2007 Wake Forest Preview - Defense

Posted Apr 22, 2007

Preview 2007 Wake Forest Demon Deacons Defense

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Wake Forest Preview | 2007 Wake Offense Preview
2007 Wake Forest Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Wake Forest Preview 

What you need to know: The D could be even better than last year when it was solid at bending but rarely breaking finishing 12th in the nation in scoring defense. There's not a Jon Abbate to rely on, and a few key defensive backs need to be replaced, but there's plenty of experience everywhere and lots of speed and athleticism in the secondary. There needs to be more pass rush from the defensive front and there could stand to be fewer big plays allowed against the pass, but the overall production should be solid.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Aaron Curry, 83
Sacks: Alphonso Smith, 4
Interceptions: Alphonso Smith, 3

Star of the defense: Junior LB Aaron Curry
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Eric Berry
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NG Boo Robinson
Best pro prospect: Curry
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Curry, 2) LB Stanley Arnoux, 3) CB Alphonso Smith
Strength of the defense: Secondary speed, outside linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Proven pass rush from the line

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The line did  a good job of getting into the backfield on a regular basis, but it has to replace top sacker Jyles Tucker at one end. 6-5, 251-pound junior Anthony Davis will give it a try after making ten tackles as a reserve. With his long frame, he's tough to throw over and he has just enough experience to become a major factor after getting the starting call in the final three games. Now he has to get to the quarterback.

On the other side, Jeremy Thompson hasn't quite developed into the pass rushing terror he has the potential to become with just two career sacks and 66 tackles despite starting 16 games. The 6-5, 264-pound senior spent last year getting back on track after tearing his ACL in 2005, but now he has to start generating more pressure.

On the nose, 6-2, 326-pound sophomore Boo Robinson appears ready to become the anchor of the run defense. He's a big, active player who made 35 tackles as a reserve to go along with 2.5 sacks and an interception against Florida State. Strong enough to occupy a double-team and quick enough to get in the backfield against average centers and guards, he'll be a great one for the next three years.

Next to Robinson will be sophomore John Russell, at least to start out. He's not big at only 6-3 and 250 pounds, but he's active making 19 tackles as a reserve. He's one of the team's fastest defensive linemen.

Projected Top Reserves: While Russell might get the start, senior Zach Stukes, a starter throughout most of last year until the Orange Bowl, will quickly get in. At 274 pounds, he's a big, experienced body in the middle who led the defensive linemen with 42 tackles to go along with 2.5 sacks despite having a shoulder problem early on. He has to get healthy after suffering a knee injury this spring.

Ready to clog things up on the nose will be redshirt freshman Michael Carter, a 6-3, 317-pound rock who's one of the team's strongest players. He'll play behind Robinson to start out, but will quickly see plenty of time in the rotation.

The pass rush should get a big boost with the return of Matt Robinson after missing all of last year recovering from a broken kneecap.

He was starting to blossom in 2005 becoming a regular in the backfield before suffering the injury, and now he'll either win back a starting job or turn into a key number three end behind Thompson. 255-pound junior Antonio Wilson saw a little bit of time in the rotation making two tackles, but he has the potential to do so much more. He's the team's fastest most athletic lineman with the quickness of a linebacker.
Watch Out For ... the tackles to turn into one of the team's strengths. The foursome of Robinson, Russell, Stukes and Carter should clog things up in the middle against even the best of ACC rushing attacks.
Strength: Experience. Two key starters might be gone, but the newcomers have seen plenty of time and quality action in big games and aren't going to be fazed by getting the start. Getting Robinson back is a big boost.
Weakness: Sure-thing pass rusher. While everyone can get into the backfield, the linebackers, along with Jyles Tucker, generated the most pressure. Thompson and Davis have to get to the quarterback early on or Robinson will quickly find himself in a starting role.
Outlook: If everyone's healthy, this should be an even better line than last year when it was tremendously productive against the run. There's enough speed and quickness along the front four to be more active in the backfield, and there's enough bulk on the inside to be strong against the run. This might be the best line yet in the Jim Grobe era. 
Rating: 7


Projected Starters
The loss of Jon Abbate in the middle takes away the heart and soul of the defense, along with 120 tackles. The Demon Deacons will use the equivalent of a third defensive tackle to replace him with 6-1, 288-pound junior Eric Berry stuffing the middle after making 26 tackles and three sacks as a reserve. He runs well for his size, but it would help a bit if he were around 270.

While he's not going to be a sideline-to-sideline defender, he'll stuff everything up the middle. 6-3, 240-pound Aaron Curry is back on the outside where he was second on the team with 83 tackles, three sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss.

Big, fast and experienced, he'll be in the mix for All-ACC honors as a do-it-all defender able to rush the passer and handle himself well in pass coverage.

245-pound junior Stanley Arnoux is also back to his old spot on the outside after an active season making 69 tackles and seven tackles for loss to go along with three fumble recoveries. Always all around the ball, he has 4.6 speed and tremendous hitting ability.

Projected Top Reserves: When the defense wants to go with a smaller, quicker option than Berry in the middle, it'll go with sophomore Dominique Midgett. However, he's not that much lighter at 242 pounds and isn't going to fly all over the field. He's a former end who made the transformation to linebacker late in his high school career.

