It’s hard to believe it, but the Wake Forest football program began spring practice on Tuesday. We’ve been focused on the Wake Forest basketball team’s effort to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, but last season the football program went to a bowl game for the first time since 2011. The Demon Deacons have a very difficult schedule in 2017, but return a great deal of talent. What are the five biggest questions the football team faces as spring practice begins?
1. How well will Kendall Hinton perform?
Kendall Hinton was fairly efficient during the 3 games that he played in last season. He averaged 9.2 yards/attempt and also 5 yards/carry. His yards/attempt were slightly skewed because he attempted just 19 passes, and one of them was a critical 60-yard bomb to Alex Bachman against Duke. Still, he clearly throws the best deep ball on the team.
In order for the offense to take the next step, then the offense needs to produce more big plays. Hinton definitely gives Wake that, and also has the best ability on the team to make plays with his feet when plays break down. Ultimately, Wake will need Hinton to fully recover from his injury suffered last season and not lose any of his explosiveness.
2. How well will Jay Sawvel replace Mike Elko?
Jay Sawvel was a very good defensive coordinator at Minnesota, but Elko was one of the better defensive coordinators in the country, hence why Notre Dame hired him away. Still, Wake Forest returns a great deal of talent on defense (thank you for returning, Duke Ejiofor), and every defensive coach has experience as a defensive coordinator, so I anticipate Sawvel doing a fine job. A lot of Minnesota fans were sad to see that he wasn’t retained by P.J. Fleck, so I take that as a good sign.
3. Who will step up at receiver?
I feel like I asked this question last year, but here we are again. The receivers struggled to gain separation last year, and the offense struggled to get going as a result. Perhaps we expected too much out of redshirt freshmen and true sophomores. With another year of experience and reps, I have to think that this year could be the one. My biggest breakout candidates are Chuck Wade and Greg Dortch.
4. Who will replace Marquel Lee’s production?
Lee is at the NFL Combine this week and no longer a member of the Wake Forest football program, but he made a dramatic impact during his 4 seasons at Wake. Last season he put up ridiculous numbers, as he accumulated 105 tackles, including 20 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. Jaboree Williams should increase his production this year, and I also expect that Demetrius Kemp will improve. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see a true freshman like a Chase Monroe or Jeff Burley see playing time this fall.
5. Who will replace Brad Watson?
Wake Forest will have to replace another good senior in cornerback Brad Watson. I expect strong competition out of Essang Bassey, Amari Henderson, and Dionte Austin. I also expect true freshmen Troy Simon and Tyriq Hardimon to compete for playing time. It’s not an ideal situation to be starting true freshmen, but at least these freshmen have several Power Five offers each.
That’s all I have for today. We will be sure to ramp up football coverage as spring practice gets going. What do you all think are some of the major questions the team is facing this season?