2008 Wake Forest Preview - Defense
Wake Forest CB Alphonso Smith
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacon Defense
Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 Wake Forest
2008 Wake Forest
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2006 CFN Wake Forest
What you need to know:
lose just two starters from a feisty and underappreciated
defense that allowed only 22 points a game and finished No. 4
nationally in takeaways. While Anthony Davis is a prime
candidate to replace Jeremy Thompson at defensive end, the
program caught a break when starter Matt Robinson was granted an
additional year of eligibility. The back seven is as good as any
in the ACC, with Aaron Curry bolstering the linebacker corps and
CB Alphonso Smith leading the secondary. Smith is a microcosm of
the Wake Forest D, an undersized and overactive defender that
has a knack for getting his hands on the ball. An underrated Xs
and Os guy, outgoing coordinator Dean Hood will be sorely
Chip Vaughn, 105
Stanley Arnoux, 3.5
Interceptions: Alphonso Smith, 8
Star of the defense:
Senior LB Aaron Curry
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Hunter Haynes
Best pro prospect: Curry
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Curry, 2) Senior CB
Alphonso Smith, 3) Senior SS Chip Vaughn
Strength of the defense: Turnovers, the back seven
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, preventing the big
Projected Starters: Priority No. 1 for assistant coach
Keith Henry will be to find a replacement for last year’s top pass
rusher Jeremy Thompson. One candidate is 6-2, 248-pound senior Matt
Robinson, who has been awarded a sixth year of eligibility after
overcoming three surgeries to play in 2007. Even if he can’t recapture
the form that led to 20.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in his first
two seasons, his mere presence will be an inspiration for the rest of
At the opposite end will be 6-5, 251-pound senior Anthony Davis,
a three-time letterwinner looking to make more of an impact as a
full-timer. He has the right size and amount of experience to
contribute, but sacks have eluded him throughout his career. As a key
reserve a year ago, he had a career-high 13 tackles and two tackles for
loss, yet never reached the quarterback.
At the nose, junior Boo Robinson is a powerful tank who is
extremely difficult to move off his base. At 6-2 and 326 pounds, he can
dominate at the point of attack and blow up opposing running games. As a
sophomore, he had 26 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and three sacks,
setting the stage for what could be an All-ACC season.
While junior tackle John Russell missed the spring recovering
from shoulder surgery, he’s expected to be ready for the start of the
season. An active 6-3, 278-pounder, he’s played extensively in each of
his first two years, making leading all interior linemen with 34
tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack.
Projected Top Reserves: The veteran of the reserve
defensive ends is senior Antonio Wilson, a stout 6-1, 225-pounder
with a letter in each of the last three seasons. Mostly a special teams
performer throughout his career, it’s about time for him to parlay all
of his speed and natural quickness into sacks and quarterback pressures.
Junior Michael Lockett brings an element of versatility and
quickness to the defensive front. At 6-0 and 274 pounds, he’ll begin the
season behind Robinson at nose guard, but has the burst and experience
to also contribute at one of the end positions.
One of the rising stars up front is redshirt freshman tackle Dennis
Godfrey, a former high school tight end making a successful
transition to the defensive side of the ball. He has bulked up to 6-3
and 297 pounds, yet remains one of the program’s most explosive linemen
and will play a vital role in the rotation.
be hard to come by. Wake Forest was ninth in the ACC at getting to the
quarterback, which might be as good as it gets this season. Even if
Robinson taps into his pre-injury form, he’ll enjoy little protection
from the other end spot.
Strength: Run defense. Wake returns most of the key
components of a run defense that finished No. 15 nationally. Robinson is
a space-eater who occupies multiple blockers, allowing the linebackers
and other linemen to come up and make stops.
Weakness: Pass rush. The line doesn’t have a sure-thing at
defensive end, that relentless rusher requiring extra attention and a
second blocker. If the Deacons struggle getting after the passer, it’ll
force new coordinator Brad Lambert to get creative by turning
occasionally turning loose his linebackers or safeties.
Outlook: It’s a good thing the defense is rock solid in
the back seven because the front four is going to be pedestrian. Oh, the
unit will be stout versus the run once again, but opposing quarterbacks
could have all day to throw unless pressure is coming from the blitz.
Projected Starters: All three regulars and five players
who started games a year ago are back, making linebacker one of the
deepest spots on the roster. The leading man is heady senior Aaron
Curry, a 6-3, 240-pound monster from strongside with an All-America
ceiling. A difference-maker who plays as if he loves the game, he does
everything well, making 99 stops a year ago, a team-high 13.5 tackles
for loss, three sacks, and four interceptions. Three of those picks were
taken back for six, tying an NCAA record for linebackers.
Returning to the middle will be 6-1, 245-pound senior Stanley Arnoux,
who chipped in 66 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and two
interceptions a year ago. More than just a speedy defender, he has the
instincts and wrap-up tackling ability coaches look for in a middle
At weakside, senior Chantz McClinic is back after starting 11
games and making 45 tackles, four tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. While
undersized at 5-10 and 225 pounds, he’s one of the fastest linebackers
and has the coverage skills of a former safety. While he won’t
overshadow Curry or Arnoux, his range and experience will be pluses for
a defense that prides itself on athletic defenders.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Matt Woodlief
has a slight lead over junior Dominique Midgett in the race to
back up Arnoux in the middle, but the competition remains open. The
5-11, 254-pound Woodlief played in all 13 games, making 19 tackles and
impressing the staff with his strength, athleticism, and ability to shed
blockers en route to making stops.
