"If you go offensively, I think a guy like Mario Carter that's been through two significant knee surgeries," said O'Brien. "To come back and finally be healthy – we made the decision to red-shirt Asa Watson – he's a guy that maybe will do some things this year."
"I've worked hard," said Carter. "I went into the spring and summer training as hard as I could, and I was really focused. I've got stronger over the years and bigger. I also have my speed back so I'm ready to go."
It's been a long journey for Carter. A member of the Wolfpack's 2008 recruiting class, Carter committed early in the process after considering offers from programs such as Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech.
However, he suffered a knee injury during a team scrimmage prior to his senior season at Charlotte (NC) Independence which forced him to miss the entire year. NC State remained committed to him and Carter stayed in the fold.
He enrolled at NC State in 2008 and worked with the team in the fall while redshirting, but sustained another knee injury in 2009 which preventing him from playing that season as well.
Now fully healthy, Carter believes that the injuries are behind him as he has been working to improve during camp.
"I really don't worry about the injuries," he said. "It doesn't come into my mind. I'm just focused on playing football.
"This fall has been a great experience. I'm going into my redshirt junior year, and I'm very comfortable. I've been through camp a few years now and know the key is to keep improving every year."
At 6-foot-4 and 262 pounds, Carter is a prototypical tight end capable of impacting as a blocker or pass-catcher. He has terrific hands and is a solid route-runner.
"I block well, and I can catch the ball. I feel like I've got some good speed, it might not be what it was when I was in high school, but I'm also bigger now too."
One advantage that Carter has is that he has been able to learn from one of the top tight ends in the country, George Bryan. A two-time All-ACC selection, Bryan is back for his senior season and should team up with Carter to give the Pack outstanding options at the tight end position.
"George is a good player," Carter stated. "I watched him when I was a freshman to see how he does, how he plays. I've learned some of his moves. It's helped me a lot."
A lot of Carter's success, and the Wolfpack's, will come down to the play of redshirt junior quarterback Mike Glennon. The 6-foot-6 signal-caller will be making his first career start this Saturday, and Carter believes that his former roommate is up for the challenge.
"Mike is a great guy," Carter said. "He was my roommate, and we've grown close. Mike is very smart. He's a NFL-caliber quarterback, and he knows how to play the game.
"He also was able to learn from his brother, Sean... I think Mike is a great quarterback. He'll be good for us."
Carter and Glennon enrolled at NC State together in the summer of 2008 and Carter recalls that fall when both were redshirting and working together on the scout team.
"We came in together back in '08, and we worked on the scout team. We've had chemistry on scout team, a lot of our guys on offense now were on that scout team, but I do think me and Mike have some chemistry.
"I remember we would sit on the couch and watch football. It didn't matter if it was another game, we would talk situations and what guys should have done to make the plays more successful. Just going back to being roommates, it's a connection I think we have."
Let's flashback to 2008. NC State had a first-year starting quarterback named Russell Wilson. The Pack entered the season without its top three receivers from the previous year (Donald Bowens (injured), Darrell Blackman (graduation), and John Dunlap (graduation)). Extremely thin at wideout, the Pack returned just three players who had a combined 25 catches in their careers.
What did the offensive coordinator Dana Bible do? He utilized a lot of two tight end sets that took advantage of the skillset provided by senior Anthony Hill and freshman George Bryan. The duo combined to catch 37 passes for 435 yards and eight touchdowns. That year, the leading receiver on the team, Owen Spencer, caught 31 passes.
Don't be surprised if you see much of the same in 2011... just look at the similarities. NC State has a first-year starting quarterback named Mike Glennon. The Pack enters the season without its top three receivers from last year (Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, and Darrell Davis). Thin at wideout, the Pack returned just three players who have extensive experience, with the trio grabbing 47 passes in 2010.
Does Carter believe Wolfpack fans will see a lot of two tight end sets in 2011?
"I would love that," he said, laughing. "But, it's up to coach. Whatever he wants... that's what we're going to do. Coach calls the plays and when he calls my number I'll be ready.
"As an offense, we started working in the summer to build the chemistry, and it is getting there. We came to camp and it clicked.
"Our goal is to win the ACC Championship. We're all striving to do that. I'm a team player so I'll worry about individual goals later."