219-pound junior Mike Simmons has mostly been a special team performer making nine tackles on the year, but he'll play more on defense behind Curry.

225-pound Chantz McClinic has also spent most of his time on special teams to go along with a little work at safety. The team's fastest linebacker with 4.45 speed, the junior has to start making more of an impact.
Watch Out For ... the corps to miss everything about Abbate. He's the type of special defensive player who doesn't just show up on Wake Forest's doorstep every week. Berry and Midgett won't be able to replace his production.
Strength: Curry and Arnoux to be tremendous. Two fantastic outside linebackers who never got enough credit or recognition last season, these two will be making big plays week after week.
Weakness: Speed in the middle. There's more than enough size to hold up against the run, but anything on the outside will have to be made by Curry and Arnoux.
Outlook: It's a good group that'll make plenty of big plays and lots of tackles. As long as the experiment on the inside works out and Berry is a true middle linebacker and not just another defensive lineman who happens to be playing in the linebacking corps, everything will be fine. In a perfect world, the line starts getting into the backfield on a regular basis and the linebackers can focus more on the passing game, but everyone will be sent from time to time to mix things up.  
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
Junior Alphonso Smith started the first three games and was supposed to be the team's number one corner, but he gave way to Kevin Patterson and become a key reserve making 48 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions and eight broken up passes. Able to do a little of everything well with great timing into the backfield and great open field tackling ability, now he has to do a better job of not getting beaten deep.

On the other side will be junior Kerry Major, who made ten tackles as a special teamer and occasional corner. He has all the tools with some of the best wheels on the team and decent size at 5-11 and 179 pounds. Now he has to put it all together and become a steady number two corner.

Senior Aaron Mason will get the first shot to star at strong safety. Mason has cornerback speed and decent potential, but he has to start producing after making just nine tackles as a reserve. Able to run a 4.5 40, range isn't going to be a problem.

At free safety, at least for the time being, will be 6-2, 220-pound junior Chip Vaughn, who turned into a key player midway through last year when Josh Gattis got dinged up. While he finished with 41 tackles, he made his biggest play against Duke with a blocked field goal to save the game. Watch out for him to become a big-time player with 4.4 speed in a 6-2, 220-pound frame if he returns fine after shoulder surgery.

Projected Top Reserves: Most of the reserves are backups in name only. Junior Kevin Patterson started every game at corner last season making 44 tackles with two interceptions and seven broken up passes, and now he'll move to strong safety providing 4.4 speed experience behind Mason. He wasn't expected to start at the beginning last year either and could quickly move back to corner or over to free safety early on.

Sophomore Brandon Ghee might be the team's fastest player running a 4.34 40. A bit bitter than Smith, Ghee, who sat out last year to hit the books, could match up on the bigger receivers after he gets a little bit of experience.

Redshirt freshman Alex Frye is 6-3, 190 pound former receiver, and can jump out of the stadium. He'll see plenty of action combining with Vaughn at free safety.

Sophomore Channing Schofield is another sub-4.4 runner and could see time as a kick returner when he's not combining with Major at one of the corner spots.
Watch Out For ... plenty of big plays. The secondary will take plenty of chances, and they'll usually pay off helping the team make 22 interceptions. There's enough overall talent and experience to keep forcing turnovers.
Strength: Speed. Considering the overall talent pool a school like Wake Forest has to choose from, it has the type of speed and athleticism to match up with any secondary in the ACC.
Weakness: They will get burned. Even with all the speed at all four spots, the secondary will give up big plays from time to time. Occasionally, this is a high risk, high reward group that can get caught from time to time.
Outlook: The coaching staff recruited raw speed over the last few years with the hopes of turning it into production in the secondary. The plan should turn out great coming into this year with plenty of options and nice depth to go along with a promising group of starters. The defensive backs do a great job at everything in front of them at the expense of giving up the occasional bomb. Considering the overall results, and compared to where the pass defense was a few years ago, this is a strength.  
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Junior Sam Swank might be the best kicker in America, assuming he's back healthy after suffering a sports hernia. He connected on 23 of 31 field goals last year nailing bomb after bomb going ten of 16 from beyond 40 yards and five of seven from beyond 50. Not just good, he's also tremendously clutch. He'll also handle the punting duties again after averaging a solid 41.2 yards per kick while putting 19 inside the 20 and forcing a whopping 23 fair catches.

The return game was far better than it was in 2005, but it could still use a little punch on kickoff returns after averaging just 20.03 yards per try. Kenneth Moore will likely handle the punt return duties after averaging a great 13 yards per return.

Watch Out For ... Swank to possibly do an All-America double-dip winning honors as both kicker and punter. He's good enough to do both.
Strength: Swank. Actually, all the special teams are terrific turning into a major strength and part of the reason the team had the season it had. Having a weapon line Swank is a luxury.
Weakness: Kickoff return coverage. Swank forced 22 touchbacks, but the team still allowed 22.2 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: If the Wake special teams are as good as last year, they'll be the difference in at least two games. Sam Swank is a sure-thing All-American, while the return game should be more than fine. The emphasis on doing well in all areas will be a major key to the season.
Rating: 9


Related Stories
2007 Wake Forest Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 22, 2007
2007 Wake Forest Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 22, 2007
2007 Wake Forest Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 22, 2007

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