Wake Forest went 5-7 last year after three consecutive seasons of at least eight victories.
The departure of four-year starting quarterback Riley Skinner accounts for part of the reason for a return to a run-first philosophy. The quarterback competition might not be settled until a week before the season starts. Skylar Jones, who converted from quarterback to receiver for last season, is the front runner coming out of spring practice.
Jones gives the offense another dimension because of his mobility. "It might help us be a little more balanced," Grobe said of returning to his roots with a team determined to pick up yards on the ground.
If Wake Forest turns to quarterbacks more prone to throw, there's a steady stable of receivers in place. Devon Brown is versatile, and Marshall Williams racked up 867 receiving yards last year.
The defense had a season to mature last year and now, more than ever, the Demon Deacons need that unit to be ready to hold its own. Some of the top players on that unit last year were seniors, so there could be some experimentations going on there as well.
There has been shuffling on the coaching staff since last season. Steve Russ, who had coached fullbacks and tight ends, is overseeing linebackers. Defensive coordinator Brad Lambert will work with the secondary instead of concentrating on the linebackers. Tim Billings moves from the defensive backs to the defensive ends. Despite these changes within the staff, Wake Forest has the same coaching staff intact for the third year in a row.
The early part of the season could be a good one for the Demon Deacons. Two of the teams that the Demon Deacons defeated last year are among the first three on the schedule this season. After opening against Presbyterian, Duke visits for the ACC opener before Wake Forest goes to Stanford. The Demon Deacons beat Duke and Stanford last season and repeating those victories could give the team a solid start to what might become a season full of tough tests.
The Demon Deacons can't expect another season like 2006 when an unproven quarterback emerged to direct them to a conference championship. So while a new quarterback settles in, the running backs and offensive line must be up to the task. The tailback position will be occupied by Josh Adams and Brandon Pendergrass, and they have been groomed to be sturdy ball carriers; it's their time to shine. Freshman Josh Harris has also shown to be a big-time player as well.
AREAS OF CONCERN: The offense will have the most noticeable changes so this is where the biggest questions will come early in the season. The Demon Deacons are adamant about returning to an approach that emphasizes the running game. This means they'll have to be strong enough at the line of scrimmage to make this happen. Wake Forest will need guys who can handle an increased workload of carrying the ball.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL HEAD COACH: Jim Grobe, 10th season at Wake Forest, 59-51. MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: RB Josh Adams -- He was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2007 and now he embarks on his final college season. The past two years have been marred by a variety of bothersome injuries that have kept him from handling a full load on the offense. The Demon Deacons need him to be back to full strength because they're likely to pin a lot of their offense on him. More than half of his 1,896 career rushing yards came in his first season, when he scored 13 touchdowns. He has nine touchdowns since then. Despite his wavering role, he led the Demon Deacons with 541 rushing yards last year. He might have to double that total in order for the Demon Deacons to roll on offense. "This is my senior year," Adams said. "I'm ready to lead the guys."
BREAKOUT STAR: WR Chris Givens -- This is an explosive player when he has his hands on the ball. He led the country's freshmen with eight touchdown receptions last year, but the ball might not be in the air as often this season. So Givens will have to find other ways to influence the offense. The Demon Deacons aren't likely to allow a major weapon to go untapped, so don't be surprised if he's put in positions to assist in the rushing attack as well.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DT Frank Souza -- He arrives high on potential and he's pegged for a spot in the middle of the defensive line. It's not often the Demon Deacons would put such a heavy burden on a redshirt freshman, so this must mean that he has shown signs that he's ready to handle the responsibility.
ON THE RISE -- AND OVER TO CB: Former safety Alex Frye will man the cornerback position and has made a remarkable turnaround within the program. He was in exile for a few weeks during the 2009 season but an attitude adjustment seems to have served him well. He has transitioned from his role as a safety to a cornerback and he's coming off an above-average spring session.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: Offense -- QB Skylar Jones, RB Josh Adams, FB Tommy Bohanon, WR Marshall Williams, WR Devon Brown, TE Andrew Parker, LT Steven Chase, LG Joe Looney, C Russell Nenon, RG Gabe Irby, RT Doug Weaver. Defense -- DE Tristan Dorty, NG Ramon Booi, DT Frank Souza, DE Kyle Wilber, LB Joey Erhmann, LB Hunter Haynes, LB Matt Woodlief, CB Alex Frye, CB Kenny Okoro, S Josh Bush, S Cyhl Quarles.