1st and Ten – Backs-a-plenty – An embarrassment of riches. A backfield oozing talent. Three dudes who can run. No matter how you slice it or the appropriateness of the lingo used to describe them, there's little to refute the fact that NC State has one of the best stable of running backs in the entire country. And, oh yeah, each one has at least three years of eligibility remaining. Each one of these backs offers up a little different style for the Pack offense to utilize.
Andre Brown was the team's leading rusher in 2005 with 667 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. When defenses prepare for Brown, they better strap on the headgear because the redshirt sophomore from Greenville will punish anyone who gets in his way. At 6', 232 bills, he's a pure downhill power runner. There's not a lot of flash and if he makes one decisive cut, that's about all he needs.
Toney Baker was one of the most heralded recruits in the 2005 recruiting class and he flashed his considerable skill as a true freshman, piling up 546 yards and five touchdowns. Baker can make defenders miss in the open field and is one of the hardest runners in the conference. But, this guy was also a 50+ foot shot putter in high school, so if you don't wrap him up, he'll ‘blow a DB up' downfield, just as much as he can ‘skate' past him.
The unknown, so to speak, is the shifty Jamelle Eugene, out of Naples, FL. Of the three, Eugene has the most shake and is the most elusive of the bunch. Great. After getting pounded and picking the turf out your helmet after Brown and Baker are done with you, Eugene comes in and gives you hips, a cut and a memory.
It's a trio that could be used in some combinations on the field together and that might be the one way that offensive coordinator Marc Trestman could put maximum pressure on ACC defenses this year.
2nd and Seven – Still Stone-y – Since Philip Rivers left Raleigh, the focus of the NC State football program has unfortunately found its way over to the QB position. Unfortunately for the Pack, Rivers couldn't be cloned over in the NC State laboratories, but when Marcus Stone took over in midseason, the Wolfpack won. Won five out of six games to finish the season. Beat Southern Miss, bowl team. Beat FSU, bowl team and ACC champs. Beat South Florida in a bowl.
The critics might argue that the defense won those games, but the defense was just as good if not better in 2004, and the Pack didn't get to a bowl. Sure, Stone hasn't thrown the ball well. Sometimes his decision making is suspect. His completion percentage is hard to fathom, especially in a pseudo West coast offense that requires short to intermediate passing accuracy. But, he w-o-n.
Stone did improve this spring and he can tuck it and get up field for some rushing yardage. But, has he improved enough to carry this offense, while a ‘retooled' defense gets its ‘game legs', so to speak? Man, that's a Rivers-like request and remember what we said about Rivers.
3rd and Three – Reloading, not rebuilding – How good was the NC State defensive line, or better put, how talented were the individuals who played on NC State's DL last year? Well, Mario Williams was the first pick in the draft, Manny Lawson was the 22nd pick and John McCargo was the 26th pick. Three first round draft picks from the same defensive line. In the 2003 NFL draft, Miami had William Joseph and Jerome McDougle went in the first round, but no team in recent memory has had three first rounders from the same defensive line.
So, the point is what? Well, the point is that, on paper, it would seem as though the NC State DL would be in major trouble. However, in the middle, the Wolfpack won't be as talented, but not devoid of talent, either. DeMario Pressley and Tank Tyler should be a formidable pair at the DT spots. The duo got a significant amount of playing time over the past few years as McCargo dealt with some injury problems.
The key for the Wolfpack will be if Willie Young can produce the heat off the edge that Williams and Lawson generated the last two years. Young is nowhere near as big as the M&M boys, but the coaching staff believes he can be a playmaker of enormous proportions this year.
4th and One – That's Amore, er, Amato – Chuck Amato has lived an interesting existence during his tenure at his alma mater. In his first four years, he couldn't do anything wrong. He challenged Wolfpack nation to donate money to help upgrade facilities and purchase lifetime PSLs (and they did). He recruited the state of Florida as well as any non-Florida school. He took the Pack to four straight bowl games, with Philip Rivers leading the way. His chutzpah and attitude filtered through the program, attributes some thought were lacking before his arrival. It didn't matter that assistant coaches were coming in and out of Raleigh on an annual basis, they were winning. It started to matter when the Pack started losing games and didn't make it to bowl games.
More people started to pay attention to coaches like Reggie Herring leaving after only one year to take a job that was, arguably, a lateral move (after a year in which he led the Pack to a number one national ranking…and had the aforementioned NFL talent in the stable coming back in 2005). Penalties and lack of discipline were a daily joke in the Triangle.
But, the Pack finished strong with five out of six wins and the critics backed off for a little while.
This year should be an important measuring stick for Amato and his staff – this team isn't as talented as his teams have been the first six years, so the Pack is going to have prove they can be tough (mentally and physically) and smart to go back to a bowl. But, if Amato and crew can get the Pack prepared and ready each week, maybe Pack nation will show the amore for Amato.