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August 7, 2013

Wake Forest football positional preview

Wake Forest enters the 2013 college football season with bridled excitement.

Key components return to both sides of the ball for the Demon Deacons to make a post-season run, but questions surround the offensive line.

The Deacs only had seven healthy offensive linemen to work with in their annual spring game last April, while offensive tackle Steven Chase (torn ACL) and offensive guard/tackle Antonio Ford (broken leg) rehabbed from injuries. Both of whom are practicing and should be game-ready by the start of the season, giving Wake some much needed experience in the trenches.

Right guard Frank Souza and center Whit Barnes also bring significant experience; however, Barnes will be pushed by true freshman Cory Helms for snaps.

Tanner Price and Michael Campanaro approach their final campaign in Black and Gold as one of the most consistent and affective aerial attacks in the ACC.

Despite missing two-and-a-half games Campanaro finished 2012 with an impressive 79 receptions for 763 yards and six touchdowns, while Price struggled to complete 228-410 passes for 2,299 yards and seven touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

However, Price, who is entering his fourth year as the starting quarterback lacked a legitimate outside of Campanaro. The expectation is for Matt James and Brandon Terry to step up as reliable targets this fall. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Williams had a productive off-season.

Wake Forest's largest problem with reliability or lack thereof is at running back where dependability and durability appear to be the main issues. The Demon Deacons are waiting on a ruling regarding redshirt senior starter Josh Harris (147 carries for 608 yards and five touchdowns last season), who was not eligible for summer school.

DeAndre Martin, who carried 128 times for 484 yards and six touchdowns, is the feature back while the Deacs await the Harris verdict from the NCAA. Redshirt freshmen Joshua Wilhite and Dominique Gibson will get an opportunity to prove themselves. The jury is still out on true freshman Dezmond Wortham, who tore his ACL last fall.

Gibson, who made the move from safety to running back in the spring, is coming off a torn ACL, but is practicing and should be full speed for the start of the season. He is known as a bruiser and for his toughness.

Spencer Bishop, who started four times in 2012, returns as the leading candidate for the tight end position, while Daniel Vogelsang and redshirt freshmen Zach Gordon and Anthony Rook will also push reps.

However, Rook appears to fit the H-Back mold, because of his ability to split out as a receiver.

True freshmen Brendan O'Neil and Cameron Serigne may also see action if they perform well in fall camp.

Jordan Garside and Ben Emert will likely split time at fullback; however, Garside appeared to be the frontrunner at the end of the spring.

Defensively, this is an experienced and talented unit; however, depth remains a concern, especially at linebacker and somewhat in the secondary.

All-ACC nose guard Nikita Whitlock is the catalyst of the defense, and it all starts with him.

The redshirt senior, who battled ankle problems in 2012, is full speed. Despite the injury he started eight of the 10 games he played in, and managed to finish with 51 tackles (27 solo, 24 assists), 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.

Wake Forest also returns starting defensive ends Kris Redding and Zach Thompson. Tylor Harris, who moved back and forth from defensive end to nose guard last season, will return to defensive end this fall, which is his natural position.

Shelldon Lewinson will backup Whitlock, while Harris can add depth to the interior if need be.

The Deacs return six of their top 10 tacklers from a year ago, including its top two outside linebacker Justin Jackson (81 tackles (40 solo, 41 assists), 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery) and inside linebacker Mike Olson (78 tackles (39 solo, 39 assists), 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, an interception and two pass breakups).

Brandon Chubb and Teddy Matthews are competing for the other starting inside linebacker position, which was vacated by Riley Haynes.

In a case similar to Harris' Wake Forest is also waiting for the NCAA to rule on whether outside linebacker Zachary Allen will be eligible or not this fall. In the meantime redshirt freshman Kevis Jones appears to be the leading candidate after a strong off-season, while true freshmen Wendell Dunn and Lance Virgile could play early.

True freshmen Ford Howell and Marquel Lee, who enrolled early, may also see action this fall at inside linebacker depending on how they do in fall camp.

The secondary, which has the potential to be one of the most talented group of defensive backs in the ACC if not the country, returns stud cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel and free safety A.J. Marshall.

Marshall finished third on the team in tackles last season with 76 (41 solo, assists). He also made three tackles for loss, three pass breakups and two interceptions. The senior can also play the nickel back position, which is similar to how former Demon Deacon standout and current New York Jets safety Josh Bush was used when he donned the Black and Gold.

After a strong spring Ryan Janvion may be the frontrunner to start at strong safety. He is competing with James Ward, who can also play cornerback.

Duran Lowe, who has earned his way back into the good graces of Jim Grobe after missing the final six games of last season due to suspension, adds depth and experience to the secondary, He will back up Marshall, but can play both safety positions.

The Demon Deacons are waiting for the NCAA to decide whether Air Force transfer Anthony Wooding, Jr. will be allowed to play right away or will have to sit out this season. Wooding, who can also play both safety positions, brings significant playing experience and could quality depth if the NCAA rules favorably.

Allen Ramsey will get significant reps as the third cornerback on Wake's depth chart.

A true freshman or two may also work their way into the mix depending on their development and how lean the secondary is during the course of the season.

Special teams remains in limbo as the Demon Deacons had one of the worst return units nationally. Alexander Kinal returns as the starting punter, and will hold kicks again and Logan Feimster comes back as the long snapper.

Chad Hedlund, who took the starting kicking job from Jimmy Newman … by default in the middle of last season, returns, but could be pushed by redshirt freshman Hunter Haire and true freshman Mike Weaver.


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