Outside of redshirt junior nose guard Nikita Whitlock the defensive line was a sore spot for Wake Forest last season.
Whitlock, who was named Pre-season All-ACC by the media, returns to lead the charge. He recorded 64 tackles (26 solo), 14 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, a pass breakup, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery last season on his way to second team All-ACC honors.
Support for the 5-foot-9 ¾ and 260-pound Whitlock was spotty, as the Demon Deacons ranked 11th in the ACC against the run (169.8 yards allowed per game) and finished tied for last in the ACC in sacks with 11.
Redshirt junior Zach Thompson, a 6-foot-5 and 255-pound returning starter at defensive end, showed flashes of brilliance in 2011, finishing with 40 tackles (17 solo) and four tackles for loss.
"Zach Thompson is a great player," Whitlock said. "He's very technical, very good and very strong. He just hasn't had a breakout year yet. I think this year is his year. I think he'll come out this year and help me a lot on the defensive line."
Wake lost one starter from its defensive line in end Tristan Dorty and little-used reserve end Gelo Orange to graduation. Aside from depth and experience neither Dorty nor Orange will be missed significantly.
The likely candidate to be Thompson's bookend, at least going into fall training camp, is Kris Redding. The 6-foot-4 and 265-pound redshirt junior saw action in 10 games last season. However, the outcomes were often decided by the time he made his entrance.
Whitlock said Redding is a freakish athlete. He expects Redding and Thompson to alleviate some of the pressure he is under most games.
"Kris Redding came alive this spring," Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said. "Again, I think we're going to find three up front that can really play."
"The backups are going to be the issue. Guys like [Daniel] Vogelsang and some of those young guys are going to have to fill in. I don't feel good behind Nikita right now. When we moved Frank Souza out Frank was a pretty good player. We may actually look at a freshman or two on that defensive front."
Wake signed three defensive linemen in its 2012 recruiting class, Josh Banks, Tylor Harris and Shelldon Lewinson. Of the three the 6-foot-2 and 240-pound Lewinson is the most likely to play right away, while Banks and Harris are expected to redshirt this fall.
In his senior year Lewinson had over 90 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and nine sacks to help lead Sefner (Fla.) Armwood to a state championship crown and a 15-0 record.
"He's really, really strong and quick as a cat, really hard to block," Grobe said. "As a nose in our defense we literally when we signed him we thought we potentially have another Nikita Whitlock. He's a little taller. That may be a problem. We might have to shrink him."
Another key off-season acquisition for the Deacs was Hasan Hazime, who comes to Wake Forest graduate student by way of Akron.
In four seasons with the Zips he started in 22 of the 31 games he played, recorded 108 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Hazime started the first three games of 2011 before going down with a season-ending knee injury. The 6-foot-5 and 270-pound defensive end was given a medical redshirt, which makes him eligible to play for Wake in 2012.
Redshirt freshman Desmond Floyd, who drew praise from his coaches and teammates for his performance in practices last fall and in the spring, brings athleticism and play-making ability to the defensive end position.