Winston-Salem, NC – Wake Forest head football coach Dave Clawson on Saturday put the Demon Deacons through a split squad practice at the Doc Martin Football Practice Complex and McCreary Field House. The veteran players, along with the starters and second teamers, practiced for two hours before the freshmen and third teamers were tutored for the final portion of the session.
The practice of the split squad is a technique that Clawson has found to be very effective during his career.
“What it allows us to do is, for the upper classmen, it makes their practice shorter, so they get out here, they get their work, they’re not sitting around while the (third teamers) are getting their reps,” said Clawson. “For them, it’s a much more efficient, quicker practice. We had them out of here by 9:45 and they’re off until 3:15. The biggest thing in camp is you want to stay healthy, you want to get the body right. We get them up early, we practice them for two hours, they now have five and a half hours off their feet until they have a meeting. I think that helps us keep them healthy.
“The other thing I love about it is that with the young guys, it lets us focus on them,” Clawson continued. “Whenever the whole team is out here, we’re trying to go 1-0. So our focus is going to be on the older guys, getting things perfect and detailed with them. By not having (the older) guys here, we get to coach these guys and spend all our time and all our attention on them which I think benefits them as well.”
One of Clawson’s messages to the freshmen on Saturday was that your instructors and mentors are not limited to just the coaching staff.
“The upper classmen, they’ve been through it,” said Clawson of training camp. “They know the drill. They know the expectations of camp and what we have to get done. These (young) guys are still trying to learn. They’re trying to learn how to hold the football, how to pursue the football, how to finish a practice, how to finish a rep, how to thud. You don’t have time to coach that stuff when the whole team is out here. When it’s just these (young) guys, you can coach that stuff. You get some good fundamental work done. I think for them, a lot of times if they don’t pursue or they don’t finish a play when the whole team’s out here, you’re on to the next rep. Now you can coach it and that helps establish the culture of your program for the next four years.”
Both the veterans and the youngsters came together for the special teams period of practice and Clawson was able to lend some clarity to the kicking game which must replace Mike Weaver this fall. Among the candidates are freshman Nick Sciba, redshirt freshman Zach Murphy, and a pair of grad transfers in Darren Ford from Hope College and Eric Osteen, a graduate of Army West Point.
“(The kicking game is) encouraging more than anything,” said Clawson. “Yesterday both Murph and Sciba had a really good day. I think they were perfect on their extra points and field goals. Zach Murphy, so far, as far as PAT and field goal, has done well. Nick Sciba is very improved. On the kickoffs, I think the two grad transfers are the two battling for it. During our kickoff period the other day, both Eric (Osteen) and Ford, those guys did significantly better than we had anybody do in the spring. We certainly have enough numbers. I think it’s going to come down to Dom (Maggio) as the punter backed up by Ford or Murph. I think the battle for the field goals will be a three-way battle between Murph, Sciba and Ford. And the kickoff job will come down to Osteen and Ford.”
Clawson, who enters his fifth season at Wake Forest and his 19th year as a head coach, addressed the new kickoff return rule which allows the receiving team to fair catch a kickoff inside the 25-yard line and have it count as a touchback. Specifically, he was asked if the new rules would affect the way his team handled kickoffs.
“I think it’s a game by game basis,” said Clawson. “What is the returning threat? If somebody has a great returner back there and you’re holding your breath every time you kick it, then I think our plan is no different than a year ago. You want to kick the ball in the end zone and maybe occasionally have complimentary kicks that make returns difficult. If there’s a team that we think that maybe we can get after and there’s the opportunity to kick the ball high between the 10 and 5-yard line and make them make a decision and we have an opportunity to pin people inside the 25, we’re going to do that.
“A lot of the rule was for safety reasons but maybe it was an intended consequence of it that it puts a lot more strategy into that play,” said Clawson. “What do you do on kickoff? Do you dare them to return it? As a return team, then you’ve got to make decisions. We’ve talked to some NFL people in terms of what they do and it’s really interesting. Let’s say a kickoff goes barely into the end zone. Some teams that we’ve talked to actually teach their guys to figure out how long the ball was in the air. So the returner has to have an internal clock and if that ball was in the air more than four seconds, then I’m staying in. But if it was a line drive and the hangtime was, say, 3.4 seconds, now it’s a returnable opportunity to get it past the 20 or past the 25. You debate just how much information you want to give your players. The last thing you want them doing is sitting there counting and the next thing you know is they’re not catching the ball.”
Practice five of preseason camp is scheduled for Sunday, August 5 at the Doc Martin Complex and McCreary Field House. After four days of acclimatization, the Demon Deacons will don full pads on Sunday.
Wake Forest opens its 2018 season at Tulane on Thursday, August 30 and opens at home against Towson at BB&T Field on Sept. 8.