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Wake Forest proved that 2006's ACC title wasn't a fluke. The Demon Deacons were in the thick of the division race again in 2007. The defense returns nine starters, meaning filling some holes on offense ? most notably at wide receiver ? will be the top priority in spring practice. Here's a look at Wake Forest heading into spring drills.
Quarterback Riley Skinner returns to lead the Wake Forest offense.
Offense?5: TB Josh Adams, T Joseph Birdsong, WR Chip Brinkman, G Barrett McMillin, QB Riley Skinner.
Defense?9: LB Stanley Arnoux, LB Aaron Curry, CB Brandon Ghee, LB Chantz McClinic, FS Kevin Patterson, NG Boo Robinson, E Matthew Robinson, CB Alphonso Smith, SS Chip Vaughn.
Special teams?1: K/P Sam Swank.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Smith is an All-America candidate at cornerback who leads a secondary that returns all four starters. Curry and Arnoux are back after combining for 165 tackles at linebacker last season. The Demon Deacons also should have one of the ACC's top tailbacks in Adams, who rushed for 953 yards and 11 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last year. Swank gives Wake Forest one of the nation's top combination kicker/punters.
HELP IS NEEDED
The loss of Steve Justice leaves Wake Forest significantly weaker at center; in addition, returning starting guard Chris DeGeare is academically ineligible for the season. The Demon Deacons also must replace wide receivers Kenneth Moore and Kevin Marion, who combined to catch 116 passes for 1,203 yards last season.
KEEP AN EYE ON
RB Brandon Pendergrass: This redshirt freshman looked impressive enough in practice last season that he ought to earn some carries this fall, even though Adams returns in the backfield.
DT John Russell: After earning plenty of playing time as a reserve last year, Russell ? a junior ? should have more of a featured role this season as Wake Forest attempts to replace Zach Stukes.
WR Jordan Williams: His 62-yard touchdown against N.C. State and his 43-yard reception against Vanderbilt late last season indicated Williams ? a sophomore ? might have the big-play ability the Demon Deacons need as they look for some new wide receivers.
HIS TIME IS NOW
LBs Dominique Midgett and Matt Woodlief are former three-star prospects who have struggled to find roles beyond special teams thus far in their careers. Although Wake Forest returns all three starting linebackers, Midgett (a junior) and Woodlief (a sophomore) could contend for playing time at weakside linebacker.
Wake Forest's success the past two seasons resulted in some changes to the coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Dean Hood left to become coach at Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky and quarterbacks coach Jeff Mullen became the offensive coordinator at West Virginia. Linebackers coach Brad Lambert was promoted to defensive coordinator. The Deacons return plenty of players on both sides of the ball ? particularly defense ? and are hoping a veteran lineup will compensate for the defections on the coaching staff.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.