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2009 Wake Forest Preview - Offense
Wake Forest TE Ben Wooster
Wake Forest TE Ben Wooster
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 17, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacon Offense

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 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: The Demon Deacons will remain about as conservative as a Texas politician, relying on a power running game and a low-risk passing attack. The system works at Wake, provided the offensive line takes care of its assignments. That didn’t happen in 2008, and the results were predictably poor. The Deacons couldn’t move it on the ground or through the air, averaging just 308 yards a game. The line has regrouped, and presumably will be much more effective, especially since massive senior has regained his academic eligibility. If so, there’s enough talent at the skill positions to keep the chains moving. Fourth-year starter Riley Skinner is a picture of stability at quarterback, the backfield is deep, and the receivers are young and very fast.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Riley Skinner
221-352, 2,181 yds, 12 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Brandon Pendergrass
150 carries, 528 yds, 5 TDs
Receiving: Marshall Williams
26 catches, 390 yds, 2 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior QB Riley Skinner
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior LT Chris DeGeare
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Devon Brown
Best pro prospect: Junior RB Josh Adams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Skinner, 2) DeGeare, 3) Senior TE Ben Wooster
Strength of the offense: Fourth-year starting quarterback, depth at running back
Weakness of the offense: The passing game, the offensive line, red zone offense

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Although NFL scouts aren’t swarming over 6-1, 205-pound senior Riley Skinner, Wake Forest is ecstatic to have him in Winston-Salem for one final season. A fourth-year starter and one of the most accurate passers in the country, he’s more efficient than eruptive, managing the game with a premium on ball security. Last year’s box score was a good snapshot of his game, going 232-of-363 for 2,347 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while finishing on the plus side in rushing yards. However, 26-11, his record as a starter, is the statistic that resonates the loudest with Jim Grobe and the coaching staff.  

Projected Top Reserves: Backup Brett Hodges decided to transfer out of the program, leaving it with a hole behind Skinner. Senior Ryan McManus does not have the highest upside, but he does know the system and possesses the poise of a fifth-year player. A 6-1, 200-pound former walk-on, his experience with the Deacons has been limited to holding on field goals and PATs.

The future at the position belongs to 6-1, 186-pound sophomore Skylar Jones and 6-3, 185-pound redshirt freshman Ted Stachitas, who’ll be battling for more than just the backup spot; both have their sights fixed on being Skinner’s successor in 2010. Jones is a tremendous all-around athlete, who’s been clocked in the low 4.3s and will make people miss. The concern surrounds his passes, which will sometimes flutter and be put up for grabs.

Heavily recruited coming out of high school, Stachitas has more natural ability as a passer, yet will also make things happen outside the pocket. Once he makes it all the way back from last year’s shoulder surgery, he has the potential, physically and mentally, to make a steady climb up the depth chart in the summer.

Watch Out For ... less throws from Skinner. The Deacons threw the ball a little more than they’d normally like, asking Skinner to air it out a career-high 363 times. Sure, sometimes it was out of complete necessity, but Wake would prefer him to drop back 20-25 times a game rather than 30-35.
Strength:
Skinner. In an ACC that’ll feature just two other senior starters, No. 11 is an absolute luxury to have under center. He works as hard as any other Deacon, leads by example, and won’t hurt you with poor decisions. His value to this program is impossible to measure by the typical statistics.   
Weakness: Zip. Not one of the five quarterbacks on the roster is going to short-circuit the Jugs machine. From Skinner on down, this group has modest arm strength, which is a particular concern on out-patterns and deep balls.
Outlook:
As long as Skinner remains durable, which has not been a problem, Wake Forest will continue to boast one of the best quarterback situations in the ACC. He may be a blue-collar guy, with limited upside statistically, but he’ll keep the Deacons in a position to win games. It might not be flashy, but it's effective.
Rating: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: One ball. Three possible feature backs. It’s the kind of math head coach Jim Grobe never minds doing. The name of the feature back has yet to be determined, but 6-0, 182-pound junior Josh Adams will have a strong case, provided he can stay healthy. The 2007 ACC Rookie of the Year couldn’t even approach his smashing debut, falling victim to nagging injuries and poor support from the offensive line. Rather than contend for a league rushing title, he only managed 402 yards and four touchdowns on 122 carries, while catching just 16 passes for 120 yards. When all is right, however, he’s a talented slasher with the quickness and vision to duck in and out of holes before the defense can apply a direct hit.

