2009 Wake Forest Preview - Defense
Wake Forest NT Boo Robinson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacon Defense
Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 Wake Forest
2009 Wake Forest
2009 Wake Forest
2009 Wake Forest
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you need to know: Defensive coordinator
Brad Lambert earned a lot of praise last year. This
season, however, is when he’ll really earn his paycheck.
The back seven of that feisty Demon Deacon defense must
be revamped with six new starters, including two to
replace former stars Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith.
While it isn’t going to be easy, this program has proven
to be up to the challenge in the past. Everything will
be built on a solid front four that boasts all-league
candidates Boo Robinson, John Russell, and Kyle Wilber.
At linebacker, Hunter Haynes has been waiting for a
chance to make his mark on a program that was thrilled
when he signed. The defensive backfield is bolstered by
speedy corner Brandon Ghee and a bunch of unproven kids.
Boo Robinson, 47
Boo Robinson, 5
Interceptions: Alex Frye, Brandon Ghee, Boo Robinson, 1
Star of the defense:
Senior NG Boo Robinson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Josh Bush
Unsung star on the rise:
Junior LB Hunter Haynes
Best pro prospect:
Senior CB Brandon Ghee
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Robinson, 2) Ghee, 3) Sophomore DE Kyle Wilber
Strength of the defense:
The defensive line, stopping the run
Weakness of the
pressure, rebuilt back seven, veteran depth
Projected Starters: On
a rebuilt defense searching for silver linings, hope can be found on a
line that welcomes back three of last year’s starters. Leading the
charge up front will be senior NG
Boo Robinson, a 6-2, 295-pound block of granite in the middle of the
line. Entering his third season as a starter, he can dominate at the
point of attack and shoot the gap to make plays behind the line,
especially since improving his conditioning. Last year’s results were
emblematic of his skill set, making 47 tackles, six tackles for loss,
and five sacks, huge numbers for an interior lineman.
Robinson on the inside will be 6-4, 280-pound senior
John Russell, another
powerful tackle, who’s able to make penetration and disrupt a play
before it happens. In his first full season of action, he blossomed into
a borderline All-ACC performer, racking up 38 tackles, seven tackles for
loss, four sacks, and a pair of forced fumbles.
The situation is
far less stable on the outside, where 6-5, 230-pound sophomore
Kyle Wilber becomes the
closest thing to a sure-thing at defensive end. He was an unlikely
revelation in his first year on the job, moving into the lineup midway
through the year and finishing with 42 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss,
and three sacks. He plays with good quickness and a great motor, now
needing to just add more muscle to his long frame.
face up front will be 6-2, 250-pound sophomore
Tristan Dorty, who’s bucking
for the other opening at defensive end. He lettered a year ago, making
five tackles and mostly playing on special teams. With Wilber attracting
more attention on the other side, he should get opportunities to turn
his linebacker speed and quickness into pocket pressures.
Reserves: The veteran among the tackles is 6-0, 285-pound senior
Michael Lockett, a two-time
letterwinner, who had five tackles in 13 games last year. He’s not going
to clog the running lanes like Robinson or Russell, but he moves well
laterally and brings a dose of experience that’s missing from the second
While no threat to start this early in his career, the
coaching staff can’t wait to unwrap redshirt freshman
Ramon Booi, a 6-6, 300-pound
space-eater with a future in the starting lineup. He’ll spending this
year learning, trying to shape, and giving Robinson breaks before
replacing him next season.
Watch Out For ...
Wilber. The staff loves his potential as a pass rusher. And why not?
He’s long and lean with the sudden first step to make opposing tackles
dizzy. The Deacons like him so much, they benched a healthy senior in
his favor in the middle of last season.
defense. With Robinson and Russell gumming up the middle of the line,
Wake’s opponents will have a rough time picking up many inside yards.
They can try to go outside the tackles, but with the speed on this
defense, that’s unlikely to bear much fruit either.
Pass rush. What happens if Wilber gets extra attention in the form of
double-teams? He’s good, but it’s asking a lot of a 230-pound sophomore
to handle multiple blockers. If he’s neutralized, Wake Forest has very
few, if any, reliable options at defensive end.
