"The thing that I've noticed in the time I've been coaching, the most important thing that has happened is the development of our guys," said offensive line coach Jim Bridge. "With the emergence of Tyson Chandler, and Andrew Wallace getting healthy and Rob Crisp starting to come into his own, our second unit has developed and I think it's helped us practice better. The guys are older, they are better and our youth has developed."
Redshirt junior Duran Christophe is the Pack's most experienced reserve, having started 12 games in 2011. He is slated to back up R.J. Mattes at left guard, and the top reserve at tackle is expected to be emerging redshirt sophomore Tyson Chandler.
At 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds, Chandler has terrific size and athleticism for the position. The redshirt sophomore played in 12 games last year, mainly on special teams, but pushed for a starting job in the spring. He can play either left tackle or right tackle, which could prove valuable.
"There's something special about Tyson," said Bridge. "He has got that natural raw athleticism that most guys his size don't have. What he doesn't have is that knowledge and experience that we talked about earlier.
"He was a defensive lineman in high school and throughout his prep school career. He's got very limited experience on the offensive line, but the exciting thing is his natural athleticism. He's starting to get it. He's got a great future, he's got to get it. He's really close."
It's clear that State values size at tackle. Redshirt freshman reserve Alex Barr measures in at 6-foot-7 and 332 pounds while redshirt sophomore Andy Jomantas checks in at 6-foot-7 and 289 pounds. Still developing, both have high upsides and are working hard according to Bridge.
"Andy Jomantas and Alex Barr both have to transform themselves in the weight room," he said. "They both have to turn their natural athleticism into a powerful, strong athlete, but they both have the ability to help us in the future."
Redshirt sophomore Cameron Fordham, a transfer from LSU, is the reserve at right guard. Fordham transferred into the program after fall practice had began last year and was cleared late, which stunted his progress early.
"Cam Fordham came in, missed a lot of training camp, and it was a challenge for him to catch up," said Bridge. "I was really happy with the way he played in the bowl game, he's got a bright future."
Fordham initially worked at center, but the emergence of redshirt freshman Joe Thuney has enabled Fordham to shift to guard.
"We know that Cam can snap, so we put him at guard so we could allow Joe Thuney an opportunity to prove to us that he can snap," Bridge said. "He's another guy that adds to our depth on the inside, Joe knows everything that is going on and he gets us on the right page."
Thuney's development is critical. Starting center Camden Wentz is a three-year starter and one of the top centers in the ACC, and Thuney must be ready to go if Wentz went down. Bridge certainly believes the center spot is a critical position. In fact, he likes to give nearly all of his interior linemen work at the position because you can't be prepared enough at that position.
"The center is a forced communication position, but just because a guy is forced to communicate he's not automatically a leader," said Bridge. "It just makes him a conductor. For the last few years, we've had very limited depth at center, and that's been scary. We try to put guys at center because, in my opinion, that is one of the most critical positions on your football team.
"He is the only guy that is guaranteed to touch the football on every play, and he better be good at handling the football. Center is an extremely important position, and a lot of people underrate it. To me, you've really got to have a center that understands that. We're trying to develop young centers so we never get caught with a depth problem. We're going to have centers, and that is something Coach O'Brien and I are firmly committed to."
State added immediate depth in January when freshmen Bryce Kennedy and Quincy McKinney enrolled. McKinney, who failed to qualify out of high school after signing with South Carolina, spent a semester at Fork Union before picking the Wolfpack, while Kennedy enrolled early from Southern Pines (NC) Pinecrest High School, picking State over North Carolina.
"The two freshman that came in, Bryce Kennedy and Quincy McKinney, are quality young men and quality football players," Bridge said. "They have fall practices coming, and they've been working out all summer. I'm really excited about what those guys bring to us from a depth standpoint. They have to get a better understanding of what we have to do, but they have a bright future."
Tom O'Brien has had a reputation for always producing quality offensive linemen throughout his career, whether it was as an assistant at Virginia or when he was a head coach at Boston College.
Now he is building the depth that is necessary to succeed offensively and it has to feel good knowing this year four seniors will be on the field initiating the offense.
"Those four seniors can now not worry about being good juniors, they can now be good seniors," said Bridge. "The development of natural senior leadership has been key for our whole group. We really improved as the year went on last year, and I'm looking forward to this year.
"We have to be able to run the football efficiently this fall. We'll throw it, but we have to be able to run it when we want to run it. I don't care how many yards we rush for in a game, I care how efficiently we run it."