Leading the way for all those Deacon backs will be 6-3, 265-pound Mike Rinfrette, an unselfish battering ram in the running game. Sure, he had 22 carries for 52 yards and a score and caught eight balls for 73 yards and another touchdown, but his main contribution is as a physical, no-nonsense blocker. The senior has had some issues with concussions, which are the only things capable of slowing him down.

Projected Top Reserves: When Adams’ ankle flared up, 5-9, 200-pound sophomore Brandon Pendergrass picked up the slack, starting five straight games and finishing with a team-high 528 yards and five touchdowns on 150 carries. An ideal blend of power and explosive speed, he runs so low to the ground, it’s difficult to get a clean shot on him. With just one year of experience, he’ll continue to get better with more reps.

Half tailback and half fullback, 6-1, 225-pound senior Kevin Harris is Wake Forest’s power guy of the trio. A physical, north-south runner, he has delivered throughout his career when his number has been called. Last December, for instance, he stepped up when the team needed a workhorse in the bowl game, rushing 24 times for a career-high 136 yards and catching two balls for 36 yards. Whether or not he’s the feature guy, he’s certainly earned an expanded role as the short-yardage option.    

Watch Out For ...
a committee. Why wear out one runner when three have earned at least 10-12 carries a game? This is a run-first offense, so there are plenty of touches to be divvied up between Adams, Pendergrass, and Harris. While Grobe will go with the hot hand, he’ll also make sure everyone is fresh for the stretch run.
Strength: Depth. How many schools can boast three returning backs, who had 100-yard games in 2008? Not only does the depth give the coaching staff plenty of options, but each of the runners offers something a little different. Adams is the slasher, Pendergrass is the home run hitter, and Harris is the bruiser.
Weakness: Explosiveness. No, it was not all their fault, but the backs have to share some of the blame for a running game that averaged less than three yards a carry and had just a single run of more than 25 yards all year.
These guys need to make some of their own magic and pick up more yards after contact.
Outlook: Regardless of last year’s mealy results, this is a deep and talented backfield that should be ready for a swift rebound. The keys are health and the play of the offensive line. If all three backs can stay off the injured list and the blockers do their job, Wake will once again have one of the ACC’s top ground games. 
Rating
: 7.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: Both starters from last year, D.J. Boldin and Chip Brinkman, may be gone, but the Deacons still feel pretty good about their young playmakers at wide receiver. The veteran and leading returner is 6-1, 193-pound junior Marshall Williams, who earned a pair of starts last year and caught 26 balls for 390 yards and two touchdowns. He has the size, speed, and burst that point to a breakthrough year, but needs to avoid the injury bug that’s followed him in the early stages of his career.

Challenging for the other opening is 5-9, 185-pound sophomore Devon Brown, a slippery open field runner, who is drawing comparisons to former do-everything Deacon Kenneth Moore. After catching 10 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in his first season, he’s had the type of table-setting offseason that could lead to a feature role in the passing game.

When finally allowed to emerge from the shadows of older players, senior TE Ben Wooster enjoyed a solid debut as a starter, finishing third on the team with 24 receptions for 211 yards and three touchdowns. At 6-5 and 235 pounds, he’s built more like a rangy receiver than an in-line blocker, yet isn’t going to shy away from contact. He’s also the model student-athlete, excelling in pre-med studies and taking on more of a leadership role on the offense.

Projected Top Reserves: Of all the young players to turn heads in the spring, few were more impressive than 6-0, 195-pound redshirt freshman Chris Givens. Arguably the fastest player on the squad, he was consistently able to get behind the secondary and make plays. If that speed translates into connections in the fall, Wake Forest will have its first field-stretcher in some time.

Junior Jordan Williams was supposed to make a name for himself last fall and even challenge for a starting job. Neither happened. In fact, he made eight quiet appearances and caught just a single pass for three yards. The potential still exists, however, for the 6-3, 200-pounder to approach some of the expectations he created with an impressive true freshman debut.

The heir apparent at tight end is 6-5, 225-pound sophomore Andrew Parker, that rare Demon Deacon to play as a true freshman. He elevated to second-string just before the start of the season, and actually started three games when Wooster was shelved, catching seven passes for 106 yards. A smooth pass-catcher with a long stride, his value will increase as he adds more bulk.

