When you have been relying on the same players year after year for an extended period of time, the loss of a handful of them at one time creates the need for adjustments. Depth becomes a focus for Wake Forest this Spring as there is a need to replace players who have been a bedrock for the program.
Like most programs, Wake Forest has had to deal with departures based on expired eligibility, NFL aspirations, and yes, the transfer portal. It is a new world for most teams. For Wake, it tests the depth of a program that has thrived on players who have been there for longer than the average college football lifespan.
The storyline for much of the Spring will be the development of Mitch Griffis as he becomes QB1, replacing Sam Hartman. But the depth question at quarterback is now a topic. Griffis was always a capable backup as displayed by his starting in week one. Now it is Michael Kern as the backup. He has thrown all of 42 passes in his four years at Wake. That means as 1,597 passing attempts and 12,967 yards head to South Bend, head coach Dave Clawson’s two-deep at the position have a combined 98 passing attempts with 780 yards. And former backup Brett Griffis left via the transfer portal. So now at the third quarterback spot right now is Santino Marucci. He came to Wake as a quarterback, and moved to running back in 2022 to get snaps, but saw few. He is now back at quarterback because the depth is an issue
Last year’s offensive line was touted as having more combined snaps than any other unit in the ACC. It was really more than most in the country. With a grouping of fifth, sixth, and even a seventh-year player, the experience, and depth, was notable. Now it is a test for guys who saw action as backups being expected to take over. Gone are Sean Maginn, Loic Ngassam Nya, and seventh-year player Je’Vionte Nash.
Now it is the likes of Spencer Clapp, Nick Sharpe, Matt Gulbin, and others whose previous role was to provide depth now being the front line.
Clawson says there is excitement coming from the guys who have been sitting for years behind the ultra-experienced line of previous years. “Sometimes when a guy plays for the first time, you get their best football because they are so excited that they get to play,” he said Thursday. “Once you’ve started 30, 40 games, you kind of take it for granted that you’re the starter.”
Clawson specified that with his offensive line, a lot of these players have been waiting a long time. “Spencer Clapp’s been here seven years. Here’s his first chance to start.” Wake has a long list of players who have taken the free 2020 year of eligibility granted by the NCAA. Thus, more than a few have extended their time in college well beyond the norm. “You have guys like Matt Gulbin, and George Sell, and Erik Russell, and Nick Sharpe that have been here for two, three years. Luke Petitbon is going into his fourth year. This is why they came here. This is their opportunity. And they’re going to make the most of it.” They still have center Michael Jurgens and tackle DeVonte Gordon to look toward for the grizzled veteran starter help.
Linebacker would seem to be an easier fix since the Demon Deacons only go with two inside linebackers. But the loss of Ryan Smenda to the potential of the NFL leaves a definitive void. Dylan Hazen and Chase Jones are the likely starters, but the issue becomes, yes, depth. Reserve tight end Trey Boll has been moved to linebacker during camp. They are also trying to get a lot of work for early enrollee Aiden Hall. They also have Jacob Roberts, the transfer portal player from North Carolina A&T who had 72 tackles last year.
Clawson said the goal is to get them all plenty of team snaps…not just the kind of work you get in position drills, but the ones that come with the live action play at practice.
As previously noted, the defensive line is an acknowledged concern on Clawson’s part. The loss of Rondell Bothroyd, Dion Bergen, and Kobie Turner, among others, is not a quick fix. Expect some potential position moves because depth in one place is an opportunity to fill voids in another place. Depth is only as good as a team that stays injury free through camp.
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