2011 Wake Forest Preview – Defense
Wake Forest OLB/DE Kyle Wilber
Wake Forest OLB/DE Kyle Wilber
Posted May 19, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacon Defense

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: When coordinator Brad Lambert opted to become the first head coach in Charlotte history, it left the Demon Deacons in a bind. They responded by promoting Brian Knorr and Tim Billings to co-coordinator status. Knorr was a particularly good fit since he had a past history operating 3-4 defenses, which Wake will employ this fall. The objective is simple—get the program's 11 best players on the field at the same time, which means an additional linebacker to roam the field. There's a lot of work to be done after the Deacons ranked near the bottom of the ACC in most statistical categories and produced no all-star performers. That ought to change this fall, with LB Kyle Wilber, S Cyhl Quarles, and NG Nikita Whitlock as the most likely contenders for postseason honors.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Cyhl Quarles, 71
Sacks: Kyle Wilber, 6
Interceptions: Kenny Okoro, Daniel Mack, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Kyle Wilber
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Kevin Johnson or A.J. Marshall
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NG Nikita Whitlock
Best pro prospect: Wilber
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wilber, 2) Quarles, 3) Whitlock
Strength of the defense: Getting pressure, outside linebackers, the safeties
Weakness of the defense: Run defense, third down defense, red zone D, defending the pass

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: With a switch to a 3-4 alignment, the Demon Deacons will have less of a concern about filling out the two-deep, especially since few of last year's letterwinners have graduated. So deep is the position with familiar faces that it's allowing the staff to move one of its top players, Kyle Wilber, from end to outside linebacker.

Last year's breakout defensive player up front was 5-11, 260-pound sophomore NG Nikita Whitlock , who drew a lot of Freshman All-American attention. No, he isn't the prototype. Hardly. However, he's just too quick for many opposing blockers, and uses his leverage to get up underneath his man. In an impressive debut and sign of things to come, he contributed 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks.

After a brief experiment at linebacker in the spring, Wake is keeping 6-2, 255-pound senior Tristan Dorty at defensive end. One of the program's better pure pass rushers, he registered 44 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks in his second year as a starter. He plays with good pad level and is versatile, adding to his value up front. The battle to join Dorty on the outside will be a good one. Sophomore Zach Thompson and junior Kevin Smith both started games in 2010. The 6-5, 255-pound Thompson is better suited to defend the run, making 19 tackles and starting last year's final five games. More of a speed rusher, the 6-4, 230-pound Smith earned five starts as well, chipping in 31 stops and 4.5 tackles for loss.

The Deacons have done a nice job of building its depth on the interior. At 6-6 and 300 pounds, junior Ramon Booi has the size that the program needs on the interior. One of the prizes of the 2008 class, he's still waiting to break out, making only a couple of stops in eight games. Sophomore Frank Souza is a smaller, more active player up front. A tough and smart 6-4, 280-pounder, who played his high school ball with Booi, he started three games at the nose and made 10 tackles.

Watch Out For … Whitlock to continue his ascent. He's never going to look like a next-level nose guard, but that won't stop him from frustrating centers and guards. He's added muscle to better handle the rigors of the interior, yet remains quick off the snap and able to get into the backfield in a flash.
Strength: Pressure. With Whitlock on the inside and Dorty on the outside, Wake Forest possesses the quickness to apply pressure the traditional way and generate heat in the backfield. Now all the Deacons need is one of the other ends to become similarly effective at getting to the quarterback.
Weakness: Stopping the run. This is a problem that's been lingering for the past few seasons in Winston-Salem. For the second straight year, Wake Forest ranked No. 10 in the ACC against the run, yielding a whopping 4.7 yards a carry. If it can't stop the bleeding here, teams will be content to keep it on the ground as much as possible.
Outlook: The Deacons will be an active and frenetic bunch up front, but one that's still vulnerable against more physical teams. They simply lack the girth and power to stand up to a bigger front wall flush with 300-pounders. Improving, especially in run defense, will require plenty of help from the linebackers and safeties.
Unit Rating: 6.5


State of the Unit: A move to a 3-4 alignment means a need for more linebackers, preferably those who can rush the passer and cover a lot of ground. In order to beef up the position, the coaching staff is shifting select defensive ends and moving them back a level. The moves are sure to help the outside linebackers, but the inside will have to adjust to the graduations of Hunter Haynes and Matt Woodlief, two of last year's top four tacklers.

Senior Kyle Wilber is one of those converted ends, a star-in-the-making who's about to get even more opportunities for success. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, he's better suited to be out in space, where his long stride and lateral quickness will be on full display. He'll continue to be put in pass-rushing situations, whether he's putting a hand in the dirt or blitzing off the edge. In a statement to NFL scouts, he returned from a broken leg in 2010 to make 65 tackles, 14.5 stops for loss, six sacks, and force three fumbles.

