Wake Forest Demon Deacons
13 returning starters (8 offense, 5 defense)
Key Players: QB Riley Skinner, TB Micah Andrews, OL Steve Justice, WR
Kenneth Moore, DE Matt Robinson, DT Zach Stukes, LB Aaron Curry, CB Alphonso
Smith, SS Kevin Patterson
The defending ACC Champions have a lot coming back on offense, but they lost
some major contributors on defense. Linebacker Jon Abbate, in an ill-advised
move, declared early for the NFL Draft and was not selected. Josh Gattis and
Patrick Ghee vacate both starting safety positions and will need to be replaced.
Wake Forest has better talent than people think. (Even after winning the ACC,
they aren’t as respected as they should be from a talent perspective.) How will
they do when they can no longer sneak up on anyone? That is a big question mark
for the Demon Deacons heading into 2007.
Wake also got some bad news recently when it was announced that linebacker
Eric Berry will be academically ineligible this season. He was expected to
replace Abbate at middle linebacker.
Quarterback Riley Skinner is Wake Forest’s best offensive player. As a
r-freshman last season, he was pressed into action because of injuries, and he
responded by leading the ACC in passing efficiency. He’s not just a guy who goes
out and doesn’t make mistakes. He has talent, and he has very good touch on his
Skinner is very accurate and very smart. He completed 65.8% of his passes
last season, and tossed just five interceptions in 260 attempts. Because Wake
Forest has more offensive options this year (four starting offensive linemen
returning, as well as Micah Andrews coming back from injury), the coaching staff
might let Skinner play a little more freely this season.
Wake Forest is not blessed with a lot of depth at wide receiver. Kenneth
Moore split time at tailback and wideout last year. He caught 32 passes, which
was third on the team, and he also ran for 507 yards. He should settle in full
time at wide receiver this season, provided the running backs stay healthy.
The other projected starter is Kevin Marion, who caught 10 passes last
season. Demir Boldin, who missed last season because of academic probation, is
back at wide receiver. He caught 15 passes in 2005.
Last year’s starters, Nate Morton and Willie Idlette, are gone. Someone has
to step up and become a go-to guy for the Demon Deacons.
Despite losing Abbate and his top backup, Wake Forest still has some good
linebackers, especially strong side linebacker Aaron Curry. At 6-3, 240, he’s a
prototypical linebacker. He had 83 tackles last season, including 8.5 tackles
for loss. As a freshman in 2005, he had 7.5 tackles for loss. In other words,
he’s a playmaker who likes to take the game to the other side of the line of
Joining him as a returning starter will be weak side linebacker Stanley
Arnoux, who made 69 tackles with seven tackles for loss. If Wake can find a
replacement for Abbate and Berry, then this should be a very productive unit yet
Wake is a little smallish up front on the defensive line, and they don’t have
a lot depth there, either. Jeremy Thompson and Matt Robinson are the only
defensive ends with a lot of experience, and Robinson is a question mark. He
missed all of last season with a broken knee, but he was a very productive
player before that. If he isn’t back to full strength this season, Wake could be
hurting at end.
Zach Stukes is Wake’s most productive returner at defensive tackle. He had 42
tackles and 2.5 sacks last season. Perhaps the most important returnee is
sophomore Boo Robinson, who had 35 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a freshman reserve
last season. If he can continue to show that kind of progress, the Demon Deacons
could have a very solid pair of defensive tackles this season. However, they’ll
still lack depth.
Wake Forest draws a very nice ACC schedule this year. They don’t have to play
Virginia Tech, Miami or Georgia Tech, the top three teams in the Coastal
Division. They get Florida State at home on a Thursday night, and they also get
Maryland, NC State and Nebraska at home as well.
Wake Forest might start out 0-2, with a road trip to Boston College and then
a home game against Nebraska. They’ll beat Army in week three, but what they do
against Maryland on September 22 could decide the rest of their season. If they
start out 1-3 the year after winning the ACC, they might start questioning
themselves. They need to beat the Terps at home.
Will Stewart’s Take
I think Wake will be solid again this year. They were picked by the ACC media
to finish fourth in the Atlantic this year, but it’s a "close" fourth.
BC, Clemson, and Wake were all grouped close together behind FSU, and with a few
breaks, the Deacons could finish as high as second in the Atlantic, though I
think winning it again is a long shot. It’s a long shot for anyone,
much less a team that isn’t traditionally powerful.
The biggest thing Wake learned to do last year was win. Prior to last
season, the Deacs were gritty, tough, and persistent, but they didn’t know how
to finish. Last year, they learned how to win, and they developed the confidence
to make the plays that were needed. I’m still stunned that they went down to
Tallahassee and bombed the Noles 30-0.
The two keys to their season are maintaining that winning attitude, and the
play of Riley Skinner. I like Skinner a lot. He’s poised, accurate on the run,
and cool-headed. And he was just a redshirt freshman last year. Skinner’s got
that little something you like to see in a QB.
As Chris noted, Wake’s schedule shapes up nicely. 4-4 in the ACC is very
doable, if you count wins against Maryland, UNC, and NC State at home, plus Duke
on the road. To do better than .500 in conference, Wake needs to find a win (or
wins) at home against FSU or on the road against Boston College, Virginia, or
Clemson. Sounds tough, right? So did that trip to Tallahassee last year.