Wake Forest returns 15 of its top 20 tacklers from last season, including seven at linebacker (four outside and three inside) to make up one of the ACC's most competitive corps.
Kyle Wilber, a long-time pillar of leadership and an impact player, moved on to the Dallas Cowboys, but redshirt junior Justin Jackson looks to fill in nicely at outside linebacker.
Jackson, who moved from inside linebacker in the spring, recorded 59 (37 solo) tackles to finish fifth on the team as a reserve for most of last season. He also made 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
"He's a jet off the edge," Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said. "He makes offensive tackles notice when they sit there, because he's one of the faster kids on our football team. For a linebacker that's saying a lot."
New outside linebackers coach Derrick Jackson said while Jackson is getting most of the reps he does not have the position sewn up, which has fostered an intense competition on the other side between Zachary Allen and Joey Ehrmann during training camp.
Ehrmann, a redshirt senior and the returning starter, is being pushed by the redshirt sophomore Allen, who saw action in 12 games last season as a reserve.
Allen spent more time with the starting defense than Ehrmann the first week of pre-season practice, but Jackson said that does not mean much.
"I think a lot of that is simply trying to get him as many reps as possible to get him up to speed," Jackson said. "Joey [Ehrmann] has already played a lot in this defensive scheme. He doesn't need as much work at this point and time, but the two of those guys I think are going to have one heck of a battle at that right outside backer position for us."
Grobe added Ehrmann will have to fight for his job. An athletic 6-foot-2 and 240-pounds, Allen brings the size and physicality Wilber brought to the position, making him an appealing option to Jackson. Derricus Ellis, who Jackson said may be a forgotten name, has also shown good effort and physicality in camp.
Moving from outside to inside Brian Knorr has a trio of grizzled veterans competing for the two starting spot in Scott Betros, Riley Haynes and Mike Olson, who combined for nearly 170 tackles last season. Grobe said Olson is special, and that Betros and Haynes will have to fight to keep him from starting.
"Those guys [Betros, Haynes and Olson] really need to be our bell cows inside, then we got young guys like Brandon Chubb, who had a great spring and has started out fast," Knorr said. "It's a good position that needs to be very, very productive this year."
"We're asking [Scott] Betros to play a lot of multi positions and he's done a nice job. Scott's typically been a Mike backer and we need him to play both Will and Mike, so it's a little bit of a change for him, but he's doing a nice job. We're asking him to do different things for his skillset, and he's proven so far he can do them."
Without reading too much into Knorr's comments Wake may start Haynes and Olson, while playing Betros at both spots on a significant basis to give itself a solid three-man rotation and time for the redshirt freshman Chubb to develop.
Grobe and Knorr said Betros' shoulder is fine and completely rehabbed after missing all of spring practice, because of off-season surgery.
Betros and Haynes are what Grobe likes to call thumpers as they bring strength and hard-hitting toughness to the position. While Chubb and Olson have those qualities they are more hybrid-like.
"He's a tackle-to-tackle guy, and really did a pretty nice job showing some range and making plays out on the perimeter [during spring practice]," Grobe said.
Faces of the future
Grobe and his staff signed three linebackers in its 2012 recruiting class, (outside) Steve Donatell, (outside) Kevis Jones and (inside) Teddy Matthews. They will likely redshirt, but provide athletic ability and key potential for years to come.