July 30, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. -
Expectations are high around NC State’s Murphy Football Center heading into the season opener against Tennessee, as the Wolfpack seeks to continue the momentum it gained over the latter part of the 2011 campaign. The Pack finished the season winning four of its last five contests, including a win over No. 7 Clemson and a victory over Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
The Wolfpack is one of only 12 BCS teams that has won a bowl game each of the past two years and the squad has posted the third-best overall record in the ACC in the last three years. In 2012, Tom O’Brien’s sixth squad boasts a luxury that it has not been afforded in previous campaigns: senior starters. On the preseason depth chart, 13 starting spots are filled with seniors who have starting experience during their careers.
That number is almost double the number of senior starters O’Brien has had in his previous campaigns at the helm of the State program. On offense, eight of the 11 starting spots are slated to be filled with seniors who have previously started games. With more experience, a solid corp of veteran leaders and young talent providing depth, the future looks bright for the Wolfpack.
Graduate student Mike Glennon will have some pretty big shoes to fill in 2012: his own. Glennon, who has been named to the 2012 O’Brien and Manning Award watch lists, threw 31 touchdown passes in his first year as a starter, a mark that only three quarterbacks in ACC history have bettered. In the last four games of 2011, he completed 66% of his passes for 1,043 yards, throwing 11 TDs to only three interceptions, and posting a 141.35 efficiency rating. The Sporting News has listed him as one of the nation’s top signal callers heading into the 2012 campaign.
Backing up Glennon will be redshirt sophomore Tyler Brosius, who saw action in six games last season, and true freshman Manny Stocker, who enrolled in January and went through spring practice with the Pack.
Last year’s folly could be this year’s benefit for the Wolfpack running back corps. Halfback Mustafa Greene, the team’s leading rusher in 2010, suffered an injury in 2011 spring practice and was forced to red-shirt the ensuing season. James Washington ended up starting every game last season, leading the team in rushing with 897 yards - the highest total for a Pack back since 2002. Washington is also the top returning receiver on the team, as he ranked second on the squad last year with 42 catches.
Greene’s absence provided an opportunity for Tony Creecy, now a redshirt sophomore, to earn more snaps and he responded admirably, rushing for 401 yards and catching 25 passes.
Those three, along with senior Brandon Barnes, give the Pack depth and experience at the crucial halfback spot.
Former walk-on Tyler Purvis and red-shirt sophomore Logan Winkles will hold down the fullback spot. Each hopes to become the first fullback ever under Tom O’Brien to rush the football.
Running the ball should be a more effective part of NC State’s offense in 2012, thanks to an experienced and talented offensive line. All five projected starters on the OL have started games during their careers, while four, plus a projected backup, have been season-long starters. The players returning on the line have combined to start 112 games and play 7,670 snaps from scrimmage in their careers. Three are redshirt seniors and one is a true senior.
R.J. Mattes has started 30 contests - tied as the ninth-highest total among returning ACC players - at three different positions: 12 at right tackle, 10 at left tackle, and eight at right guard. He looks to get the nod at his fourth position in 2012: left guard. The right guard spot is in capable hands as well, as Zach Allen has started the last 26 games and two seasons at that spot.
Allen will see a familiar number to his left, as Camden Wentz, who is on the preseason ‘watch’ list for the Rimington Trophy, is back for his third season as the Wolfpack’s starting center.
The tackle slots will be held down by veterans Rob Crisp on the left side and Andrew Wallace, who missed most of the 2011 campaign as he rehabbed from a knee injury on the right. Wallace was the full-time starter at left guard in 2010.
Duran Christophe, who has started 13 career games, and promising redshirt sophomore Tyson Chander, will provide valuable depth.
The most inexperienced spot on the offense is definitely wide receiver. Among the six players listed on the preseason depth chart at the two wideout spots, only one, senior Tobais Palmer, has ever started a game. The good news is that Palmer is the only senior in the bunch and of the six, half are freshmen or sophomores. Quintin Payton, Bryan Underwood and Rashard Smith, a converted cornerback, all have solid game experiences, while red-shirt freshmen Maurice Morgan and Hakeem Flowers showed promise on the scout team in 2011 and during 2012 spring drills.
