August 23, 2004 * Privately, some Wake Forest coaches and players have talked about a better atmosphere around the program, after the subtraction of some unhappy and/or disruptive individuals. While they generally won't name names, some are pretty clear.
Grobe finally gave offensive lineman Craig Jones the boot this spring, after Jones continued to fail chance after chance. (The coach's favorite term for problematic players is knothead, and if there is ever a Knothead Hall of Fame built in Winston-Salem, Jones will be one of the first nominees.) Grobe suspended Jones at the beginning of last season, then re-instated him. While the loss undoubtedly will hurt one of the team's weakest units, the Deacons may end up being better off without Jones' frequent disruptions. Other candidates include the Orlebar brothers, Daniel and Arthur, who transferred to Appalachian State. The brothers and their family were publicly vocal in their complaints about the program's strength training, saying it wouldn't prepare them for the NFL.
Everyone expected that the move to the 4-3-4 defense would be a boon for young, athletic ends Jyles Tucker, who started four games last season, and Bryan Andrews, a former prep All-American. Instead, Tucker fell behind redshirt freshman Matt Robinson in August, and Andrews slipped to the third team at left end.
In Andrews' case, he has speed but hasn't found the techniques or strength to get that unleashed. One of the challenges of the season likely will be whether the Deacons can find a position where he can succeed. In Tucker's case, he's just been passed so far by Robinson, who though small for the position at 6-2 and 226 pounds, and battling a sore groin was one of the big surprises of preseason drills.
(Robinson) can play. He can flat play, Grobe said. He's not a guy we're using as motivation.
Another redshirt freshman to watch is linebacker Jon Abbate. While most coaches stay pretty tight-lipped about young players, Grobe has been effusive when talking about Abbate. The only problem has been Abbate's shoulder, which required surgery in the spring. Before that, Grobe raved about him, and after he returned this fall, Grobe remained positive. The coach said Abbate is at full strength, although the shoulder will remain a concern, as it's bothered the young player for two years now.
I think he can compete for a starting job, Grobe said. We've got three pretty good (starters), but Jonathan will compete with any of those three for a job.
One of Grobe's big recruiting strategies has been to bring in speed whenever possible, sometimes even if the player's football talents aren't as apparent. This is the year when that strategy really could begin to translate on the field, as Grobe's recruits begin to get more playing time. At receiver and on kick returns, Willie Idlette, Chris Davis and Kevin Marion are former track stars. On defense, Robinson, Adams, Pierre Easley and Josh Gattis have exceptional speed. The Wake staff obviously projected long ago that the positives the speed demons have to offer would far outweigh the negatives (size, strength, skill), and this year they'll learn more about to what extent they were correct.
Although Wake had one (total) academic non-qualifier in Grobe's first four recruiting classes in Winston-Salem, it's clear that the Deacons are recruiting a caliber of student-athlete that's above all but two of their ACC competitors. On signing day in February, only Duke and Georgia Tech had classes that merely had to maintain their academic credentials in order to qualify. The Deacs had to wait out the spring semester with at least one signee, but even he easily made the grade in the end.