NC State will hit the practice fields in a couple of weeks looking to improve on last season's 5-7 record. Pack Pride takes a look at six returning standouts expected to play a major role in the Wolfpack's success this season.
During every game this season, No. 16 in Red and White will be responsible for being the leader of the offense... a key ingredient to NC State's overall success.
Entering his third season as the starter at quarterback, junior Russell Wilson will carry a heavy load on his back. Coming off a stellar sophomore year where he passed for over 3,000 yards and 31 scores with just 11 interceptions, Wilson will be the anchor of the Pack's attack. Look for Tom O'Brien and his staff to rely on Wilson to make a play when State needs it the most.
What makes Wilson special is his ability to not only complete passes all over the field with accuracy, but also his athleticism and natural instincts to improvise and extend plays with his legs. He's a threat running the football when the pocket breaks down, but he also can buy time for his receivers to break free deep and has the arm strength to exploit defensive lapses.
Wilson was drafted in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Colorado Rockies, and he has signed a contract with the pro team but will be back in Raleigh the day before fall practice begins.
Look for Wilson to only improve on his career marks as he pursues several records established by Wolfpack legend Philip Rivers. If he exceeds the numbers he posted during the 2009 campaign, Wilson should contend for ACC Player of the Year honors and put State in a position to reach postseason play.
A redshirt senior and arguably the most important player on NC State's defensive unit, Nate Irving is out to prove that he's made it all the way back from a horrific automobile accident that forced him to miss the 2009 season.
It became abundantly clear that Irving's strong presence was missed last year when the Wolfpack's defense finished 11th in the ACC in points allowed (31.2 per game) and eighth in yards yielded per game (361.2 per game). State was torched during ACC play as Duke (49 points), Boston College (52), Florida State (45), Clemson (43), and Virginia Tech (38) lit up the scoreboard in wins over the Wolfpack.
NC State is coming off a frustrating defensive season and needs Irving to be a difference maker. In 2008, Irving was an honorable mention All-ACC selection as he averaged 8.7 tackles per game and set a team record for interceptions by a linebacker with four.
Extremely instinctive and a terrific tackler, Irving flies over the field and makes plays that can impact the outcome of a football game. State lacked that type of play-making ability in 2009.
Irving was moved to middle linebacker during spring practice and is expected to be flanked by outside linebackers Audie Cole and Terrell Manning this fall. Irving should be a stabilizing force in the middle and could be the difference in State making a bowl game or coming up just a game or two short.
The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder proved to be the ACC's best receiving tight end as he caught 40 balls for 422 yards and six touchdowns.
Athletic and physical, Bryan is a force in the redzone where he is a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties. He runs great routes and uses his massive frame to shield defenders. Bryan provides Wilson with a huge target and if the pass is in his vicinity it's surprising when he doesn't haul it in.
With improvement in his blocking he could emerge as one of the nation's premier tight ends.
Along with Bryan and fellow wideout Jarvis Williams, Owen Spencer should be a major cog in State's passing attack.
Checking in at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds with sub-4.4 speed, Spencer is an extremely difficult match-up for the opposition. He is a strong route runner, but his blazing speed separates him from other receivers.
A true vertical threat, Spencer totaled 30 receptions for 765 yards and six touchdowns, and he led the country in yards per catch. Early in his career he was inconsistent catching the football, but outside of a couple of drops he was very effective in 2009.
Expect big things from Spencer this season as he will try to improve his production and become even more consistent as a receiver.
That leaves Jarvis Williams to attack cornerbacks one-on-one on the perimeter and to serve as Wilson's possession receiver. What makes Williams special is although he is a reliable target to move the chains, he has also been able to break free deep and beat defenders on vertical routes as well.
With impressive hands and a sturdy 6-foot-4, 219-pound frame, Williams is an imposing physical specimen for smaller cornerbacks to deal with.
Last year he led the team in catches with 45 grabs totaling 547 yards, and his 11 touchdown receptions led the ACC.
Williams should continue to be one of the league's top pass-catchers in 2010.
Redshirt junior Audie Cole has always been a great athlete. In high school he starred in basketball and baseball, while also being an accomplished quarterback on the gridiron.
He enrolled at NC State looking to make the transition from high school quarterback to college linebacker, and it took him a couple of years to grasp the position. He settled in at strongside linebacker, where his physical gifts enables him to play in space and make plays, and he emerged as a starter in 2009.
Cole started every game for the Wolfpack at strongside linebacker, and led the team in tackles with 85 while also totaling eight tackles for a loss, four sacks, five quarterback pressures, and four pass breakups.
Now with a year of experience under his belt, Cole is expected to be one of the Pack's defensive leaders. Lining up alongside Nate Irving should only help Cole in his development, and more consistency out of the linebacker corps will likely yield a better defense in 2010.
At 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds he has outstanding size, and his athleticism is vastly underrated. Look for Cole to continue his success with the confidence he gained last season and anchor the defense his final two years in Raleigh.