The Deacons are giddy about the future of 6-2, 224-pound sophomore
Hunter Haynes, a signature recruit from 2006 and a member of the
All-ACC Freshman Team a year ago. Physically and intellectually, he’s
exactly what the programs seeks in a linebacker, debuting impressively
with 41 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. A downhill
player who can really pack a punch, he’ll caddy for McClinic at weakside,
but could take over in the middle by 2009.
Watch Out For ... the linebackers to continue producing a
spate of turnovers. Wake boasts a bunch of tenacious ball-hawkers at
this position, all of whom are well-schooled on stripping the ball,
wrapping up when they tackle, and jumping lanes when the ball is in the
Strength: Experience. There’s no understating the value of
having three seniors in the starting lineup, especially when two of them
are playmakers like Curry and Arnoux.
Weakness: Weakside. It’s more of a relative weakness than
an actual glaring concern. McClinic did a decent job in his first year,
but he lacks ideal size, will be vulnerable when covering big receivers,
and is a noticeable drop-off from the other two starters.
Outlook: After playing well a year ago, the linebackers
will be even more effective and disruptive. Curry is one more step away
from a promising NFL career and is so talented he makes everyone around
him better. The combination of the three veteran starters, and
up-and-comers like Woodlief and Haynes, should make this a strength.
Projected Starters: All four starters and a pair of
All-ACC performers return to a defensive backfield that’s going to be a
minefield to navigate. The ringleader is 5-9, 191-pound senior
Alphonso Smith, a feast or famine cornerback who’ll get burned at
times, but compensates with a slew of big plays. An instinctive pass
defender who craves the pick, he had 44 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss,
three sacks, and a nation’s-leading eight interceptions. Three of those
interceptions were returned for scores, a testament to his playmaking
Smith will be rejoined by junior Brandon Ghee, who could wind up
having more long-term potential in Winston-Salem and the pros. At 6-0
and 182 pounds, he’s a burgeoning cover corner with 4.3 speed, great
hips, and the hitting ability of a strong safety. He returned from a
year off to make 63 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 10 pass break
At strong safety is senior Chip Vaughn, a 6-2, 220-pound
headhunter who led the team in tackles a year ago. He had 105 stops, 4.5
tackles for loss, and a team-best 14 pass breakups, flashing 4.4 speed
and sure-tackling in the open field. While still developing as a pass
defender, he’s like having a fourth linebacker in run defense.
Manning free safety will be 5-10, 185-pound senior Kevin Patterson,
who has started 23 games over the last two seasons and has lettered
since his freshman year. While he won’t intimidate like Vaughn, he
covers and moves like a corner, posting a career-best 52 tackles and 2.5
tackles for loss last season.
Projected Top Reserves: The understudy behind Vaughn
at safety is sophomore Alex Frye, a major talent who simply needs
more playing time before becoming a household name in ACC circles. At
6-3 and 190 pounds, he’s a dynamic all-around athlete who plays with an
edge and has already earned his first letter as a special teams ace.
The reserve cornerbacks, senior Kerry Major and junior
Channing Schofield, both played in all 13 games a year ago, earning
valuable playing time and the confidence of the coaching staff. The
5-11, 179-pound Major, in particular, is coming off a bang-up spring
that solidified his role as the top corner among the backups. He lost
the job to Ghee last year, coming off the bench to make 21 tackles and
his first career interception.
At 5-11 and 193 pounds, Schofield is a burner who made significant
strides in his first season of real action. A key performer on special
teams and as a nickel back, he had 28 tackles and broke up three passes,
playing his best ball late in the season.
Watch Out For ... the corners to allow the defense to
blitz more often. Smith and Ghee can survive on an island, a place both
will become familiar with this fall.
Strength: Playmakers. Wake Forest is home to one of the
most athletic and dynamic defensive backfields in the country. Not only
do the corners and safeties have a knack for creating turnovers, but
they also know what to do with the ball in their hands.
Weakness: Lapses. As talented and physically gifted as
this group is, it also gets burned too often taking too many chances and
allowing too many big plays. Behind all the speed and flash, the Deacons
yielded 20 touchdowns passes and 231 yards a game a year ago.
Outlook: If this unit can cut down on the number of long
balls it allows, it has a chance to be among the best defensive
backfields in the ACC, if not the nation. They’re athletic, experienced,
and flush with talent throughout the two-deep.
Projected Starters: The special teams discussion
essentially begins and ends with senior Sam Swank, the punter and
one of the nation’s elite placekickers. A starter since his freshman
season, he’s a dead-on kicker who can also connect from long range with
accuracy. The nation’s active leader in field goals, he’s 60-of-76 for
his career including 9-of-12 from beyond 50 yards. As a punter, however,
Swank has been sub par, averaging less than 40 yards a year ago and
getting one blocked.
The return game endured a one-two punch when both Kevin Marion and
Kenneth Moore ran out of eligibility. Two of the best in the ACC,
they’re likely to be replaced by senior Alphonso Smith, another
dynamic operator in the open field.
Watch Out For ... the new long snapper. In current New York
Jet Nick Jarvis, the program had one of the best long snappers in the
country, an underrated cog on the special teams unit. His replacement
could be senior Ryan McManus, better known for his work as a
Strength: Swank. He should return to his 2006 form as a
punter, and his accuracy as the placekicker makes him one of the
school’s most reliable and important offensive weapons.
Weakness: Coverage units. The Deacons were
uncharacteristically sloppy covering punts and kicks a year ago,
finishing near the bottom of the ACC in both categories. Considering how
strong Swank’s leg is on kickoffs, Wake has no business yielding over 23
yards a return.
Outlook: With Swank on the roster, Wake is automatically
above solid on special teams. To ascend to well above average, however,
the unit needs to do a better job covering kicks and find adequate
replacements for Moore and Marion in the return game.