Signing Day is less of a big deal in Raleigh than in other ACC cities, however, because O'Brien is a big fan of letting the new guys sit and wait their turn. He openly said that he hoped this was a "redshirt class," and most of the 20 signees can expect to wait until at least 2012 before getting the chance to make their contributions to the Wolfpack in anything other than practice.
TOP OF THE CLASS
WR Hakeem Flowers (Wade Hampton HS, Simpsonville, S.C.) -- Flowers adds some badly-needed size and athleticism to a group of wide receivers that is largely untested. He is one of the recruits who could see early playing time, given the team's lack of depth at his position.
P Will Baumann (J.T. Hoggard HS, Wilmington, N.C.) -- Baumann is the one guy who should definitely play as a freshman -- coach Tom O'Brien all but anointed him the starting punter on Signing Day. Scout.com has him as the third-best prep punter in the country.
K Niklas Sade (Wakefield HS, Wake Forest, N.C.) -- Sade was rated the third-best high-school kicker in the country by the folks at Scout.com. He enters a Wolfpack program that loses Josh Czajkowski to graduation, and Sade should know what it will take to replace him -- he's worked with Czajkowski's former trainer, two-time Lou Groza candidate Dan Orner.
-- North Carolina State saw the early entry deadline for the NFL Draft pass without any of its underclassmen declaring. None were expected to do so, since Russell Wilson isn't affected by that anyway since he has already graduated, but tight end George Bryan was a candidate after his All-ACC season in 2010.
-- Running backs coach Jason Swepson left the team to take the head coaching job at Elon College. Coach Tom O'Brien had not replaced Swepson by Signing Day, since he felt he had enough staff members to complete recruiting anyway.
Practice begins/ends: March 17/April 16
Practice priorities: The most obvious priority is to get Mike Glennon comfortable with the passing offense and his new wide receivers, since that will be the biggest transition for the squad in 2011. Adjusting to life without Nate Irving and Marcus Lemon will be key for the defense, but that unit was young in 2010 and grew up a lot as the season progressed.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our plans are (Russell Wilson) is not coming back. He'll be a baseball player. We have to move forward with (Mike) Glennon. We've planned for this day and Michael's ready to do it." -- Coach Tom O'Brien to the Raleigh News and Observer, about his team's quarterback situation.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
KEY LOSSES: Offensively, the passing game took the biggest hit this offseason. If Russell Wilson chooses to concentrate on a baseball career full-time, as most expect, the Wolfpack will be replacing both its quarterback and its entire group of starting wide receivers. Both Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer are gone, so projected starting quarterback Mike Glennon will have to work on his timing with the new crew early.
Linebacker Nate Irving is a huge loss defensively, both for his on-field impact and his leadership. Defensive Marcus Lemon will also be missed, as will dependable kicker Josh Czajkowski.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2011:
QB Mike Glennon -- He's the man of the hour in Raleigh, finally getting the opportunity to win the starting quarterback job. Glennon has NFL size and arm-strength, and now will need to show that he also has pro-level decision-making ability and accuracy to go with it, particularly since he'll be working with a largely-untested receiving corps.
WR-KR T.J. Graham -- Graham didn't have the impact that many hoped in his junior season. Already the leading kick returner in N.C. State history, he had six receptions in the season opener against Western Carolina but struggled to get involved in the passing attack against ACC opponents. He'll get an opportunity to get more snaps with Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer gone, and the coaching staff would love to see the ball in the playmaker's hands more often, but he will need to show greater receiving skills to take full advantage.
TE George Bryan -- The All-ACC tight end in 2010, Bryan can expect to play an even more critical role as a senior. With a first-year starting quarterback and a less-experienced group of wideouts, he is likely to find himself the security blanket in clutch situations more often in 2011.
LB Audie Cole -- Cole had a breakout junior season and showed himself as one of the best tacklers on the team. He'll be the leader on the defense as a senior, and along with Terrell Manning and Dwayne Maddox will anchor a linebacking corps that should be one of the top groups in the ACC.
--OT Andrew Wallace underwent knee surgery to repair an ACL injury, and is expected to be out until mid-October.
--OL Sam Jones left the Wolfpack for what the coaching staff termed family reasons, and is not expected to return.
--LB Colby Jackson, who contributed mostly on special teams, will apply for a medical hardship from the NCAA rather than returning to the Wolfpack. He has a reoccurring knee injury that likely spells the end of his football career.