Senior tailback James Washington returns and is coming off a breakout 2011 season where he totaled 1,212 yards of total offense (897 rushing yards) and seven scores. A solid tailback with some burst, Kitchings values the experience Washington brings to the table.
"James has a lot of talent," said Kitchings. "He's fast, he can catch, and a lot of his skills have been utilized in our offense. Now, there are things each player needs to get better at, and our guys need to be more aggressive runners.
"James is very smart and knows our offense in-and-out, and having him in our meeting room has been big for us because he has a ton of experience. He's been awesome to work with, and I look forward to big things out of him this fall."
Redshirt sophomore Tony Creecy is expected to push Washington for the starting position. Last fall he came on strong late in the year to finish with 401 yards rushing and the ex-receiver added 25 catches for 157 yards and three scores. Creecy is talented, but it sounds like his work ethic is what has stood out to Kitchings.
"Tony has a presence about himself," Kitchings stated. "Between him and James we should receive plenty of production from the tailback position. He has a lot of energy on a daily basis when it comes to working out. He is determined to improve himself in any facet he can and he goes about that each day. As a coach, it's pleasing to see a young man with the type of work ethic and determination he has. That's very pleasing.
"That hard work over the last eight months is starting to pay off for him. He finished strong this past season offensively, and he picked up from that point in the spring. Tony improved from practice one to practice fifteen, and I expect to see that same progression this fall. He can have a really big year for us."
Perhaps the Wolfpack's most talented tailback is redshirt sophomore Mustafa Greene. He missed last season with a foot injury and was ready to go in the spring but has been sidelined due to off-the-field issues.
As a freshman in 2010 he posted a team-high 597 yards rushing and four touchdowns while adding another 30 receptions for 272 yards and two more scores. Coach O'Brien recently stated that as long as Greene continues to do what is expected of him he will be with the team in the fall. Is that still the case?
"That is still the plan," said Kitchings. "As long as Mustafa progresses and does what is required and expected of him, we should see him in the fall.
"I went back to film from 2010 and watched him play. I wanted to see how he performed, and he is an aggressive runner. He is a strong, powerful young man who can also catch the ball and do a lot of good things in our offense. It's exciting that we will hopefully have him back in the fold and make that position for us stronger."
Coaching strategies differ as far as rotations at tailback. Some colleges prefer to have a workhorse, every-down back, while others look to rotate backs based on situation and fatigue. Kitchings believes that with the depth he has the Wolfpack should be able to utilize a quality rotation.
"You can count on one guy, but at the same time it is a violent position," said Kitchings. "A kid can get injured the first play of the game or in fall camp so you must have depth. Personally, I think you need to have three, maybe even four tailbacks ready to go.
"During the course of the game we may play 80 snaps, and you can't expect that one guy to play all 80 snaps and be as effective throughout the entire game. There must be a rotation and that is where you need that quality depth. You don't want to lose production when the next guy comes in. With three guys of that caliber, they all differ in their skills but they allow us to be a strong offense with what each of them can do."
"If I have a back that has played eight straight snaps, well let's be smart," Kitchings added. "Let's get you out for a few plays and catch a break... get yourself rested up and back in there at full-speed. We want to keep that same energy and mindset."
Leading the way for the tailbacks will be a pair of fullbacks who gained quality experience last fall when starter Taylor Gentry went down with an injury. Redshirt sophomore Logan Winkles and junior Tyler Purvis both have their strengths.
"Winkles brings that boom," said Kitchings. "He is gritty and an impactful guy at the position. He is a strong young man who was a state wrestling champ so he has great balance. He moves well and runs well and showed this spring that he can catch the ball out of the backfield. That's exciting for him moving forward.
"With Tyler Purvis, he is a tremendous pass-catcher. He has worked extremely hard in the weight room increasing his body strength which should help him be a more efficient blocker. He can get the job done."
Two of his players caught the eye of Kitchings with the strides they made in the spring.
"I would say Tony Creecy and Logan Winkles are two guys who really stepped up," he said. "On a daily basis they set themselves a part from the others and showed they really wanted to take that next step."
Obviously Kitchings believes he has options. All three backs are very good receivers out of the backfield. Washington has been steady throughout his career and Creecy appears to be ready to make his move up the depth chart. Greene has flashed more big-play potential and is outstanding in space or between the tackles. Add in redshirt senior Brandon Barnes and true freshman Shadrach Thornton, and NC State has to feel good about their depth at tailback.
Kitchings wants it to be known that his guys will be looking to attack on each play because they want to put the pressure on the defense.
"We want to attack and be aggressive on offense," he said. "Defenses are blitz-crazy and always attacking, so our mindset is to attack them the same way and try to create big plays.
"We're not going to play passive. We're going to go at them on every play and look to break those big runs and make explosive catches out of the backfield."