Tudor: Deacons on a slow path to comeback

August 31, 2011 

Wake Forest Football

In this photo made Aug. 5, 2010, Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe directs the team during football practice in Winston-Salem, N.C.

CHUCK BURTON — AP

The gradual slide that undermined Wake Forest's football program after its glorious 2006 season should be over.

A second straight 1-7 finish in the ACC almost certainly won't occur, but the question facing Jim Grobe and his team now is, how long will it take for the recovery process to gain true traction?

After going 11-3 and winning the league championship five years ago, the Deacons hardly stepped off a cliff. They went 5-3 in the ACC en route to a 9-4 record in 2007, then 4-4 and 8-5 in 2008 and a still competitive 3-5, 5-7 in 2009.

But what began as a minor leak in 2008 became a full-blown dam break last season.

"We couldn't stop the bleeding because we couldn't gain any sort of momentum in two areas of play at once," Grobe said shortly after a miserable nine-game losing streak was halted finally with a 34-13, season-ending win at Vanderbilt last year.

The entire offseason was devoted to retooling confidence and on-field leadership as much as on shoring up the depth chart.

"We're not a 'reload' program. We're a team that develops players and relies on (veterans) to play their best," Grobe said at the outset of preseason camp. "If they don't, we can't compete in this league."

With his biggest, deepest and most experienced offensive line since the ones on Wake Forest's 2006 and '07 teams, Grobe hopes ball-possession blocking will allow an equally experienced defensive unit to avoid the lethal workload that allowed opponents a staggering 35.8 points per game last year.

The first two games will be difficult - at Syracuse Thursday night, then back to Winston-Salem for N.C. State on Sept. 10 - the Deacons are not without assets.

There's a proven quarterback in sophomore Tanner Price in a season when several ACC teams are turning to new starters. The league road schedule - at Boston College, Duke, North Carolina and Clemson - certainly isn't impossible.

If all goes as it should, Wake Forest should enter its final games against Maryland and Vanderbilt with a shot at a break-even finish.

"We've got something going on right now that feels right again," Grobe said.

Another 2006 explosion probably isn't in the works, but a step back in the right direction is there for the taking.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com

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