April 19, 2006
WINSTON-SALEM -- Coach Jim Grobe signed off on spring practice as a success, despite Wake Forest having a number of players sidelined by injuries.
"Our kids enjoyed coming to practice," Grobe said. "More than anything else, on both sides of the ball, we've got guys who really love playing the game. We have a lot of enthusiasm. It's just fun to be around these kids, because they make you feel better when they come to practice with their enthusiasm.
"If we could start over again, I don't think I could have 15 practices that turned out any better than these have."
Grobe said previously that this spring would be much more about competition than installing schemes. He and his staff wanted to see who were the best players, not who grasped the system the best. That was driven by the level of youth in the program.
"We redshirted 21 kids last year," Grobe said. "A big part of spring practice was to get a look at those guys. I'm pleased. They've come a long way in just 15 practices, and when we get back in August, if we see the same kind of improvement, we'll have a lot of young guys on the field who can help us come Syracuse time (the season opener)."
Grobe said that while sometimes true freshmen are tempting, he's going to stick with trying to redshirt. He knows that Wake needs every piece of help it can get.
"What we're looking forward to here at Wake Forest is playing a lot of guys who are 21, 22, 23 years old," Grobe said. "If we can keep a lot of our guys around for five years, playing in that fifth year is so much different.
"A great example is Jamil Smith. He's playing lights-out football, and this is the first time we've just really liked what Jamil has done. He's been a good role player, but he's ready in his fifth year to be a great player for us."
Smith, a defensive tackle, has played little as a backup in his career, but he was the surprise of the spring. Cornerback Alphonso Smith said Smith was too passive in the past.
"For me, knowing Jamil Smith, Jamil Smith wasn't Jamil Smith this spring," Alphonso Smith said. "He wanted it more."
That is one good side to injuries: playing time for other people. Jamil Smith took advantage of the fact that three of the four starting defensive linemen were out: Matt Robinson, Jeremy Thompson and Zach Stukes. All three should be back in the fall.
"(Smith) needed a lot of reps," Grobe said. "Boo Robinson got a lot of reps. I didn't like not having Zach Stukes in there this spring. But having him out gave those guys more reps."
Some of the other surprises of the spring were: offensive lineman Jeff Griffin, a redshirt freshman who played well until spraining his ankle late; running back De'Angelo Bryant, who looked to be in the best shape of his career and was catching passes; and safety Chip Vaughn, a sophomore who received praise from among a strong crew of defensive backs.
"Chip Vaughn probably had the best spring out of all of us," Smith said.
WIDEOUTS RECEIVE MIXED REVIEWS
The top negative of the spring was that the wide receiver situation didn't clear up. The Deacons have as many as seven potential contributors, but no one who really steps out as a top talent. The list is full of players who have had injuries or who can't hang onto the ball or who have trouble blocking and running routes.
It was the only unit that didn't inspire a positive comment from Grobe after the spring scrimmage.
"We need some guys to separate themselves from the pack, but nobody's really stepped forward," Grobe said. "I don't see anybody right now that I just feel real confident in. We had some guys who had some real good springs, don't get me wrong, but ...
"We need about four or five of our guys to step up and be dependable either physically or, on a daily basis, performance-wise. And we should get that, we should have that."
Quarterback Ben Mauk was a bit more positive. He said he thought a few players had shown improvement in March.
"The ones that stick out in my mind are Kenny Moore, Delon Lowe and Kevin Marion," Mauk said. "Those three guys really came of age. They realize that they only have a few more years. They're not going to be here forever. So they're really starting to play well. They've always had the talent."
Smith said he thought the group was tougher than before, perhaps because of new position coach Tim Billings, a "defensive-minded coach" in his words.
"They block. They run hard every play," Smith said. "All of them have an attitude, every single one of them. In the past, they wouldn't do that."
To get around the problem, Grobe said Wake will try to make use of other receivers. The Deacons did throw to their backs often in the scrimmage. But fans have heard this "diverse passing attack" thing from the staff before in the spring, usually with only minimal translation to the fall.
"We've got to give our quarterbacks options," Grobe said. "We want to throw the ball down the field, but if you don't involve everybody in your throw game, you limit yourself. So if we can do a better job finding ways to get the ball to the backs, the tight ends and the fullbacks, we'll be a better team."
Grobe tried to make it clear after the scrimmage who would be doing that: Mauk. But redshirt freshmen Brett Hodges and Riley Skinner each moved the team as well.
Skinner also got the ball deep, something Mauk hasn't done often. Skinner hit Willie Idlette on a 61-yard play and Moore on a 52-yarder.
"It's absolutely Ben Mauk's job," Grobe said. "He's our quarterback right now, and we want it to stay that way. He's had a great spring. He's performing like a veteran quarterback right now.
"The one thing that Ben's done is calm down a lot. He doesn't have happy feet. He's not looking to run around all the time. The thing that he does best right now is that when everything falls apart, his job is to get back to the line of scrimmage. We've got to limit the number of eight- and 10-yard sacks that we took last year."
In the spring scrimmage, Mauk went 8-for-8 passing, keeping it short for 72 yards. He ran five times for 12 yards, and he didn't take a sack.