2008 Wake Forest Preview - Defense
Wake Forest CB Alphonso Smith
Wake Forest CB Alphonso Smith
Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacon Defense

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 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: The Deacons 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 missed.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Chip Vaughn, 105
Sacks: 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 Matt Robinson
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 pass play

Defensive Line

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 the unit.

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.

Watch Out For ... sacks to 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.
Rating: 6


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 linebacker. 

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 air.
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. 
Rating: 8


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 ability.

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 ups.

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.
Rating: 8.5

Special Teams

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 backup quarterback.
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.
Rating: 7.5