At the other outside position, the staff is likely to anoint 6-4, 220-pound junior Joey Ehrmann , a starter throughout much of last season. He contributed 42 tackles, four stops for loss, and four pass breakups, showcasing good range. He continues to fill out, which will help with his ability to stop the run. There's a free-for-all on the inside, with two positions up for grabs. Junior Riley Haynes started three games at weakside, finishing with 14 stops. Hunter's younger brother, he's just 6-1 and 220 pounds, but is fundamentally sound and moves well from sideline-to-sideline. Junior Scott Betros is another favorite to land a starting job. Despite starting just once, he made 30 tackles and has the stout, 6-1, 240-pound frame and instincts to hold up well versus the run. Senior Gelo Orange is the veteran of the group and a jack-of-all-trades. A veteran of seven career starts and three letters, the 6-1, 240-pound will play wherever he's needed, including end, making 22 tackles and 2.5 stops for loss in 2010. The Deacons are excited about the future of 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Mike Olson . He has good size and was productive in his first year, adding 43 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Watch Out For … it to take time to flesh out the situation at inside linebacker. Although Wake isn't exactly loaded at the position, it does a lot of similar players with a similar goal—win one of the two openings. It has a nice mix of young and old for the coaching staff to weed through in the summer.
Strength: The outside linebackers. Wilber is a next-level player about to earn a much bigger profile, and Ehrmann is an underrated performer. Together, they give the Demon Deacons tall and athletic defender who'll impersonate edge rushers a lot this year.
Weakness: Run-stoppers. Particularly with the interior rebuilding, Wake figures to be a little soft versus the run this season. It's not a very big group, which means they'll struggle to hold their group when the other team's guards and tackles drift to the second level.
Outlook: The addition of Wilber helps … immensely. He's a difference-maker, who's set to make a name for himself outside of just the region. The rest of the group is somewhat of a work-in-progress, a collection of largely unproven defenders all looking to fill the void left by graduations.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: The road to respectability is going to be a long one for the Wake Forest secondary. Sure, just one regular, Alex Frye, is gone, but that's from a defensive backfield that ranked No. 11 in ACC pass defense and allowed 29 touchdown passes. A ray of hope could be found in November, a time when the defense played markedly better than it did in September.

Holding the banner for the secondary is 6-3, 210-pound senior Cyhl Quarles, a seasoned veteran in Winston-Salem. Still somewhat raw in pass coverage, he excels on triangle numbers, blending outstanding size with cornerback speed. A big hitter, who thrives on stepping up to support the run, he was second on the team with 71 tackles and has a chance to parlay his final year into interest from NFL types.

Quarles could partner with 5-11, 195-pound senior Josh Bush or 6-0, 200-pound sophomore Daniel Mack at safety. Bush is actually a convert from cornerback, where he was a part-time starter a year ago. He had 33 tackles and broke up four passes, but allowed too many big plays, necessitating a relocation off the island. Mack impressed in his first year of action, starting games at both free safety and strong safety. A more physical option than Bush, he put down the ground floor with 45 tackles and two interceptions in 2010.

The play of the corners will go a long way to dictating just how far the defense evolves this season. If there's a veteran of this group, it's going to be 6-0, 190-pound junior Kenny Okoro . While still vulnerable to biting on the long ball, he's played a lot over the last two years and breaks nicely on passes. Last year's leader with five breakups, he also had 39 tackles and will be counted on heavily by the coaching staff. The future here belongs to 6-0, 160-pound sophomore Kevin Johnson , who cracked the starting lineup toward the end of his rookie year and finished with 31 tackles. He needs more reps and a few more pounds, but has the raw athleticism and speed to gradually evolve into a more consistent pass defender. Like Johnson, 5-11, 180-pound sophomore A.J. Marshall is another Deacon rookie who earned spot starts in his first season on campus. Predictably overwhelmed at times, he made 22 tackles and learn on the fly.

Watch Out For … the growth of last year's rookies. Wake Forest took the training wheels off Johnson and Marshall, which should start paying dividends this fall. The kids took a fair share of lumps along the way, but those reps and that experience will prove invaluable in Year 2.
Strength: The safeties. Quarles and Bush give the Demon Deacons a pair of seniors who've played a lot of football for the program. The former is on the verge of becoming an all-star and the latter has experience at cornerback. Oh, and Mack played beyond expectations in his debut.
Weakness: Defending the pass. Simply put, the Deacons were awful at stopping other quarterbacks a year ago. They were soft in coverage and routinely broke down in the red zone. The secondary may be a year older, but there's no proof yet that the pass defense has plugged its myriad holes.
Outlook: Wake will be better, but how much better? Probably not as much as the fans and the coaching staff would like. There are no lockdown types on the roster just yet, and it's never a good omen when improvement hinges so heavily on a couple of second-year sophomores.
Unit Rating: 6

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Not unlike the rest of the squad, the special teams unit struggled in 2010, breaking down more than the coaching staff would tolerate. One of the exception's, however, was the performance of junior PK Jimmy Newman , who was one of the program's more consistent offensive weapons. A top recruit from the state of Alabama, he hit 12-of-13 field goal attempts, with a high of 48 yards. A 6-2, 200-pounder, he has a strong leg and an All-ACC ceiling. Oh, he also might be the Deacons' punter now that Shane Popham has left the program. He only averaged 37.1 yards last year, and is expendable. The other option is sophomore Alex Wulfeck , who made his case for the job in the spring.

Sophomore Michael Campanaro gave a lift to the Deacon return game a year ago. Handling the majority of kickoffs, he averaged 24.2 yards and looked capable of going the distance more than once.

Watch Out For … Newman's hip. The most valuable player on special teams, he sat out the spring to recover from a hip injury, an essential body part for a kicker. Any lingering problems that trickle beyond the summer would be a devastating blow for this group.
Strength: Newman the kicker. He's always had a powerful leg, but he added accuracy to his repertoire in 2010, missing just one field goal attempt. If he can keep those kicks on line going forward, the Demon Deacons are liable to boast one of the ACC's premier placekickers.
Weakness: Net punting. Maybe Newman can be the difference for the punt team. The situation surely can't get any worse after Wake Forest struggled with its distance and ranked 118th nationally at a measly 31.5-yard net punting average.
Outlook: Assuming he has no health issues, Newman gives the Deacons a quality specialist to build around. He's big, strong, and versatile. However, he's just one part of a puzzle that's missing pieces in the return game and has something to prove at punter.
Unit Rating: 6.5

- 2011 Wake Forest Preview | 2011 Wake Forest Offense
- 2011 Wake Forest Defense | 2011 Wake Forest Depth Chart
- Wake Forest Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006