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    Tony Haynes: Stone in a Comfort Zone

    By Tony Haynes


    Raleigh, N.C. When more than 57,000 fans file into Carter-Finley Stadium for NC State’s season opener against Appalachian State on Saturday night, there’s very little doubt that many of their eyeballs will be focused squarely on Wolfpack quarterback Marcus Stone. By now, Stone is likely accustomed to being the center of attention given the fact that he has, by far, been the Pack player most requested for media interviews during the preseason.


    But the relentless barrage of questions from writers and broadcasters isn’t comparable to the lightning fast rush of a 6-6 defensive end or the angry snarl of a blitzing linebacker. Stone’s answers to the media over the last three weeks have been right on target. But the real answers will be coming over the next 12 games.


    After leading the Pack to a 5-1 finish and a bowl win last season, a stretch of games in which NC State relied primarily on its jackhammer running game and smothering defense, Stone has taken responsibility and accountability to a whole new level.


    Unlike last year, he went into preseason camp as the undisputed No. 1 quarterback, a title that carried with it both prestige and burden. Stone’s response was to spend endless hours watching film and studying the playbook.


    The old saying is failing to prepare is preparing to fail.’


    Entering his redshirt junior season, Marcus Stone’s preparation has included a plan for success. It all starts with his increased knowledge of coordinator Marc Trestman’s offense.


    “I knew a pretty good bit of it [last year],” Stone said. “But as for what I know now, it’s night and day I believe. Last year I thought I knew the offense pretty well, but I now have a whole year behind me and I know things that I wouldn’t have thought about knowing last year.”


    And that increased knowledge has left Stone with a comfort zone than certainly didn’t exist at this time 12 months ago when he was relegated to back-up duties behind Jay Davis.


    “Camp this year has really gone well for me,” said Stone. “Just the experience of getting to play and getting the reps makes me feel good about this year’s camp.”


    When asked about his improvement, Stone generally responds by talking about his expanded knowledge of the offense. But there is also an undeniable physical component to execution on the field, and it’s the little things that could ultimately determine if he’ll be a consistent performer in a scheme that relies heavily on rhythm and timing.


    “Any quarterback well tell you that you throw with your feet, and one of the things I worked on over the summer was my footwork,” Stone said. “Last year if you watched some tape, my feet were kind of all over the place in the pocket. When I say I have a better knowledge of the offense and knowing what to expect from the defense, it will help me relax in the pocket. That way, my feet will be on time and in rhythm. It helps me with my accuracy also because my feet are underneath me when I’m throwing the ball.”


    Stone’s improved footwork, of course, will only be complimented by the strong legs that will often be behind him in the backfield. The Pack’s dynamic-duo of Toney Baker and Andre Brown will the focal point of opposing defenses, especially since the two big-play runners are expected to spend more time on the field at the same time this season.


    An often paranoid bunch, football coaches maintain a CIA-level of secrecy when it comes to revealing game plans. At least early in the season, however, NC State’s opponents might as well go ahead and spill the beans: they will do whatever is necessary to hold Baker and Brown in check.


    For quarterbacks who enjoy making big plays in the passing game, such a scenario is ideal.


    “It definitely helps out a lot,” Stone said. “When you have that caliber of backs behind you, the defense has to respect that and bring more people in the box to cover that. It will help us go vertical down the field a little more.”


    With a younger defense that is not expected to be as dominant this season, NC State will need Stone and his offense to respond with more effectiveness in the passing game. With an average of 190.2 yards per game, the Wolfpack ranked 10th in the 12-team ACC in passing last year. The Pack also put up a modest 24.5 points per contest, a figure that ranked 9th. In addition to those numbers, head coach Chuck Amato has stressed the importance of keeping his offense on the field more by increasing a third-down conversion rate that was an ACC-low 25.5 percent in 2005.


    All of those statistics should improve this season, especially now that Marcus Stone is in more of a comfort zone.



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