Realizing that all things are relative, Wake Forest is in terrific shape
on the first line of defense, especially compared to the rest of the D.
Yeah, depth and the pass rush are lingering concerns, but the tackles
are rock solid and Wilber has All-ACC honors at some point in his
Gulp. As if losing Aaron Curry, one of the all-time greatest Demon
Deacons, isn’t tough enough to swallow, the program also loses
Stanley Arnoux and Chantz McClinic, who started every game in 2008. It’s
extreme makeover time in Winston-Salem. At weakside, 6-2,
240-pound junior Hunter Haynes has been patiently waiting for
this opportunity to crack the starting lineup. A signature recruit in
2006 and a member of the Freshman All-ACC team a year later, he has the
physical and mental makeup to have a breakout season in 2008. After
playing sparingly and making 24 tackles a year ago, he’s ready for
The favorite at strongside is 6-3, 240-pound senior
Jonathan Jones, a former receiver and safety, who has grown into a
linebacker’s body. An ace on special teams throughout his career, he had
six tackles and blocked a kick as a junior. The hope is that his speed
and agility can be translated into pressure and pass coverage on the
defensive side of the ball.
In the battle to succeed Arnoux in
the middle, 5-11, 254-pound junior Matt Woodlief came out of
spring with a slight edge. He’s played plenty of football in
Winston-Salem over the last two years, making 22 tackles and a team-high
seven special teams stops a year ago. While not ideal size and lacking
in range, he has a strong base and uses his hands well to shed blockers
on running plays.
Projected Top Reserves: Woodlief’s closest competitor at middle linebacker is 6-2, 245-pound
senior Dominique Midgett, who has been a top reserve and a special teams
standout since his redshirt freshman season. His four years of
experience and toughness as a run defender will go along way on a unit
that’s in transition.
More senior leadership will come from 6-5,
220-pound senior Lee Malchow,
a self-made former walk-on, who has excelled on special teams. Although
he won’t be the first choice off the bench, he will help bridge the gap
until some of the underclassmen are ready for action.
Watch Out For ... a new star or two to be born.
No, none of these guys will someday be a No. 4 overall NFL draft choice,
a la Curry, but there’s still talent at the unit and plenty of
opportunities to make plays. Haynes, in particular, could be in store
for an increase in notoriety.
Strength: Stopping the
run. This new wave of Demon Deacon linebackers does a nice job of
filling the lanes and keeping plays in front of them. Haynes and
Woodlief are instinctive players, who’ll have the potential to compile
at least 75 tackles apiece.
talent. The talent here is marginal, and not just because it’s following
on the heels of a terrific group. Haynes aside, most of these guys would
be better served as backups, and the situation on the second and third
teams is rather precarious.
Outlook: Although things
probably aren’t as bad as they seem, the absence of Curry and Arnoux
will be impossible to ignore. Those two made so many plays and were so
disruptive with their speed and athleticism. The number of tackles with
this group won’t change, but it won’t create nearly as many turnovers or
big stops behind the line.
Like the linebackers, the defensive backfield is undergoing massive
turnover, losing three starters, including one of the best to ever play
at the school. Top thief Alphonso Smith is gone, buffered only
by the return of 6-0, 191-pound senior
Brandon Ghee, one of the
premier cornerbacks in the ACC. A 4.3 blazer, who’ll step up and deliver
the payload, he had 35 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, seven pass
breakups and four forced fumbles as a junior. Rather than test NFL
waters, he opted to return for one more year, taking on a greater
leadership role and improving his already soaring draft stock.
The battle to replace Smith is tight one that’s currently being led by
5-11, 205-pound sophomore Josh
Bush. In his first season of action, he was able to do an
apprenticeship behind a pair of talented veterans, making 17 tackles and
breaking up four passes in a dozen games. An improving pass defender, he
better be ready for a flurry of passes to come his way as quarterbacks
avoid Ghee’s side of the field. If not, he’ll be moved to safety, which
would open the door for speedy 6-1, 170-pound sophomore
Michael Williams to get more
The Demon Deacons will be starting over at safety
with a couple of first-year starters. Junior FS
Alex Frye is the veteran of
the rebuilt position, blending good speed with the ability to jump
through the roof. He’s gotten his feet wet the last two seasons, making
13 tackles a year ago, while getting a better feel for the speed of the
game. If he can become more consistent and add weight to his 6-3,
193-pound frame, don’t be shocked if he starts taking baby steps toward
becoming an all-league-caliber defender.