Watch Out For ... this group to get better as the season progresses. The receivers are young and a little inconsistent, but they have more upside and athletic ability than their predecessors. It’s going to take time and plenty more reps before they genuinely develop some chemistry with 
Strength: Speed. On a unit that’s typically dotted with plodders and possession receivers, these Deacons are surprisingly fast and quick off the snap. There are quality athletes everywhere, but can Skinner and the quarterbacks maximize all of their natural assets?
Weakness: Experience and consistency. While Boldin wasn’t otherworldly in his final year, he rarely dropped passes and was a rock when Wake needed a first down. Until proven otherwise, the Deacons don’t a go-to guy to replace his production or consistency.  
Outlook
: The future is bright. The present, however, is going to be uncertain. While the program is in good shape at tight end, the young wide receivers could take half a year before getting acclimated to expanded roles. Skinner will help them along, but the big breakthrough probably doesn’t happen until 2010.  
Rating
: 6

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: No group was more responsible for Wake Forest’s mixed results in 2008 than the offensive line, which was among the worst in the Jim Grobe era. Little went right up front, but from that darkness comes a brighter day. Literally everyone is back from the two-deep, including massive LT Chris DeGeare, who sat out the entire season for academic reasons. A 6-4, 335-pound fortress of old gold and black, he’s shifting outside after starting 23 games at guard in 2006 and 2007. A dominating run blocker, he’s lost some weight and improved his mobility and flexibility in an effort to wall off the league’s quicker edge rushers.

Joining DeGeare on the left side will be 6-3, 290-pound senior Barrett McMillin, who started the first 10 games of last season at right guard before getting injured. A versatile and heady veteran, he relies more on his feet and finesse than the raw power needed to overwhelm his man. His leadership and know-how are overlooked intangibles up front.

One of the pleasant surprises of 2008 was the play of 6-4, 295-pound junior Russell Nenon, the team’s outstanding lineman of the year. After starting the first six games at left guard, he seamlessly shifted inside to center, where he figures to stay this fall. A physical force on running plays, he concluded his first season as a starter with 84 knockdowns, good for second on the team.

The anchor on the right side of the line will be 6-4, 290-pound senior Joe Birdsong, a 13-game starter at left tackle last season. A dependable veteran throughout his career, he had some problems protecting the quarterback’s blindside in 2008, forcing the staff to move DeGeare into his old spot. If he can make strides in pass protection, the entire passing game is going to benefit.

No one on the line has started more games than 6-3, 292-pound senior Jeff Griffin, who’s moving back to right guard after being out of place at tackle last season. A physical, blue-collar run blocker, he’s at his best in small spaces and moving in north-south directions.         

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Trey Bailey was the starting center for the first six games of the season before breaking his ankle and missing the remainder of the year. Recruited to be the successor to Steve Justice, he’s fundamentally-sound and very smart, but is having a tough time unseating Nenon. At a minimum, the 6-2, 290-pounder will bring a veteran presence to the B team.

It’s just a matter of time before 6-3, 295-pound sophomore Joe Looney has a starting job at guard and is one of the pillars of the offensive line. A key recruit from the 2008 class, he already has a year of experience in the vault, starting the final seven games last year. He has room to grow, and now that there’s more depth, a season to do it behind McMillin and Griffin.

When injuries struck the line last fall, 6-8, 295-pound sophomore Doug Weaver was one of the young players thrust into the lineup before being quite ready. He started the final two games, including the bowl win, gaining a tremendous amount of experience along the way. He’ll go back to learning behind Birdsong and preparing for a promotion in 2010.

Watch Out For ...
DeGeare’s development at left tackle. He holds the key that unlocks the potential of the entire line. If he can make the transition, it allows other linemen to remain at their more natural positions. If he can’t deliver, this unit is capable of becoming a house of cards.
Strength: Experience. In stark contrast to a year ago, Wake Forest is flush with experienced veterans up front. Eight different players have started games at some point in their careers, totaling 118 career starts among them. A lack of relevant reps is no longer a problem with this unit.
Weakness: Execution. While there are seniors and returning starters everywhere, these guys just didn’t get it done last year. Sure, DeGeare was AWOL, but that’s excuse for finishing 92nd nationally in rushing offense and 90th in sacks allowed. As a group, they simply have to be much better in 2009.
Outlook: In a program that traditionally does a great job coaching up linemen, last season was a glaring exception. The blockers just do their jobs, getting abused on a weekly basis. Hope comes in the form of a slew of returning players and a reshuffled line that better matches the talents of its members. Wake will be improved in the trenches in 2009, but by how much will dictate how far this program can go.
Rating
: 7