Home Press Conference: Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson

Press Conference: Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson


wf_outlineQ. Just talk a little bit about your quarterback situation and how you think that’s going to play out.

DAVE CLAWSON: Fluid. (Laughter.) It’s a battle, and part of it is we recruited two players last year. We promised them an opportunity to compete for it. As we went through spring practice, the two guys competing for it, neither of them played at a level to secure the job anyway. It’s going to start out as a four-way battle. At some point we’ll get it to three, then to two, and we’ll have a starting quarterback game one, but that is obviously a big question mark going into camp, and I’m as anxious to see how that plays out as much as any of you are.

Q. You talked about that being a question mark. Besides that coming out of the spring, what other opportunities are you looking for some of these positions that maybe aren’t set in stone just right yet?

DAVE CLAWSON: Yeah, I mean, I think if you look at our football team right now, I feel very good about our secondary. We’ve got four returning starters. I think our two corners have a chance to be all-conference caliber type players. I like our two safeties and the linebacker Chubb. We are replacing the entire front, and if you look at us offensively, really every offensive skill position right now is fluid. I, right here now, can’t tell you who our starting quarterback, tailback or wide receivers are going to be, and you hope we have veterans in our program that step up and take those jobs over, and we might have young guys. But that’s just where we are as a program right now. We’re a new staff. We have a very young team. We only have 10 starters returning. And I think a lot of years you go in and you know a couple of positions who it’s going to be and you’re hoping other guys step up and fill those voids, and right now certainly on offense we have more questions than answers.  I feel a little bit better about where we are defensively because we do have a veteran secondary coming back.

Q. Take us through the process from when you first got there in January, how you evaluate the talent on hand via film, tape, spring and then what you have left to do in August?

DAVE CLAWSON: Well, it was really three parts. Number one is we had some of the graduate assistants cut up clips of every player in the program, so we wanted to watch 15 to 25 clips of every player who was back, and some of those clips were game clips for guys that were red shirted or didn’t play, they were practice clips. We were trying to get an idea of what their skill set is on both sides of the football so that when we put our systems in, we were hopefully putting those guys in the right position in the new system, so it’s the placement of the personnel. And then you have the off-season program, the early morning workouts, the mat drills that you evaluate change of direction, burst, work ethic, do they finish. Part of it was physical evaluations, other of it is intangibles, what type of work ethic do these guys have, and then finally you get to spring football and you see who can play football. And again, our learning curve is still steep because when you first put a new system in, guys are a little bit frozen because they’re trying to think about what they’re supposed to do, and you just hope they get more and more comfortable with the system so that by the time we get to our first game, they’re thinking less and reacting more.

Q. How difficult is it to get the kids that are in the program that you didn’t recruit to trust you and your theories and what you’re trying to get done, and do you think that you have every single person in this program bought in?

DAVE CLAWSON: No. I mean, you can be in a program for 15 years and you don’t have every single player in the program bought in. You know, I think it’s a matter of getting the right guys to buy in, and I believe the right guys are bought in. I think the leaders in our program, the guys that we’re counting on, have seen themselves get stronger. A lot of it is the little measures that you don’t see. Our football team just had, in the spring, the best GPA that a Wake Forest football team has had since they’ve been keeping track in 1999. I take that on a big-scale picture guys are doing what we’re asking them to do.  But the day one meeting, it is what it is. I did not recruit any of those guys. They did not choose Wake Forest to play for our staff. But I treat every single one of those young men as if we recruited them, and the ones that treat us as they came there to play for us, that marriage has gone very well. But it’s transition. There are some guys that were in that room back in December that aren’t in that room now, and some of them chose to move on, and that’s fine. We want the guys there that want to be there.

Q. Could you describe the role that you believe or you would like to see Orville Reynolds have this year? Is he a guy that might draw a Michael Campanaro comparisons or is it way too early to make that kind of a comparison?

DAVE CLAWSON: Yeah, it’s too early, but Orville certainly has a unique skill set. He can catch the ball. He can make people miss in space. We’ve moved him to tailback just because at that position between graduation and attrition we were decimated, and that went much better the second half of spring than the first half. We just kind of see with Orville how durable is he, how many hits can he take, how many carries can he handle, and when you’re playing back in the backfield, you’ve got to be able to protect, too. So that’s an element of his game that we’ve got to get a better evaluation of. But I would say this: It’s difficult for me to imagine us having a really good season if Orville Reynolds doesn’t have a great year for us. He needs to be a key guy and be a major contributor.