Just a sophomore, 6-3,
205-pound Cyhl Quarles is the
least experienced of the secondary and still makes too many unforced
errors. While he played some in 2008, appearing in 12 games and making
five tackles, he’s about to undergo a baptism under fire as the strong
safety. Built like a linebacker, he has the quickness agility, and 4.4
speed of some corners, an athletic blend that’ll offset some of the
inevitable youthful mistakes that’ll crop up this season.
Projected Top Reserves: While Bush is pretty comfortable as the
starter, he has been feeling some heat from 6-0, 185-pound redshirt
freshman Kenny Okoro. Another
quality athlete, who just needs some game experience and opportunities
to improve his cover skills, he’ll spend this season playing some nickel
and auditioning for Ghee’s job in 2010.
If Quarles shows any
hesitancy in handling the starting job, the staff will down the bench
for 6-0, 198-pound sophomore Junior Petit-Jean. He has a knack for being around the ball and
making key stops, playmaking tendencies that have become commonplace
with this unit. His role will continue to expand after he was relegated
to special teams in 2008.
Watch Out For ... Bush to be busy. It’s a good thing
the ACC has one of the feeblest collection of passers in the country
because Bush is going to get tested plenty in his first season as a
starter. Ghee has the best cover skills of the group, so he’ll be
avoided whenever it’s possible.
Athleticism. There’s a reason why Wake Forest has more players from
Florida than any major program not based in the state—they typically
move real well. Actually, those defenders from the Tar Heel state can
fly as well. The secondary may be green, but it’s loaded with fast
athletes, who aren’t likely to get burned on deep balls.
Any way you slice it, there are going to be three new starters in the
defensive backfield, none of whom have a ton of experience. Ghee is
good, but he’ll need his teammates to grow up in a hurry, or else the
decline from last year’s results will be sharp and painful.
there’ll be growing pains during life after Alphonso, but just how badly
will this secondary bleed? It has a headliner in Ghee, a slew of quality
athletes, and a very forgiving schedule. Exactly which opposing passer
is going to carve these guys up? Maybe Robert Griffin in the opener? The
season-ending numbers won’t look so shabby, but don’t bank on a slew of
takeaways, like the last couple of seasons.
While the Demon Deacons need to replace Sam Swank, it’s not as if
they’re ill-prepared. The program got a dry run of life after the
all-star, who missed most of 2008 with an injury. In his place stepped
sophomore Shane Popham, who
pulled double-duty a year earlier than expected. As a placekicker, he
connected on 7-of-12 attempts, struggling once he got beyond 30 yards.
As the punter, he averaged just over 39 yards, while showing nice
touches on his directional punts.
While a new punt returner will
be auditioned, junior Alex Frye and sophomore Devon
Brown are back to handle punt returns. Neither player tore it up
last season for a return game that desperately needs a jolt of
excitement this fall.
Watch Out For ...
incoming freshman Jimmy Newman. He’s the one player on the roster capable of unseating
Popham at kicker and punter. One of the nation’s top special teams
recruits, he gets nice drive on his kicks and has the leg strength to
also compete as the kickoff specialist.
The coverage units. The Demon Deacons made a strong rebound last fall,
leading the nation in punt return yardage defense and finishing 58th
on kickoffs. There were minimal breakdowns in coverage and a total of
four punts were blocked.
return game. Wake will try to reverse some feeble results in the return
game after finishing 98th nationally on punt returns and 89th
on kickoffs. This is the type of offense that needs help with field
position, putting pressure on the likes of Frye and Brown to wiggle free
Swank is going to be missed, particularly at a school that puts so much
emphasis on the little things and plays in a lot of tight field
goal-fests. Popham or Newman needs to be up to the challenge or else
it’s going to cost Wake Forest a couple of games this season. Nine of
last year’s 13 games were decided by 10 points or less, further evidence
that the Deacons don’t participate in many blowouts.