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Wake Forest linebacker rotation coming into focus

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson brings the linebacker position battle into focus after the Deacs finished their fifth practice of fall camp Tuesday morning.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Deacs had already been practicing with intensity and physicality, but it went to an even higher level today as the team put on the pads for the first time in fall camp.

The Deacs fifth practice of fall camp was highlighted with the “Deacon Tunnel” drill, in which running backs attempt to navigate through three levels of defenders for a score.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson spoke with Demon Deacon Digest after the practice.

On what he saw

Clawson: “It was good, physical work. I think our ability to sustain a higher level of practice is just better than it’s ever been. Deacon Tunnel, day one in pads, that’s a given. But then the last third down period, it was still good. I like the way we’re working and I like our team. We just keep getting better.”

On the defense making a lot of plays in the Deacon Tunnel, but seeing Greg Dortch sneak through for a touchdown in the last rep

Clawson: “He’s quick, isn’t he? He’s got a little jitterbug to him and can make guys miss. That’s a skillset you need to make big plays. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out the next couple weeks. You always want to make sure the freshmen can sustain it, that’s why we don’t make any decisions of who plays — too many times, somebody will go gangbusters in the first week, then it just wears them down. But he’s exciting.”

On the keys for Wake to get more explosive plays in 2016

Clawson: “I think there’s a number of things. Number one, obviously you have to be better up front so there’s more creases. Number two, your perimeter blocking has to be better. Sometimes, explosive plays come not because you throw the ball deep, but you take a screen or a quick throw and you make a guy miss. So if it’s a receiver making a guy miss after the catch, or a running back making the linebacker miss in space. I think there’s three parts to this. You have to get the ball back to the line of scrimmage, which we didn’t do in ‘14, but we did in ‘15. The second thing is getting some push, so it allows those second-level cuts to be better. Once you get to that second level, a back has to make a safety miss. That means you’re also getting better perimeter blocks and second-level blocks. If you can get to the point that the second-level guys have arm tackles that we run through, then in space it’s one-on-one in the open field. In the pass game, it’s just the protection holding up and guys getting open quicker.”

On Jaboree Williams pretty consistently running first team

Clawson: “Jaboree is going to be the starting WILL linebacker. We anticipated that it would be a competition between him and Zack Wary, but then Zack isn’t going to play. Now the thing is getting Grant Dawson in there rolling with those guys too. It goes back to where we’d hoped to have a pair and a pair, now we have a pair and a spare. Now the real key is to developing no. 4 and 5 — Nate Mays, Justin Strnad and Jacquez Williams. Those three guys — Grant, Jaboree and Marquel are the ones who are going to play. We have to develop depth and get a fourth there.”

On seeing Demetrius Kemp out there a lot at Rover, and if there’s still competition with Thomas Brown

Clawson: “Yeah. Those two will both play. The key at that position is keeping both of those guys healthy. Then we can use them both on special teams. And the other thing is that on third down we’re playing Thomas Brown a little bit at linebacker in those packages. If it’s a third down, maybe Marquel (Lee) is our MIC and those two become two outside linebackers. Typically a defense is going to play 70 plays a game. At that Rover position, you’re going to go 20 plays at nickel, so there’s 15 reps each for those guys and they’re battling over those 50 plays. Now do we give them another 20-25 snaps at special teams. In the packages, Thomas can play a little of the MIC or the WILL, so there will be a high rep count, but it might not all be on defense.”

On Willie Yarbary

Clawson: “At defensive tackle, it’s going to be (Josh) Banks, Willie, Shelldon (Lewinson), Christ Stewart — we want Elontae Batemen and (Sulaimon) Kamara to come on. Those are the six guys. Whether it’s a three, four or five man rotations — that’s what we’re trying to decide on in the next two weeks.”

On Paris Black getting reps with Duke Ejiofor out for now

Clawson: “I see some really good, and at other times he seems like a redshirt freshman. He just needs reps.”

On the secondary

Clawson: “(Jessie) Bates had a great spring with Ryan (Janvion) out. Now Ryan is getting reps because (Cam) Glenn is out. Those three guys are all going to play. With our first defense, you don’t want to be minus one, but we’re still in good shape. That’s why you look back there and ask who would be four? Is it Josh Okonye, Traveon Redd, or Luke Masterson? Somebody will step up.”

On Devin Pike

Clawson: “He had some back spasms, so we gave him the day off. He could have gone, but I’d rather give Jack Freudenthal and Brandon Chapman reps at 100 percent then Pike at 60 percent.”

On Thomas Cole being a big target at tight end

Clawson: “In high school, he was more of a receiver. So that stuff comes very natural to him. Down blocking and defensive end — that’s not natural. That’s where we put him with (strength and conditioning) coach (Brandon) Hourigan for a year and he’ll be in a much better spot to do that. He’s a guy that we’ll hopefully redshirt.”

On limiting Cam Seringe’s reps in camp

Clawson: “Every practice, I take period by period and try to make sure he has 40 percent of the reps. I go through the whole practice plan (shows chart) and think ‘what are the plays Cam really needs to see?’ What plays does Cam need work on? If it’s a play he’s comfortable with and repped a million times and it’s more of a routine play for him, that’s where I’m get Jack, Chapman or Pike the reps. Every period is broken down by who gets the reps.”

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