Wake Forest Preview 2006 - Defense
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Posted Jul 31, 2006

Wake Forest Demon Deacons Preview 2006 - Wake Defense

What you need to know ... There's experience, depth, and even more experience at just about every position giving the Demon Deacons the most options and the potential for the best defense in the Jim Grobe era if, and it's a big if, everyone is healthy on the line. Starters Matt Robinson (broken kneecap), Jeremy Thompson (torn ACL) and Zach Stukes (shoulder) need to return up fornt or there could be major problems generating a consistent pass rush. That's bad news for a veteran secondary that had issues last year finishing dead last in the ACC in pass defense. The linebacking corps has the potential to be the team's strength led by Jon Abbate in the middle and Aaron Curry on the weakside.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jon Abbate, 77
Sacks: Matt Robinson, 4.5
Interceptions: Josh Gattis, 5

Star of the defense: Junior LB Jon Abbate
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DTs Jamil Smith and Jyles Tucker
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Anthony Davis
Best pro prospect: Senior FS Josh Gattis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Abbate, 2) Gattis, 3) SS Patrick Ghee
Strength of the defense: Depth and experience
Weakness of the defense:
Size in the secondary

Defensive Line
The line is one of the team's biggest question marks due to injuries. Starting ends Matt Robinson and Jeremy Thompson along with tackle Zach Stukes are trying to get healthy, but their injuries allowed several players to see key reps this off-season to develop more depth. Jyles Tucker and Jamil Smith haven't done much in their careers, but they're big seniors on the inside. Bryan Andrews has the talent to develop into a strong end while Anthony Davis is a speedy option on the outside. The rating would/will be higher if/when everyone is back.
The key to the unit: Get everyone back healthy. There will be major depth problems if all the banged up players aren't able to come back good as new.

Defensive Line Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- DE Anthony Davis, Soph. - 9 tackles
A decent sized defender with good speed on the outside, the 6-5, 240-pound Davis should take advantage of the opportunity to see more practice time with all the injuries at end. He was a reserve last year and saw most of his action on special teams.

- DT Jyles Tucker, Sr. - 15 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL
A spot starter throughout his career, the 268-pound senior has 50 career tackles with 28 games of experience. He's back in the starting lineup after being suspended late last year and now he needs to be more active on the inside. He's a little to small to hold up against the power running attacks for a full game, and he hasn't made enough plays in the backfield despite his impressive quickness.

- NG Jamil Smith. Sr. - 3 tackles
Smith has to shine on the nose this year after being a backup throughout his career. He's a good-sized defender at 294 pounds adding much needed bulk and a little bit of experience up front until Zach Stukes gets back on the field.

- DE Bryan Andrews, Sr. - 27 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 broken up passes
An ankle injury kept Andrews down for most of 2004, but he stepped into the starting role over the final few games of the season after being a valuable reserve early on. He's 6-5, 263 pounds and athletic, but he has to become more of a pass rusher. 

Top Backups
- DE Matt Robinson, Jr. - 36 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL, 4 broken up passes
Robinson grew into the team's top pass rusher and most active lineman last year both against the run and in pass coverage, but he suffered a broken knee cap in the season finale against Miami. If and when he's 100% he'll be a starter again at one of the end spots.
- NG/DT Zach Stukes, Jr. - 25 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 TFL
He's not a huge player on the nose at only 6-2 and 260 pounds, but he's experienced and very active. He had problems with his shoulder this off-season, but he's expected to be back and ready to roll by the start of the season. The faster he's healthy, the faster he can take back his starting role on the inside.
- DE Jeremy Thompson, Jr. - 21 tackles, 2 TFL
Last year was a disappointment in several ways for the lanky 6-5, 250-pound junior. He wasn't the pass rusher he was expected to be, and then he tore his ACL and missed most of the second half of the season. He's a likely starter when he gets healthy again with the speed and quickness to eventually develop into a terror in the backfield.

This should be one of the team's strengths with the return of all-star Jon Abbate in the middle, rising star Aaron Curry on the strongside and Pierre Easley and Stanley Arnoux each good enough to start on the weakside. This might not be the fastest group around, but they're big, tough, and smart. The reserves are a little smaller, but they add more speed.
The key to the unit: Be better in pass coverage on the weakside and develop the backups so Jon Abbate and Aaron Curry don't wear down.
Linebacker Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- Aaron Curry, Soph. - 45 tackles, 1 sack, 7.5 TFL, 5 broken up passes
The 240-pound sophomore handled himself well in his first season on the strongside finishing fifth on the team in tackles after taking over the starting job early on. He has good speed and enough strength to hold up will against the run, and he was surprisingly strong in pass coverage.

