ACC Football: Questions surround Wake's defense for a change
WINSTON-SALEM ó There aren't many familiar faces around Brandon Ghee on Wake Forest's defense.
He's the only returning starter in the secondary, and he knows how difficult it will be to replace four key contributors who helped the Demon Deacons rise from obscurity to relevance in the Atlantic Coast Conference before being taken in the NFL draft.
Ghee is confident those unknowns soon will make names for themselves.
"We've got a lot of young guys, a lot of competition," Ghee said Saturday. "Last year, a lot of people set the starters ... but right now, everybody's fighting for position and it's real exciting. We've got the same amount of talent, just not as much experience."
Among the key players lost: linebacker Aaron Curry was selected by Seattle with the fourth overall pick, cornerback Alphonso Smith was taken in Round 2 by Denver, and safety Chip Vaughn and linebacker Stanley Arnoux each went in the fourth round to New Orleans.
They were the cornerstones of a defense that produced a school-record three consecutive bowl berths, a string that started in 2006 when the Demon Deacons claimed an unlikely ACC title and reached the Orange Bowl.
"No doubt, they were leaders on the team," Ghee said. "It was like they had been here forever (but) now new people have to step up as leaders."
That assuredly includes Ghee, one of only two defenders with at least 20 career starts. The redshirt senior and defensive lineman Boo Robinson figure to set the example for the 13 redshirt sophomores or freshmen who appear on the defense's preseason depth chart.
Having so many vacancies also figures to test coach Jim Grobe's patience-first philosophy of redshirting almost every incoming freshman and spending several seasons grooming them to take over for seniors when they move on. That makes it tough to fill the holes created by the departure of a defense-dominated recruiting class that arrived in 2004.
"We've been (signing unbalanced recruiting classes) really ever since we've been here ó each of our recruiting classes, the first few years, were loaded on one side or the other," Grobe said. "We really balanced our recruiting classes out now, but we really haven't gotten to the point where we're balanced each year in terms of how many seniors we lose.
"I'd like to get to the point where we lose somewhat of an equal number on each side of the ball. But we're not there right now."
Those questions on defense also has reversed the roles in Winston-Salem, casting senior quarterback Riley Skinner and the rest of the offense in the role of tested veterans. Last year, it was the defense that was counted upon to carry the load for an offense that had occasional bouts with youth and inconsistency.
No pressure at all, Skinner said.
"We don't have to come out and score 70 points a game. We know that," he said. "We know we still have a great defense with who we have coming back and who we have replacing (the graduated seniors).
"We want our offense to be scoring a lot of points because we didn't bail the defense out last year when we put them in some tough positions, in terms of field position, and we kind of put a lot of games on their shoulders. We don't want to do that as an offense. You take pride in (it) ó it's our offense. ... We're going to want to score a lot more, but not because have to, but because we want to."