O'Brien: Pack Looking to Improve

RALEIGH, NC -- NC State head coach Tom O'Brien met with the media today to discuss the start of the Wolfpack's spring practice. The Wolfpack also released an updated organizational chart that featured several new potential contributors.

  • 2009 Spring Organizational Chart

    Tom O'Brien Press Conference

    What are your main priorities this spring?
    The thing we concentrate on in the spring that I learned from Coach Welsh way back when is that individuals have to improve. The biggest thing is to try to get people in the right position where they can help us win football games, but certainly, each individual has to improve. As individuals improve then your team is going to improve.

    We are in a situation that we're going to give, and we always have done this, the [upperclassmen] basically have first shots at positions where they have played. Obviously if a guy is a two-year starter he will be at the top of the chart right now, and then we will go from there.

    It's not set in stone. There will be position changes throughout spring practice I'm sure. Hopefully by the 15th practice we'll be a much better team than we were at the first practice.

    Losing both of your guards, did you consider moving guys from the defensive side of the ball?
    We're not as deep on the defensive line. We did take Wayne Crawford, who played basically as our fifth defensive tackle last year, and we moved him to offense. We're going to take a look at him starting out at center to see if we have the same kind of luck that we did with Teddy Larsen a year ago. He's the only move right now.

    You look at the freshmen on that line in [R.J.] Mattes, [Zach] Allen, [Andrew] Wallace, and Sam Jones... they were recruited to come in and play. Now they are all young kids and redshirted as freshmen, but they are certainly going to have an opportunity to work there way in... but they are the future of the offensive line here.

    Thoughts on Toney Baker's progress:
    Toney Baker has made every workout. He has done very well in the strength and conditioning area. Starting about the end of November he really made great strides in his rehab.

    You could see as we went through that the doctors then felt very good about him clearing him for full-go once he came back in January. He was cleared at that point and has taken place in everything right now... looked very good doing his running test last week. Certainly it would be a big boost for our program if he's able to come back and help us.

    How difficult have these two years been for him?
    I think they've been very difficult. Came in with such high expectations, we did of him, to go down the first game he played, and then had a couple surgeries, a couple of setbacks during rehab, but you have to give him credit. He stuck with it, he didn't miss any rehab, he was always around... always working very hard to get himself back to where he is. Certainly we all hope that he succeeds.

    Thoughts Jamelle Eugene status and others listed out for spring practice:
    He has a shoulder so right now... those guys are out for spring practice. Those are guys that I don't expect to practice. That happens in spring practice... there are going to be bumps and bruises as we go along. Sometimes it's too hard to put down whose going to miss a practice and be back in two days, but those are the guys that are definitely going to be out for spring practice.

    Do you expect all of them to be back in the fall?

    Thoughts on Russell Wilson:
    We sat down... certainly his knee is still not cleared to go full-go and won't be cleared I don't think... the doctor has been pretty specific that from the first day he was hurt he said it was going to be 12 weeks. He said he would check him as time went on, which he did. After the last time he checked he said he would clear him a week from today, when the time is for full-go... whether it would be him on the football field or on the baseball field.

    We sat down and worked out a schedule where he won't miss any time with the baseball team but he'll still be able to make most of our practice times. So, we'll continue to go... certainly as I told him, if he's going to sit on the bench and do nothing... if he can go help the baseball team then certainly he can go do that. He assured me that they told him he would be starting once he was back in the lineup or able to go. We'll see how that plays out right now.

    There is a lot of things decision-making wise that he has to get better at that will keep him from some of these injury situations he's gotten himself into. Couple of times he's gotten hurt, if he makes a better decision he doesn't put himself into the situation where he gets hit. Those are all things we can work on and certainly we can monitor through practice and make sure he doesn't get hit one way or another to keep him healthy to do it.

