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The Wake Forest Defensive Line

Wake Forest Defensive Line

While much attention has been paid to the high level of experience on the offensive line, the Wake Forest defensive line is staking its claim on quality and senior leadership.

This week in live scrimmages at practice. The defensive line has made its presence felt more than at most any time in camp. There have been sessions where they have been living in the offensive backfield. The glass half empty analysis would look towards the offensive line being back to not completely healthy and a cause for concern as we near week one of the season. The glass half full outlook would put the emphasis on a potential improvement in the defensive line.

The Change

Last year, the defense, as a whole, performed poorly. The Demon Deacons were 91st in the country against the run and 111th overall in the country in total defense. Brad Lambert was brought over from Purdue as the new defensive coordinator to remedy that. But while the scheme needed to change to a more aggressive style of play, the guys on the field have to share some of the responsibility for what happened last season.

This year’s defensive front has a wealth of experience available. The hope for Lambert and for head coach Dave Clawson is that the experience provides a greater understanding of the new schemes and how to fix last year’s performance.

Experience Has To Step Up

Defensive lineman Dion Bergan, Jr. talked about his linemates and the expectations after practice this week. “There is so much leadership on this team. Everybody is making sure they are in the training room after practice and in the film room after practice,” Bergan said. “It’s just been very consistent.”

Bergan is going into his fifth season in Winston-Salem. He played in all 14 games last year, racking up 25 total tackles to go with one-and-a-half sacks and two pass breakups.

Coming back with Bergan is sixth-year defensive lineman Tyler Williams and fifth-year lineman Rondell Bothroyd. He was fourth on the team in tackles with 63, which puts him at the top of the list for returning defensive linemen. Bothroyd also led the team in sacks last season with eight. He is a second-team all-conference pre-season pick by Phil Steele.

Injection Of New Blood

And then there is the addition of Kobie Turner, the grad transfer from Richmond. Turner was a three-time All-Colonial Athletic Association selection and was the conference’s co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. He had 27 straight starts covering his last two seasons in Richmond and amassed 158 total tackles in his career there.

Bergan said Turner has been an instant impact addition to the defensive line. “He came in just ready to work,” Bergan said this week. “He was awesome energy and awesome personality from the start.”

Turner is also coming in as the defensive scheme is being overhauled, so there is not so much from the past that has to be “unlearned.” Bergan said, “He was just able to fit in right away. He was just one of us right from the start.” Bergan called his new linemate a really focused and committed player.

Question Of Depth

As has been the case since Spring camp and well into August, the focus for Clawson has been depth, and getting to his number of 50-55 players who are, “Over the line,” and ready to step in as needed.

Sophomore Jasheen Davis is an obvious factor in that equation He was a second-team All-American selection last year as he totaled 31 tackles with five-and-a-half sacks. But beyond Davis, it starts to get thin. Justin Williams and Kevin Pointer figure into the plans after seeing sparse action in 2021. Bergan said the veteran players have been spending significant time with the guys behind them. “we’ve been trying to rally the younger guys and build them up.”

Physical Freak

As for being built up, Bergan was surprised to learn last week that he was part of Bruce Feldman’s 2022 Freaks List. Every year for the past decade, the college football writer has put together a list of the most physically unique and gifted players in the country.

Bergan, who was a multi-sport star in high school, was noted by Feldman for his weight room ability and agility. Bergan squats 700 pounds and can power clean around 400 pounds. He can also bench press 460 pounds.  And he does that with his size while also having a 30-inch vertical leap.

In addition to football, Bergan excelled in track, (discus and shot put), and wrestling in high school.

“I was pretty excited about it,” he said of being put on the list. I guess all the work we put in allowed me to be on the list,” he said. The diversity in training is what he attributed to his physical abilities at the college level and his performance on the field.

Now, with the offense going through at least a temporary transformation in the absence of Sam Hartman, the defense is going to have to go through its own ability and agility upgrades if Wake Forest is to get close to its performance of last year.

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