O'Brien: 'Competition is Good'

RALEIGH, N.C. -- At today's press conference, NC State head coach Tom O'Brien discussed fall camp and the upcoming season with the media.

Tom O'Brien Audio

Thoughts on secondary:
We have a lot of work to do. We've got some young kids that played pretty good yesterday for the first time out of the box. That was encouraging.

It's a situation that certainly isn't settled by any stretch of the imagination... I think we're athletic enough to be good. We've just got to figure out who the right kids are that will give us an opportunity to win.

Thoughts on Rashard Smith:
As I said, some of those freshmen, he's one of them, Jarvis Byrd back there is another one getting an opportunity at the corner spot.

Rashard made a nice break on the ball last night, intercepted a pass and took it all the way back. Now if we played live, all the way back I don't know if he would make it, but he did what he had to do in that situation and that's a positive.

That's what you look for. You look for guys that understand the fundamentals and basic concepts of the defense and see if they can execute it.

Thoughts on Koyal George:
I think he has a lot of confidence... we moved him to corner because we saw a deficit coming and we needed to get some athletes back there in the secondary.

He understands the defense and he's a guy who understands offense too... he made a nice break and picked one off last night, his was a legitimate 33-yard return.

You get confidence by playing executing and being in games and having success. He's starting to have some success.

Thoughts on Terrell Manning:
I think he's a lot more comfortable inside... that's where he played in high school. I think he feels comfortable in there. It's like starting from square one again. He's got some things he's got to do, not only assignment-wise but fundamental-wise.

You look at ability, I think he does some things natural in there that's very positive for us. It's just a case of him continuing to work hard and getting as many reps as we can give. He'll get better. It's important that he works hard.

Thoughts on having a proven quarterback:
I think that's the most valuable piece of any college team. The more you have a quarterback with experience and has played, the better off your starting point is for the next year.

Certainly nobody can rest on their laurels, and our quarterback has basically proven himself in four and a half games at the end of the year so he really doesn't have a great track record. He's got a lot of work still to do, but certainly if he can build on last year and get better than what he was... we're in a much better starting point at quarterback today than we was last year at this time.

What has Toney Baker shown you in his comeback?
He was better off last night than he was at anytime during the spring. That's a positive for us. Getting through the spring, confidence-wise, was big for him that he could do it. I don't know if he was totally sure of himself in the spring.

He ran last night with a little bit of power and burst that we hadn't seen in the spring. He's still not all the way back, but he's tracking in that direction which is good news for our football team.

Thoughts on depth of offensive line:
A lot of those redshirt kids are backing up. I think they are learning fire by baptism. They are out there getting their heads beat in a little bit, but that's okay. That's where you should be.

Hopefully the guys that we have up front will be good enough to help them learn as they go along. It doesn't meant they'll be backups forever, they may end up being players here before the season's over... being counted on.

It's hard position to play. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work to be an offensive lineman. We're in better shape there because we have all those redshirt freshmen, and Crawford coming over from the defense, then we were in the past... there's talent there and scholarship kids.

Were the interceptions last night great plays or something else?
I think Rashard Smith made a really good play and a break on the ball.

I think the other were jumpballs. As I said to the team last night, one of the things a quarterback has to have, if we're going to throw a deep ball he has to find out which receiver will go up and get the ball. In two situations, CJ Wilson and Koyal George outfought the offensive guy for the football.

There's always a ying and an yang when you play yourself. The good thing was the defense went up and made plays the bad thing is the offense has to make those. They have an equal chance to make them.

As a program, how far away are you from where you want to be depth-wise?
Probably one or two recruiting years to get in the flow you want, replacement system for all the positions we have.

It's something we have to work on and continue to try to do, but we're certainly better than we were the past two years today.

Thoughts on potentially having to replace Nate Irving:
You're not going to replace Nate Irving. We don't have another player on our football team like him. He came out of spring practice the No. 1 rated defensive player on our football team.

It's a good news-bad news thing. The bad news is we lost him. The good news is we lost him far enough down the way that we can make some adjustments and get the next best players on the field.

You're not going to replace him out there and we'll find out Thursday if he's going to make it back sometime this year or if it's going to be for another year.

More on Irving:
He's already seen his shoulder, lung, and rib doctor so now he goes to his leg doctor. He was up here a couple of weeks ago, actually Sunday reporting day, and he was walking. That's all I know.