    Thoughts on improvement for Wilson:
    Your strengths are your weaknesses, and your weakness is your strength. Obviously one of his strengths is pulling the ball down and taking off and running with it. Now we don't want to discourage that, but there are still times when he can throw the ball that he doesn't have to run. He can throw the ball and complete the pass and we can get a 20-yard gain without him running 60 yards to get 20 yards. So those are things that we want him to get better at in the spring.

    If he can do that, and I think he can, we're going to find out. Certainly, you don't get any better until you play, and I've said this many times. If you got better just at practice or osmosis watching tape, then he would've been great starting the year, but he wasn't. He got better as he played and he learned. The first half of the Rutgers game was probably the most complete first half he played all year, but that goes back to he played... and this is true of a lot of guys, not just Russell Wilson, he went back, looked at the tapes, this is what we're trying to teach, this is what we're trying to accomplish, and we practiced, practiced, practiced and play the game. We played pretty good in the Rutgers game, a lot of guys did.

    He has history now that he can go back and look at it and we can try to move beyond that point where he is now.

    Thoughts on Mike Glennon:
    I hope he competes for the job and tries to take it away from Russell. I think that's the best situation. You always want to focus in on the quarterbacks, but there might be three or four other jobs here that are up for grabs.

    There is a lot of young kids on this.... there is a lot of sophomores and freshmen on this roster who are going to have a chance to compete and win jobs. Their job is to compete and to push the guys who thinks they are the starters, and nobody better think they are the starters cause no one owns a jersey. North Carolina State owns the jerseys. A guy like George Bryan doesn't own it or Owen Spencer... I'm just picking names off this list right now. They don't own the jersey, they have to earn it.

    Glennon has that potential tag, that dangerous tag, potential, which means you haven't done anything yet. He'll certainly have his opportunities. He's worked extremely hard in the out-of-season, looked at a lot of tape. I think he's much better than he was a year ago. It became pretty obvious to us after the first couple of scrimmages that our choice was going to be either Glennon or Wilson coming into the fall. Russell ended up winning that competition then, but... he's the incumbent and it is his job, but I think Michael Glennon wants to take it away from him.

    What do you like about Glennon as a player?
    I think he has a great arm. He has a lot of natural physical abilities for that position, and the way we have had people play that position in the past. He makes all the throws that you want to make. I think he's got the right head on his shoulders. I think he's smart enough to understand. Now the question is, can he make the step that he didn't last year... can he make that step to make those decisions when he has to in that split-second time. If the game slows down sufficiently enough for him to see where he's supposed to go with the ball.

    What did you see from Brandon Barnes in the fall?
    We saw a very talented young man. We thought it was best if we could redshirt him and get through the year with... when you had Jamelle and you had Andre, there's not a lot of other carries except when one of them went down, and then Curtis Underwood's been around. The thing is with Jamelle out this spring, that gives Toney Baker, that gives [Barnes] and it gives [James] Washington, the other true freshman that is here, an opportunity to get a lot of reps here in spring practice to see what we have.

    Thoughts on offensive line situation and if it is starting to get where he wants it to be:
    I think so, but if you look, four of those guys are seniors... three-year seniors, and then you go back to redshirt freshmen for the most part. There is a big gap there.

    That is a huge position for us. Obviously recruiting, as we go forward, and part of the class coming in now and the class that we have to recruit. But as I said, [Andy] Barbee was a backup last year that played some guard. We are going to give him the opportunity to get a starting spot. We looked at the left side, and we played [Jake] Vermiglio at guard and tackle, but we never put Julian [Williams] inside at guard. As we told him, "We are going to start you at guard to see how you play at guard with Vermiglio."

    Put the guys that are most senior up front, and have the opportunity to have been in football games to see if they can handle it. This is spring practice, those guys on the backup are going to get as much work as the guys on the front line anyways. There going to have their opportunity. Who knows how it is going to shake out by the time we play South Carolina?

    Thoughts on the defensive line:
    Much more experienced up front. Two of the guys are junior college kids we brought in last year that missed spring practice, and had to catch up. In fact, [Shea] McKeen had to miss maybe the first 10 days of fall camp.

