Wake Forest’s defense is operating with a high level of confidence these days, and for confirmation just ask sophomore linebacker Ryan Smenda Jr. what he expects of his unit in the first scrimmage.
“I expect the defense to shut them out. That’s my expectation,” Smenda said Sunday afternoon, ahead of Monday night’s scrimmage.
That’s a little bold. Right?
“It is. I think when we go out there, everyone’s expectation is to know the call, do their assignment and if we can just get our feet in the ground, get set, we’re going to be a very dangerous defense this year,” Smenda said. “And I hope the guys on my side of the ball know that we can be dangerous and anybody that we go against, we should win.”
The Deacons have completed 10 practices, and the 11th activity of fall camp will be the first scrimmage. Coach Dave Clawson said he’s going to be keeping a close eye on certain positions to identify not only starters, but the pecking order of reserves.
“We’re going to keep it basic, we want to see who can play fast,” Clawson said. “Scrimmage is always the first time that the coaches aren’t on the field, screaming to get aligned, screaming for this, and without the coaches there, who can execute and get lined up?”
Specific positions Clawson will be watching are: outside receiver for the order behind Sage Surratt, Scotty Washington and Steve Claude; offensive line for the battle at left guard and for primary backups; defensive end to determine who’s behind Boogie Basham; linebacker for who would be called upon beyond Justin Strnad, Smenda and Ja’Cquez Williams; and safety, where Clawson said they’ll be searching for reserves behind Coby Davis, Nasir Greer, Luke Masterson and Traveon Redd.
It’s been a mostly balanced camp so far, with both the offense and defense enjoying dominant spurts. In Clawson’s tenure, he sees this fall camp as the most-balanced it’s ever been — since the defense was the stronger unit for his first three seasons, and then the offense for the last two.
“This is as back-and-forth as it’s been in my six years,” Clawson said. “The good thing is, you can’t ever show up to practice and not compete because there’s a guy on the other side of the ball that’ll embarrass you if you don’t do that. And that’s going to help our football team.”
For that to happen, Wake Forest’s defense had to take a step forward while finding replacements at seven starting positions.
That’s happened with the continued development of players like Smenda, who didn’t register a start last season but had 22 tackles in eight games, and Dion Bergan, a defensive tackle who played in every game as a freshman.
“I feel like for me, I’ve matured a lot more since the spring especially. It’s been fun, been getting a lot of reps with the ones going into this scrimmage, so I feel comfortable,” Bergan said. “Compared to last year, I’d say fresh into it, I wasn’t as vocal. It took me a little while to get more comfortable with my peers and (defensive line) Coach (Dave) Cohen and everybody.
“But compared to now, everything has just slowed down, I feel like I’m moving a lot faster. Just real comfortable with my teammates.”
That’s a comfort and confidence level that wasn’t there last season, as the Deacons’ defense has been working to reverse trends that have developed over the past two seasons.
“From last year to this year it’s a total 360 of just the confidence. The freshmen that played last year were not confident at all,” Smenda said. “You come in and you’re kinda discouraged, you go against BC, Clemson, you’re shaking, kinda.
“But this year you get your feet real set and you know, like, we’ve been working for this all summer and no one can take it away from us. We’ve gotta go and grab it.”