As we hit the beginning of Spring camp for Wake Forest football, there are some big storylines that need attention. Some are more obvious than others but all are subjects head coach Dave Clawson and his coaching staff will need to answer over the next month.
The quarterback question is not a matter of who the quarterback will be. That has been asked and answered. Last year, it was believed Sam Hartman would be moving on to the NFL. The fact that he is instead at Notre Dame changes nothing in Winston Salem. There is no quarterback competition to be had. It is Mitch Griffis’ offense to run. Clawson made that clear all the way back to last season. Griffis was the starter in week one when Hartman had to sit out for medical reasons. He also had mop-up duty in a couple of other games.
Clawson expressed his confidence in Griffis at various points during the season, even going so far as to proclaim he would be the future starting quarterback when Hartman moved on. Griffis threw all of 56 passes last year at a 59% completion rate. There is work to do at the position, but it is firmly in Griffis’ hands.
New Leadership for the Receivers
Whether it is the RPO offense or the proportionally used slow mesh, the receiver position at Wake Forest is high profile. If Clawson is going to maintain any semblance of a wide-open offense, Griffis is going to have to find the precise reliability in timing with his receivers. A.T. Perry is off to the NFL. The Demon Deacons are not likely to feel a big drop-off. Donavon Greene and Jahmal Banks have all the physical skills needed for the offense.
But the coach guiding them has to find his way into the system. Kevin Higgins walked away from the job as receivers coach after nine years. He is now in an administrative role with the program, analogous to a general manager. Higgins is now overseeing recruiting, player personnel issues, and the transfer portal. He will be replaced by Ari Confessor, who moves over from the Air Force Falcons. One of the selling points of the program in recent years was the stability of the offensive coaching staff. The various position coaches had been in place as a unit longer than any other team in the conference.
Confessor has more talent at his disposal now than he ever had at Air Force. How quickly does everyone adjust to the new coach and new quarterback-receiver work pattern?
Not Giving Up So Much Over the Top
Clawson was definitive in the waning weeks of the regular season. The defensive secondary was getting beat too frequently. Specifically, he said, the defensive backs were getting beat over the top. It was a clear message to defensive coordinator Brad Lambert that changes in scheme, technique, personnel, and or coaching had to be made. More likely it was a little of all of the above that was needed. Safeties coach James Adams will be back for his second year, but there are significant changes elsewhere.
Chip West comes in to coach the cornerbacks. There was no cornerbacks-only coach last season. West spent the last three seasons at Syracuse. He and Clawson go back to their days at Fordham in 2003. He also has worked with Lambert at Charlotte and at Marshall.
There is going to be a makeover on the field as well. Gone are cornerbacks Gavin Holmes and J.J. Roberts. Both hit the transfer portal before the postseason had even concluded. Both gave up a disproportionate amount of receptions based on targets. Clawson was never going to name names, but when he was referencing getting beat deep, the game films say what they say.
The challenge going forward though is depth. Caelen Carson will be back at corner. He had 22 total tackles on the season. After that, well we don’t yet know what is after that. Dashawn Jones saw some action in the back half of the season, but in no world was he a starter ready to be handed the spot this season.
There may need to be some movement from and with the safety position. There is plenty of depth there with Chelen Garnes, Brendon Harris, Malik Mustapha, and A.J. Williams are all slated to come back. Garnes has an abundance of talent, and Mustapha had the biggest upswing of the group last year. It would seem counterintuitive to move them to corner, but balance in the secondary is a must.
New position assignments are rarely proven out in Spring camp. It is a place to try out options and see who can deliver. There is a lot of newness for a program that has thrived off consistency from year to year. It all starts to break open with the commencement of camp this week.
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