The status of Wake Forest’s most valuable offensive weapon is in doubt for the Birmingham Bowl.
Greg Dortch suffered a finger injury in the Deacons’ regular-season finale against Duke and hasn’t practiced since — although, practices have been limited in the past two weeks by final exams, the recruiting calendar and inclement weather.
“We’re not sure,” Coach Dave Clawson said when asked about Dortch’s status for the Dec. 22 game against Memphis. “He had kind of a finger injury in the Duke game that we didn’t think, at the time, was that serious.”
Dortch, a redshirt sophomore receiver, had 10 catches for 124 yards in the 59-7 win against the Blue Devils, scoring on a 15-yard pass in the first quarter. This year, Dortch has 89 catches for 1,078 yards — both the second-most totals in program history for a season — and has 1,750 all-purpose yards. His average of 145.8 all-purpose yards per game leads the ACC.
In the past couple of weeks, he’s racked up All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America (first-team punt returner), Sports Illustrated (first-team return specialist), Pro Football Focus (first-team punt returner) and The Associated Press (second-team all-purpose player).
But Dortch hasn’t played in a bowl game for Wake Forest — redshirting in his first season and suffering a season-ending injury in 2017 during his four-touchdown performance against Louisville.
“We’ve just gotta make sure that he can protect it,” Clawson said Friday. “If he can protect it, he’ll play. If he can’t protect it, he won’t play. So, we’re just going to — you know, we’ve still got over a week. We’ve held him out of practice and it’s just a wait-and-see deal.”
Dortch has been one of Wake Forest’s most dynamic playmakers — if not, the most — for the past two seasons, with 19 total touchdowns in 20 career games. He was also banged up during Wake Forest’s loss to Pittsburgh in the Deacons’ penultimate game of the season, but obviously was healthy enough to help Wake Forest to a blowout victory in Durham.
Entering that game, Clawson said, “Greg has always been a fast healer, and he is ahead of where we thought he would be.”
After the game, when asked about Dortch, Clawson made the point that “Greg Dortch at 90 percent is still a really good player.”
“He did very little in practice Tuesday, Wednesday, did a little bit Thursday, and I mean, I didn’t know how today would go,” Clawson said of Dortch after the game against Duke. “It wouldn’t have shocked me after the first series if he says, ‘I don’t feel it.’ But he’s such a competitor and a quick healer, and he’s a competitor. He’s a good football player.”
Dortch is listed on the Deacons’ depth chart as one of three possible starters at slot receiver, along with senior Alex Bachman and redshirt freshman Jaquarii Roberson. Bachman has started every game but one this season at an outside receiver spot, but is capable of playing the inside spot and has done so at times to give Dortch rest.
Bachman, who has 30 catches for 370 yards and six touchdowns this season, would also be the replacement as the Deacons’ primary kick and punt returner if Dortch is unable to play.
“I’m ready to play whatever they put me at. Punt returner, slot, outside — I know the offense really well, like the back of my hand, I’ve obviously been here for four years,” Bachman said. “I know (Dortch) got banged up during the Duke game. So he hasn’t been doing a whole lot the last couple of weeks. We were supposed to have practice Sunday, but we didn’t have practice because of the snow.”
Roberson has played 112 snaps this season, with a season-high 32 against Clemson. He has five catches for 59 yards, with the bulk of those coming in the Deacons’ loss at Florida State (three catches for 57 yards).