Q. Opening the season you start out with Louisiana Monroe, who in the past few years has not only competed with power five conference teams but has defeated them. Are you guys ready for that game?

DAVE CLAWSON: Yeah, they beat us last year, so in terms of getting our football team to take them seriously, I mean, those guys came to our stadium last year and beat us. So we respect them. They’re a good football team. They’re well coached. I’ve known Todd Berry for years. I’ve watched his team on film for over 20 years. They know what they’re doing. People talk about our ACC openers. We’ve got certainly a stretch of games before we get into the ACC that are against good football teams.

Q. To that point, your opener notwithstanding, your schedule really does look to be backloaded. Is it a little bit in your favor that you get a chance to wade in before getting to the deep end?

DAVE CLAWSON: Yeah, I would always love to have our non-conference schedule before our conference schedule, and it’s very unique how our schedule breaks this year. It’s four non-conference games, our six Atlantic Division games, and then our two crossovers, so it’s a very clean schedule break.  You know, I always feel if you have confidence as a football staff that your team is going to get better as the year goes on. I’ve always preferred to have the more important games and the bigger games later in the year, so I like the fact that we get to play four football games with our team and learn a little bit more about them before we head into ACC play.

Q. What have you learned about the Wake Forest culture to this point?

DAVE CLAWSON: I mean, it’s a very special place and it’s a very unique place, and I think we take great pride that we’re able to maintain an academic level and the standards that we have academically and also compete at the very highest level of college football. It’s been done at Wake successfully before. Our goal is to build it and then the challenge will be to sustain it. I was excited when I got the job, and I’m even more excited now that all those goals are attainable.

Q. This is a league that defensive end-wise, really good on the edge rush and also containment. How important is that to what your defensive philosophy is, and I don’t know kind of a second part of this, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to break down film, but just your thoughts on Vick Beasley at Clemson?

DAVE CLAWSON: Yeah, we’ve really focused on our first four games, so we haven’t done a lot of intensive film study on Clemson yet. But I think when you have an edge rusher that can change a game, that’s a dynamic part to any defense. I think a cover corner, a three technique and a rush end, if you’ve got those three elements, you give yourself a chance to be a very good defense. We certainly want to get a guy on the edge that can win those one-on-ones, but I think as a coach if you don’t have that guy, you’ve got to give different people and defensive packages an opportunity to be that guy. So for instance, at other places I’ve been, maybe in 3rd down that becomes a linebacker that comes off the edge or it’s a blitz with a nickel pass rusher, but you’ve got to create a guy that gives you edge pressure. So again, I think that’s critical in any conference, especially this one.

Q. You talked about Reynolds needing to have a big year on offense. Who are some of the other guys you’re hoping will step up and sort of emerge and become offensive threats?

DAVE CLAWSON: Well, just in follow-up to your first question, I don’t know who our quarterback is, but it’s hard to imagine you ever having a good football season without a quarterback stepping up and having a good year, and we’re hopeful that’ll happen. But certainly Matt James is a big receiver that has not played a lot but has at times flashed and shown high end ability. Can he do that consistently, that’ll be Matt’s challenge. Our slot receiver position, whether it’s EJ Scott or Johnny Armstrong, that’s a position in our offense that has to be able to get open against safeties, against linebackers and get separation when teams play us in man coverage. And then also the tight end position. If you get played with a lot of two high shell, that guy better be able to win against inside linebackers. For me it’s quarterback, tailback, and those two receiver positions and the tight end, and we’ve got good candidates. I’m just hoping after going through spring football and after going through a summer that those guys are much more comfortable with the offense and are able to execute at a higher level and play faster just because they’re more familiar with it.

Q. When you reflect on the season, how do you think you’ll be able to evaluate progress?

DAVE CLAWSON: (Laughing). Well, we want to win football games. That’s the bottom line. Our goal every season is the — the minimal goal is going to be to get to a bowl and have a winning season, then we want to win the Atlantic, then we want to win the ACC, then we want to be in the college football player. How realistic those goals are, I don’t know yet. I’m a new coach in a new league with a new team. We’ll certainly find out quick enough. We open up the conference at Louisville and at Florida State, so those are two pretty good teams, and we’ll find out where we’re at. But I like our guys. I like our team. They’re working hard. We’re certainly going to face some adversity this year, and hopefully we’ll be better for it.



Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.