When Dave Clawson arrived at Wake Forest, he was concerned about building any kind of offensive line at all.
In Clawson’s first few seasons, the Deacons set records in futility in the running game and in sacks allowed. Clawson was forced to throw young players into the mix right away.
The line showed slight improvement last season, and Clawson is hoping for much more this year with a much more experienced group. The current starting line features four redshirt juniors and one redshirt sophomore, and the overall unit boasts 80 career starts among them.
So finally, Clawson can focus on building a second unit, and seeing who can fit that role has been one of the stories of fall camp. Again, he’s having to turn to youth, including a true freshman.
What’s the squad?
The Deacons’ depth has been thinned in two ways. First, the Deacons lost T.J. Haney to transfer last fall. Haney, who would have been a redshirt sophomore this season, is now at Charleston Southern. Second, senior co-captain A’Lique Terry has missed most of the fall with an injury.
So Clawson played five reserves in the opener, with Nathan Gilliam the oldest as a redshirt sophomore. Gilliam’s ability to play both center and guard should help him see plenty of playing time. Je’Vionte’ Nash, Tyler Watson and Taleni Suhren are redshirt freshmen, and Sean Maginn is a true freshman.
Nash has been the breakout player in the group so far. He competed with Benzinger for the starting spot at right tackle throughout the fall, and Clawson played him in several spots along the line in the opener. Clawson called out Nash’s pass-protection specifically.
Watson has been playing as a backup guard, and Suhren at tackle. Suhren, who was in for 18 plays in the opener, has been a frustrating case so far, but the staff continues to have high hopes for him. Suhren was the No. 54 rated tackle in his class by 247 Sports’ consensus rankings and had a bevy of Power Five offers, but he was bothered by injuries throughout his redshirt season.
Who has stood out?
The surprise of the group is Maginn. During fall practice, Clawson didn’t list Maginn among the freshman who might play, but he opened the season as the No. 2 left guard. He played 17 plays in the opener.
The move makes sense just from the standpoint of breaking up the freshman class, if nothing else. Clawson recruited five offensive lineman, so playing one right away helps loosen a potential logjam later on.
Maginn was not highly rated, eventually ranking No. 105 in the consensus rankings, although he was at 121 when the Deacons flipped him from Arkansas State. He also had offers from Air Force, Appalachian State and a variety of smaller schools.
Maginn combines a 6-3, 280-pound frame with the agility of a wrestler, which he was in high school. Clawson hopes that’s enough to get him to contribute as a reserve this season.
While all of this should help the Deacons show improvement this season, it bodes well for next year when Clawson should return all 10 of the players currently on his depth chart.