"Not really, to be honest with you," Paulsen said when asked if it was different not working with Rivers. "Jay's doing a helluva job, commanding the huddle, getting us in and out, leading us and everybody. There's not much difference in there – he's back there doing his thing."
Knee surgery limited Paulsen prior to the 2003 season, and he could feel the results in his play. In 2002, he racked up 74 knockdown blocks in 677 plays; last year, that number fell to 38 knockdowns in 912 snaps.
The 6-2, 290-pounder is off to a strong start in his final campaign, having registered 14 knockdowns, two intimidations (putting a defender on his back) and four "Raleigh Railroads" (driving a defender back five or more yards) in 140 plays in the first two games. The Ohio State game was perhaps the best outing of his career – he posted 10 knockdowns, two intimidations and four Raleigh Rails in 63 snaps.
"My knee is 100 percent now, and it took me like half the season last year to get back into my flow," said Paulsen. "Now, going through spring ball and fall camp, I feel 100 percent."
After being accorded All-ACC honorable-mention recognition a season ago, Paulsen has been tabbed to the "watch list" for the Rimington Trophy, presented annually to the country's finest center. True to the nature of offensive linemen, however, he doesn't pay much attention to those types of accolades.
"I don't worry about that; all that stuff is out of my hands," Paulsen said. "If I play good and I help my team win games, that's all I really care about. All that other stuff is extra. It would be great to win something like that, and I would be honored.
"I'm happy to be on the list, but I don't pay attention to that stuff."
Paulsen has emerged as a team leader despite his relatively quiet nature. Coach Chuck Amato puts a lot of emphasis on seniors leading the team, but Paulsen doesn't feel pressure to be more vocal.
"To me, being a leader is going out there and doing what I've got to do on the field, showing what I can do," said Paulsen. "If somebody messes up, I might say something to try to encourage them, but that's not really what I do or how our offense works. We're out there and we're all one team, we go together.
"The quarterbacks take a lot of that responsibility, and Jay's done a helluva job doing that, too."
It's no secret that the offense is seeking to find its identity following the departure of Rivers. Though the unit struggled mightily against Ohio State, you can put Paulsen in the crowd that believes that the Wolfpack simply possesses too many offensive weapons to be held down for long.
"Philip was a great player, and he's always going to be here with us and we love him to death," Paulsen said. "But he's gone and we've got to move on, and that's exactly what we're doing. We've got guys back there [at] running back, T.A. when he gets healthy, and we've got those two freshmen back there. We've got some wideouts that can do some stuff, Tramain Hall and Brian Clark, and [T.J.] Williams.
"And Jay is back there throwing the ball perfect. He had a great game [against Richmond], and I wouldn't expect anything less [in the future]."
With Paulsen manning the middle of the line and providing senior leadership, the Pack is in good shape on the offensive front. And he and many others feel it's only a matter of time before the entire Wolfpack attack starts lighting up the scoreboard like they did under Rivers.