The Pack Without Hill

Pack Pride's Austin Johnson looks at how much damage the loss of Anthony Hill will do to the NC State offense in 2007.

Last Wednesday a diagnostic arthroscopic scope confirmed that senior tight end Anthony Hill had significant damage to his anterior cruciate ligament. Minutes later, Hill was undergoing reconstructive knee surgery.

The process was complicated, but the result is easy to understand. Hill, the Pack's most experienced offensive player, would miss all of the 2007 season.

"The only other player on the roster who took snaps at tight end last season is Marcus Stone."

"This is a difficult loss for our football team and for Anthony personally," said O'Brien. "But injuries are a part of the game so we need to try to look at the bright side. He still has a red-shirt year so he should be able to have a successful rehabilitation period. The extra semesters will also help him achieve his goal of attaining his degree before pursuing what will hopefully be a long career in the NFL."

Hill led the team in receptions, catching nearly four passes a game and earning second-team All-ACC honors in the process. So at first it might be hard to spot the 'bright side' from a team perspective going into the season.

A relative positive is that the injury occurred before fall practice even started. At the very least it allows the players and coaching staff to prepare for the season knowing the team won't have one of its most potent weapons. It also gives the players behind him on the depth chart an opportunity to practice with the first team from day one. Losing Hill obviously hurts, but it far from cripples the NC State offense.

The most experienced tight end behind Hill on the roster is Matt Kushner, a redshirt sophomore who saw time in all 12 of the Pack's games last year. Kushner is a good blocking tight end who played left tackle in high school, but he didn't catch a pass all season. He might see a couple of balls thrown his way this year and will certainly see an increased number of snaps, but will probably remain primarily a blocking end.

The only other player on the roster who took snaps at tight end last season is Marcus Stone, but calling him experienced at the position is a pretty big stretch. Stone caught four passes for 68 yards last season, the only "tight end" on the roster to catch a pass last season apart from Hill. Still, the senior spent just a handful of games at the position last season after losing his starting quarterback job to Daniel Evans and has plenty of work to do according to O'Brien.

"Bryan comes in as a true freshman but was one of the top-rated prospects in the state."

"I think he can be very good. He's very talented, he caught the ball extremely well," O'Brien said. "Blocking is all new to him, but he's worked hard to get his steps down, his body position, his hands.

"He worked as hard as anybody this spring. He made good progress but he's certainly not where he has to be and he understands that. The technique he has to learn and he's never learned how to do it."

The 'bright side' of the problem is that O'Brien didn't lean heavily on pass-catching tight ends at Boston College. Over the last three seasons, tight ends have caught just 16 percent of all completed passes. Compare this to NC State last season, where Hill alone caught 23 percent of all passes. So perhaps the loss of Hill won't have as big an impact under the new offensive system, since it doesn't lean heavily on a receiving tight end.

The two wild cards in the equations are newcomers R.J. Armstrong and George Bryan. Armstrong, a late signee, was tabbed a preseason JUCO All-American at Butler Community College. He didn't post big numbers at Butler as the team focused on running the ball in 2006, and he is reportedly a very good blocker.

Bryan comes in as a true freshman, but was one of the top-rated prospects in the state and caught eight touchdown passes while at New Hanover High School last year.

Both could figure into the equation if they make a big enough impression on the coaching staff this fall.

"These skills spots can play [right away], and we are pretty good at those skill spots," O'Brien said.

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