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2008 Wake Forest Preview - Offense
Wake Forest QB Riley Skinner
Wake Forest QB Riley Skinner
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacon Offense

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 Wake Forest Preview | 2008 Wake Forest Offense
- 2008 Wake Forest Defense | 2008 Wake Forest Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Wake Forest Preview | 2006 CFN Wake Forest Preview 

What you need to know: Although do-everything WR Kenny Moore will certainly be missed, the fate of the conservative Deacon offense rests squarely with an offensive line that’s losing four starters, including All-ACC C Steve Justice and enormous G Chris DeGeare, who was declared academically ineligible for 2008. If Riley Skinner is going to have time to throw, and RB Josh Adams is to build on last year’s sparkling debut, the O will need a bunch of anonymous blockers to raise the level of their games. Relative unknowns Trey Bailey, Russell Nenon, and Jeff Griffin will be under the microscope from the moment Wake Forest travels to Baylor for the opener.        

Returning Leaders
Passing: Riley Skinner
236-326, 2,204 yds, 12 TD, 13 INT
Rushing: Josh Adams
219 carries, 953 yds, 11 TD
Receiving: Chip Brinkman
27 catches, 225 yds, 0 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Josh Adams
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LT Joe Birdsong
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman RB Brandon Pendergrass
Best pro prospect: Adams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Adams, 2) Junior QB Riley Skinner, 3) Birdsong
Strength of the offense: Running backs
Weakness of the offense: Passing game, turnover on the offensive line

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Although junior Riley Skinner wouldn’t be an ideal match for every program, Wake Forest is thrilled to have him in Winston-Salem for two more seasons. All he does is win games, lead by example, and get the ball in the hands of the playmakers. Already 18-6 as a starter, he’ll likely leave in two years as the school’s all-time winningest quarterback and with a bushel of individual records. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he doesn’t make NFL scouts dizzy with his arm strength, but he plays within the parameters of the offense and puts his team in a position to win. As a sophomore, he led the country in completion percentage, going 236-of-326 for 2,204 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.     

Projected Top Reserves
: The backup once again will be junior Brett Hodges, who started two games a year ago when Skinner had a separated shoulder. He struggled throwing the ball, finishing the season 43-of-63 for 359 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. Just 6-1 and 180 pounds, he brings good speed and a dash of running ability to the position.

In the event of an emergency, Wake has 6-1, 191-pound senior Ryan McManus waiting at the end of the bench. Buried well behind Skinner and Hodges, he has plenty of experience as a holder on field goals and PATs, and knows the offense as well as any of the quarterbacks.     

Watch Out For ...
Skinner’s mobility. His agility in and out of the pocket will be a life-saver this season, as the entire offense adapts in the early going to a retooled offensive line.  Before sacks, he rushed for 172 yards, showing good quickness when plays broke down.
Strength
: Intelligence. Skinner and Hodges are both smart quarterbacks who rarely attempt to play beyond their physical abilities or force passes into traffic. Skinner, in particular, is deadly accurate and clutch late in tight games.
Weakness: Turnovers. Despite playing on a run-oriented offense, the quarterbacks threw 16 interceptions a year ago, which is way too high for a low-risk passing game.
Outlook: If you’re looking for Heisman contenders or future pros, this is not your group of quarterbacks. Skinner is a lunchpail quarterback who’s measured by the number of wins he produces rather than passing numbers and arm strength. He’ll continue to manage more games than he dominates, while furthering his role as the leader of the offense.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Without much advanced warning, sophomore Josh Adams blew past veterans on the depth and became the second straight Demon Deacon to be named ACC Rookie of the Year. A 6-0, 180-pound between-the-tackles slasher, he rushed for 953 yards, caught 34 passes, and scored a dozen times, despite not starting the first four games. On target to become the next best thing to the Clemson backs in the league, he’s got that extra gear and vision in the hole to obliterate whatever anonymity he has left.

