The second installment of our six-part series on NC State's 2009 Scout Team focuses on the Wolfpack's tailbacks and tight ends!
While the Wolfpack offensive scout team unit in 2009 clearly had plenty of experience and talent in the passing game, it was in the running game that the unit really shined – and much of that had to do with the presence of Curtis Underwood.
After gaining significant experience on the field in 2007 and 2008, Underwood decided to redshirt in 2009 in order to focus on his overall game. With seniors Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene receiving most of the carries last year, it made sense for Underwood to take a year to work with the scout team and develop his skills – and according to offensive scout team coordinator Jeff Archer, the decision really paid off for him.
"With Curtis there, I think he matured a lot over this past season," said Archer. "He knew he wasn't going to play, so his mindset was to make himself better and make the defense better – and he went 100 percent of the time. When he came in here, he wasn't a burner – he was more of a ‘north-south' guy. But with all the different offenses we had to simulate this year, he had a chance to work on his ‘east-west' skills, and I think that helped him out a lot."
Archer was quick to point out that Underwood's continued development and his willingness to do whatever it took to give the Pack's first-team defense all it could handle were the main reasons he was selected the 2009 Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year. He understands that more will be expected of him, and Archer knows that the Wolfpack will have a more balanced running attack as a result.
"Sometimes he thinks he's a skill back, and sometimes he thinks he can run you over," he said, "but what's good about Curtis is he knows when to use those talents at the right time. He doesn't excel in one area – he does it in numerous areas."
With Baker and Eugene moving on, the 5-11, 220-lb. Underwood is expected to play a significant role in the Wolfpack's backfield in 2010. However, he will be challenged by other talented running backs, true sophomore James Washington, redshirt sophomore Brandon Barnes and true freshman Mustafa Greene.
Washington was with the scout team unit for about half a week, according to Archer, before being called up. At that same time, Barnes came back down for the brief time before Washington's season-ending injury. During that time, Barnes had to learn to make some adjustments in his running style, and according to Archer, it is still a learning process for him.
"I think he's going to have to learn that he's not an east-west guy – he's a north-south guy," he said. "He's a big back [6-0, 209 lbs.], and he's got to realize what his talents are and utilize them. He's not the kind of guy that hits the outside with a burst of speed and just goes – that's not him. He's going to be that guy that bulldozes over people. He just needs to realize that's what he's got to do if he wants to earn playing time."
Barnes' time with the scout team was limited, however, as he was recalled to take some of the pressure off Baker and Eugene once Washington went down with an injury.
Thus, a majority of the load at scout team tailback fell on Underwood and Zach Gentry, the younger brother of fullback Taylor Gentry. Sometimes, Archer was able to use Paul Horst in the backfield, as well as Morgan Alexander in the Wildcat formation (see previous installment).
But it was more often Underwood who was able to display his talent and maturity – and that has helped him earn a spot at the top of the rotation for 2010. In fact, when asked who he thought would stand out next season, Archer was quick to say it would be Underwood.
"If I was the guy calling the shots, Curtis would be my #1 guy overall based on his ability and his maturity," he said. "I think starting with Curtis and his leadership ability now – he knows he's not a freshman anymore. He's been patient with the older backs ahead of him, and now it's his time to shine."
"They're all great running backs, I think they each have a special skill," he added. "I think we've just reloaded from the great backs that have been here the past three years. Obviously, they're younger but they'll get to a point where they'll be able to show their talent."
At fullback, Colby Jackson was expected to make an impact on the 2009 scout team, but he took additional time to recovery from injury, and was later moved to linebacker, where he will compete for playing time in 2010.
Because of his absence in the backfield, Archer would rotate between Horst and experienced walk-on David Hyde – and the results were better than he had expected.
"Horst is a physical guy," said Archer, "and because he helped us at fullback, he became a much more physical blocker when he had to play receiver and tight end, because he was hitting somebody every time. But David was one of those kids who keeps his mouth shut and does what you tell him to do. If you tell him to run through the wall, he'll run through the wall. He'll give you his best effort all the time."
At tight end, time was split between Paul Horst and Anthony Talbert, with Horst getting more of the receiving duties while the freshman Talbert did more of the blocking. However, Archer explained that Talbert took every opportunity to prove he was just as good at catching the ball as he was at blocking.
"Anthony would always talk about how great his hands were, so finally, we let him do both," said Archer. "Between Paul and Anthony, they would battle to show who was better at that position, and it was a lot of fun watching them compete even though they were on the same team. It was great having both out there because you had two receiving options with good size. That helped out Dan (Imhoff) a lot when he was under pressure, and I'm sure it can only help out our quarterbacks in the future.
Behind starter George Bryan, Talbert is expected to compete for minutes at tight end with redshirt sophomore Mario Carter (who is coming off of injury) and fellow classmate Asa Watson, who received some game experience last year. Archer stated that Talbert has filled out some (up to 246 lbs. at 6-4), and added that Watson, although not quite as big as his brother (All-Pro) Ben (Watson), is very strong and is "catching up" in the weight department.
Overall, Archer was proud of his unit, and he made note of how much he appreciated the hard work they put into their scout team duties.
"I had more talent last year, but I had more fun coaching these guys in the three years I've been here because of their work ethic and how they carried themselves," he said. "I appreciated how they came out every day and made it fun. I mean, we had more hootin' and hollerin' on our side than you'd hear on the defensive side of the ball. I think with the swagger that they had, it made it fun to go to practice every day, and I think they realize that."
Stay tuned for Tales of the 2009 Scout Team: Part 3, where we will focus on the offensive line!