Backs Turning Heads

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Returning starter Jamelle Eugene is out this spring with a shoulder injury but that hasn't kept him from attending practices and watching the other tailbacks in action.

Returning starter Jamelle Eugene is out this spring with a shoulder injury but that hasn't kept him from attending practices and watching the other tailbacks in action.

The only returning contributor is junior Curtis Underwood, but redshirt freshman Brandon Barnes and redshirt senior Toney Baker are using the additional reps to get better.

"He's got to get back in the groove."

Baker in particular is one to watch. He arrived in Raleigh as a five-star recruit, and the Pack's top signee in the 2005 recruiting class. He split time with other backs his first two seasons at NC State but still managed to rush for 1,234 yards and 11 scores.

In 2007, Baker outperformed Andre Brown and Eugene to win the starting job heading into the season opener against Central Florida. However, his season would be over just four quarters in.

He damaged his knee and required surgery that sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Now he's back and looking to find stay at the top of the depth chart.

"The good thing is he's still at it everyday," said head coach Tom O'Brien following Tuesday's practice. "It's going to be a process for him. He's made every practice and he hasn't missed anything right now and that's the positive.

"He's got to get back in the groove. It's been September of '07 since he's had pads on. This is a key 15 days for him. Certainly if he makes it through these 15 days, he'll train for the summer and be ready to go in August and play for us."

Redshirt freshman linebacker Terrell Manning has had a chance to watch Eugene, Baker, and Barnes and he believes all three give the Wolfpack a potent trio.

"He's a talented kid."

"I did a lot of rehab with Toney, and he's a different type of back," said Manning. "I watched him play a long time ago, and he's really good. Jamelle, he's straight speed and quickness, and with Brandon, he's an all-around player.

"You're bringing a lot of different aspects to the game with those three backs. You have to stop them, and they are all different. It's going to be a lot harder for other defenses, and it's hard on us this spring."

Underwood is also in the mix, and don't sleep on true freshman James Washington. The Orlando (FL) native enrolled in January and is already impressing his head coach.

"He's a talented kid," said O'Brien. "I don't know if he's gonna... if we can get Toney Baker healthy, not that he's not healthy but make it back fully, and with Jamelle and Brandon Barnes, who is looking good and all that.

"I don't know if [Washington is] going to find a way on to the field this year but he certainly has got a bright future here, I would think, from what I've seen so far."


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