O'Brien Hopes for a Quarterback Battle

NC State head coach Tom O'Brien knows how important Russell Wilson is to his team's success. The talented quarterback was a major reason NC State reached postseason play for the first time since 2005.

NC State head coach Tom O'Brien knows how important Russell Wilson is to his team's success.

As a redshirt freshman, Wilson posted a 5-4 record in games he started and completed. He didn't play in games against William & Mary and South Florida, and missed extensive time against South Carolina and Rutgers. The Pack was 1-3 in those games, with the lone win coming against the Tribe.

He had arguably the best season a freshman quarterback has had in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The league's Rookie of the Year, Wilson was also the first freshman in league history to be named first-team All-ACC quarterback. He finished the year accounting for 21 touchdowns with 17 coming through the air, the most in the conference. Wilson also led the ACC in passing efficiency, total offense, and points responsible for.

He only threw one interception all season, fewest among all FBS quarterbacks ranked in the NCAA passing categories, and set a school record by attempting 249 consecutive passes without an interception, an active-streak that leads the country.

However, he suffered three injuries during the year that forced him to miss time, including a tear of his posterior cruciate ligament late in the second quarter of the Wolfpack's bowl game against Rutgers. He had passed for 186 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 46 yards prior to the injury. The Wolfpack led 17-6 when he was sidelined and went on to lose 29-23.

That injury will likely cause Wilson to miss the Wolfpack's first day of spring practice, set for this Friday.

"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," said O'Brien. "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."

The question most Pack fans wonder is if Wilson will be on the gridiron or baseball diamond after he is cleared to begin practicing. Not only is the rising sophomore a football star, he is also a valuable contributor to the Pack's baseball squad.

In 32 games as a true freshman, Wilson started 16 games and hit .296 with two home runs, eight RBIs and six stolen bases in seven attempts. He played second base, third base and designated hitter for the Wolfpack, helping the team reach the super regionals.

"His knee is still not cleared to go full-go."

As of now, look for Wilson to spend the majority of his time this spring with coach Avent's baseball team while also attending as many spring practices as possible. Last spring, when he was competing for the Pack's starting quarterback job, he didn't miss a spring practice.

"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," said O'Brien. "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."

Despite the success Wilson has had at quarterback, coach O'Brien believes there are areas where he can improve, specifically ways he can develop that will prevent him from taking hits which could lead to other injuries.

"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," said O'Brien. "A 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."

Wilson's ability to make plays not only with his arm but also his feet just might be his biggest strength. The 5-foot-11, 208-pounder is a playmaker in the open field, as he can scramble to buy time for his receivers or break long runs to move the chains.

"Your strengths are your weaknesses, and your weakness is your strength," O'Brien stated. "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."

"Your strengths are your weaknesses, and your weakness is your strength."

"The first half of the Rutgers game was probably the most complete first half he played all year," O'Brien added. "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. 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."

Wilson's time off the gridiron opens the door for redshirt freshman Mike Glennon. The 6-foot-6, 211-pounder from Chantilly, Virginia arrived at NC State last summer with lofty expectations and apparently he showcased what he could do right away as he nearly won the starting job in preseason.

"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," said O'Brien. "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."

With just 14 seniors and 16 juniors on the Wolfpack's 85-man roster, NC State is going to field a team this fall that will count on the play of freshmen and sophomores. Glennon will be one of several youngsters O'Brien hopes can compete for a starting job. Although Wilson is the top quarterback in the league, Glennon pushing him for the starting job will only make both players better. It is obvious the Wolfpack head coach enjoys competition and position battles within the team.

"I hope [Glennon] competes for the job and tries to take it away from Russell," said O'Brien. "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 are 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."

According to O'Brien, Glennon has all of the physical tools you look for in a quarterback. Now the key will be if he is able to make the right decisions in crucial situations because the potential is there for him to be a quality player.

"Glennon has that potential tag, that dangerous tag, potential, which means you haven't done anything yet," O'Brien said. "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.

"He has a lot of natural physical abilities for that position."

"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?"

Either way, NC State has to feel better about the quarterback situation than it did this time last year. Last spring, Wilson, Justin Burke, Daniel Evans, and Harrison Beck were all competing for the job with Glennon still attending Westfield High School. Now the Wolfpack returns the ACC's first-team quarterback and a backup that O'Brien hopes can compete for the job.

With a reliable performer at the sport's most important position and experience returning on both sides of the football, some pundits consider the Wolfpack a legitimate contender for the Atlantic Division crown. Obviously not a fan of preseason polls, O'Brien wouldn't go that far.

"I don't care where they pick me," he said. "I never have. It doesn't make any difference to me where they pick me... I don't know why they would pick us [to win the Atlantic Division], but that is their choice to do what they do."

Why would they pick NC State? Russell Wilson is why... and maybe even Mike Glennon.

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