Wake Forest wraps up its spring practice Saturday, and head coach Dave Clawson sounds far more optimistic about his team’s chances this season after two long years of rebuilding. We caught up with the Demon Deacons coach to talk about their progress.
Q. You’re bringing back a lot of experience this year. Can that start to translate to wins?
A. That production a year ago was only good enough to win three games. But with it all back and hopefully at a higher level, you expect that improvement to occur. That’s a very reasonable expectation for our football team next year is that we should be significantly better.
A. People look at their skill sets as different because John played the whole season on a high ankle sprain. John’s a lot more athletic than he showed a year ago. Their skill sets, in terms of what they do, are closer than people realize. Last year, Kendall probably wasn’t as comfortable with the passing game and depended so much on his legs, and John, because of the ankle sprain, really couldn’t move and run. So it seemed like we had a running quarterback and a pro style, but when they’re both healthy, those differences aren’t as pronounced.
Q. Do you envision both of them playing again this year?
A. I never prefer to be a two-quarterback system. We want to have a starter, and that’s our guy. We don’t have to make that decision until Sept. 1 of this year, but by the same token, neither of those guys could stay healthy last year. So I’d like to say they’ll both be healthy 12 games this year, but that didn’t happen last year. So we’re getting them both ready. We hope before Sept. 1, one of them wins the job. But we’re not in a rush to make that decision.
Q. It’s good to have an experienced offensive line back, but is this a group that’s also ready to compete on a down-by-down basis in the ACC?
A. They’re certainly going to be closer than they were a year ago, and we’re hoping they’re going to be there next year. But we started three freshmen last year on the O-line. Ryan Anderson, Phil Haynes and Justin Herron all started multiple games. I don’t think at any level of football, you want to be starting freshmen O-linemen. At times they played well, and at times they looked like freshmen playing on the O-line. I think all three of those guys will be good offensive linemen, and we need that to happen next year. That’s still a position that seven of the top 10 are freshmen and sophomores. But they’re mostly redshirt freshmen and sophomores. They’ve made great gains in the offseason program, and I expect us to take a major jump at that position next year.
A. It’s great to have Marquel Lee back. He’s played at a very good level for us for two years, and he’s a good piece to start with. At Hunter Williams’ position, Demetrius Kemp played a lot of football for us last year, and we’ve moved Thomas Brown, who started a lot of games at safety last year, to Rover. The inside linebacker, it’s really four guys: Jaboree Williams, who’s played a lot of football, Zack Wary has had a really good spring for us, Grant Dawson, who’s played, and Nate Mays, who is an up-and-comer. I don’t know if we’ll have one guy that played at the level that Chubb did a year ago. Marquel has to be our All-ACC-caliber linebacker. But you’re talking about seven other guys capable of playing. Hunter and Chubb were outstanding and we’ll miss them, but we didn’t have depth. Now we do. It might not be one guy playing 80 snaps.
Q. You moved Thomas Brown and Ryan Janvion has been out with an injury. That’s opened the door at safety. How’s Ryan’s health, and what have you seen from the young guys?
A. Ryan should be healthy when we start our offseason program in late May or early June. He’s running now and on course to be back. But safety has been one of the real pleasant — not surprises, because we expected these guys to be good — but Cam Glenn and Jessie Bates are having a really good spring. Josh Okonye has played a lot, and we have a freshman, Traveon Redd. When it’s all said and done, I think there are five guys back there that we have depth at the position.
Q. That depth is something you’ve never had at Wake. How big of an impact is it for you this year?
A. I always felt that the third year, after we’ve redshirted so many guys — whenever you have a rebuild job, the third year is alway the year that, at this point, over half the team came here to play for us, and the upperclassmen that are still here have bought in. It’s a lot more enjoyable, a lot more fun, a lot more competitive. When the second offense goes against the second defense, you’re coaching more guys who will play for us. Before, when the twos went agains the twos, half the guys getting reps were probably never going to step on the football field. That’s where it’s different now.