O'Brien Talks Tennessee

RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State head coach Tom O'Brien met with the media today to discuss the opener against Tennessee.

Tom O'Brien

Opening Statement:
"This football team is very excited about the opportunity to be able to go play a game in Atlanta against a program of the stature of the University of Tennessee. We're still in the middle of preparations and have a couple of days to go, but we're looking forward to this opportunity to go play on Friday night."

Can you comment on CJ Wilson's status?
"He has an eligibility issue that we're waiting for the NCAA to clear up. Whenever we get word on that we'll let you know where we are. He just has an issue, when it's cleared up we'll let you know."

Is there any update on injured wide receiver Bryan Underwood?
"He has not been cleared to practice yet, so if he gets on the field, we've got a couple more opportunities before we leave, I don't know if he will be or not. We'll wait to see where he is when the doctors release him."

Were there any guys that surprised you during fall camp or is the depth chart what you envisioned?
"Especially in the linebacker core, once we lost [Michael] Peek, it forced us to do some things. We had to change guys around. We changed guys coming in on the offensive line prior to camp starting. That came out of our study in spring practice.

"As always, there are a couple freshman that end up being able to handle mentally what has to get done in order to play. Generally, when you play freshman it's more of a mental thing, that they are able to understand and execute what they have to along with talent."

Which freshman have stepped up in this camp?
"Manny Stocker will be ready to play, Charlie Hegedus will be ready to play on offense. McKinney is going to back up at left tackle, I don't know that he'll get in the game. Defensively, probably not, but there are guys that we're going to take and travel and probably work into special teams."

How did Tony Creecy separate himself in fall camp and how do you plan to use the three talented running backs you have?
"Tony really took a big step in spring, and he continued to perform very well through preseason camp. There are three guys, I'm not sure how they are all going to play, but they will all be in the game, probably in the first half sometime on Friday night. As we play and go on it will shake itself out. It might be different mid-year than what it is starting off. All three kids will get opportunities."

Going back to the linebackers, what did Pittman do to beat out Noel at that position?
"Pittman was there because he won the position. He did what he had to do to, he seems to be much more comfortable out there than he was inside. Robert Caldwell was hurt because he missed time, but he will travel, he will play special teams. In the event that something happened somewhere in the linebacker, he or M.J. Salahuddin will have to be ready to play. Those two will be the next two."

Mustafa Greene is third on the depth chart. Can you talk some about his progression?
"I don't think anything has changed. He hasn't played football since December of two years ago. He has to get back in the game, he hasn't been in a game situation since the West Virginia bowl game. He's going to have to play his way back into the offense, but as I said, he will be in the game in the first half and we'll see how it goes."

Compared to other secondaries you've had, how would you rate the secondary you have this year?
"Well, it's the most experienced we've had. We had to play them when they were young. I think the safeties have gotten noticeably better than they were a year ago. Certainly, they're experience is showing through. David Amerson has really worked hard this camp and Dontae Johnson has done a really nice job playing both that corner and sometimes going in to be the nickel back."

You mentioned M.J. Salahuddin, do you think he'll see some time at linebacker?
"M.J. will probably get on the field in special teams, that is how we try to get them going. If we lose anybody else at linebacker, he's the next guy to go to on the outside. We're not going to not practice him and not give him the opportunity and then have to play him in the sixth game of the year. He's got to get some playing time and get on the field so that he's used to being out there."

Did enough wide receivers emerge to make you feel comfortable?
"I think so. As we said, two key guys will be the redshirt freshmen, Hakeem Flowers and Maurice Morgan. They are both talented guys and they had good camps. You never really know until they get out there and play, that's one of the things about opening games with guys that have never been on the field. Tobais Palmer has had a good camp, Quintin Payton has had a good camp, we like Charlie Hegedus a lot, so there are some guys there who can make some plays."

You have a lot of depth at tight end, but some might be surprised to see Asa Watson listed third. How did that battle play out in camp?
"That's like the tailback position, I don't know if there is a one, two, three or four. There are four names there, they are all going to get in the football game. I don't think it really matters if Watson is one, two, three or four, he's going to play."

