CAMP O'BRIEN: 5 Players to Watch

RALEIGH, N.C. -- With the start of preseason camp just hours away, Pack Pride takes a look at five NC State players to watch over the course of the next month.

With the start of preseason camp just hours away, Pack Pride takes a look at five NC State players to watch over the course of the next month.

#5. Sophomore Defensive Tackle T.Y. McGill

No one thought entering last fall's camp that T.Y. McGill would play as a true freshman, but injuries forced him into action early on and he proved he could contribute from the start.

An unheralded recruit in State's 2011 class, McGill ended up cracking the rotation and totaling 19 tackles in 249 snaps.

T.Y. McGill

Now J.R. Sweezy and Markus Kuhn have graduated, and Brian Slay has permanently moved to defensive end which opens the door for Teal to emerge this fall.

A burly defender who can pressure the quarterback but also stuff the run, McGill is a coach's dream because of his relentless motor. His strong played carried over to the spring and he showcased just how hard he plays in the Kay Yow Spring Game when he chased down Wolfpack tight end Asa Watson to prevent a touchdown on a long reception by Watson.

"To see a 310-pound guy run 75 yards across the field and catch a player like Asa, that tells you a lot about his attitude and what he is trying to do," defensive coordinator Mike Archer said of McGill. "The thing we've got to do is get them to do that all the time, play with that effort within the line of scrimmage.

"You may ask a guy to make a play like that once a year and when you get that chance you've got to do what T.Y. did. That's what we told him when we watched the film, that was phenomenal effort. I want everybody on our defense to watch this 300-pounder run down Asa Watson. That is what it's going to take from everybody to win. It's something he can be proud of, and we must get that effort from everyone on a consistent basis."

Now McGill isn't just the young kid looking to receive a few snaps. He is being asked to step up and be a difference maker in the trenches, especially when you consider opposing teams will probably try to establish the running game given the Pack's experience in the secondary.

Will he be ready?

#4. Redshirt Sophomore Wide Receiver Bryan Underwood

NC State has to replace three wideouts from last year's team, but Underwood should simply view that as an opportunity to show what he can do.

Bryan Underwood

He flashed big-play ability in the spring, and had a breakout performance last fall against Virginia when he totaled three catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the win. He finished the year with 16 catches for 226 yards and two scores and should get the chance to receive even more reps this fall.

"I used it as a game that let me know I could do it on this level," Underwood said of his performance against Virginia. "It's not that hard if I keep working at it and pushing myself. I think you can accomplish anything if you work hard at it so I've used that game as a building block. I want to keep it going."

At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Underwood is explosive on underneath routes and has the deep speed to stretch the field vertically. Will he take the next step?

"He is a different kid this spring than he's been anytime since he's been here," Tom O'Brien said of Underwood in the spring. "The track thing may have helped his confidence a little bit and academically he is on top of things which we had to pound him a little for in the past. It seems like he has grown up a lot."

"Every year I've kept trying to figure out what I can improve on," said Underwood. "I looked at the previous film and tried to learn whatever I could to make myself better."

NC State has to find a deep threat to replace T.J. Graham. That guy could be Bryan Underwood.

#3. Sophomore Linebacker Rodman Noel

The biggest question mark for NC State is at linebacker, where the Pack is replacing the top four from last year's team. After Dwayne Maddox and Audie Cole graduated, Terrell Manning declared for the draft and D.J. Green was ruled ineligible, which left a gaping hole at the position.

Starting strongside linebacker Rodman Noel's experience at the position consists of his work there during spring practice... that's it.

Rodman Noel

Noel enrolled last fall as a safety and that's where he worked at. He was able to receive snaps on special teams, but he didn't begin working at linebacker until after the season. A few months later... he is the starter. It's actually the same route D.J. Green made prior to being named the starter at strongside linebacker as a sophomore last fall.

"He has a lot of the same skill sets of guys that we've had there through the years," O'Brien said of Noel. "He's tall. He's got length to him. He can run. He's smart."

"He's kind of followed in the path of D.J. Green," said Archer. "He was a safety here like D.J., and he played some and on special teams. Last spring we moved D.J. to the 'SAM' because the SAM and field safety travel together. The calls, they are similar so Rodman should know them. That is his transition and Rodman has made progress.

"He's tall and lean right now, but he is going to grow. We're going to throw him in the fire and see what he can do. When you have a guy that big with that athletic ability you just have to keep coaching him and he will get better."

Noel has been given a terrific opportunity to earn his way onto the football field at a position of need for the Wolfpack.

"He's trying to learn," Tenuta said of Noel. "He's very knowledgeable about the game; he understands coverages, he see's now where he fits in the front. He's got athletic ability.

"Now he's still learning the progression aspect of the pressure, of how you blitz and the things you have to do when you play closer in to the box, which are the kind of things that come with repetition. Obviously we're going in to fall camp, and he's just got to keep moving forward in those aspects."

