Building On Momentum

RALEIGH, N.C. - After winning four of its final five games, including the final three capped with a Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl victory, the NC State football team enters the offseason with tremendous momentum.

The Wolfpack’s five-game improvement in the win column from 2013 to 2014 ranks second among the Power 5 conferences (TCU +8), and is tied for fifth-best among all Division 1 schools. The team’s three-game winning streak to end the 2014 campaign tied Clemson for the best mark in the ACC, while Dave Doeren became only the fourth NC State head coach to win his first bowl game, joining Chuck Amato, Bo Rein and Lou Holtz.

The Pack now turns its attention to winter offseason workouts and the start of Spring Practice. GoPack.com looks at some of the critical areas the Pack will be focusing on during the spring semester, which started last week.

New Bookends On Offense
One of the top priorities this spring will be finding a new pair of starting tackles on the offensive line. The senior duo of Tyson Chandler (895 snaps) and Rob Crisp (906 snaps) started every game and played more snaps than any other Wolfpack players in 2014, going the distance in 11 of the 13 contests.

Two returning players have seen action at tackle during their careers - Alex Barr and Joe Thuney - but both started at guard during the 2014 season.

In the nine games Thuney started in 2014, all at left guard, the Pack posted a 7-2 mark, while his ability to run block and pull were key factors in the ground success. Also returning on the interior of the offensive line is senior Quinton Schooley (25 starts at center in last two season) and sophomore Tony Adams (started final nine games of 2014 at right guard).

Redshirt sophomore Tylar Reagan along with a trio of 2014 signees who redshirted this past season - Tyler Jones, Will Richardson and Eric Shute - will be looking to claim those two starting tackle spots.

Keep Up The Rush
One of the springboards for the Pack’s late season success in 2014 was the rushing attack. During the three-game winning streak to close out the season, NC State averaged 312.3 yards per game on the ground. For the year, the Pack averaged 204.5 rushing yards - the highest single season average for NC State since 1992.

The Pack returns its top three rushers in 2015: running backs Shadrach Thornton (907 yards) and Matt Dayes (573) along with QB Jacoby Brissett (529). Those three accounted for 75.6 percent (2,009 of 2,659) of the Pack’s rushing yards in 2014 and the 2014 season marked the first time three Pack runners finished with over 500 yards each since 1973.

Redefining The Kicking Game
For the first time in 51 games (since the 2010 Champs Sports Bowl), NC State will not have the luxury of relying on placekicker Niklas Sade, punter Wil Baumann and long snapper Scott Thompson to handle the kicking duties.

The accolades were numerous for the trio of four-year starters, but the Pack now must find replacements for each.

The Pack signed a new kicking duo as part of the 2014 signing class, and both have joined the Pack for the spring semester after ‘grey shirting’ last season. Placekicker Kyle Bambard comes in as the No. 12 kicker nationally according to ESPN, while punter A.J. Cole III is the 19th ranked kicker in those same 2014 rankings.

Among the competition at long snapper, junior Ben Garnett served as the backup in 2014 and R.C. Brunstetter redshirted 2014 after enrolling early at NC State last spring.

Keeping Depth At Corner
NC State’s season turned with the win at Syracuse on Nov. 1. A key to winning four of the last five games of the season was the development of depth at the cornerback spot, allowing a four-man rotation. Redshirt senior Juston Burris and junior Jack Tocho started every game in 2014 and could be three-year starters come the fall, but it was the improved play of two reserves that gave the Pack the ability to sub more down the stretch.

Redshirt junior Niles Clark (56 snaps in first eight games, 160 in final five) and sophomore Mike Stevens (45 snaps in first eight games, 92 in final five) both saw increased playing time over the last part of the season and their improvement gives the Pack more weapons to utilize in defending college football’s ever-evolving passing game. Over the final five games of 2014, the Pack allowed 201.2 passing yards per game, as opponents were held to just a 49.4 percent (84-170) completion percentage.

Throw in a pair of 2014 redshirts, redshirt sophomore Sean Paul and redshirt freshman Elliott Davis, and the Pack will look to the secondary to make more plays in the passing game in 2015.

Young Wideouts Turn Older
In each of Dave Doeren’s first two seasons, the Pack’s receivers have been one of the youngest units in college football. In 2014, the Pack’s top six receiving leaders were either freshmen or sophomores, and those two classes accounted for 83.9 percent (188 of 224) of the Pack’s total receptions overall.

Now as the sophomores become juniors and the freshmen turn into sophomores, this spring will be important for QB Jacoby Brissett to continue to develop a rapport with his wideouts.

This group will be led by the newest addition to the Pack’s coaching staff, WR coach George McDonald, who comes to NC State after previously serving in the same position at both Syracuse and Miami.

With the transfer of Bo Hines, the Pack must replace its leading wide receiver for the fifth straight year.

Fresh Linebackers
One of the units that might look the most different this spring is the linebackers. The Pack switched to a 4-2-5 defensive formation last spring, a fortuitous move considering how the injury bug affected the linebackers during 2014 spring drills and fall camp.

Redshirt junior M.J. Salahuddin was pegged as the Pack’s starting MLB when he went down with a knee injury in August and missed the 2014 season. Redshirt sophomore Artemis Robinson, younger brother of Terrell Manning, failed to see action last year due to injury as well. A pair of 2014 signees also redshirted last year with injuries: Ty Linton and Coult Culler (who will get a look at defensive end this spring).

Stepping up at middle linebacker last season, redshirt sophomore Jerod Fernandez made 10 starts and ranked second on the Pack with 78 tackles, while sophomore Airius Moore started the other three games and had 37 tackles on the season. Sophomore Bradley Chubb will also be seeking playing time, as he saw action on special teams in 11 games 2014.

The Pack did graduate both linebackers that manned the WLB position, Rodman Noel and Brandon Pittman, so defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable will be looking for their replacements to man the one outside spot.

Teach Them Early
The Pack had the unique benefit of having nine ‘un-freshmen’ on its 2014 roster, as nine players graduated from high school early and enrolled last spring. Of those eight position players in that group, two missed the season with injuries and one redshirted, while the other five combined for 24 starts and 62 games played.

This spring, the Pack hopes that once again its spring enrollees will make an impact this fall. RB Reggie Gallaspy II, OL T.J. McCoy, S Freddie Phillips, Jr., DE Darian Roseboro and LBs Riley Nicholson and James Smith-Williams all graduated high school early and are currently enrolled at NC State. Along with those six, kickers Bambard and Cole also joined the Pack for the first time to get a head start for the 2015 season.


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