From Checkers To Chess For Wake Forest

From Checkers To Chess For Wake Forest
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The clock is running on getting done what needs to be accomplished during Wake Forest’s Spring camp. The goals for head coach Dave Clawson were clear from the beginning. Improve the defense. Add depth everywhere, but particularly the offensive line and across the defense. And then there is the stated goal to move from checkers to chess.

Clawson told us a couple of weeks ago that while installing a new defense under new coordinator Brad Lambert, it was sometimes necessary to slow down the offense in live-action play. That would allow the defense to learn the new schemes and have a view of what success could look like.


Tuesday Clawson said the game has transformed. The Demon Deacons are now on chess. “We’re starting now with heavy situational work,” Clawson said. He specified the amount of work the team is putting in on red zone offense and defense. “You look at all the close games we have played here, and you know a handful of those plays on both sides of the ball can take you from 10-2 or 11-1 to 7-5.” He said that apart from the actual execution, there is the mindset of what success means in that part of the field. “Our players, you know, they know that; the older ones. But the younger ones need to know you’re never just playing football. There’s always a situation. There’s always an objective. You’ve got to be aware of the plays we’re going to run, the coverages we’re going to call, and how those things marry together.”

The Defense Keeping Up

How do we know the team has moved from checkers to chess? Clawson said the offense is moving at full speed against the newly installed defensive schemes. In the first two weeks of practice, he acknowledged that the offense was changing up in practice in ways that would allow the defensive players to learn their new assignments and roles under Lambert. “The offense is going full speed. There’s no delay in what we’re doing there.”

He said he is pleased with the speed with which the defensive players are picking up their new assignments. He credited the experience of the new defensive coaching staff. “There’s nothing those guys haven’t seen,” he said.

Some Plays Were Defensive Wins…Some, Not So Much

To that point, first-year safeties coach James Adams says the success of the defensive backs has been hit and miss. The success rate against quarterback Sam Hartman and the receivers has been far more discernible in the red zone than in the larger field. “For our guys, we’re throwing a bunch of different situations at them. So, they’re trying to understand leverage, technique, timing, depth, tempo in the different situations,” he said after practice Tuesday. “We’re moving the ball a little bit more and giving them first, second, and third down.” He called the variables between the red zone wins and the less successful open field play a part in the learning process. Adams said they are stressing when to, “Bring the roof down a little bit and then when they also need to loosen up and play for the sticks.”

Adams gave his players an A grade in the learning curve. As far as the execution, he wasn’t as quick to give a grade. “Every day there is something new, which has been good.” He added that one of the best things he could say was the group learning from mistakes.

Needing A Short Memory

Clawson said he was good with the performance of the defensive backs in their battle with the receivers. He called the play, “back and forth,” adding, “That’s what happens on good teams. In the first period, they had a lot of contested catches, and we’re good at that.”

He gave credit to the defensive back unit for tightening up in the red zone drills. “I loved the response,” Clawson said. “Sometimes when guys get beat and it doesn’t go well the thing just goes progressively downhill. It takes some grit and some mental toughness to turn it around.” He said, “Every athlete is going to have a bad play or a bad game. And it’s the guys that can recover from it and learn from it that become outstanding players.”

It reverts back to Clawson’s theme for the season. It takes a certain “mindset” to move on from checkers and be able to competitively play chess.