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2009 Wake Forest Preview - Defense
Wake Forest NT Boo Robinson
Wake Forest NT Boo Robinson
Posted May 17, 2009 2009 Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacon Defense

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 Wake Forest Preview | 2009 Wake Forest Offense
- 2009 Wake Forest Defense | 2009 Wake Forest Depth Chart
- 2008 WF Preview | 2007 WF Preview | 2006 WF Preview

What 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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Boo Robinson, 47
Sacks: 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 defense: Edge pressure, rebuilt back seven, veteran depth

Defensive Line

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.

Joining 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.

The freshest 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.   

Projected Top 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 team.

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.
Strength: Run 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.
Weakness: 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.
Outlook: 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 future.
: 6.5


Projected Starters: 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 lift-off.

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.
Weakness: End-to-end 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.
: 6.5


Projected Starters: 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 playing time.

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.
Weakness: Inexperience. 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.  
: Yeah, 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.
: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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.
Strength: 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.
The 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 on occasion.    
Outlook: 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.
: 6.5