The first question posed to coach Tom O'Brien was one that concerns most State fans heading into the season, and that is the status of injured linebacker Nate Irving. O'Brien said he doesn't have an update on Irving's situation and won't know anything until the redshirt junior meets with doctors again in mid-August.
"He's out indefinitely until we end up with all of the doctor's reports. He doesn't go back until the middle of August," O'Brien said.
Though O'Brien is hopeful that Irving will return, he said the team will be mentally prepared for a season without the standout linebacker.
"Our kids harbor that fact and they understand that he may not be there and that somebody else is going to have to pick up the load and play better."
Irving missed a third of last season with injuries, which gave some younger linebackers necessary experience for the Pack to progress in his absence this season.
"The good thing is that Dwayne Maddox got to play a lot of football last year when Nate was down. His starting point, once again, will be much better going into the fall and right now, whether it's going to be him or somebody else in that spot, by playing a couple of those freshman last year, we're going to be in a better situation to withstand the injury to Nate this year."
O'Brien said the Pack will utilize Irving as soon as he is cleared to play, even if there are only a few games left in the season.
"He's already had a redshirt year, so whenever he's eligible, released by the doctors, [he will play]. I mean, this is a medical decision. I have nothing to do with this. Once the doctors tell us that he's cleared to go, if we're still playing football, he'll play."
Experience Key To Improvement
O'Brien said he anticipates improvement from last season, notably because experience and depth on offense give the Pack much more certainty than in O'Brien's first two seasons.
"This time a year ago we went into the first game with a center that had never snapped a ball in a college football game and a quarterback who had never played in a college football game.
"There's much more experience on this football team than there was a year ago. We have a situation, I think for the first time since I've been in Raleigh, where we're not counting on walk-ons to provide depth in our two-deep."
The question facing O'Brien and the Pack is how they will respond to raised expectations, as many media outlets are high on the Pack to emerge as a contender for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
"To a certain degree, we're enthusiastic and have high expectations. But you really don't have to do much to raise expectations in Wolfpack nation."
Team Strengths And Weaknesses
For the first time in several years, the Pack has certainty at quarterback heading into the 2009 season. Returning First Team All-ACC quarterback Russell Wilson, as well as highly-touted redshirt freshman Mike Glennon, gives the Pack an edge on offense it has lacked in years past.
Tom O'Brien signing
a helmet for a fan.
"We have some returning people. When you have a quarterback come back from paying the way that Russell did at the end of last year and someone like Mike Glennon, who pushes him to making him a better quarterback and apply depth. The fact that Teddy Larson has been through a season at center and our offensive line seems to be getting better and progressing in the spring."
O'Brien also said the continuity of the coaching staff has benefited the program as players are beginning to believe in his system after some success last season.
"We have the same coaching staff that we've had for three years. We're teaching the same things, our players now believe what we're teaching, they accept those facts there's not as much freelancing and questioning going on."
As it has in O'Brien's first two seasons, success will likely revolve more around health than talent.
"Certainly we can't have as many injuries this year as we have the last two years. Hopefully we've turned that corner. The fact that we lost Nate, out indefinitely, this would be the third year in a row we've lost one of our top players for the season…I think we're much better physically and mentally prepared to be a much more competitive football team this year," he said.
Willie The Leader
O'Brien applauded redshirt senior Willie Young for returning to school for his senior season instead of entering the NFL Draft. O'Brien said Young has matured a great deal since his arrival and has gained great confidence from earning his degree.
"By coming back it's helped us as a program grow and it's helped our kids understand there's something to staying in school and the opportunity to move up on draft day and not just be a draftable guy but be somebody special. That's what he wants to be," O'Brien said.
When asked his thoughts on Congress being involved in developing a playoff system in college football, O'Brien drew laughter and applause from luncheon attendees when he said, "There are a lot of people in Congress that don't know if it's blown up or stuffed. They need to work on our economy and our health care."