There probably isn’t a position group at Wake Forest that’s better versed in next-man-up mentality than the linebackers.
That became the case last season, when depth had been whittled to one healthy scholarship linebacker by the seventh game of the year. And it’s ringing true again in the spring, with the lone healthy linebacker from that day, Justin Strnad, sidelined by a minor injury.
Without Strnad, Wake Forest was down to three scholarship linebackers for Tuesday morning’s practice.
“We definitely had the same injury bug last year,” rising sophomore linebacker Ryan Smenda Jr. said. “But you’ve just gotta be ready at all times, because you never know who’s going to be next up, because if you’re not paying attention in the room, it’s definitely going to show on the field.”
Smenda, Jake Simpson and Chase Monroe, along with walk-on Jake Galli, are the healthy remaining linebackers for the Deacons — aside from rover Ja’Cquez Williams.
Strnad, Wake Forest’s leading tackler last season, is expected to miss one or two weeks with a leg injury suffered in Friday night’s scrimmage. Jeff Burley has been held out of practice for the last couple of weeks and DJ Taylor has already been lost for the season.
The official word on Strnad’s injury comes as something of a relief for the Deacons, especially after word that graduate transfer Miles Fox suffered a ruptured Achilles and will miss the season.
“(Fox) had surgery today and we’re just kinda hoping that everything is OK. We’ll see what happens. He’ll be out for the season,” Coach Dave Clawson said.
Linebacker is the second defensive position that’s seen numbers dwindle this spring. At safety, Luke Masterson and Traveon Redd are the last men standing, while Nasir Greer and Zion Keith suffered injuries that ended their springs, Peyton Woulard suffered a season-ending injury and Coby Davis is still recovering from a torn ACL in the season-opening game at Tulane.
Because of the limited depth at Wake Forest, Clawson said the spring game will have a different format than in past seasons.
“It’s going to be more of a spring scrimmage. We’ll work some special teams in there, it’ll be offense versus defense. We will have a scoring system that I guarantee you, nobody will understand. Probably including the coaching staff,” Clawson said dryly. “We will make it complicated enough that whoever wins it, people won’t be able to figure out why they won it.”
Injuries threatened to be the overarching story of last season before the rally in Raleigh, domination in Durham and nail-biting finish in the Birmingham Bowl.
Now injuries are again taking center stage for the Deacons.
“It’s definitely different, you know, Justin is more of the vocal leader out there,” Smenda said of Tuesday’s practice without Strnad. “He knows all of the different matchups and stuff like that, he knows where to get guys aligned if we’re not aligned.
“But you know, that’s just the game of football, somebody’s down, next man up. That just proves that everybody in the linebacker room needs to know what their job is and what the corrections are.”
Also in injury news for the Deacons, Arkeem Byrd has been medically disqualified and has moved to being a student coach. Byrd suffered a gruesome knee injury last spring — after changing from running back to cornerback — and spent about a full year rehabbing the injury.
“He is now Coach Byrd,” Clawson said. “So he’ll be similar to the way that A’Lique Terry was or Elontae Bateman was, that he’ll be a student coach, he’ll travel with us, he’s going to help in the secondary and he’ll still be a part of the program.”
Terry, a former offensive lineman, has returned to the Deacons as a quality control coach for the offense.
Fox transferred from Old Dominion, where his season ended after four games because of a plantar plate tear. Last week was the first time that Fox was able to practice in any capacity with the Deacons, and Friday night he suffered the injury in a non-contact drill before the scrimmage began. Clawson said it was too early to say whether Fox will return to the field for the Deacons, in what would be a sixth year of college football in 2020.