CFN: NC State Preview – Offense writer Richard Cirminiello takes a closer look at NC State's 2009 offense.

NC State Wolfpack

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN NC State Preview | 2009 NC State Offense 
- 2009 NC State Defense | 2009 NC State Depth Chart 
- 2008 NC State Preview | 2007 NC State Preview | 2006 NC State Preview

What you need to know: Now that Tom O’Brien has his quarterbacks of the future, he and his staff must surround Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon with an appropriate level of talent. Wilson was the surprise of the ACC last season, beginning the year on the bench and ending it on the all-conference first team. He needs more help, however, specifically from an offensive line that’s prone to getting bullied at the line of scrimmage. When the blockers aren’t doing their jobs, RB Jamelle Eugene can’t maneuver into space and Wilson is flushed from the pocket way too often. Eugene is hoping to get help from Toney Baker, the power portion of the ground game, who’s missed the last two seasons with knee problems. Although the receiving corps needs to tighten things up, junior wideouts Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, and sophomore TE George Bryan might all develop into all-stars before they’re through. Wilson is special, but he can’t produce miracles without some support.   

Returning Leaders
Passing: Russell Wilson
150-275, 1,955 yds, 17 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Jamelle Eugene
95 carries, 442 yds, 2 TD
Owen Spencer
31 catches, 691 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Russell Wilson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LT Jake Vermiglio
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE George Bryan
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Jeraill McCuller
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wilson, 20 WR Owen Spencer, 3) C Ted Larsen
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, Protecting The Ball
Weakness of the offense: Line, Scoring Consistency

Projected Starter: At this time last year, the Wolfpack quarterback situation was a complete mess marked by zero reliable hurlers. Today, the program boasts one of the most stable situations in the conference. Naturally, most of the credit belongs to 5-11, 208-pound sophomore Russell Wilson, the first freshman to ever be named first team All-ACC at the position. A multi-sport athlete, with dual-threat ability, he’s laid the groundwork toward becoming the league’s second-coming of Charlie Ward. In his debut, he coolly went 150-of-275 for 1,955 yards, 18 touchdowns, and one interception, adding 388 yards and four scores on the ground. And like Ward, he has exceptional poise under pressure, especially for such a young player.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Mike Glennon isn’t just the backup quarterback. He’s also the most decorated passer to ever sign with North Carolina State. A 6-6, 211-pound drop-back passer, who can already make all of the throws, he was pursued by the likes of Miami and Florida State before deciding on the Pack. Of course, he’s yet to play a live game, but if the spring is any indication, he’s ready to contribute as early as this fall.

Watch Out For ...
Glennon to be used in more than just blowouts. Tom O’Brien is confident in the abilities of his second-year freshman and wants to be sure that he’s prepared in the event of an injury. Plus, he has a longer arm than Wilson, which could mean opportunities when the deep ball is required.
Strength: The future. Hey, the present isn’t bad at all either, but how excited is the Wolfpack that it’s likely set at the position through the 2012 season? Wilson and Glennon should complement each other nicely, while making sure that neither gets complacent.
Weakness: Durability. The single biggest concern at quarterback, if not the entire program, is that Wilson won’t get up after taking a big hit and will be lost for an extended period of time. That’s not just pessimism since he isn’t very big, spends considerable time outside the pocket, and is coming back from a knee injury.
Outlook: No position encapsulates the enthusiasm surrounding the program more than at quarterback. You just get the feeling that Wilson is the type of dynamic player and mature individual, who’ll someday bring a title to Raleigh. And if Glennon continues to develop in his shadow, NC State will be in great hands under center for the foreseeable future.
: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starters: If the backs can remain healthy, they’ll form a solid unit. Unfortunately, that’s happened infrequently over the past few seasons. The departure of Andre Brown means that 5-10, 195-pound senior Jamelle Eugene takes over as the feature back. He never got on track after missing most of September with an ankle injury, finishing with just 95 carries for 442 yards and two touchdowns in a reserve role. A shifty, cutback runner, he’s a high-energy guy and has the best hands out of the backfield, catching 68 passes over the last two years alone. The Pack hopes he can regain his sophomore form, when he was named the team MVP.

Sophomore Taylor Gentry returns to reprise his role as the fullback and lead blocker in the running game. A 6-2, 224-pound former walk-on, he impressed as a true freshman, playing in every game, starting a pair, and catching seven balls for 72 yards. He won’t be asked to do too much other than hit people, which is his best asset.

