For whatever success Wake Forest has, or doesn’t have this season, eyes are going to be on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The offensive line has been in a makeshift mode in the Spring, with departures and injuries giving way to trying to get reps for the next generation of blockers. The defensive side has been ushering in a new scheme that is built on a more aggressive formula than what the Demon Deacons played last year. Where the line gets drawn for Wake Forest is where the 2022 season goes.
The Line Gets Drawn For Wake Forest
The offensive line loses All-American tackle Zach Tom to the NFL. There is underplaying that. He started 36 games in three years. That kind of experience is not available at the drop of a hat. Add to that the absence of linemen George Sell and Luke Petitbon in Spring camp. Both had off-season surgeries that were later than what is common at Wake Forest. This is the flip side of success. Play in the conference championship game and a bowl game late in the schedule and these procedures get pushed back well into January.
Head coach Dave Clawson has been talking all Spring about how it has allowed others to get much-needed reps in camp. It is something he is counting on to add much-needed depth, as neither Petitbon nor Sell are expected to miss Fall camp.
It also places more workload on the returnees who are here in the Spring to step up their roles in terms of leadership. The camp cannot be just about doing your own job, but bringing up the younger players who may be called upon if Sell, Petitbon, or anyone else can’t make Fall camp. That gets you to someone like Sean Maginn. He was third-team all-conference last year while playing both center and guard for the Demon Deacons.
Maginn Assumes Leadership Role
Maginn is entering his fifth year, having utilized the NCAA’s “freebie” for the 2020 Covid-altered season. He has started every game for the last two seasons and played in every game for the last three years. For his role as a veteran leader, Maginn said one of the things to teach the younger players is the level to which they all must rise. “DI football, ACC football in the trenches, it never gets easy,” he said this week. “And the moment you think you are there you get humbled quick. Us older guys, and the coaches, we remind each other that coming out here is a job and it never gets easy. You’ve got to keep working.”
Maginn said he is pleased with the progress of the players who would generally be getting second or third team reps at camp but are seeing more action now. “I think it’s good for guys to be in positions they haven’t been in before,” he said. He is the exact case-in-point. Maginn had never practiced at center during the off-season and then was thrust into the role against Clemson last season. He is getting the work in at the position this Spring as well as at guard as the chess pieces move around.
Spencer Clapp is picking up a lot of the position moves. While he played in every game as a fifth-year junior last year, he did not start, and the playing time was his first real significant action at Wake Forest. Maginn said Clapp is moving around to several positions and potentially finding a home at guard.
Veteran Quarterback Makes For Better Offensive Line
Of course, job one for the line is keeping quarterback Sam Hartman out of harm’s way. Maginn says having a veteran like Hartman come back for his fifth year makes a lot of difference for the line in front of him. “When you’ve got a guy back there that has the ‘It’ factor, as we call it, Sam will get it done no matter what. And when you’ve got a guy back there you can trust and you can depend on, you just want to block and hold it until the very last second.”
The other side of the line has had different challenges in the Spring. After a poor showing, statistically speaking, in 2021, Brad Lambert was brought back to Winston-Salem to create a more aggressive defensive style. He also brought in new linebackers coach Glenn Spencer and safeties coach James Adams. That meant a whole new learning curve for the defensive players throughout Spring camp.
Learning Curve For The Defense
Clawson said early on that there was a strategic decision to slow down the offense from time to time in order to let the defense see the schemes on the table in front of them, instead of forcing them to just rely on their athletic reactions. He acknowledged as recently as last week that the temp was full speed on both sides of the ball. In his terms, the players had moved from checkers to chess.
Defensive lineman Dion Bergan, Jr. called the end result, “Productive.” He said, “Everybody came out just ready to get wins and just improve every day from what we did the day before. We never want to stay the same from practice to practice.”
Bergen said the experience the defensive line returns for 2022 made a difference in camp. “We’ve got older guys that were just doing what they do and making plays every day.”
Defensive lineman Kobie Turner said going against a skilled offense has helped the defense step up. And we can give him credit for not going to the coaches’ cliche of, “Iron sharpens iron.” He said, “We’re going up against one of the top offenses in the country right now and we’re doing a pretty solid job.” Turner transferred from Richmond during the off-season, so he was going to have a learning cycle no matter who the defensive coordinator was. His assessment of Lambert’s defense; “I really like what he is doing with the scheme and accentuates us as players.”
With the Spring scrimmage Saturday, it is likely Clawson will not show too much of his plans to the crowd in attendance or the ACC Network televising the game. Mastering the fundamentals for the two lines will have to be good enough for now.