WINSTON-SALEM — The early-morning fog that has shrouded the practice fields at Wake Forest cleared a bit — at least metaphorically — by the end of the Deacons’ first full-pads practice of preseason Tuesday.
In the clearing stood Jaboree Williams, a 6-0, 235-pound junior, who needed less than a week to emerge as starter at inside linebacker spot manned last season by Brandon Chubb, an All-ACC linebacker now with the Los Angeles Rams.
“Jaboree’s going to be the starting (weak side) linebacker,’’ Coach Dave Clawson said.
The competition thinned dramatically last week when Zack Wary withdrew from the team for undisclosed medical reasons. Wary, a 6-4, 235-pound redshirt sophomore, battled Williams for the position all spring.
In announcing the end of Wary’s career, Clawson said the competition would be between Williams and redshirt junior Grant Dawson, with redshirt freshmen Justin Strnad and Nate Mays and freshman Jacquez Williams vying for a spot in the substitution rotation. But in the first five days of practice, Jaboree Williams lined up with the first team, alongside Marquel Lee, a senior standout who has started all 24 games the last two seasons at (strong side) linebacker.
Jaboree Williams has also played all 24 games as a reserve, recording 13 tackles each season. His most extensive action came last a 41-3 season-opening victory over Elon last September, when he was on the field for 33 plays.
“The thing now is just getting Grant Dawson rolling in with those (Jaboree Williams and Lee) too,’’ Clawson said. “It goes back to where we hoped to have a pair and a pair. And now you have a pair and a spare.
“Those three guys – Grant, Marquel and Jaboree – are the three guys who are going to play. We’ve got to develop depth with a fourth there.’’
Although their roles are less defined, rover Demetrius Kemp, cornerback Dionte Austin, safety Jessie Bates, defensive tackle Willie Yarbary and defensive end Paris Black have spent most of the time with the first team.
Kemp, a redshirt sophomore, is competing against senior Thomas Brown, and Yarbary is one of a platoon of defensive linemen who will be looking to minimize the loss of Zeek Rodney, a junior who will miss this season while taking a leave of absence.
Meanwhile, Austin, Bates and Black are getting longer looks than they might otherwise because their main competition is not available.
Cornerback Amari Henderson, safety Cameron Glenn and defensive end Duke Ejiofor have all missed practices with hamstring injuries.
Clawson said that Kemp and Brown will see extensive action this season, regardless of who starts at rover in the Sept. 1 opener against Tulane.
“Those two will both play,’’ Clawson said. “The key at that position is that if we can keep both of those guys healthy, now we can use both on special teams.
“And the other thing, you could see on third down (Tuesday), now we’re playing Thomas Brown at linebacker in those packages. So on third down, maybe Marquel is the (middle linebacker) and those two become our two outside linebackers.’’
Clawson said he’s feeling good about the potential depth at defensive tackle, where keeping fresh players on the field is critical. Yarbary, a 6-2, 280-pound redshirt sophomore, has plenty of competition both for the starting positon and for playing time.
“At defensive tackle it’s going to be (Josh) Banks and Willie and Shelldon (Lewinson) and Chris Stewart,’’ Clawson said. “We want Elontae Bateman and (Sulaiman) Kumara to come on.
“But those are the six guys, and whether it’s a three- or a four- or a five-man rotation that’s what we’re trying to figure out in the next two weeks.’’
Clawson said he doesn’t expect the injuries to Henderson, Glenn and Ejiofor to be long-term problems.
Glenn, a redshirt sophomore, started 10 games at safety last season and Ryan Javion, a redshirt senior, started 11. But both have plenty of competition for playing time.
“Bates had a great spring because Ryan was out,’’ Clawson said. “Now Ryan’s getting the reps because (Glenn) is out.
“Those three guys are all going to roll. They’re all going to play. You look back there and you say ‘Who’s four?’ Is it Josh Okonye? Is it going to be Traveon Redd, is it going to be Luke Masterson?
“Who’s going to step up?’’