Projected Top Reserves: Is this the year that senior Toney Baker finally gets back on the field. Everyone is cautiously optimistic. The snake-bitten 5-10, 225-pound returned to practice this spring after missing the last two seasons to knee injuries. Before the injuries, he was a power back, with the quick feet to dance away from would-be tacklers. In his first two seasons, he rushed for 1,234 yards and 11 touchdowns, a testament to his ability. He plans to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, which means he might be back in 2010.

Battling Baker for the No. 2 job is 5-11, 216-pound junior Curtis Underwood, a backup and special teams performer for the last two seasons. A year ago, he finished with 116 yards on 32 carries and four receptions, showing flashes of the between-the-tackles running that first attracted the program to the New York native.

Long-term, the Pack is very excited about the future of 6-0, 200-pound redshirt freshman Brandon Barnes, one of the gems of the 2008 recruiting class. A tough inside runner, he has the vision and instincts to get through the hole in a hurry. If the defensive backfield doesn’t get its paws on him, he could be pushing for a starting nod next summer.

Watch Out For ... Baker’s continued recovery. Although there are a few layers of rust to be shaken off, he was moving well in March and April, which is promising news for the offense. If he’s truly healthy, it could provide an interesting complement to the flashier Eugene.
Strength: Pass-catching. The Wolfpack backs are quality runners, but they really excel as receivers out of the backfield. Eugene and Baker, in particular, have displayed soft hands in the past, providing a reliable safety valve for the quarterback.
Durability. Evaluating this unit is next to impossible without first talking to the trainer and team physician. Eugene is coming back from shoulder surgery. Baker has had multiple knee surgeries. How well they bounce back after going under the knife will dictate just how productive this backfield is this fall.   
Outlook: There’s talent in the backfield, which was obvious when Brown was drafted by the New York Giants in April. However, injuries and average blocking have kept the ground game from flourishing up to that talent level. Ideally, Baker and Eugene will give the offense a dose of thunder and lightning that’s been missing for the past few seasons. If those nagging health problems creep up, however, the running game will again reside in the ACC’s second division.
: 7


Projected Starters: All of last year’s top wide receivers return, yet the Wolfpack will be looking for far more consistency from the group. The primary threat at “Z”, especially on deep routes, is 6-3, 180-pound junior Owen Spencer, who began taking flight in his first season as the starter. Averaging a whopping 22 yards a reception, he turned 31 catches into 691 yards and five touchdowns. He has the speed and long stride to get separation, but needs to cut down on his drops.

Over at “X” receiver will be 6-4, 205-pound junior Jarvis Williams, another returning starter, who only scratched the surface of his potential last fall. A big and physical presence, he used his size advantage to pull down a career-high 26 balls for 432 yards and four scores. An unselfish player and terrific downfield blocker, he needs to become a little demanding and productive as a pass-catcher.

With Anthony Hill off to the NFL, 6-5, 270-pound sophomore George Bryan is set to take over at tight end. Very impressive in his debut, he started seven games and caught 18 balls for 201 yards and four touchdowns. Particularly for his size, he shows outstanding balance, agility, and foot speed. If he keeps growing the offensive line is liable to recruit to be the team’s next left tackle.

Projected Top Reserves: Injuries have opened the door for 6-2, 197-pound sophomore Jay Smith to get the offseason reps needed to impress the coaching staff. After catching just seven passes for 78 yards last season, he’s made good on the opportunity, playing with aggressiveness and moving to the spot behind Williams at “X”.

Providing depth at “Z” will be 6-0, 180-pound sophomore T.J. Graham, who exploded on to the scene in his rookie year. A starter in six games and one of the league’s more dangerous return men, he caught 16 balls for 251 yards. The fastest and most slippery of the receivers, he needs to get more chances to wreak havoc in space.

While Bryan will be the primary pass-catcher among the tight ends, senior Matt Kushner will do the dirty work as a de facto third guard. At 6-4 and 285 pounds, he’ll catch the occasional pass, but is far more valuable as a road-grader, who can create downfield daylight for the running backs.

