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March 13, 2011

Wake Forest looks to get back on track

Wake Forest understandably took a big step backward last fall in the first season of the post-Riley Skinner era.

But the defense was as much to blame -- if not moreso -- than an offense that was trying to replace a four-year starting quarterback.

Wake eventually found Skinner's replacement in Tanner Price, who should boost the Demon Deacons' offense whether he's throwing to a talented receiving corps or handing the ball off to All-ACC candidate Josh Harris.

But the defense remains a huge concern, particularly now that defensive coordinator Brad Lambert has left Jim Grobe's staff to serve as the coach of Charlotte's fledgling program. Lambert's departure leaves Grobe having to select a new defensive coordinator as he gets ready for spring practice.

Here's a look at the Demon Deacons as they prepare to open spring drills.

Tanner Price has seemed to have found a home as the starting QB for Wake Forest.
Coach: Jim Grobe
Last season: 3-9 overall, 1-7 in the ACC Atlantic.
Spring dates: March 15-April 16.
(minimum seven starts last season)
Offense (5): WR Chris Givens, G Michael Hoag, G Joe Looney, QB Tanner Price, T Doug Weaver.
Defense (7): CB Josh Bush, LB Tristan Dorty, LB Joey Ehrmann, CB Kenny Okoro, FS Cyhl Quarles, NT Nikita Whitlock, E Kyle Wilber.
Special teams (1): K Jimmy Newman.
Positions of strength

Wake Forest returns its leading receiver from last season in Chris Givens, who caught 35 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns in 2010. The Demon Deacons have enough talented young receivers to make up for the loss of Devon Brown, who transferred after catching 39 passes. Josh Harris has a chance to emerge as one of the ACC's top rushers this season. Harris rushed for 720 yards and seven touchdowns on only 126 carries last season. He ran for 241 yards and two touchdowns against eventual ACC champion Virginia Tech and closed the season with a 138-yard game against Vanderbilt.

Help is needed

Wake must improve just about every area of its defense. The Demon Deacons ranked 110th nationally in scoring defense (35.8), 101st in total defense (430.7), 98th in pass efficiency defense (141.14) and 99th in rushing defense (192.5) last season. Wake needs to improve in all three levels of its defense, but the secondary may rank as the biggest concern. Coordinator Brad Lambert's exit creates even more questions on defense. Wake was in the process of switching to a 3-4 alignment last season. Will the loss of Lambert delay or change those plans?

3 guys to watch

WR Michael Campanaro: There's no doubting Campanaro's versatility. As a redshirt freshman, he led the Deacons in kickoff-return yardage, caught 10 passes as a receiver and even served as the team's main running back for a game after injuries decimated the backfield. Brown's transfer should help Campanaro have an even bigger role in the offense; he could emerge as one of the Deacons' main receiving threats.

LB Justin Jackson: After making a major impression in the preseason last fall, Jackson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the Deacons' opening game against Presbyterian. Jackson is one of the Deacons' most athletic players and has the combination of size (6-1/220) and speed to make an impact as long as he stays healthy. Jackson, a former three-star prospect, made 314 tackles in his final two seasons at Rockingham (N.C.) Richmond.

G Colin Summers: Summers, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound redshirt freshman, has the lower body strength to challenge for a starting spot on the offensive line, perhaps at right guard. The Demon Deacons can only hope he's as versatile on the field as he is in a concert hall. Summers can play the guitar, violin, viola and ukulele.

The pressure is on

TE Andrew Parker: Wake Forest utilized its tight ends quite a bit in the passing game back when Ben Wooster and John Tereshinski were suiting up for the Deacons, but Parker caught just six passes for 37 yards last season and was splitting time with Cam Ford by the end of the year. Wake also has some young tight ends, such as sophomore Neil Basford, who could push for playing time. Parker needs to step up this spring to show he can be more of a factor.

The buzz

Now that Wake has settled on a quarterback, perhaps the Demon Deacons can settle on a scheme. They've utilized just about everything from a spread to a misdirection run-oriented attack the past few years as they attempted to adapt to the talent on their roster. They now feel good about Price, who won the job as a true freshman even though he wasn't on campus for spring practice. He now gets a full spring to work as Wake's No. 1 quarterback. The bigger worries are on defense, particularly now that Lambert's gone. Does Wake Forest continue its move to a 3-4? And do they have the talent in place for such a move? For instance, Nikita Whitlock showed plenty of promise as a freshman defensive lineman, as he cracked the starting lineup last season. But he's listed as 5-11 and 235 pounds. That's hardly the size of a typical 3-4 nose guard, though he might be better suited to play elsewhere on the front seven if he doesn't add more bulk. At least Wake Forest has a little more experience on defense after utilizing plenty of freshmen last season.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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