Fully recovered from last September’s ACL tear, senior Rich Belton will be making his return as the fullback. A powerful lead blocker at 6-1 and 259 pounds, he’ll also be used liberally as a short-yardage runner and a receiver. Two seasons ago, he carried the ball 51 times for 227 yards and three touchdowns, while catching a dozen passes for 80 yards.       

Projected Top Reserves: One of the best stories of the spring was authored by 5-9, 196-pounder redshirt freshman Brandon Pendergrass, a backup who’ll be hard to keep off the field. Explosive enough to run past defenders and tough enough to bowl them over, he looked like the second coming of former Demon Deacon Chris Barclay. Even with Adams firmly in the driver’s seat, Pendergrass is going to get his opportunities to make plays.

Part tailback and part fullback, 6-1, 230-pound junior Kevin Harris is a valuable veteran backup in a sea of freshmen reserves. A tough runner with deceptive speed, he’s had trouble staying healthy, missing the end of last year with a broken wrist. When given an opportunity to play two years ago, he responded with 393 yards and six touchdowns on 78 carries.     

The epitome of a team player, junior Mike Rinfrette is moving back to fullback after spending last season making 23 tackles and two tackles for loss as a stop-gap at linebacker. At 6-3 and 260 pounds, he’s an outstanding blocker who’ll surprise defenses with his soft hands and ability to pick up yards after the catch.

Watch Out For ... Pendergrass. He captured everyone’s attention in March and April, flashing the quickness around tackle and power in the open field to demand touches and contend for Wake’s third ACC Rookie of the Year in-a-row.
Strength: Adams. He was in his element as a feature back, and should be even more productive with a full season and another spring behind him. He’s a complete player who should be the offensive focal point for the next three seasons.  
Weakness: The offensive line. The only thing that’ll keep the running game from being one of the ACC’s best is the play of a line that’s replacing some key bodies on the interior. With Steve Justice, Chris DeGeare, and Matthew Brim gone, Wake might be more inclined to test the areas outside tackle.
Outlook: Last year, Wake Forest discovered its tailback for the next few years. This spring, it found him a running mate. The combination of Adams and Pendergrass will be dynamite, especially with the return of Belton and Rinfrette to open holes. If Harris is ready to go, the Deacons will go three-deep with quality backs capable of moving the chains.
Rating
: 7.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: Five of last year’s top six wideouts and tight ends, including Kenneth Moore, are gone. The most experienced of the returners is senior Chip Brinkman, who caught a career-high 27 passes for 225 yards a year ago. At 6-1 and 210 pounds, he’s more of a possession receiver who’ll be asked to do much more, but he might not be a true No. 1.

The favorite to land the other starting job is 5-11, 220-pound senior D.J. Boldin, the younger brother of Arizona Cardinal receiver, Anquan Boldin. A physical receiver with 22 games of experience, he returned from a year off with 11 catches for 127 yards, numbers he should surpass before the first month of the season ends. 

After being buried behind veterans over the last couple of years, junior TE Ben Wooster enjoyed a breakout spring that should bleed into the season. While not much of a blocker, at 6-5 and 226 pounds, he has the size, speed, and hands to become a dangerous receiver and the preferred target of Riley Skinner.  

Projected Top Reserves: At worst, 6-3, 180-pound sophomore Jordan Williams will be the first receiver off the bench, but he’s good enough to knock off one of the starters. More dynamic and athletic than Brinkman and Boldin, he was the only true freshman to play last year, catching nine balls for 141 yards and a touchdown.

Although sophomore Marshall Williams ended the spring with the second unit, he’ll need to become consistent to hold off redshirt freshman Devon Brown, a Moore clone, in the summer. At 6-1 and 177 pounds, Williams is long and lean, and has the playmaking potential that this group is sorely lacking.  He was slated for significant playing time a year ago before injuring his ankle.

Wooster’s backup at tight end will be redshirt freshman Cameron Ford, a receiver-sized player who needs to add more weight to remain at the position. At 6-4 and 212 pounds, he’s a budding pass-catcher, but will offer little in terms of blocking when the offense keeps it on the ground.       