    This is their first real experience to get better... it would have been the practice in between the end of the season and the bowl game with Rutgers, and McKeen missed that because his ankle was broken. This is his first opportunity to go to spring practice. LeRoy [Burgess] has improved a lot. [Alan-Michael] Cash, we've got to keep him healthy. He hasn't been healthy since we've been here through a whole season. Willie [Young], as we said from the start, he was our best recruit coming into this year.

    If you keep people healthy, what is this team capable of?
    You would certainly think we could be better than we were a year ago. That's the idea, to keep getting better each and every year.

    We are going to have to be healthy. We are going to have to ask a lot from young kids. There are only 14 seniors on this football, and only I think 16 juniors right now. The bottom two classes have a lot of people in it. They are going to have to step up and play and help these older guys.

    You look to increase and be a much better team, not only offensively, defensively and special teams, but certainly wins and losses as we go into next year.

    There are some people who may pick you as the favorite to win the division. Is that alright?
    I don't care where they pick me. I never have. It doesn't make any difference to me where they pick me.

    Do you feel like you are getting things going in the direction that you want?
    Yeah, they are. I don't know why they would pick us, but that is their choice to do what they do.

    Thoughts on Dwayne Maddox and the battle at strongside linebacker:
    We don't have anybody out there. We lost both [Robbie] Leonard and [Ryan] Goodman. That is a hole there.

    Once again, you are trying to get your best players on the field. [Terrell] Manning, we didn't see a lot of until the bowl practice because he was hurt the whole year with his knee. He is suited out there. We're going to find out if Dwayne is suited out there, because if you look inside, with those four guys inside, the same four guys we played with last year. So, they have to get better, and you hope that they get better.

    It's the same thing, if they improve inside, then we have to find somebody to play that field linebacker position.

    Are you going to be at the parade or practice on Saturday?
    I'm going to be in the parade at 12 o'clock and I'm going to be on the practice field at 1:00... by the time I finish it is 12:30. I just won't be able to take part in the festivities.

    Thoughts on the secondary:
    You have three kids (at cornerback) who have played in games in [Dominique] Ellis, [DeAndre] Morgan and Koyal George. Once again, we've got a couple of good freshmen that we redshirted last year that we think highly of... we have to find out about going into the spring.

    The problem still comes in to the safety position. Clem [Johnson] has to be much better, and we've got to keep him healthy. He's like the other two guys up front, he gets to go through a spring practice where you are not worried about playing a football game, you are worried about stance, alignment, reads and all the things that you have to do to be successful.

    Then, the key is going to be, who is going to be the other safety. We have to find another guy. It certainly isn't a settled position by any stretch of the imagination. Hopefully, we can find another guy alongside of him, and then we'll start looking for backups. If safeties have got to go to corner and corners have to go to safety... we'll have do some experimenting there also.

    Would Byers fit there, maybe moving to corner? Some think with his pass-coverage ability he could be a fit at corner.
    He could, but right now we need more at safety than we do at corner.

    The spring game, you're doing a fundraiser for Kay Yow?
    Yes, we are going to dedicate the spring game in the memory of Kay Yow, and it is going to be her foundation. What we will do is we will ask people to make a dollar donation as they come in.

    Children will get in free, but adults that come to the spring game will have to give a minimum of a dollar. You can give whatever they want, but it is going to cost you a dollar toward the Kay Yow Fund for the spring game. As long as I'm here, that is what we'll do with the spring game, it will be in her memory and her honor and her foundation.

    We are working right now with women's basketball, and this just came about in the last 10 days, hopefully, we'll have the women's basketball players at the gates manning the buckets, taking the dollar donations if we can get that done.

    Who will be participating in Pro Day?
    All the seniors. I expect they will all be back here, if not today, then certainly by tomorrow.

    Do you appreciate being asked to do the parade?
    Sure... if they need a Grand Marshall I'd be happy to do it and go through the parade.

    Has anybody left the program?
    No one has left. Everybody else is still here, as far as I know.

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