Wake Forest fall camp is essentially down to the final three days. After a rare day off Thursday, the Deacs will be moving straight into Tulane game prep, with the Sept. 1 kickoff then just six days away.
The Deacs have showed tons of potential and promise in the first three weeks of camp, and the position battles have been intense despite the vast minor injuries the team has had to overcome.
As camp started, I detailed six positions to watch in fall camp. Tonight, I’ll catch us up where those battles stand and make my prediction as to who comes out on top.
(Just as a brief aside, I rarely use the word “I” when producing content, because the stories aren’t about me — they’re about the athletes and coaches at Wake Forest. This is an unusual departure, because I’m stepping out and giving my picks, but please know I hate using the word “I.”)
Another quick note - these are my opinions on how I believe these will end up. I could be wrong, especially in regards to QB and RB (we’ll see).
This was originally slated to be a duel between sophomore Dionte Austin and redshirt freshman Amari Henderson to see who would start alongside Brad Watson. Instead, Henderson has been out almost the entire camp, and Austin has missed time as well.
Austin has missed less time, and is considered to be closer to return, while Henderson has missed a ton of reps. Meanwhile, Essang Bassey has gotten a ton of reps and impressed in the process.
Winners: Dionte Austin and Essang Bassey
Starters vs. Tulane: Brad Watson and Dionte Austin
The wide receiver race was wide open, as it turned out and many impressed in fall camp, including true freshman Greg Dortch, who still may likely redshirt this season.
Jared Crump needed additional work on his knee, and will still be on the shelf for a couple weeks, and it looks like sure-handed Alex Bachman will take over in “S” spot where K.J. Brent was last season. Expect Tabari Hines and Cortez Lewis to retain their starting spots at “Flex” and “X” respectively.
But it’s been a great competition, with standout performances from Steven Claude, Chucky Wade and Scotty Washington. Wake coach Dave Clawson will use at least six wideouts this season comfortably, with little fear of a drop off in talent and skill level.
Winner: Dave Clawson, for building such talent and depth
Starters vs. Tulane: Tabari Hines, Cortez Lewis and Alex Bachman, but many play.
Billed as a three-player battle for two starting spots, and it continues to be that way as camp comes to a close. Cam Glenn has missed a bit of time with a hamstring injury, but is slated to return to the practice field this week. By default, that probably gives senior captain Ryan Janvion and redshirt freshman Jessie Bates a bit of an edge.
Is it a competition? I guess, but the truth is all three of these guys are going to play a lot of football this season for the Deacs, and I’m betting the reps getting pretty evenly distributed through the season. With his experience, leadership and knowledge of the system, Janvion is equipped to play both safety positions, where the two younger guys can just go one side or the other.
I still expect to see Josh Okonye in during nickel packages, and Traveon Redd and Luke Masterson are some young players that will provide solid depth.
Winners: Ryan Janvion and Jessie Bates
Starters vs. Tulane: Ryan Janvion and Jessie Bates
Clawson says repeatedly that you can never have too many tailbacks, and the fall camp experience has proven him to be correct. Starting as a six-player battle, there have been times the Deacs have been down to just two (Cade Carney and Rocky Reid) scholarship running backs available for reps in camp.
Tyler Bell is on track to gradually return to practice later this week, but is still doubtful for action against Tulane. Clawson is hopeful true freshman Arkeem Byrd can also get back to contribute soon, and said Isaiah Robinson is still pretty far down the road.
Clawson will want to utilize a committee of running backs, and it’s likely that committee will be just three for opening night against Tulane. All three — Cade Carney, Rocky Reid and Matt Colburn — have produced bright moments during camp and in the scrimmages, as the offensive line continues to improve.
Winners: Rocky Reid, Matt Colburn and Cade Carney
Starter vs. Tulane: Cade Carney, but all three get meaningful reps
Competition at linebacker basically played out just like I expected, except for the pre-camp loss of Zack Wary.
Marquel Lee is set at the MIKE, and is establishing himself as a leader of the front seven. Jaboree Williams has beaten out Grant Dawson at the BUCK, and Dawson will be a backup most likely for both Williams and Lee this season.
At the Rover spot, it’s been a back-and-forth battle between Demetrius Kemp and Thomas Brown. Nate Mays and Justin Strnad have been impressive, and will provide some quality depth for the Deacs.
Winner: Jaboree Williams
Starters vs. Tulane: Marquel Lee, Jaboree Williams and Demetrius Kemp
I’ve said this about a dozen times within the last week: Last year this time, it was obvious who the starter should be, as John Wolford was clearly ahead of Kendall Hinton. This year? All bets are off.
Clawson is happy that Wake has gone from essentially zero quarterbacks when he inherited the program to four on the roster now who are playable. He considers this a good problem, but a problem it is actually becoming.
Both Hinton and Wolford have had good camps. They both have led the offense productively. They’re both making passes — short, mid-range and deep. And they’re both making plays with their feet.
Neither guy has really separated themselves in the two scrimmages, and I’ll be darned if every time you think you’ve got it figured out, the other guy makes a series of plays to make you reverse your thinking.
In the last week, Clawson has made two or three comments about needing to have both of them this year, and considers it unlikely that either of them would make it through the season unscathed.
I know the quarterback position is THE most discussed spot on the field by fans, and I’m aware that everybody has an opinion based on what they’ve seen in the last two years.
With the evidence I’ve seen in the first 17 practices, I think the race is too close to call. There’s just three practices remaining before Tulane prep begins, so it’s doubtful either will suddenly jump to a commanding lead.
Therefore, my prediction is that Clawson will utilize a two-quarterback system. The competition will continue as the season starts, with meaningful reps being essentially even. I’m not sure what criteria Clawson will use to juggle the two players, but I don’t expect it to be a Duke-like system where one QB comes in just for red zone opportunities.
Wolford may start, get the first couple of series, and then Hinton get the next pair of opportunities. Of course, if one or the other gets a hot hand, Clawson’s liable to stick with them. It’s a tricky way to play the position, and it certainly lends itself to criticism, especially if the results aren’t what Wake fans are looking for.
Thankfully, the two quarterbacks in question are outstanding young men with a great relationship. If anyone can work together through a system like this, it will be Hinton and Wolford.
Starter vs. Tulane: Wolford, but it’s largely irrelevant, because both he and Hinton will play.