Wake Forest began playing football in 1888 and until 2006 the Demon Deacons had never won more than eight games in a single season. That year, under head coach Jim Grobe, the Deacs went 11-3 and won the ACC championship.
This past fall, despite losing the ACC title game to Pittsburgh, Wake matched that 11-3 record and finished the season with a Gator Bowl win over Rutgers. A veteran team in 2021 will again be an experienced group in 2022 and head coach Dave Clawson fully expects to have his team contending in the Atlantic Division once again.
Spring practice in Winston-Salem kicked off on Friday and here are some things to watch concerning the Demon Deacons.
5 Storylines to Watch During Wake Forest's Spring Practice
1. Replacing Jaquarii Roberson
It is very nice that A.T. Perry and his 71 catches, 1,293 yards, and 15 touchdowns decided to return. Perry alone gives quarterback Sam Hartman one of the premier weapons in America. But Roberson caught 71 passes for 1,078 yards and he decided to move on to the NFL. In this offense, it would not be a surprise to see a younger player step up and produce numbers comparable to those of Roberson. Taylor Morin and Ke'Shawn Williams are smaller receivers but they both could have a high volume of catches in '22. Also, sophomore Jahmal Banks has a big (6-4) frame that can give the team another outside threat along with Perry. Donavon Greene, who had a nice 2020 campaign but missed 2021 with an injury, should be back in the fall but it is unclear how much he will participate this spring.
2. Finding the right running back rotation
After 2020, Kenneth Walker III transferred to Michigan State and had huge success. South Carolina is hoping to recreate that magic by taking in Christian Beal-Smith, Wake's leading rusher in 2021. Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson has always split carries among his backs and he still has Christian Turner and Justice Ellison, two backs that combined for more than 1,000 yards. This spring will provide a glimpse as to whether those two split most of the carries or if a third back like Quinton Colley can earn some playing time.
3. Quarterback depth
Hartman will contend for all-league honors, but the Demon Deacons will need a new signal-caller at some point so the time to start that development is now. Michael Kern came to Wake in 2019 but thanks to the COVID-impacted season and a redshirt year, he has three years remaining. Mitch Griffis arrived in the following cycle and as a result he still has four years of eligibility left. A younger Griffis, Brett, is an early enrollee and is ready to take part in spring practice.
4. Filling a key linebacker spot
Like on the offense, the defense doesn't lose a lot in terms of quantity, but that are departing are of high quality. It starts at linebacker where leading tackler Luke Masterson’s eligibility expired. Not only was Masterson reliable at making stops, but he also could get behind the line of scrimmage and make plays, as his 13 tackles for a loss attests. Ryan Smenda and Traveon Redd are good second-level players, but Chase Jones, who had 47 tackles on the year, will be given more responsibility this spring.
The Deacs have Nick Anderson back at safety, but the secondary has some concerns with Ja'Sir Taylor no longer around at cornerback. Gavin Holmes had a solid redshirt freshman season and will have to take another step forward in 2022. Who lines up on the other side will be determined this spring and in camp in August. J.J. Roberts will again see action, but he has to prove he is a cornerback rather than a safety.
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– Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.