With the graduation of three-time All-ACC performer George Bryan, the tight end spot should be one of the most fiercely contested on the offense. Senior Mario Carter, who started a pair of games in 2011, is the only returning tight end who caught a pass last year. Asa Watson, who has two career catches, red-shirted the 2011 campaign, while Anthony Talbert played mostly on special teams. Red-shirt freshman Benson Browne will also vie for time at tight end.
Two starting tackles from the 2011 squad are now on NFL rosters: Markus Kuhn (New York Giants) and J.R. Sweezy (playing offfensive guard for the Seattle Seahawks). That tandem helped anchor a defensive front that recovered from early season injuries to become a dominating force by season’s end. Despite those losses, however, six players who started games last season return on the defensive line.
Thomas Teal missed time with an injury as a red-shirt freshman, but came back to see frequent action and even started one contest. He and T.Y. McGill, the only true freshman on the 2011 squad to start a contest, will man the two tackle spots. JUCO transfer Deylan Buntyn, red-shirt freshmen Carlos Gray and Dave Mann and veteran A.J. Ferguson will also fight for playing time.
At the end spots, Darryl Cato-Bishop, Art Norman, McKay Frandsen and Brian Slay have combined to start 31 games during their careers. Add Colorado transfer Forrest West to the mix and the Pack defensive line is loaded with experience and depth.
Without question, the linebacking corps took the biggest hit following the 2011 campaign. Two players who started last season, Audie Cole and Dwayne Maddox, graduated. Junior Terrell Manning decided to declare for the draft and D.J. Green, who started the first seven games of last season before being sidelined with an injury, was declared ineligible.
The result is that there will be group of not-so-familiar faces at the linebacker spots in 2012. The grand total of snaps from scrimmage played by the seven players listed on the preseason organizational chart in 2011 is only 43.
Thank goodness that senior Sterling Lucas was injured at the beginning of the 2011 campaign and ended up red-shirting. A veteran of 36 career contests, 459 career snaps and two starts, Lucas is the leader of that depleted unit, even though he hasn’t seen action since 2010. He will man the middle for the Pack.
Rodman Noel, who played safety as a freshman and was in on special teams in 11 games, is listed as the starter at the strong side, where he will be backed up by Brandon Pittman, who played five snaps as a true freshman.
On the weak side, Rickey Dowdy, a redshirt junior who has played in just one career contest, will battle with Michael Peek. Peek saw action as a true freshman last year - mainly on special teams.
The defensive secondary is definitely the strongest unit on the defense. The four returners have started a combined 124 career games and chipped in 22 of NC State’s BCS-leading 27 interceptions in 2011, returning three for touchdowns.
At corner, returning All-American and Tatum Award winner David Amerson will be a gameplan-changing force after leading the nation with an ACC-record 13 interceptions last season. He will man the field corner with backup from red-shirt freshmen Juston Burris and Tyrrell Burriss. At the boundary corner, third-year starter C.J. Wilson, who has three career interception returns for touchdowns, will be backed up by Jarvis Byrd, who is coming back from a knee injury.
Starting safeties Brandan Bishop and Earl Wolff both rank among the most experienced returning players in the ACC with 33 and 30 career starts respectively. Veteran Dontae Johnson, the Pack’s nickel back, will play behind Bishop on the field side, while red-shirt freshman Hakim Jones will back up Wolff in the boundary.
NC State was the only team in the BCS to start a true freshman at placekicker, punter and long snapper in 2011. Those three freshmen are now game-tested sophomores and promise to provide an improved kicking game for O’Brien and staff.
Niklas Sade kicked 46 extra points as a rookie, the second-best mark in school history, and connected on 11 of his 16 field goal attempts. Punter Wil Baumann finished his freshman campaign ranked third in the ACC with 21 punts inside the 20 yardline and averaged 37.5 yards punt punt. Long snapper Scott Thompson also had a solid year.