Wake Forest wraps up its first spring under new coach Dave Clawson this weekend, and while plenty of questions will remain beyond the spring game, the Deacons are optimistic progress has been made. We caught up with cornerback Kevin Johnson to see how the spring has gone for Wake and what fans can expect Saturday.
Q. Coach Clawson has come in with a new scheme, a new culture and a new attitude. How has that gone over with the team this spring?
A. All that stuff is coming together pretty smoothly. It’s been a pretty good transition. The culture is definitely changing a lot. They’re expecting a lot out of us, and we’re putting in a lot of hard work. They want us to be able to play like champions on and off the field, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that.
Defensively we’re putting in new schemes, and I think it’s going great. We’re emphasizing flying around to the football. Coaches are doing a great job of teaching us new concepts. We’re really using those concepts and really nailing them in so we can play as fast as possible.
Q. Particularly for veterans like yourself, major changes like this can be tough to swallow. Has what Coach Clawson and his staff implemented provided a bit of a spark to get guys to buy in though?
A. Oh definitely. Guys are very excited. When the new coaching staff comes in, you don’t really know what to expect, but with these coaches, I think guys are really excited. I see a fire under our teammates, and there’s a fire under myself, and most importantly there’s a fire under these coaches. They’re really hungry for success, and it’s rubbing off on us as a football team. Guys are seeing that and have really bought in right now. Guys are really working.
Q. From the start of spring practice until now, where have you seen the biggest improvement?
A. I would definitely say it’s the effort. One thing that we’re emphasizing is really flying out there on defense, really taking great angles to the football, getting all 11 guys running to the football. That’s how big plays happen, and that’s definitely something that stuck out to me early on in the practices. If we’re not running to the football, we’re doing up-downs. We’re really implementing it, and it’s paying off.
Q. Your defense lost a lot of talent up front, particularly All-ACC tackle Nikita Whitlock, but you return a good bit of veteran talent in the secondary. Are the DBs feeling like they need to step up and take a bigger role this year?
A. As a secondary, we want to be the best in the country. That’s our goal. At the same time, I have a lot of trust in the front seven. The new guys are stepping in and playing great football -- from linebackers to D-line. I also have a boatload of confidence in the coaching staff to put everyone in great position to make big plays. So I’m extremely confident in our defense. In the secondary, we’re trying to push to be the best we can possibly be.
Q. Depth is a big concern all over the roster, but has there been some silver lining in that the guys out there for spring practice have been able to get a lot of reps in the new system?
A. The more reps you get, the more you’re able to pick up from the mistakes you made in previous reps. Guys are getting a lot of good action, really getting to learn what their flaws are, what they can improve on, and what they’re good at. That’s something that’s definitely been going on this spring. Guys are able to really tune up their technique, and I look at that as a good thing.
Q. There’s been some huge turnover on offense, especially at the skill positions. From your vantage point in the secondary, has anyone stood out to you on that side of the ball?
A. I think we’re having a great quarterback battle going on. Guys are making some big-time throws out there. From a receiver standpoint, we’ve got guys like E.J. Scott coming in and having a very big spring for us, catching balls, running great routes. Matt James -- a big receiver who can be a threat to catch the ball -- he’s been having a very good spring as well. Even receivers like Tyree Harris, Jonathan Williams and Jared Crump -- guys are really stepping into big roles and answering that call, competing against us, giving us good looks. And we’re competing against them giving them the best we can give them. Iron sharpens iron, so from a competition standpoint, we’re trying to give it all we’ve got, and I think that’s definitely paying off.
Q. As you get ready for the spring game this weekend, what can fans expect to see? What might look different to them from years past?
A. I think the spring game is going to go smoothly, but we’re running some new schemes offensively and defensively. It’ll be a new look. But hopefully it’s implementing that new culture we’re trying to get in here, playing like a championship-level football team. I’m hoping that’s something that can be our M.O. When teams watch us play, they can see we’re trying to play championship-level football, doing all the little things, paying attention to the details. I’m confident that’s something that will pay off for us.