WINSTON-SALEM — More than a third of the way through preseason football camp, Coach Dave Clawson of Wake Forest has yet to see the defense he hopes to put on the field for the opener Sept. 1 against Tulane.
The target date for the return of several key players was moved back this week as Clawson continues to evaluate the depth chart at defensive end, cornerback and safety. Clawson said it’s not surprising there is a concentration of injuries in the secondary, where safety Cameron Glenn and cornerback Amari Henderson have missed a week of practice with sore hamstrings.
With Dionte Austin also sidelined Monday with an undisclosed injury, the Deacons were down to three full-time cornerbacks: senior Brad Watson, freshman Essang Bassey and senior John Armstrong. Redshirt junior Josh Okonye, the Deacons’ nickel back who practices more often at safety, was running second-team cornerback with Armstrong.
“The nature of that position, if you’re a secondary player or a receiver, a hamstring is a lot more limiting than if you’re a tight end or a defensive end,’’ Clawson said after the first of two practices Monday. “Because at that position, the breaks are quicker, you have to open your stride up more. So I think it’s always tougher for a secondary guy or a receiver to come back from a hamstring or an ankle sprain.
“Sometimes the linemen and those guys — because there’s not as much of the quick-twitch stuff or the burst stuff — sometimes those guys can come back sooner.’’
Clawson said late last week that he planned to keep Glenn, Henderson and defensive end Duke Ejiofor sidelined through the Saturday scrimmage and the Sunday off-day and hoped to have them back at practice Monday. By Monday morning, he had adjusted the schedule of return for at least Glenn and Ejiofor.
Glenn, a redshirt sophomore, played in 10 games last season. Ejiofor, a redshirt junior, led the Deacons with 4.5 sacks last season, despite missing the first five games while recovering from a concussion.
Redshirt senior Ryan Janvion and redshirt freshman Jessie Bates have been running first team at safety and redshirt sophomore Rashawn Shaw started in Ejiofor’s spot in Saturday’s first scrimmage of the season. Sophomore Chris Calhoun has been battling Shaw for playing time.
“Glenn and Duke, we’re hoping we have Thursday,’’ Clawson said. “We kind of said ‘Hey, they have muscle strains. Let’s give them (Monday’s two-a-days) off, let’s give them to two singles (on Tuesday and Wednesday) and Thursday is now two weeks before the game.’
“We’ll have them practice one of those two practices (Thursday) and see how it goes. Hopefully they get through it and can go Friday, and then you give them limited snaps on Saturday.’’
Clawson is less certain about Henderson. A promising player from Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, Henderson was vying for playing time last August as a freshman before incurring a hamstring injury in preseason practice.
The injury resulted in Henderson redshirting and Austin, who was a freshman from Calvert Hall High School in Baltimore, being thrown into the fray. Austin responded well enough to start the final four games.
“(Henderson) had that last year,’’ Clawson said. “When a guy has a hamstring for the first time, we try to get him back. When somebody has a history of it, you’re going to be very cautious.
“You don’t want to bring him back at 75 or 80 percent.’’
Tight end Cam Serigne missed practice time last week as well as Saturday’s scrimmage with a strained calf muscle. But Clawson said he has seen enough of players like Serigne and Ejiofor to know what to expect when they’re healthy. He’ll be more patient with the proven veterans.
“There are certain guys you know that can play,’’ Clawson said. “I know Duke can play and I know Cam Serigne can play. You want those guys to get reps, but it’s more important that they’re healthy. Those guys could probably get to game week and get ready and be fine.
“It’s with the younger players — sometimes with those injuries you find yourself pushing younger players because they need the reps, or they’re not ready. And if they’re not healthy enough to get the reps, they’re not ready.’’