Watch Out For ... the health of 6-3, 206-pound junior Donald Bowens. While the Pack would love to him back in time for the opener, it’s more likely that he’ll miss the first month recovering from a knee injury. Too bad, too, because before missing 2008 with a back injury, he was beginning to look like the program’s most dangerous wideout.
Size. The program likes its receivers to be big enough to create match up problems, which is exactly what this group is capable of doing. Aside from Graham, who can hurt you with his jets, all of the primary wideouts are at least 6-2. Spencer and Williams are 6-3 and 6-4, respectively, which is a handful for every secondary in the ACC.
Weakness: Consistency. The receivers and tight ends are physically gifted, but they’re also rather young, which brings its own set of obstacles. The wideouts, in particular, dropped too many passes last season and need to run better routes in order to solidify the passing attack.
Outlook: While the raw materials are in place for the Wolfpack to have a dangerous set of receivers for Russell Wilson, they still need to be molded into complete players, who show up every single Saturday. Spencer is the poster child. He has a star’s ceiling, but to reach it, he’ll have to fine-tune the little things in his game.
: 7

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: If there’s one area of the offense that needs to be improved, it’s up front, where NC State struggled throughout the 2008 season. Even worse, the unit has failed to show considerable progress in the offseason. The line will be built around 6-2, 300-pound senior Ted Larsen, an unlikely anchor at center. A defensive tackle in the beginning of his career, he switched sides of the ball in 2008 and went on to be named Outstanding Lineman of the Year. While it took some time before he was comfortable with the snaps, he eventually found his groove, showing good quickness and burst off the ball.

After Larsen, the Pack’s most consistent blocker is massive senior
Jerrail McCuller, the starter at right tackle. At 6-7 and 335 pounds, he has the large frame and long arms to prevent edge rushers from getting pressure on the quarterbacks. A starter in the last 17 games, he’s allowed just four sacks over that time and has gotten progressively better with his technique. With a strong final year, he could sneak into the latter stages of the NFL Draft.

At left tackle for a third consecutive season is 6-5, 315-pound junior
Jake Vermiglio, who continues to improve with the more reps that he gets. He allowed just three sacks as an eight-game starter in 2008, making strides with his footwork and the use of his hands. Even more progress is needed, however, in order to keep the quarterbacks from getting harassed.

The biggest concern for line coach Don Horton is at guard, where injuries and inconsistency have been most evident. The veteran on the left side is 6-5, 311-pound senior Julian Williams, who is being shifted inside after starting 14 games at tackle over the last two seasons. A quality, veteran blocker, with good leg drive, he’s had problems staying healthy, and was dinged up again at the end of spring. The Pack needs him to be 100% in order to avoid digging deeper into the depth chart.

On the right side will be another relocator, 6-3, 310-pound senior Andy Barbee, who has spent his entire life playing center. A backup over the last two seasons, he’s a steady, fundamentally-sound blocker, yet isn’t going to wow anyone in one particular area. He’ll be looking to lock down the job in the summer, while shutting the door on some of the rising underclassmen.    

Projected Top Reserves: Hope for the future up front can be found in some of the redshirt freshmen, like 6-5, 282-pound LT Andrew Wallace, 6-3, 320-pound LG Zach Allen, and 6-6, 313-pound RG R.J. Mattes. The cornerstones of the 2008 recruiting class—and the Wolfpack second unit—all three will push for playing time this fall.

Wallace has the size, quickness, and footwork to challenge for a starting job in 2010. He’s added weight since arriving at 260 pounds, yet still does a nice job of getting out of his stance and walling off the edge.

Allen is a physical, road-grader type, drive blocking his man until the whistle and generally doing a nice job as a run blocker. Considering his size and overall strength, he’s relatively light on his feet and able to engage well beyond the line of scrimmage.

Of the three, Mattes was the most highly-regarded coming out of high school, getting offers from the majority of ACC schools. Built more like a tackle, he’ll begin his career on the inside, where his inexperience his less likely to show.

Watch Out For ... the shuffling to continue up front, specifically at guard. Horton would like to believe that he has settled on his starting five, but that just wasn’t the case coming out of spring. Barbee still needs to prove that he belongs in the regular lineup and Williams has to show that he’s physically capable of holding up for an entire year.
Strength: First-unit experience. If all goes as planned, the Wolfpack starting unit will be comprised of four seniors and a junior. If nothing else, this group has seen everything and has thorough of the offense and their assignments.
Weakness: Run blocking. The Pack’s problems on the ground in recent years are directly attributable to the performance of the offensive line. Rarely are the backs given much room to run or make things happen. At the point of attack, North Carolina State must win more battles, or else the talents of Jamelle Eugene and Toney Baker will be somewhat wasted.
Outlook: If State fails to reach all of its goals in 2009, the offensive line will undoubtedly share some of the blame. It’s a marginal unit without any anchor or sure-thing all-stars to consistently run behind. Tom O’Brien and his staff traditionally do a great job of coaching up linemen, but they’re not illusionists. Until those recruits from 2008 start to win jobs, the line will remain ordinary.
: 6.5


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