Winston-Salem, N.C. - Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe is concerned about his team's toughness after 11 players missed last Friday's scrimmage. Wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring problems), cornerbacks Merrill Noel and Kenny Okoro and All-ACC caliber outside linebacker Kyle Wilber (hamstring problems) highlighted the list of absentees.
Now just 10 days away from the season opener against Syracuse the clock is ticking for those players to return, get used to full-contact hitting and in game-shape.
"It bothers me when any of our kids are missing practice," Grobe said. "Some of our kids are more suited for flag football rather than padded football, and I think if the guys were out here getting their flags ripped off they'd have played the whole scrimmage. When you're butting heads it gets a little bit tougher. It's a physical game. Syracuse is a tough, hardnosed, gritty football team. They're not going to be grabbing our flags. They're going to be knocking us down."
In head coach Doug Marrone's third year at the helm the Orange enter 2011 with the momentum of their 36-34 Pinstripe Bowl victory over Kansas State, but also with something to prove as most pre-season predictions have them finishing near or at the bottom of the Big East. Syracuse returns 14 starters (nine on offense), including four of its five offensive linemen to a unit that averaged a solid 140.2 yards rushing per game.
The Demon Deacons allowed 195.2 yards rushing per game last season, and they are not going to improve their run-defense with players missing practice.
"If we get to where we go up to Syracuse, and we've got a handful of kids that are good players that aren't playing against Syracuse then we've got a problem," Grobe said. "We may not play a more physical offensive football team. They're going to come right off the football, and try to run it right down our throats."
Numbers can be deceiving. Of those 11 players who missed the scrimmage six are skilled position players on offense, but only Campanaro and Terence Davis appear to have significant roles. The concern is mostly with the defense, especially after it has displayed a great susceptibility to allow big plays in the first two scrimmages of training camp.
For a unit that allowed 35.8 points per game in 2010 Wake Forest's defense can ill-afford to have Noel, Okoro and Wilber absent from practice and scrimmages.
The only positive one can take away from these players being out is that the reps are going to others, who need the experience.
"It's obvious that Kyle Wilber is having problems," Grobe said. "He hasn't practiced at all so far. I don't think you're going to show up at Syracuse, and get tough all of a sudden. It was good to see Ziggy get a lot of reps. I thought that really it was good to get Joey Ehrmann as many reps as he got, and that outside linebacker position with Kyle not really practicing any this fall has become really a big concern for us right now, so I thought it was good to get Ziggy all of those reps."
Left guard Joe Looney said the team-motto is, 'Refuse to lose.' How can the Deacs refuse to lose if they cannot fight through a little discomfort in training camp? Like Grobe said this is not flag football. If that notion does not become a reality before next week then Wake Forest might have an overwhelming portion of Orange Crush.