Pack Wants To Be Even Better
NC State finished 2010 ranked nationally. The Wolfpack won nine games and was a couple of plays away from playing in Charlotte for the ACC title game. However, head coach Tom O'Brien knows that his program must continue to build and not be complacent with last season's surprising success.
"We want to be better than we were last year," O'Brien said at the Triangle Pigskin Preview. "We're not trying to maintain. We got to situations where we lost three games in the last minute of the game, and we need to find a way to get over the thump.
"Certainly, it's hard the first time you get in that situation, it was all new for these kids, but hopefully we'll be a little more poised and a little better prepared."
NC State returns a wealth of experience on both sides of the ball, and O'Brien seems to think the pieces are in place to make another run at an Atlantic Division title.
"With the experience we have on this football team we want to make sure we give ourselves an opportunity to get to Charlotte this year and play in the title game."
Glennon The Key?
One of the major reasons for O'Brien's optimism seems to be quarterback Mike Glennon. O'Brien was so pleased with Glennon's development that he released starting quarterback Russell Wilson from his scholarship in April, opening the door for Glennon, a redshirt junior, to open the 2011 season as the starter.
"Michael Glennon has done a wonderful job for us," said O'Brien. "He has been patiently waiting his turn. He's made every practice, he's made every strength and conditioning thing we've had the last four years. He's ready to go."
Glennon, who checks in at 6-foot-6 and 217 pounds, should allow NC State to implement an offensive system similar to what O'Brien and offensive coordinator Dana Bible ran at Boston College. According to O'Brien, he made strides in the spring and is in a position to succeed for the Wolfpack.
"He had a great spring practice," O'Brien said of Glennon. "As I've said on numerous occasions, he reminds us of the four kids we had at Boston College who have all played in the NFL. He will be fine for us."
Wideouts Lack Experience
When discussing his offense, O'Brien instantly started pointing out the inexperience at wide receiver. NC State lost three wideouts, Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, and Darrell Davis, to graduation and the trio started for the past three seasons.
"Certainly offensively the biggest losses come at the wide receiver position," he said. "We have no experience out there right now and that's the biggest thing that we're concerned with on the offense."
With that being said, he seemed pleased with the returning offensive line, which brings back four starters, and the depth at tailback. NC State returns every scholarship tailback from 2010 when the Wolfpack opened the year with two freshmen, Mustafa Greene and Dean Haynes, at the top of the depth chart.
"At running back our situation is much better off than we were," said O'Brien. "I think we'll be fine.
"On the offensive line we have a lot of kids back who have played. We don't know if we have a lot of depth there, but we have guys that have been in there and played."
While O'Brien seemed confident in Glennon as a replacement for Wilson, he commented on the fact that losing Nate Irving to graduation is certainly a loss.
Irving, a consensus All-American in 2010, led the Wolfpack with 93 total tackles and served as the captain of an NC State defense that ranks third nationally in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss. Irving totaled 20.5 tackles for a loss on the season and 5.5 sacks.
His success came after suffering a series of injuries throughout his time at NC State, including an automobile accident that could have ended his career.
"Certainly losing Nate Irving was a tough loss," said O"Brien. "We didn't know what we had sitting here last year at this time talking about Nate Irving... if he was ever going to play a down or not.
"He had such a wonderful year for us and we're so happy for him. In five years we got one full year out of him, but it was a great year for us."
The Pack returns two linebackers, Audie Cole and Terrell Manning, who started every game in 2010 and are expected to contend for preseason All-ACC honors. A couple of position changes at linebacker could, according to O'Brien, perhaps make the Wolfpack even better in some areas this fall.
"We moved Audie Cole from the outside and moved him [inside], and one of the freshmen we played at safety last year, D.J. Green, we moved to the field linebacker," said O'Brien. "I think in some aspects we could be better there."
Special Teams A Concern
O'Brien pointed out that perhaps his biggest concern with fall practice a couple of weeks away is the Wolfpack's special teams. NC State must replace its starting kicker and punter and are expected to do so with true freshmen Niklas Sade and Wil Baumann.
"If there is an area of concern it will have to be the kicking game," said O'Brien. "We'll have a freshman kicker and a freshman punter. They've never kicked the ball, they've never punted the ball, but both kids have great legs, and we think they have the right disposition to be successful.
"Until we get into Carter-Finley Stadium, and they kick the ball we'll figure out which way it will go. That's the biggest question mark right now."
Each coach signed a helmet from his respective school to be auctioned off at the event. The NC State helmet sold for $800 as compared to East Carolina's $1,100 bid, Duke's $2,000 bid, UNC's $1,000 bid, and North Carolina Central's $1,000 bid. The helmets were auctioned off in this order: NC State, Duke, East Carolina, North Carolina, and NC Central.
Duke's David Cutcliffe won the bid for N.C. Central's helmet.
"It still comes down to how you play defense," said O'Brien. "This conference has as many good defensive coordinators... you talk about the level of coaching, we can match people across the country with the coordinators at our different schools coaching defense.
"It's all about putting players in a position and putting them in a position to win and I think we have coaches in this conference who can do that."
"In our era we grew up playing football, basketball, and baseball," said O'Brien. "That's what we did. We were outside all day and playing.
"I think the sport that intrigued me the most and I wasn't introduced to it until I got to the Naval Academy was lacrosse. I really like a game where they give you a stick and you can hit people with it."