Much is expected of the Wake Forest offense in the 2022 season. And much must be delivered for the season to be any level of success. After two weeks of camp, the offense looks to be pacing slightly ahead of the defense in the live scrimmage drills. But that is to be expected with the veteran leadership available to head coach Dave Clawson.
Offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero said this week he is pleased with the progress the offense has made the first couple of weeks. “It’s solid. We’re progressing day by day,” he said Thursday.
It Starts Up Front
A lot of eyes are focused on the offensive line. Luke Petitbon and George Sell are missing Spring camp, rehabbing from last season’s injuries. And of course, All American Zach Tom will soon be donning an NFL uniform after the draft. That is giving a lot of others snaps in practice, working towards the positional depth that is such a spoken priority for Clawson.
“Right now we’ve got a bunch of young O-linemen getting a bunch of reps,” Ruggiero said. “Upfront we’ve got some guys that are getting some great reps that need those reps; young guys that we need to develop. Those guys are coming along each day.”
Overall, Ruggiero said he likes what he sees from an individual standpoint. “In the Spring, you’re really looking for individuals who are progressing. A lot of times we are mixing and matching people in different groups.” He said individual growth was the way to ensure improvement for the unit as a whole. “A lot of these guys, [offensive linemen], were guys that were on the scout team in the Fall, so they didn’t get a ton of meaningful reps in our offense. So, it’s really the first time they are getting a ton of reps that are going to help them improve and understand what they’ve got to do,” he said.
The process goes a little smoother when you have one of the more productive starting quarterbacks in the country returning. Sam Hartman coming back for a fifth season gives the Demon Deacons more than the stats. It provides them with someone who is going to be expected to be the leader on and off the field.
“Sam knows what he’s doing,” Ruggiero said. “You know, it’s funny. He comes back for another year and sometimes guys want to sit out and take less reps, and just kind of cruise along. Sam wants every rep,” he added. “Sam’s like, ‘If I’ve got another year of reps in this system, like how good could I be?’”
Running back Justice Ellison concurred about Hartman’s role in the leadership scope. “Man, he’s a team player,” Ellison said. “No matter how long you’ve been in this program, if you’re messing up, if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to, Sam will get on your butt. That just shows how passionate he is about the team and passionate about this game.”
A Plethora Of Running Backs
Where depth is a point of emphasis at many positions in Spring, running back has plenty of bodies getting in the work in Spring. The Deacs lose last year’s leading rusher, Christian Beal-Smith. He took his grad transfer opportunities to Columbia to play for the Gamecocks this year. But Wake Forest returns Christian Turner, who, along with Ellison, combined for a tick over a thousand yards last season. The position also has Quinton Cooley back. And Clawson is converting quarterback Santino Marucci to running back in order to get him playing time.
It figures to be running game by committee, as it was last year, and that is fine with Ellison. “Whenever I’m in, in the game or in practice or whatever, I go hard each single rep. Because I know come gametime, every single rep matters.” Ellison said he is spending time with the other running backs because they are all likely to see some action come Fall. He said he gets the group together to work out as a unit at night, working on blocking schemes and doing conditioning work. He said they all need to know that, “It takes extra time to develop your game.”
The Justice Model
Even though it is Ellison’s third year on campus, this will be only his second full year at running back. Still, getting more than a hundred carries last season, and leading the team in yards per carry, (5.1), makes him someone the rest of the group is going to look to for that mindset that Clawson preaches about. “It’s not a specific recipe,” Ellison said. “It is about every single day becoming better than you what you were before.” He said just as it is going to be shared carries in camp and during the season, there is going to have to be the same mentality when it comes to the work. “It’s not like, ‘Alright, Justice knows everything.’ I don’t know everything. I’m learning,” he added. “We’re all in this together. It’s not just a one-man show.”
Ruggiero said the focus on depth during Spring camp extends well beyond the 2022 season. “As long as we can keep three teams out there, [on the practice field], and keep enough guys healthy run three groups, I feel good about what I am seeing.” He said it is as much about preparing for two and three years from now. “That’s a part of the daily conversation.”