As Wake Forest wraps up the Spring, how did the Demon Deacons do in terms of building depth and getting that proper “mindset” that was so key to head coach Dave Clawson’s agenda?
After the Spring scrimmage Saturday, Clawson said he was more focused on the big picture. He efforted to evaluate the entire Spring, instead of just the performances in the weekend exhibition. “I don’t think we wasted a practice,” Clawson said of the 15 workouts allowed under NCAA rules. “We’re a better team now than when it started, but we’re far from a finished product.”
Wake Forest Wraps Up The Spring
The scrimmage was set up as a modified game in order to give players plenty of work while also protecting the health of the starters. To that end, mission accomplished. The “thud tempo” of the first half allowed the starters and the regulars to get in snaps in their final practice while not being subjected to live hits. The second half of the scrimmage went to live tackling while getting the back-ups some much-needed work to create that depth Wake Forest needs at so many positions. It also made clear how much of their own games the backups need to clean up. “In practice, they have a coach in their ear every time. They don’t make those mistakes. That’s why you like to have a Spring game and make it as game-like as you can.”
Another element throughout Spring was getting the defense adjusted to the new, more aggressive schemes from incoming defensive coordinator Brad Lambert. And what was Clawson’s post-scrimmage assessment? “I think we are better on defense,” he said. “I think the totality of this Spring is probably as balanced as we’ve been on offense and defense for a while.”
Clawson said he likes the depth of the defensive line and the play of his defensive backs, while also acknowledging they are a little thin in the numbers and experience there. They also have some holes to fill in terms of roster spots at linebacker, and possibly the defensive backfield, likely via the transfer portal. One guy Clawson is glad to have back from injury is defensive back Coby Davis. “When Coby is going for us, we’re a better team. He’s one of those mood lifters for us. When he’s in the locker room and he’s playing, he’s engaged. And he makes the guys around him better,” Clawson said.
The veteran coach also acknowledged it will take him some time to have a full assessment of his team post-Spring. “It’s like every Spring game, guys. I’m encouraged by some things, and I’ve got a pit in my stomach about others. Were we better on defense because we are better on defense? Or because we did not play as well on offense,” he asked rhetorically. “I’ve never ever left, in 23 years of being a head coach, a Spring game feeling like, ‘Okay, we’re in great shape.’ You agonize over the things you didn’t do well, and you celebrate the things that you did well. I don’t know if that will ever change. It would probably be better for my mental health if it did.”
As he set out the theme for Spring at the beginning of camp as “Mindset,” he said throughout the five weeks that the goal was to not rest on the record-setting success of last season. Add in the loss of leaders like Luke Masterson, Zach Tom, and even kicker Nick Sciba, and not only do you have to avoid complacency, but you have to look for the next generation of players who will step up. Missing some starters on the offensive line due to post-season medical procedures, and losing an All-American like Tom, put a brighter spotlight on the offensive line.
But with the Spring performances of Spencer Clapp, Matt Gulbin, and Luke Petitbon, the position is probably less of an immediate concern once fully healthy in Fall camp. There are plenty of linemen who have been through multiple camps. But with the advanced experience on Wake’s roster, with guys in their fifth and sixth years, there has only been a lack of game snaps for them.
One area of very little concern is the receiver position. Sam Hartman will have plenty of options to throw to during the season. Aside from the return of A.T. Perry, Dez Williams, Taylor Morin, and Horatio Fields had big camps. Williams and Fields both played particularly well in Saturday’s scrimmage. The wideout options should be enough going into camp. And Morin has certainly proven himself as the best slot receiver option.
Over The Line Numbers
Clawson has a goal in mind of where the team needs to be in terms of players that can step in at any point of the season. He said Saturday that goal is 50 players to be what he termed, “Over the line,” or ready to play. He said he is looking for 25 on offense and 25 on defense. Add in the specialists and the number grows to 55. Clawson said the team went into camp with the number being in the high 30’s. His assessment now is that the Deacs are in the mid 40’s. That means there are still some holes to fill when camp starts again in early August.
Somewhere, where Wake needs to add to its over-the-line numbers, is at quarterback. Obviously, Hartman is the starter as well as the ordained leader of the team as a whole. But what happens should he go down? “Michael Kern and Mitch Griffis are both good players and we think we can win with both of them,” Clawson said Saturday. Because of the format of the scrimmage, the quarterback position is only pseudo-live. Clawson said that often makes it harder to judge the back-ups based on that particular day.
One place in need of answers before the start of the season is the kicking game. Zach Murphy has yet to show an ability to hit the end zone on kickoffs, and the field goal kicking range has been limited.