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Wake Forest Football Preview: The Defense and Special Teams Under Dave Clawson

Defense should be the Demon Deacons' stronger side this year with most of the secondary returning and a productive linebacker core emerging.  

First year head coach Dave Clawson and defensive coordinator Mike Elko bring a new system from Bowling Green with them, and the first task will be covering up a inexperienced front line with their 4-2-5 scheme.

Given the inexperience of the line coupled with the strength of the secondary, look for linebackers Brandon Chubb and Marguel Lee to play downhill in an effort to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Playing with only two true linebackers in this system means Chubb and Lee would normally roam free in both pocket pressure and coverage, but the dynamic cornerback tandem of Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel will be relied on heavily in this transition year.

There's no shortage of confidence in that unit either.  "So I’m extremely confident in our defense. In the secondary, we’re trying to push to be the best we can possibly be," Johnson told ESPN's David M. Hale.

He'll get help in that quest from Ryan Janvion, a returning All-ACC Honorable Mention free safety.  With all of the experience in the back of the defense, Clawson's 4-2-5 could look more like a 6-5 system, especially at the start of the season as the defensive line gets in-game reps under its belt.

That line will have to replace Nikita Whitlock, who anchored the unit the last four seasons and had nine sacks in his senior campaign.  Josh Banks had one of the best springs on the team at defensive tackle.  

He should get a starting job and must make an immediate impact by containing the run game.

Next to Banks, sophomore Zachary Allen looks to be a perfect fit for the new scheme.  Clawson has favored speedy defensive ends in the past, so Allen and Lee should provide the explosive first step off the line to hurry the quarterback in passing situations.

On special teams, Wake Forest has been dead last in return yards in the ACC for six straight years.  Clawson and new assistant Adam Scheier will work with running back and return man Orville Reynolds to change that shortcoming, and the past makes the outlook favorable.  

Bowling Green returned seven kickoffs for touchdowns in five seasons under that coaching pair.  

Clawson will likely give kicker Chad Hedlund more chances than the last staff from outside of 40 yards as well.  Hedlund was just 1-of-3 from such distance last year, but the Deacs will need to grab points each chance they get if the offense is going to keep the team in games.     

The defense in year one of the new era has a nucleus of talent and experience, and both it and the special teams will need to help out the Demon Deacons' offense for the team to win games.

With the transition comes opportunity, and playmakers will will have to rise along the front line to help out a well-tooled secondary.

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Notre Dame Shows off Flashy New Cleats After Switch from Adidas to Under Armour

Perhaps the most iconic team in college football has made the switch from Adidas to Under Armour. 

Head football equipment manager Ryan Grooms tweeted out the team's new custom-colored high-top cleats.

Here is our custom color #Highlight@UnderArmour#goirishpic.twitter.com/ZUzYcj2Z1T

— Ryan Grooms (@NDFBEquipment) July 1, 2014

Safe to say the switch appears to be going well.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Alabama's Title Hopes Resting on Secondary, Not Quarterback

One position on Alabama's roster is going to dictate whether or not the Crimson Tide will get back to the peak of the college football world, and it is one that is depending on fresh faces to up the level of the competition.

Quarterback, right?

Florida State transfer Jacob Coker has joined the battle with Blake Sims and Cooper Bateman this summer, complete with an ever-inflating reputation.

David Pollack says "hand the job" to Jacob Coker. "He can spin it better than any QB Nick Saban’s had at Alabama. It's not even close."

— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) June 30, 2014

Coker only completed 21 of 41 passes in Tallahassee for one touchdown and one pick. The 6'5", 230-pounder showed in limited action that he has a big arm and can make plays on the run, but having a definitive opinion on him one way or the other seems like a big stretch. 

He's a mystery.

Luckily for Alabama, its title hopes aren't resting on Coker's performance.

The secondary is a much more pressing issue.

One look at the stat sheet, and you'll think that the Crimson Tide's pass defense wasn't an issue. After all, 180.3 yards per game is pretty good. Good enough to finish in the second spot in the SEC and 11th in the country, anyway. But against teams that could actually throw—even teams that hadn't proved it like Oklahoma—the Tide got lit up like a Christmas tree.

Even Auburn—a team that was run-first, run-second and run-third—had a reasonable amount of success through the air against the Tide defense from an efficiency standpoint (160.93). It also missed two huge opportunities on blown coverages on poorly thrown balls to Ricardo Louis in the first and fourth quarters.

Deion Belue fought through injury on one side of the defensive backfield last year, and the other side had a revolving door of starters including Eddie Jackson, Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones—all of whom return in 2014. Sophomore Maurice Smith and true freshmen Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey will all be in the mix as well.

The cornerback position needs to be settled early in fall camp.

The uncertainty came back to bite Alabama in a big way last year, and they can't afford that again in 2014. If that means trotting out youngsters Brown and Humphrey—which I think will happen—to take their lumps, so be it. Learning what not to do is the most important lesson young players can learn. If they're the future of the position, let them learn.

At safety, Landon Collins is entrenched at the strong safety spot, and the versatility he showed playing both spots in a pinch last year will be invaluable to the Crimson Tide defense. Jarrick Williams, who played nickel and safety last year, will likely move into more of a full-time role at free safety. 

That unit as a whole is the most important hurdle for head coach Nick Saban to overcome if he wants to bring another title to T-Town.

Florida should be able to pass much better under first-year coordinator Kurt Roper. Ole Miss' offense is extremely dangerous when it clicks. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has proven throughout his career that he can produce prolific air attacks regardless of the quarterback. Tennessee's wide receivers could rival any in the SEC by season's end. Another year of work for Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall should open up the Tigers passing game more.

The margin for error isn't as thin this year as it has been in years past, but until we see the College Football Playoff selection committee in action, it'd be tenuous for any team to be on the playoff bubble without a conference title in its trophy case.

Coker has an insurance policy in the form of a deep and talented backfield and a wildly talented wide receiving corps. The secondary doesn't have that luxury. 

Because of that, Alabama's title hopes rest at the back end of its defense.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.

 


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