Spring Practice: The Defense

DeaconSports' David Hall attended Wake Forest football practice Tuesday afternoon. After reporting on Wake's offense earlier in the spring, he reports on the Deacon defense today.

Wake Forest is in their final week of spring football drills as they approach the annual spring game on Saturday. I stopped in on Tuesday's practice to take a look at the defense.

Wake returns two-thirds of their starters from last year's defensive line. Replacing DE Nathan Bolling will not be easy. It's apparent that the coaching staff is looking for DE Calvin Pace to be a leader. Pace emerged as one of the conference's leading linemen last year, rolling up 10 sacks (as many as the rest of Wake's defensive linemen combined) and earned 2nd team All-ACC honors. On Tuesday, Calvin was constantly the leader in drills, and the coaches demanded that Calvin set things straight with any younger linemen getting lazy. Calvin will be the focus for opponents this fall, and repeating last season's production will be difficult. Also returning this fall is NT Montique Sharpe. The final spot on the line is currently held by senior Roderick Stephen, who must be able to take advantage of the focus opponents will pay to Pace and Sharpe. If Roderick can be consistently locked up by a single blocker, Wake will struggle in stopping the run.

Right now my biggest concern regarding Wake's defense is the depth of their defensive line. Keep in mind that last season Pace, Sharpe and Bolling started every single game. If Wake can continue that level of health, the starters are probably good enough to hold their own with the occasional breather during a game. However, the odds are that some untested linemen will have to step up during the season, and their play could be the difference.

Currently the second unit consists of sophomores Joe Salsich and Jerome Nichols on the ends and redshirt freshman Goryal Scales, good enough to play as a true freshman last year before getting hurt, plugging the middle. Salsich and Nichols saw action in most of Wake's games last year, but combined for only six tackles. Depth beyond the first two units is even more thin. Arthur Orlebar could contribute if he is able to get healthy by the fall.

At this point Wake is expecting to play a 3-3-5 defensive scheme, although that could change by the fall. Wake started last season with a more conventional 3-4 set, but injuries to several linebackers forced a change to three linebackers. Right now junior Kellen Brantley and sophomore Jamie Scott are manning the OLB spots on the first unit, with sophomore transfer Brad White in the middle. Brad White was by far the most pleasant surprise of Tuesday's practice. On multiple occasions Brad was able to catch up with receivers after they had made catches, and in general was around the ball on nearly every play from sideline to sideline. I will not be surprised if Brad leads the team in tackles this fall if he stays healthy.

Linebackers on the second unit included sophomores Trevor Harris and Mike Hamlar on the outside. Hamlar started the first four games last year before suffering some nagging injuries. Junior Dion Williams will be the man in the middle for the second team.

In the defensive backfield, sophomores Eric King and Marcus McGruder started on the corners, with juniors Obi Chukwumah, Quintin Williams and sophomore Caron Bracy playing the safety spots. Redshirt freshman Robert Simmons and junior Ricky Perez were the second team corners, with senior Elliot Ivey, junior Daryl Shaw and sophomore Warren Braxton joining them at the safety spots.

Wake has significantly more depth in the backfield than anywhere else on defense, and there is not a big drop-off between the first and second unit. Throw in redshirt freshman Dominic Anderson, who has moved from RB, junior Jason Carter, who transferred in from Illinois, and true freshmen Josh Gattis, James Adams (who could end up at LB) and Riley Swanson, and it looks like the defensive backfield is in strong shape for the next several years.

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