Watch Out For ...
Jordan Williams to gradually evolve into the team’s best receiver. While not as experienced as Brinkman or Boldin, he’s the most physically gifted of the receivers and a playmaker who has to be more involved in the passing game.
Strength: Frontline experience. Brinkman, Boldin, and Wooster are all upperclassmen who started games last year. While none are knocking on the All-ACC door, that experience in the program will give comfort to the quarterback.
Weakness: Talent. At least when Moore was on campus, the offense had a proven game-breaker who defenses had to spy at all times. That’s not the case any longer as none of this year’s receivers are remotely dangerous or capable of exposing a secondary.
Outlook: While offense doesn’t need a set of receivers with all-league potential, it’ll certainly help Skinner’s development if one or two evolve into reliable targets at some point this season.  Brinkman and Boldin are serviceable, putting the onus on Williams to mature in a hurry.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The graduations of Steve Justice, Matthew Brim, Louis Frazier, and the suspension of Chris DeGeare have left the line searching for answers. Although it won’t be easy replacing all-leaguer Justice at center, the coaching staff hopes the 6-2, 289-pound junior Trey Bailey has a great future as an adequate fill-in. Recruited to be the heir apparent, he has the smarts to make all of the calls for the line and the fundamentals to be consistent on snaps. He won’t be Justice, but he’ll be a good one as soon as he starts getting some reps.

The tackles, junior Joe Birdsong on the left side and junior Jeff Griffin on the right, split time in the lineup last year, which will pay dividends this fall. The 6-4, 290-pound Birdsong started seven games at right tackle a year ago, grading out third highest on the team and showing good punch at the point of attack. If he can finally stay healthy for an entire year, the potential is there to become the most dependable lineman.

After earning letters in successive seasons and starting 16 career games, Griffin won’t flinch at being a full-timer. A physical run blocker at 6-3 and 298 pounds, he rarely misses assignments and is at his best when the Deacons line up and simply pound it right at the defense.

The veteran among the guards on the right side is junior Barrett McMillin, a 6-3, 288-pounder who relies more on his footwork and finesse than brute strength. He’s also one of the most versatile linemen, starting games on both sides of the line and capable of pitching in at tackle when needed.

The most tenuous position is at left guard, where 6-4, 304-pound sophomore Russell Nenon held a razor-thin edge for the top spot coming out of spring. He earned his first letter last year averaging 36 snaps a game and enjoying an increase in playing time as the season progressed.  He played well enough in April, but might need to step it up to hold off the competition.

Projected Top Reserves: The heat that Nenon is feeling is coming from 6-3, 315-pound true freshman Joe Looney, who already participated in his first spring camp. One of the building blocks of the future up front, he’s a major talent, but is he ready to play this early? For starters, he needs to get in better shape before practice resumes in August.

At tackle, the staff is banking on 6-4, 305-pound junior Gage Crews providing leadership and experience to the second team. Mostly a special teams player up to this point, he’s enjoyed a solid offseason, holding off classmate Boomer Peterson and a bunch of eager freshmen.     

Watch Out For ...
the entire line to be trimmer than a year ago. Grobe has made it an offseason mandate in an effort to get his blockers to be a little quicker and a lot less gassed late in the second half.
Strength: Run blocking. Always a priority at Wake, all of the linemen are skilled drive blockers who aren’t easily moved off the ball. While not the biggest unit in the ACC, it’s intense and plenty tough at the point of attack.
Weakness: Depth. Pass protection is dicey as well, but if they get in trouble this season, it’ll likely be because of a lack of depth. As it stands now, too much is riding on the development of freshmen and players with limited experience at this level.
Outlook: Yeah, there will be a transition period, but the sky isn’t falling. This staff perennially does a bang-up job of getting linemen ready for action, and it’s not as if the lineup is loaded with neophytes. Provided there’s not too much reliance on the backups, the line will once again create running room for the backs, but it needs to improve in pass protection.
Rating: 7