Christmas came early to Deacon fans this week, as a miserable winter on the hardwood gave way to the opening of spring football practice at Wake Forest. Saturday marked the first day in full pads for the Deacs, and the players were out early to work with their position coaches as a horde of high school players enjoyed Junior Day on campus.
The first week of practice was an eventful (and positive) one for the Demon Deacons, at least off the field. News of the hiring of former Deac Warren Belin to coach linebackers only added to the excitement created by the arrival of Taylor Stubblefield to coach receivers last month.
I caught up with coach Jim Grobe and asked him about the coaching moves:
"Well, I think we helped ourselves. I mean, I hated to lose Lonnie and Tim but I think Taylor Stubblefield, with his experience as a receiver, has really caught on with our guys. I think our guys know that he was a great record-setting player in college and I think that naturally makes kids respect you because they know you’ve been there before. He’s added a lot to our passing game just in thoughts of how to run routes and how to beat coverages."
"Hiring Warren Belin’s a real home run for us. Bringing a Wake Forest guy back, and then a guy that’s had NFL experience, has coached at Georgia. One of the best coaches that I know is Bobby Johnson, he was with Bobby for 8 years at Vanderbilt. We’ve hired two really really quality guys. And that’s the nice thing- they’re not only really good coaches but they’re really good guys."
One of the significant obstacles for the Deacons last year was a rash of injuries that decimated a team that historically struggles with depth. Those concerns have spilled over into spring practice, as the Deacons wait for wideouts Michael Campanaro and Matt James to fully heal, as well as offensive linemen Steven Chase, Colin Summers and Antonio Ford. It's no secret that any success on offense in 2013 will depend on a healthy, effective offensive line.
I caught up with Campanaro and found him in a good mood, partially because that's just how he is and also because he had gotten out of his cast the day before. Campanaro told me that the doctors told him he would be 100 percent by the end of the spring, but he is certain that the coaches won't let him near the field in pads.
Watching, he said, is tough:
"Just knowing that we’re putting in some new stuff out here, and being the only senior in my position group...Just being the identity of the offense, it’s tough watching .You see the defensive guys out there doing stuff, and you just want to be out there jawing with them. Just playing football, that's what I love to do."
Campanaro's eyes lit up when I mentioned his new position coach, and so far he has nothing but glowing reviews for Stubblefield, if not a little frustration:
"I was really excited to hear the hire. We’ve already had some good player coach talks. I’ve gone up there and watched film with him a few times on games I had last year where I wasn’t too successful in. I mean, he’s been there, he’s done it. That’s probably the biggest thing I was pretty upset about, not being able to work this spring with him. I’m really excited to work with him."
But, has he looked at his new coach's college stats to compare resume's yet?
"Oh, yeah, I have! it’s going to be tough to catch those stats. I’ve been trying to find some film on him, but he’s only got a few clips on YouTube."
One of the preseason revelations from Grobe is his intent to go back to an option look that was the focus of the Deacon offense before Riley Skinner's arrival. I asked Campanaro about re-installing the option and whether he thought he would see some relief from his frequent double-teams:
"Right now, I’m thrilled for the new offense. It’s just going to help all the receivers out as a whole I think. We’re not going to see as many funky coverages and a lot of crazy blitzes because teams are going to have to respect that option. If they mess up an assignment, it could be 90 (yards) for us."