make it a success.

Biggest reason for concern: The schedule

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe finished spring ball convinced his team is better than the one that won three games last season. The problem is, fans might not be able to realize it this fall by looking at the win-loss column because the Deacs have significant nonconference challenges in a road trip to Syracuse and home games against Notre Dame and Vanderbilt. Wake Forest also has back-to-back October weekends against defending division champs Florida State and Virginia Tech.

More in this series:

Wake Forest spring wrap

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
6:00
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WAKE FOREST

2010 overall record: 3-9

2010 conference record: 1-7

Returning starters

Offense: 7, defense: 9, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

WR Chris Givens, G Joe Looney, DE Tristan Dorty, DE Kyle Wilber, SS Cyhl Quarles, PK Jimmy Newman, QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, NG Nikita Whitlock

Key losses

C Russell Nenon, RB Josh Adams, WR Marshall Williams, WR Devon Brown, LB Hunter Haynes, LB Matt Woodlief, P Shane Popham

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Harris* (720 yards)

Passing: Price* (1,349 yds)

Receiving: Brown (302 yds)

Tackles: Hunter Haynes (77)

Sacks: Wilber* (6)

Interceptions: Alex Frye (3)

Spring answers

1. Solidified secondary. All four starters return in CB Josh Bush, SS Cyhl Quarles, FS Daniel Mack and CB Kevin Johnson, and the Deacs are two-deep at every position. It’s a much better scenario than it was a year ago, when Wake had to start two true freshmen corners. The Deacs will also have Dominique Tate, who missed all of last year for academic reasons, and two players who redshirted last year in Desmond Cooper and Merrill Noel. The Deacs ranked 11th in the ACC in pass defense last year, but saw signs this spring of that improving.

2. Sold on the 3-4 defense. The staff is confident in the defensive tackles and committed to the scheme, which it began using last year. Nose guard Ramon Booi, the backup to Nikita Whitlock, might have been the most improved player on the roster this spring, and is a good contrast to Whitlock, who is 5-foot-10 and more of a speed guy. Booi is a 6-foot-6, 300-pound man-wall. At tackle, Grobe singled out defensive end Zach Thompson as a possible all-ACC candidate, and Tristan Dorty moved from linebacker to defensive end.

3. Staff changes were a positive. Without disrespecting former defensive coordinator Brad Lambert, who left to become head coach of the fledgling Charlotte program, Grobe said he was pleased with the promotions of Tim Billings and Brian Knorr to co-defensive coordinators, and Lonnie Galloway, who was hired to coach the wide receivers. Knorr’s knowledge of the 3-4 scheme has been an added bonus.

Fall questions

1. Which running back will take over? Josh Harris is the most talented back on the roster, but he missed several spring practices with a hamstring injury he suffered while competing in the 100-yard dash with the track team. He’ll have to get healthy and earn the starting job this summer despite competition from senior Brandon Pendergrass. Harris, though, scored the only touchdown of the spring game.

2. Will dependable receivers emerge? The Deacs didn’t chart every one, but there were about eight or 10 dropped passes by wide receivers in the spring game. Wake Forest is looking for a playmaker to emerge like Kenny Moore did in ’07 and D.J. Boldin in ’08. Chris Givens, Michael Campanaro, Danny Dembry and Terence Davis are lead candidates, but redshirt freshmen Matt James (6-foot-6) and Brandon Terry (6-5), could both work their way into the rotation.

3. Will the offensive line improve? Four starters are back, so it looks better on paper, but the Deacs will sorely miss the experience and leadership of former center Russell Nenon. Garrick Williams started the final three games of 2010 -- two at guard and one at center, but he struggled with the snaps towards the end of spring and isn’t where the staff needs him to be yet.

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