The Demon Deacons return two proven starting quarterbacks, and perhaps feel more comfortable in their situation at quarterback than any other ACC school. Benjamin Mauk will be the starter over Cory Randolph. Randolph started last season as the starter, but Mauk became the starter by the end of the year. Mauk is the better passer of the two, and if you ignore him, he can beat you with his legs. Head coach Jim Grobe has done a good job of getting his quarterbacks of the future experience. Randolph played on a regular basis, when he was being groomed behind James Macpherson. Mauk put himself ahead of schedule with his play, and he will now lead a much-improved Wake Forest passing attack in 2005.
Chris Barclay gives the Deacons a solid running game. Barclay may very well be the most valuable player on the Deacon’s roster in 2005. If Barclay goes down with an injury, backup Micah Andrews is solid, but he is a major drop off from Barclay. Barclay may be undersized, but there are little to no complaints following his size.
Wake Forest’s group of receivers is flying under the radar heading into the season, but that may not last very long. The Deacons have the second fastest group of receivers in the conference behind Virginia Tech. They have four receivers that have been timed at 4.44 or less in the forty yard dash. Nate Morton led the team in receiving last season, and he is poised to have a breakout year. Morton is a big target at 6-4 196 pounds, and he runs very well. As the Deacons institute more of a passing game this year, look for Morton to emerge as one of the top deep threats in the conference. Mauk will have reliable veterans Willie Idlette and Chris Davis to depend on as well. Idlette is a terror on misdirection. The Deacons love getting Idlette matched up with a slower linebacker. Davis is used similar to Idlette, but Davis is the better receiver of the two. Davis is more dangerous on the underneath passing routes, where he has room to work. Sophomore Kevin Marion rounds out the four wide sets for Wake.
The Deacons’ offensive line is one of the most effective groups in the league. They may not be the most talented, but this group finds results. There is not an opposing defensive line that enjoys playing Wake Forest. Offensive coordinator Steed Lobtzke gets the most out of his unit. The Deacons have four starters returning in 2005. Right Tackle Steve Vallos is the leader of the group. He will be looked upon as the leader after the Deacons lost Blake Lingruen to graduation. Left tackle Wesley Bryant, a transfer from Florida, looks to break out in his senior season. He is the only 300 pounder the Deacons have starting on the offensive line. He showed good athleticism in three starts in 2004. Guards Matt Brim and Arby Jones, along with center Greg Adkins will handle the interior line. Brim and Jones really excel in run blocking, but they must improve their pass blocking for 2005. Look for true freshman Chris DeGeare to make his case for early playing time at guard. DeGeare will need to improve on his condition, but his 340 pound frame will not likely be wearing a redshirt in 2005.
Wake Forest shifted away from its 3-3-5 defense into 4-3 defense. The move was welcomed with open arms by defensive tackle Goryal Scales. Scales was facing constant double teams as the nose guard in the 3-3-5. The shift to the 4-3 was allowed by the quick development of Zach Stukes. Stukes’ physical presence really impressed the coaching staff and earned him a spot in the rotation for 2004. Now, he appears ready to take on the role of starter beside Scales.
Defensive end Matt Robinson is coming of solid redshirt freshman season. Robinson had 36 tackles, 3 sacks, and 7 tackles for loss. Robinson has a motor that never stops running that makes up for what he lacks in height and size. Fellow sophomore Jeremy Thompson will start opposite Robinson. Thompson brings more size to the defensive front at 6-5. Thompson is effective against the run, but he is improving his pass rush. The Deacons have solid pair at backups at the end position in redshirt freshman Anthony Davis and junior Bryan Andrews.
Jonathan Abbate was the surprise of the year for Wake Forest in 2004. Abbate came from out of nowhere to lead the Deacons with 101 tackles as a redshirt freshman. His reliable counterparts, Caron Bracy and Brad White, will be missed. Pierre Easley was slated to be the starter in the middle last year, but an injury opened the door for Abbate. Easley will now man the weak side. Easley has good speed, and he will mix well with Abbate. Jason Pratt is expected to start on the strongside, but Aaron Curry could make a move on the position. A lack of depth has hurt the Deacons in the past, but Eric Berry, Stanley Arnoux, and Antonio Wilson give the Deacons valuable backups this season.
The secondary is the biggest question mark for Wake Forest. Eric King and Marcus McGruder are gone. King and McGruder combined for 18 pass breakups and 4 interceptions a year ago. They will not be easily replaced. Riley Swanson, who was the third cornerback last year, will nail down one starting spot. It is very much up in the air, who will start opposite Swanson. Johnny Edwards, Kerry Major, Kevin Patterson, and Alphonso Smith will all compete for the starting position. Edwards is the only one, who has any experience. Smith has really impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism, but he has been criticized for a lack of focus. The Deacons do return starters at both safety positions. Strong safety Patrick Ghee will anchor the secondary, while Coach Grobe hopes free safety Josh Gattis limits the number of big plays he gave up a year ago.
Two-time All-ACC punter Ryan Plackemeier returns. Plackemeier regularly pins opponents deep in their own territory. Redshirt freshman Sam Swank will take over the placekicking duties for the departed Matt Wisnosky. Swank has yet to attempt a field goal in college.
Kevin Marion gives the Deacons a solid returner on kickoffs. Marion averaged 23.0 yards per kick return last year. Willie Idlette will once again handle punt returns. Look for Alphonso Smith to be used in the return game as well.
The Deacons are not bluffing, when they say they will go to the air more this year. Mauk is an ideal fit for Grobe’s offense. He has the mobility to move around and make plays with his legs, but he has the best arm Grobe has had at Wake Forest. Mauk should see his completion percentage increase from 52.1%, now that he will be the full time starter. Now, they will still have Barclay heavily involved in the offense. This could shape up to be one of the more potent offenses in the conference. If not for some question marks on defense, this team may be ready to make a lot noise in the Atlantic Division. The schedule is favorable as Clemson, Maryland, and NC State all travel to Winston-Salem. Look for the Deacons to be bowl eligible at season’s end.