A familiar face returns to engineer Wake Forest's offense in 2012 as Tanner Price enters his third season as the starting quarterback.
Expectations for the 6-foot-2 and 200-pound junior from Austin, Texas to produce have never been higher, nor the need greater after losing record-setting wide receiver Chris Givens (83 receptions for 1,330 yards and nine touchdowns), leading rusher Brandon Pendergrass (188 carries for 823 yards and nine touchdowns) and four starters on the offensive line from a year ago.
"I think he's grown in mastery of [the] offense," Wake Forest quarterbacks coach Tom Elrod said. "You can just tell the way he watches film [and] the way he studies. You tell kids in recruiting by the time you're a third or fourth-year guy that the game slows down for you. I'm hoping that's the case."
"We kind of challenged him to repeat a little bit of what he repeated last year. The best stat he had was touchdown to interception ratio. [It] was awesome. [He had] very few picks [and] took care of the ball, but also produced. You can take care of the ball and not do things. He took care of the ball, but also created plays, kind of taking what the defense gives you."
As a true freshman Price completed 137-241 passes for 1,349 yards and seven touchdowns to eight interceptions. He improved vastly as a sophomore, completing 253-422 passes for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns to six interceptions.
Elrod's goal for Price is to improve his accuracy as a passer. Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said Price's success depends on how well his supporting cast performs.
"I think we've got to find some more go-to-guys," Grobe said. "I think we feel comfortable with [Michael] Campanaro, but I don't know if we've got another guy that we feel real comfortable with to try to get the ball to all the time."
"I think that's going to be important for us, and we've talked about the offensive line. If we can run the ball a little bit better that will help us protect him."
Campanaro caught an impressive 73 passes for 833 yards and two touchdowns last season, but the Demon Deacons ranked ninth in the ACC in rushing (114.6 yards per game.
Wake returns two speedy backs in Josh Harris and Orville Reynolds. However, Harris' reliability was often questioned last season, while Reynolds has limited experience.
Combine those factors with the inexperience up front and the Deacs approach the season with question marks surrounding them, putting added pressure on Price to elevate his play significantly this fall.
In 2010 Wake Forest was forced to play its fourth string quarterback, Price, as injuries took its toll on the position. Elrod's hope is for Price to stay healthy and perform well, but has a stable of understudies waiting in the wings.
Redshirt junior Brendan Cross appeared to have separated himself as the leading the candidate to be Price's backup. However, a virus kept him out for most of the first week of pre-season practice, giving more reps to redshirt freshman Kevin Sousa and redshirt sophomore Patrick Thompson.
"Kevin's looked really good in some of our team situations and Patrick's looked really good in our skill situations," Elrod said. "It's a battle for the number two spot. I think that's good. Competition sometimes forces guys to take it to another level."
Grobe added coming out of spring Cross was much closer to being a guy Wake could win with.
"If he [Cross] makes those same improvements this August I feel pretty comfortable," Grobe said. "I felt much, much better about Brendan this spring."
Next on the totem pole are Tyler Cameron and Pat Long. Cameron, who had off-season shoulder surgery is practicing, but is not at full strength and will redshirt this season. He and Sousa, both highly touted recruits coming out of high school, are the quarterbacks of the future for Wake following Price's departure.