Pack Ready To Go
NC State head coach Tom O'Brien began his talks today by emphatically stating how he believes his team is ready for the 2010 season to start.
"Our football team is excited," said O'Brien. "I think you'd say they would be anxious to get ready to start this season. We've spent a lot of time through spring practice and here in the summer in anticipation of this season.
"We certainly look forward to the opportunity to start. In less then two weeks now we'll be practicing, and we've conditioned well enough to make it through this heat. It's great to be here and look forward to getting this season underway. It's about time."
NC State entered 2009 with high expectations due to the return of quarterback Russell Wilson and a defense expected to be led by star linebacker Nate Irving. However, early in the summer Irving was lost for the season due to injuries sustained in an automobile accident and that was the beginning of a period that saw the Wolfpack lose scholarship players to injury at an alarming rate.
Entering the season finale against North Carolina, over 35 percent of NC State's scholarship players were not even in uniform, as a whopping 16 players were on the sideline with injuries and another 14 were redshirting the season.
The injured ranks included: Audi Augustin, DE; Mario Carter, TE; Ryan Cheek, LB; Mike Glennon, QB; Denzelle Good, OL; T.J. Graham, WR/RET; Steven Howard, WR; Nate Irving, LB; Colby Jackson, FB; R.J. Mattes, OG; DeAndre Morgan, CB; Everett Proctor, QB; Jeff Rieskamp, DE; Rashard Smith, CB; Javon Walker, S; James Washington, HB.
Even in the win over North Carolina the rash of injuries continued as starting linebacker Dwayne Maddox left with an ankle injury midway through the second quarter and starting cornerback Jarvis Byrd was sidelined with a knee injury early in the third period.
Obviously coach O'Brien knows for his team to be successful they must remain healthy this fall.
"Actually we need a below-average year [injury-wise] because we're well over the Mendoza Line as far as injuries go," he stated. "We have to get back to being a whole team. We'll have more depth this year than we've ever had so we look forward to this season.
"As I said before, there is a great anticipation on this football team. They are anxious to get started and want to prove that they are capable of competing at the highest levels."
Quarterbacks Expected To Lead Experienced Attack
One of the major reasons for O'Brien's optimism has to be the fact that star quarterback Russell Wilson has decided to return for his junior year after being selected by Colorado in the fourth round of the MLB Draft.
While he is currently playing professional baseball in Colorado's farm system, Wilson remains in contact with coach O'Brien and his teammates and plans to be back in Raleigh for the first day of fall practice.
"Russell was on a seven-hour bus ride to Boise, Idaho yesterday and was furiously texting me," said O'Brien. "Obviously he was bored to tears on his bus... [but was] talking about his eagerness and anticipation to get back here.
"He's been in contact with a lot of the guys on the team as he has been gone... keeping up with the workouts and how everything has been going."
Coming off a 3,000-yard passing season where he threw for 31 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions, Wilson remains the starter at quarterback. However, his backup, Mike Glennon, spent the entire spring with the first-team offense and the redshirt sophomore obviously left an impression on his head coach.
"Michael Glennon is a talented young man," said O'Brien. "It's a good situation to have. We have two quarterbacks now in our program that are both ACC championship-caliber quarterbacks so we have to make sure that when Russell is in there and Michael as his backup that we protect them and give them an opportunity to use their skills and help us win football games."
For NC State to be successful this season they are expected to rely heavily on the offense that Wilson and Glennon will be controlling. State returns explosive weapons in the passing game who have a lot of experience. While the Pack will be breaking in a new starter at tailback, O'Brien indicated that State will lean on its passing game.
"[The tailbacks] have to be helped by the experience of the offense, and the experience of the offense still is at quarterback position," he said. "At the tight end position you have George Bryan, the All-ACC tight end returning.
"We finally get Mario Carter back, who is healthy, and Asa Watson played last year as a freshman... we have some kids at tight end. Certainly the strength at wide receiver is with Jarvis Williams, Owen Spencer, and T.J. Graham... those kids coming back."
Consistency A Key Defensively
While the offense might not have many question marks the defense has several. NC State'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). Stability and turnover on that side of the ball definitely limited the potential effectiveness of the unit.
"I certainly think we can [improve defensively]," O'Brien stated. "The key to us [defensively] last year was we started 10 different football teams in 12 games. It's tough to be, to provide any sort of consistency... be any good when you have to play that many people."
The majority of the turnover was in the defensive secondary. The Wolfpack started an astounding five freshmen in the defensive backfield at one point or another in the season, and obviously that isn't the recipe for success.
"We started five freshmen in the secondary which is something we never intended to do when the season started," said O'Brien. "What that does is help you this year. They've had their brains beat in a little bit.
"As one kid said to me after spring practice, one of the freshmen, he said he realized how much he didn't know after playing his freshman year."
While NC State started several different combinations defensively last fall, North Carolina was able to completely avoid that situation. UNC head coach Butch Davis said that he was able to start the same unit all season, and did so with a group of experienced players.
"One of the reasons that defense was able to play as well as it did was every single starter played every single game," said Davis. "We enjoyed the luxury... a group of kids, nine of those started took their lumps in 2007 when they all started as freshmen and redshirt freshmen.
"It's an extraordinarily difficult challenge for young kids as freshmen or kids with limited amount of experience to come in and play college football at the highest level."