As Wake Forest football embarks on Spring camp, head coach Dave Clawson is putting out a roster unlike anything in the last few years in Winston-Salem. So what can we learn from the first day of Spring practice? More importantly, what can Clawson learn about his team?
Time For Turnover
“This is the fewest amount of starters we’ve had coming back since 2019,” Clawson said after his Demon Deacons completed day one of Spring camp Thursday in 30-degree weather. “But I think we’ve got talented players. Because of the Covid year, (that was a year of free eligibility), we had so many sixth and seventh-year guys. It’s not like the guys that are trying to win jobs just got here.”
Indeed, the roster is stacked with players who have been at Wake for three or four years. But what they have in people familiar with the practice routines, they are missing in an experienced starting lineup in some spots. “A lot of guys are going into their third or fourth year, and now they are competing to be a starter,” Clawson added. “I don’t think we’ll be less talented. And I don’t think we’re necessarily going to be younger. I just don’t think we’re going to be as experienced.”
Of course, the most notable difference is the guy running the offense. After years of Sam Hartman being the consistent at quarterback, it is now the Mitch Griffis era. After being “the guy” for a few years, Hartman had the swagger in the huddle that told you it was his team to lead. Does Griffis have that same quality? Certainly, with a different personality, it is going to look different, when it is time to show itself.
Griffis As A Leader
“I think Mitch has all the intangibles,” Clawson said of Griffis. “But sometimes as a quarterback, you first have to establish yourself before you can start influencing others.” Griffis’ effort to be that leader was clear during passing drills with the entire quarterback and receiver groups. He could often be seen trotting downfield to meet his receiver after a play and talk about the pass pattern as they walked back to the line of scrimmage. “The better he plays, I think the more influential he’ll be with his teammates,” said Clawson.
We are also likely to see some tweaks to the offense that are specific to Griffis. “I think there is a little bit more mobility there,” Clawson said in comparing Griffis to Hartman. “We might be able to do some different things with him in terms of moving the pocket.”
For Griffis, it is the difference of going into the Spring workouts knowing the job is his. “I’ve always tried to put myself in the starter’s shoes and prepare myself as best I can. I guess it just feels a little more real now that I am in that spot,” the quarterback said after practice Thursday. In terms of becoming that team leader that comes with being QB1, Griffis said it is on him. “You have to earn your stripes,” he said. He pointed out that center Michael Jurgens is the most veteran player in the offense so there is a natural inclination to defer to him as a leader. “I’ve only started one game and we have plenty of guys who have started tons of games. They have more street cred than I do.”
He said he had an attitude of coming into Spring trying to set a tone for the offense. Griffis said he did not want camp to start with players on offense feeling like they had taken a step back because of the change at quarterback.
One of his key weapons is already a believer. Receiver Jahmal Banks said it is a chemistry thing. “I’ve been catching footballs from Mitch since January 2020,” he said. “It’s normal to me really, and I’ve been doing it for a long time with him.” Banks schooled the reporters in attendance on some critical vocabulary. “The root word to education is ‘educe,’ and that is ‘to bring out,’” he said. “So I think if we focus on bringing out the best in each other, then we’re going to find the best in ourselves and we’re going to be the best player we can be.”
Work To Be Done
That’s not to say there are no challenges to get through during the Spring. With having the fewest number of returning starters in years, comes some depth challenges. “Defensive tackle, we’re thin,” Clawson said when talking about the numbers he wants at each position. “That’s a position where if we get banged up at all, it’s going to stretch us a little bit.” He said a focal point of Spring will be to get freshman and early enrolled players as many reps as they can in order to build depth by the Fall.
So what does a coach learn about his team on day one of Spring camp with a season still six months away? “You want a team that is enthusiastic and wants to be here and has good energy.” He said if they are not excited on day one of Spring, the chances of getting better over 15 practices are not good. Clawson checked off that important box for day one. Fourteen more to go.
(Photo by Tony Siracusa)