- Jon Abbate, Jr. - 76 tackles, 2 sacks, 6 TFL , 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
The team's best defensive player has 177 career tackles and will be in the hunt for All-ACC honors. He's a speedy 245 pound with good range and great hitting ability with a particular nose for the ball against the run. He's seemingly always in on every play and isn't bad at getting into the backfield when he has to.

- Pierre Easley, Sr. - 21 tackles, 1 TFL
Easley is a middle linebacker playing on the outside because of Jon Abbate holding down the job on the inside. He's a huge weakside linebacker at 250 pounds making him strong against the run, but he's average in pass coverage.

Top Backups
- Stanley Arnoux, Soph. - 27 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Arnoux might not be the starter on the weakside, but he'll see more than his share of playing time and could end up pushing Pierre Easley out of the job at some point. He's 6-5, 245 pounds and faster than Easley with the quickness to be a strong pass defender.
- Eric Berry, Soph. - 17 tackles
Berry won't see too much playing time behind Jon Abbate in the middle, but he's a huge option against the run at 6-1 and 260 pounds. He's not all that fast, but he's a load to move and is tough on special teams.

Defensive Backs
The secondary has way too much experience to be as bad as it was last year when it allowed 253 yards per game and got absolutely torched by everyone in the ACC but Duke allowing 17 touchdown passes over the final six games of the season. There's hope for a big improvement with corners Alphonso Smith and Kevin Patterson over their redshirt freshmen seasons, and there's good depth for each position with decent speed just about everywhere. Josh Gattis is a big-time playmaker at free safety and strong safety Patrick Ghee is a reliable veteran.
The key to the unit: Be more effective against the deep passes.
Secondary Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- CB Alphonso Smith, Soph. - 59 tackles, 2 sacks, 8 TFL, 3 interception, 9 broken up passes
Smith had an outstanding freshman season doing a little bit of everything from being the team's fourth leading tackler to being used as a pass rusher to being the team's most productive corner. He's not all that big a 5-9 and 188 pounds, but he doesn't play small. He's unquestionably the team's number one coverman.

- FS Josh Gattis, Sr. - 72 tackles, 5 interceptions, 7 broken up passes
Gattis is a big, strong hitter who has been a playmaker in the secondary for the last three years with 177 career tackles, 11 broken up passes and seven interception. He has always been a sure tackler, but last year he became a tremendous pass defender. He's the team's best defensive back and will be in the hunt for All-ACC honors.

- SS Patrick Ghee, Sr. - 65 tackles, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes
A good run defender who has 34 games of experience, Ghee has to provide more help against the pass and make more big plays. He has the size to deliver the big hits and he's a great athlete, but the pass defense needs him to be a better ball hawk.

- CB Riley Swanson, Sr. - 37 tackles, 2 interceptions, 6 broken up passes
Swanson didn't make the big splash expected only turning on the production after Kevin Patterson's appendectomy kept him out of the lineup. He has the experience to be a strong number two man on the other side of Alphonso Smith, but he'll get beat and doesn't have lightning speed.

Top Backups

- FS Chip Vaughn, Soph. - 25 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Vaughn had a great season as a reserve coming in on pure passing situations. He'll see even more time this season as a nickel back and could push for time at strong safety to add more speed to the secondary. He's one of team's fastest players and he's the biggest defensive back at 6-2 and 215 pounds.

- CB Kevin Patterson, Soph. - 24 tackles, 3 broken up passes
Patterson got the start on opening day and was relatively effective until he missed a month after an appendectomy. He's a faster option than Riley Swanson and should quickly find his way back in the starting mix soon.
- CB Kerry Major, Soph. - 10 tackles
One of the team's best special teamers, the speedy Major will try to work his way into more playing time behind Alphonso Smith. He has enough speed to potentially be an effective nickel back.
- SS Aaron Mason, Jr. - 15 tackles
One of the team's faster defensive backs, Mason has the potential to be a bigger contributor after starting three games last year. He's not the tackler Patrick Ghee is, but he has more range.

Special Teams
Sam Swank will handle all the kicking duties after a fabulous freshman season showing great range and accuracy, but it's asking a lot for him to replace punter Ryan Plackemeier and his 47.2-yard average. The return game was beyond awful and needs a big, big boost after averaging a horrific 16 yards per kickoff return and 5.32 yards on punt returns. Willie Idlette will get the first look on punt returns after averaging four yards per try, while it'll be an open casting call for kickoff returners.
The key to the unit: Far, far, far more production from the kick returners.
Special Teams Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- PK/P Sam Swank, Soph. - 19-24 FGs, 29-29 extra points
Swank is a rock-solid field goal kicker nailing bombs from 51 and 52 yards out to finish going six of eight from beyond 40 yards. He was tremendous over the second half of the year nailing 11 straight before missing a 42-yarder to close out against Miami. However, the spotlight will be on him to try to replace all-star punter Ryan Plackemeier, who helped lead the Demon Deacons to the nation's number one ranking in net punting.

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