How is Donald Bowens progressing?
He's on the training team so I don't see him. With the new NCAA rule, he was reported and replaced because he couldn't make it through preseason camp. He's on his own program. He's not on our program.

Thoughts on Curtis Underwood:
I think Curtis has done a nice job. He had a lot of knicks in the past, but he's made every practice and drill. I think he's really done a nice job.

He ran last night with some power for the first time too. He and Toney Baker give us that ability to run with some power inside. It's been a positive for him for the first day of practices.

Can you say who was No. 1 rated on offense and who was behind Nate on defense?
What I do is make all coaches rate all the players on offense and defense... top 20 players, and then I compile them.

It's pretty interesting sometimes to see how the defense looks at the offense and how the offense look at the defense and then they rate their own players.

I think Nate was No. 1 and Willie No. 2. Russell was No. 1 on offense.

How do you plan on working Irving back if he's cleared?
We'll wait and see what happens Thursday and go from there.

It's not only the breaks and punctured lung that has to heal. Then you have to start a rehab program to get back in shape. Looking at all of you, I know you understand that, you're in such great shape, that one day not working out really blows you up. It takes you a little longer to get back in shape.

He has to go through that to get in shape again.

Thoughts on George Bryan:
Right now I think he might be a little too heavy. We're going to cut his weight down. He looks like he wants to be an offensive tackle so he's got to lose some weight, but he's certainly playing with a lot more confidence than he did a year ago.

Once you understand what you're supposed to do, then you can play much faster. He's a guy we expect to be a faster guy this year than he was last year.

I don't know what he is today, but I know he was over 270 when he came in. I think we told him to get down to 265 which he ought to carry fine.

Thoughts on defensive line:
Those first four guys, I sound like a broken record, they played last year. That's a positive.

The Sweezy move was a good move. We moved J.R. from defensive end to linebacker and finally got him in at defensive tackle and he looks to have found a home in there. Mageo is a tough solid player.... kind of what we want in a run-stopper. Audi Augustin has played well.

Those kids have done a nice job. They have some more experience up front than those redshirt freshmen do on that second line. We've got a good battle going on with both groups trying to control the line of scrimmage.

You are 6-1 against the other in-state programs. How important does it mean to you to beat the in-state teams?
It's important to the Wolfpack Nation so it has to be important to me. I can't be dumb about that. Certainly we were [the best] last year and we are going to play them again this year. We have to defend our title. We'll see how good we are this year.

Where does Toney Baker fit in right now at running back?
There's a lot of competition going on. You've got Jamelle, Toney, and we talked about Curtis Underwood. Brandon Barnes has done a nice job, and James Washington, the freshman who came in mid-year, looks like he's going to be an excellent back.

They are fighting it out to see who the three backs are against South Carolina. Competition is good.

Thoughts on scheduling:
Lee Fowler is a smart man. He saw the economy coming down and decided to have eight home games so we don't travel which is great.

We'll play eight here, we'll take a bus to Wake Forest, bus to Virginia Tech. We'll only take two airplane trips so I'm saving money here this year.

The schedule is what it is. The whole thing about playing Carolina at the end, it has nothing to do with playing Carolina. As I said to somebody, we'll play them in the parking lot if they want to play this afternoon. I really don't care when we play them.

I think if we're going to have a football league, and be a major player, you can't be playing games like that when you might be playing each other again the next week.

That was the whole intent of my statement. It had to do with the conference in trying to make us a viable player if we're going to be a conference. Last year, Boston College had to beat Maryland to get [in the title game]. It wasn't a big deal. Those things have to be big deals if we go on, if we're going to be a player at the national level.

Have you voiced those concerns?
I said them a year ago before we played Miami. Nobody listened. Of course if you say it when you play North Carolina everybody listens and thinks it's something else.

In four years in the league, I've played Miami twice, Maryland once, and now North Carolina. I've played three crossover games before the conference title.

Put it here... we're going to play Carolina last game of the year. We're both going to play in Tampa. Which would be the most important game? That game out there... what does it mean?

Are you optimistic it will change?
I don't know. I'm just a football coach.

Thoughts on Matt Kushner's return:
I saw him last night after the scrimmage and asked him how he felt. He said he felt really good. Coming off a knee injury, that's an important thing, to get out there and feel that things are positive.

He certainly helps the tight end position. We like to play with a lot of tight ends. He and George Bryan give us powerful guys to get in there and help with the running game.

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