WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson met with the media this week as the Deacs get set for spring practice beginning on Tuesday, Feb. 28.
Here’s the first installment of the Q&A.
On what has him excited as the Deacs prepare for spring camp
Clawson: “Our players are more confident than they have ever been. Whenever a group tastes success, will that invite complacency, or will that make them more hungry. We’ve had a really good off-season. There’s no indication that these guys are satisfied with what they’ve accomplished.
“Having said that, we only had seven seniors play over 100 plays last year. On offense if saw (Josh) Harris and (Ty) Hayworth. On defense it was (Ryan) Janvion, (Brad) Watson, (Thomas) Brown, (Marquel) Lee and (Josh) Banks. But those are some pretty good players. Five of them are on defense.
"What’s the concern on offense? That’s still the side of the ball that we have to get better. We have to be more productive at the skill positions. I think Cade (Carney) had a really nice year. Can he get better as a sophomore? Is this the year that the wide receiver crew grows up and becomes legitimate threats week-in and week-out in the ACC? Then the offensive line, the concern is depth. You lose those two, and you have three starters back.
“The battle is going to be (Patrick) Osterhage, (A’Lique) Terry, (Nathan) Gilliam and (Jake) Benzinger for those other two spots. We’re going to move (Ryan) Anderson to center. It’ll kind of be a three-way battle — the battle will be is Benzinger a better tackle or Terry the better center? So, if Benzinger is the better tackle, then we put Anderson at center. If Terry is a better center than Benzinger is a tackle, then Terry is the center and Ryan can play tackle. The battle at guard will be between Osterhage and Gilliam, knowing that Osterhage could kick over and play center. Gilliam could kick out and play tackle. Right now, unless a freshman steps up, that will be our seven.”
On having folks in the system allowing flexibility in those offensive line positions
Clawson: “I’d say this — (Justin) Herron is a tackle and only a tackle. There’s three guys that are one-position players. (Phil) Haynes right now is a guard. Benzinger and Herron are tackles. The other four guys can play multiple positions. Anderson can play center, guard or tackle. Osterhage can play any position inside. Gilliam can play guard or tackle. You’d like those younger guys to play just one position. You’d like Benzinger to be a tackle and only a tackle. You’d like Gilliam to be a guard and only a guard. Guys playing for the first time don’t play as well when they play multiple positions.”
If there are any redshirt freshmen who could make a mark on the offensive line
Clawson: “Certainly based on the spring, (Je’Vionte’) Nash and (Tyler) Watson. Taleni (Suhren) was hurt most of the year, so I don’t know if we’ve got a good read on him. I’m really hoping one of those two guys surprises us and gets in the mix.”
On having so much game experience back with the three offensive line returning starters
Clawson: “We saw progress last year. You go back and watch the film cut-ups — some of the things Phil Haynes did. Those guys are now legitimate ACC offensive linemen. I don’t know how many legitimate ACC offensive linemen we had two or three years ago. Before, you weren’t starting with a base. Now there are three guys returning for us who are good players in this league. We have to plug two holes. The only senior on the offensive line next year is Terry. Next year will be a redshirt sophomore and redshirt junior offensive line, probably. So everybody on the offensive line has been in the program for three years, and that’s a good thing. If those redshirt freshmen can have backup roles, that’s ideal. Two years ago, redshirt freshmen were all starting.
“That group takes so long to build. I certainly feel like we’re trending toward the middle of the league and hoping to get into the upper half at some point. I don’t know if that group looks like an elite line in the league, but it’s no longer that obvious negative. We’re up 110-115 yards rushing per game versus two years ago. We made the real big jump, but then we made another jump a year ago.”