Can you talk about the depth on the defensive line and how that competition was in camp?
"It was good competition, the more experience is at the defensive end position. Forrest West has fit right in, he looks very comfortable and a lot of the things we were hoping to get with him have come to fruition in camp. Teal and McGill are the two most experienced guys on the inside, Carlos Gray is going to play for the first time, Deylan Buntyn is going to play for the first time. You're still looking at kids like McKay Frandsden and Sylvester Crawford too."

How big of a deal is this game against Tennessee for your program and how big of a win would it be?
"Well, the first all isn't the end all, but there are always special game. This certainly is a special game because of the stage and because of the opponent and because of the conference affiliations. It's a great opportunity for us, we're going against a brand name program in college football. Tennessee has the second most wins in SEC history, so it's a chance to do something special with our program."

Did one running back really separate himself in fall camp or are we looking at a committee situation?
"I think we're looking at it as a committee right now. We'll be better off, better served, especially in an opening game to have fresh legs in the game."

Derek Dooley has been very complimentary of NC State this week. What do you make of opponents that go about it that way?
"That's because I coached him and probably hollered at him, so he's trying to be nice to me."

How has RJ Mattes' move inside gone and how has Rob Crisp looked at tackle?
"If we had another week, we would have done it in spring practice. The whole thing was trying to get the best players on the field and trying to get them in positions where they can help you play. RJ was good enough to move in and try. Rob wasn't comfortable there at first, but he got more comfortable as time went on. It's another one of those things that we're going to find out come Friday night, how good a move it was. We're going to play against a moving defense, schematically we're not sure what we're going to get."

Have you done anything different to get your players ready to play in a dome?
"Well, there isn't a lot you can do if you don't have a dome to go practice in. Other than let them know it's going to be loud, we went over to Cardinal Gibbons and practice on the field turf. They were gracious enough to let them come over and run around on their field for an hour and a half. We checked that box. You find me a dome, we'll go practice."

How does the suspension of Da'Rick Rodgers impact the way your defense might play?
"I don't know if it changes how we defend, when you play a guy of that caliber you always have to be aware of where he is on the field. If that lessens the load in our secondary, that is good for us."

Do you use the SEC/ACC showdown as motivation for your team?
"We do, but it's down the road. We're going to do this for ourselves first, for this football team. We're going to play if for our university, our student body, faculty and our fans. Then the ACC falls in line after that."

You mentioned the safeties and how much they have improved. What did you see from Tim Buckley that allowed him to be a backup at that spot?
"Well, he came in before camp started, so he was here and during that first week he wasn't in class like everybody else. He got some extra time with Mike Reed. Having played and having won himself a spot on the two-deep at Penn State, he obviously has pretty good instincts, good football sense. That has shown itself through camp. He's a guy that we're looking for down the road. He will play special teams."

Will Manny Stocker see any playing time?
"I don't know that yet, we talk about those things a couple of days before the game. Wednesday after we get off the practice field we'll talk about those things to see where he is. We want to keep Glennon upright and healthy, and if he does that he'll get the majority of the snaps."

Will you discuss the specific challenges Tyler Bray presents? He's a skilled quarterback.
"It's good for our defense to go against a guy like Glennon all the time, because you have two 6'6" quarterbacks that can make all the throws. They have the same advantage that we do when they go against that type of quarterback through camp. You're seeing a guy that you will have to play in the opener."

Can you talk more about your relationship with Coach Dooley?
"Derek came to UVa as a walk-on, and in those days we had a pretty good football team. He earned a scholarship and ended up starting for us. He's intelligent, he went to law school and I told him he lost his mind and went into coaching. He was the one guy on the field that could direct anybody."

Which group -- running back, linebackers or receivers -- need to have the best game for you to win on Friday?
"I understand what you're asking, but I'm not going to say what I think is a weak link and let someone else know what I think the scouting report on us is. I'll defer and not answer that question."

How big of an advantage is it to have 11 senior starters?
"It's where you have to be, and that's what we fought hard to get to at this point in the program, to have fourth and fifth year seniors playing. That's something that is huge for the football program. You're going into a dome stadium, you're playing an SEC team in front of a big crowd. Those guys won't be impacted as much as some of the younger guys."

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