Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson breaks down offensive line depth

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson talked about the partial return of sophomore offensive lineman Phil Haynes and the continued improvement of the Demon Deacon offensive line after practice Thursday.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Deacs are moving full steam ahead toward their first scrimmage of fall camp, which takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday at BB&T Field.

That’s the first of two scrimmages that will be crucial in helping the staff put together the two-deep depth chart.

Demon Deacon Digest spoke with Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson Thursday night, after the Deacs put the finishing touches on their seventh practice of camp.

On what unit needs to improve the most for the Deacs to be successful

Clawson: “That’s a good question. I’d like to tell you which units have improved the most. I think the receiver position has really upgraded from a year ago. I think when we’re healthy at running back, we’ve upgraded. You’d certainly say from the last two years the position that has to improve the most is the offensive line. Having said that, I think from what I’ve seen it has improved. I think if we can stay healthy there, we’ll take a jump. The concern at that position is that you’re a couple of injuries away — last year you started three freshmen at offensive line at times. This year, the good news is instead of freshmen being starters, freshmen are now backups — guys like Jake Benzinger, Nathan Gilliam and T.J. Haney are now 2s. Now sometimes you’re an injury away from those guys being a 1 and having a freshman on the offensive line. Now I think those guys - maybe they can get ready at some point, but you never want to play freshmen, especially at that position.”

On seeing Phil Haynes back, but not fully participating

Clawson: “Phil was cleared to go to meetings and watch practice. We’ll probably have him work out tomorrow, not with a helmet, and then maybe get a little individual on Saturday. If everything goes well, we’re hoping to have him back on Monday.”

On if that’s good news

Clawson: “That’s great news. We’re better 1-9 (at offensive line) than we were a year ago, it’s just if you get to no. 7, 8 and 9 you’re back to playing freshmen. If those guys have to play 15-20 snaps a game, that’s great. I just don’t want to get to the point where they’re playing 80 snaps.”

On how far he can go in the offensive line rotation and feel comfortable

Clawson: “Jake Benzinger is going to be a really good player. I think Jake where he is right now, last year would have been competing to be a starter. I think he’s progressing in a way where he’s where those guys were a year ago. I think this year, we have the luxury that he may be a backup and play 15-20 plays a game, and not put him in a position to where he has to play 80. That’s just a hard position for a freshman or a redshirt freshman to play that many snaps. Now in an ideal world, you take a guy like him or Nate Gilliam and get them involved in the rotation, let them play 10-20 snaps a early in the year. Maybe by week four of five, they’re a lot more ready than last year, when those guys just got thrown to the fire.”

On who he would feel comfortable plugging into the starting offensive line if there’s an injury

Clawson: “You don’t want to, because the five starters are the five starters. Anytime you lose one-through-five and put in no. 6, you lose a little bit. A’Lique Terry is a much stronger, much improved player. I think Nate Gilliam is getting very close to being a playable player. Jake Benzinger and Patrick Osterhage have improved. I think 1-9 we’re much improved from where we were a year ago. We played all those young guys last year, and we’d like to have the benefit of what they’ve been through and got all those snaps. They’ve worked hard during the off season and have a much better idea of what to expect and how to prepare. If they stay healthy, we’ll be better. If we get nicked up, I still think we’ll be better, but that’s the position we have to make a big jump and I’m confident we will. You just want to stay healthy there.”

On if Jessie Bates continue to show promise

Clawson: “Yes. Jessie is going to be a good player. Right now, those three guys will roll — Cam Glenn, Ryan Janvion and Jessie Bates would all play a lot of football for us. Who the two starters are? It might come down to the two healthy guys. Right now Jessie is playing because Cam is out, but in a perfect world all three of those guys are rolling with the 1s. The good thing about Ryan, is that because he’s a fifth-year senior and a veteran, we have the flexibility of cross training him, where with Cam and Jessie we’d like to make them one position.”

On if there were any players Thursday that stood out as having a particularly good practice

Clawson: “You remember plays. I thought Dionte Austin had a great pass break up on a deep ball to Cortez Lewis. Essang Bassey has made a lot of great plays on deep balls. Every practice he gets challenged, and he ends up breaking up more of those plays. It’s impressive. Even looking at the freshman group, Boogie Basham made a play on the screen where he ran it all the way to the sidelines. During practice, there are certain plays where they flash during a play, for instance seeing Steven Claude catching up to one deep. But you’re right, when we look at film we’re looking for who had a really solid practice play-in and play-out. Every day, Tabari Hines, Chucky Wade and Greg Dortch does something dynamic. Scotty Washington does something exciting every day. Marquel Lee is an excellent linebacker and he does something great every day. If these guys are making plays every single day in camp, you hope that translates to every single game. Last year, maybe they’d make a play two days, but not the third and I think that showed up in the games. You’d have a couple spectacular plays that would make highlight films, but the next week where were they? You just hope there’s a more consistent level of performance now that they’re older, stronger, more experienced and know the offense better. I think what you’re seeing right now is a lot more efficient. You’re seeing a lot less balls on the ground and a lot less batted balls. You’re seeing a lot less sacks and the quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball quicker. Every single skill kid for us is still a freshman or sophomore. Not one guy out there is going into their third year of football, yet as freshmen and sophomores they’ve had so many reps of football. Their rep count, they probably are more like juniors.”


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