In NC State's scheme, the strongside linebacker is asked to cover a lot of ground and must be strong in coverage and tackling in space. Noel's development this fall will be pivotal to State's success.

#2. Junior Left Tackle Robert Crisp

All eyes will be on Mike Glennon during fall camp and rightfully so... this is his team. But, maybe they should be on junior left tackle Rob Crisp, who will be protecting the blind side of Glennon.

It can't be said enough. NC State must protect Glennon and keep him healthy. The right-handed signal-caller turns his back to rushers coming from the left side, creating a vulnerable "blind side" that the left tackle must protect. Rob Crisp... that is your job.

Rob Crisp

It's a huge task for a player who has mainly worked at right tackle his two seasons on campus. Crisp has just three career starts under his belt, making him the most inexperienced projected starting offensive lineman for the Wolfpack.

He also is replacing experienced veteran R.J. Mattes, who has shifted inside to left guard. The move supports the positive buzz coming out about Crisp during spring practice, where he impressed the coaches with his play.

"The game finally slowed down for Rob," offensive line coach Jim Bridge said of Crisp. "He's extremely talented, that's a no-brainer, but Rob finally figured it out to the point where he got it. He got it in a big way.

"The emergence of Rob Crisp is important to our offense. There were a lot of unfair expectations and, to me, Rob showed up at the right time. There are very few guys ready to play from day one, but he's got it now and he's ready to play every single down. He played violent, fast and smart in the bowl game, the way you would want every player to play."

A highly-regarded recruit out of Raleigh (NC) Athens Drive High School, Crisp arrived at NC State in 2009 with lofty expectations. This could be the year that he emerges as the dominant blocker NC State hasn't had yet under O'Brien.

Playing left tackle and protecting Glennon, who isn't the most mobile quarterback... Crisp will have to be ready to go.

#1. Redshirt Junior Rickey Dowdy

At least Rodman Noel has actually played some meaningful snaps in a game before.

We know linebacker is a concern for State, but what makes it even more of a question mark is the fact that Rickey Dowdy, a redshirt junior, is listed as the starter at weakside linebacker.

The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder has played in just one game (2010) during his previous three years on campus, and now he will be responsible for defending the boundary, being strong against the run, while also potentially serving as a three-down linebacker.

Rickey Dowdy

"Rickey has had his ups-and-downs since he's been here," Archer recently said of Dowdy. "He has moved back and forth between linebacker and defensive end, but the main thing is Rickey has really matured both on the field and off it. He has grown up mentally and I think it is amazing how much better a player you can be when you do things right off the field as well.

"That is where he has improved the most because to be honest with you two years ago I didn't know if Rickey would still be here... didn't know if he would make it. He is light years ahead of where he was, and his confidence is at an all-time high. He hung in there, didn't pout, and took advantage of his opportunity and now he is a guy that is going to play. The spring was important for him, and I'm very pleased with the progress he has made."

Few players are going to receive a lot of reps playing behind Nate Irving and Terrell Manning, but how Dowdy will perform is a complete mystery.

"I see tremendous upside for him," linebackers coach Jon Tenuta said of Dowdy. "I think he may have gotten off to a slow start here... he didn't play for me until my second spring here as a linebacker since he was working out at defensive end.

"But he has instincts, he has upside and he's come around to the point where he's doing things the way we want them done. If he keeps progressing I see a pretty good football player inside of him; we've just got to keep working with him."

Right now he is listed as the starter at weakside linebacker, and the real challenge for him begins today as he tries to hold offer talented underclassmen such as Michael Peek who wants that starting job.

Dowdy has been in the program three years now. If he steps up and exceeds expectations, this could be a special year for the Wolfpack because perhaps the only real concern is at linebacker, and strong play at weakside linebacker is vital.

Bonus Picks

QB Mike Glennon: Glennon proved his worth last year, passing for 31 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. Priority #1? Staying healthy... RT Andrew Wallace: Wallace has spent the majority of his career at left guard but is now listed as the starter at right tackle. How will he handle the transition?... WR Charlie Hegedus: A true freshman wide receiver, Hegedus is explosive and has terrific hands. Will he show enough to earn playing time this fall? ... WR Rashard Smith: Smith spent all spring at wide receiver and appears to have settled in. He could add explosiveness at the position... RB Mustafa Greene: Greene could arguably be the Pack's most talented tailback but injuries and off-the-field issues have limited him since his freshman campaign... TE Asa Watson: Watson redshirted in 2011 but has shown explosiveness when on the field. He could give State a potent weapon at tight end... DT Thomas Teal: The Pack must replace starters J.R. Sweezy and Markus Kuhn at tackle, but Teal has a chance to be special. Just a sophomore, he could be State's top returning interior defensive lineman... LB Sterling Lucas: Recently voted team captain by his peers, Lucas is expected to man the middle for the Wolfpack. Is he all the way back from the knee injury that forced him to miss the 2011 season?... DB Dontae Johnson: Where will he line up? State could use Johnson at linebacker, safety, or cornerback this fall. Without a doubt, he's going to be on the field.

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