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The Competition Level Is Picking up for the Demon Deacons

Demon Deacons

With the significant changes at Wake Forest Spring camp, there are underlying implications for most of the players. Many are seeing the field more in live drills than they would have in the past. As a result, the competition level is picking up for the Demon Deacons at a lot of positions.

As we noted last week, when it comes to the 11-on-11 drills, the offense, (and obviously the defense), are running simultaneously on two fields. Gone are the days when head coach Dave Clawson would have his fourth, fifth, and sixth-year players taking the bulk of the snaps, while the younger players waited their turn as they learned the Wake system.

Signing players out of the portal, as well as the need to keep his own from going into the portal, caused Clawson to revamp his thinking. At a time in college football where adapting to an ever-changing landscape can be difficult for many, Clawson is experimenting with updating a system he has relied upon for years in Winston-Salem.

Offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Warren Ruggiero told us the change is significant. “You can’t rely on just fourth- and fifth-year guys because the number of fourth and fifth-year guys gets smaller and smaller as years go on now.”

Wake was hit hard by injuries at different points of the 2023 season. The strain on certain positions was clear. Starting quarterback Mitch Griffis was not living up to expectations. He was replaced by Michael Kern, who then was injured. That meant going to Santino Marucci who had seen limited snaps in camp and practice up until he was needed in emergency status.

The challenge was not isolated to the quarterback position. Similar scenarios happened at running back, receiver, and the offensive line.

While building depth is always a personnel goal, last year showed there is a difference between that and game-ready depth. Clawson and Ruggiero are counting on the new components of camp changing that for 2024.

Two Fields Means More Work

“With the transfer portal, it’s really pertinent that we get everybody ready to play,” Ruggiero said last week. “We’re really doubling the reps for everybody we have.” He went on to compare how it worked in the past and how it works now. “Usually, a freshman who came in here might get, you know, six reps per practice or something like that,” he said. “Now they are getting 24 reps or more per day. So those guys that are mature enough and take advantage of those reps, we should be able to get them ready to play.”

One of the players benefiting in the most obvious fashion is running back Demond Claiborne. Last year he was part of a rotation in the backfield with Justice Ellison and Will Towns. Now Ellison is at Indiana, via the portal, and Towns has taken a medical retirement from football. The path is clear for more work for Claiborne.

In the system that is getting everyone more work, Ruggiero says Claiborne is seeing the upside of the extra work. “Demond’s getting a ton of reps, more than he ever would have before.” Ruggiero said it has accelerated Claiborne’s learning curve. “He was really a first-year player last year, rotating in. Last year he relied so much on his ability. He made some great plays and made mistakes like guys that play for the first time. I really think it [the increase in snaps at practice] is working for him.”

Doing the Analysis

The new system doesn’t just mean more reps for the players. It means a revised workload for the coaches. It isn’t possible to watch all of your players running live plays on two fields at the same time. Everyone has to make adjustments to this new plan. “We split the staff so that we can manage each field,” Ruggiero said. But the changes are bigger than that. “It means we are doing a lot of coaching off the tape.” Clawson and his staff are relying more than ever before on the videos of practice with the cameras and the overhead drone to show them what they might have otherwise missed on a field where they are not.

Ruggiero said, “The plan is to get all the reps we can on the field for everyone, and then do the coaching in the film review with each position room.”

Having both fields at one time also means a more apparent quarterback competition. Ruggiero is happy with what he has even after just one week with transfer Hank Bachmeier and Kern, the returning Deac.

The Competition

The coaching staff looked at different quarterbacks in the portal with the plan of bringing in an experienced player who likely only had one year of eligibility left. Ruggiero said he looked at several quarterback options and talked to their former coaches as well. They landed on Bachmeier. “One of the things that we felt about Hank was that he was incredibly smart and really knew football and loved football,” the coach said. “Besides his ability, that’s a big reason why we chose him. And he has proven to be very smart.” Ruggiero said with all of that in mind, the anticipation for Bachmeier learning his fourth offense in six years will be fast. “He asks a thousand questions because he wants to know everything.”

As for Kern, a veteran of five Wake Forest camps, Ruggiero says the extra snaps in practice are getting him better at a quicker pace. “He’s picking up where he left off from last year, and doing it even faster. We’re really happy with him. We think he should be ready to do a great job for us.”


Demon Deacons
Photo courtesy:  Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports


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