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Learning Contrasts Hit Pack, O'brien

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff





April 17, 2007

RALEIGH — This was the transition spring for N.C. State’s football program, the transition from Chuck Amato to Tom O’Brien. Call it the start of the transition from style to substance. The transition from senseless behavior to no-nonsense. The transition from excuses to accountability. The transition from loose-lipped to tight-lipped — and stiff-upper-lipped. The transition, O’Brien and Wolfpack fans hope, from losing to winning again. It apparently wasn’t, however, quite the transition from Romper Room to Boot Camp that many expected when O’Brien, a former Marine, arrived. State players generally have downplayed the military analogies, and they point out that O’Brien has a different style but still the same ultimate goal. “Football is football,” quarterback Daniel Evans said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do to change it. There’s a whole different attitude around here, and that’s the biggest thing. But the lifting, the running, the going out on the field and doing stuff, there’s not a whole lot of difference.” O’Brien, who brought eight members of his Boston College staff with him to Raleigh, had the obvious transitional tasks throughout the spring. It was a period of evaluating talent, installing the playbook and the schemes, developing practice routines, teaching, and generally laying the foundation for the future of the program. “It’s been enlightening for us,” O’Brien said. “Hopefully, we’ve found out a lot about this football team, and hopefully they’ve found out about us and our coaching style and what our philosophy is. They worked extremely hard. There’s a lot of things we still have to get accomplished, but I don’t know that we could be further along than where we are at this point.” There were two dominant story lines during the spring beyond the overall transition. On defense, where five starters return but questions abound, O’Brien and new coordinator Mike Archer made one significant change from last year. They’re committed to using a variety of zone coverages, instead of the man coverage that was predominant during Amato’s reign. The change came from O’Brien’s evaluation that State didn’t force enough turnovers last year, along with his philosophy that zone coverages inherently create more turnover opportunities for a defense. State’s defense came up with a strikingly low total of 12 turnovers last season, recovering five fumbles and intercepting seven passes. That’s one turnover per game. Boston College’s defense last season, on the other hand, came up with 37 turnovers — 21 interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries. Archer’s defense at Kentucky last season forced 32 turnovers — 14 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries. “That’s a big transition for our defense,” O’Brien said. “But by playing zone, hopefully we can make more interceptions. It’s tough to make an interception all the time if you’re running man-to-man. If you’re in zone, you see the ball thrown, you break on the ball, you make a pick, or you get two-on-one situations where maybe you can strip a ball and create turnovers. “One thing I think we have to do on defense is create more turnovers. I think history tells you that turnover margin, whoever wins the turnover margin has a 90 percent chance to win the football game. So we will continue to work hard on stripping the ball, we will continue to work hard on intercepting the ball, plus we will work hard on taking care of the football on offense.” That leads to the second story line, on offense. O’Brien had an open competition for the quarterback job, despite the fact that Evans started the final nine games last season. The candidates: Evans, a rising junior; sophomore Harrison Beck, a transfer from Nebraska; and freshman Justin Burke, who redshirted last season after a heralded prep career. State has seven other offensive starters returning besides Evans, including everyone at the skill positions — backs Toney Baker and Andre Brown, receivers John Dunlap and Darrell Blackman, and tight end Anthony Hill. So O’Brien ultimately will go with the quarterback who makes the fewest mistakes and is best suited to getting the ball into the hands of the right people. Judging from the spring game, those people are Brown, Baker and a third back, sophomore Jamelle Eugene. “We’re very multiple on offense,” O’Brien said. “There are things we can do in our packages that suit what their abilities are. And that’s all part of what this spring has been for us, trying to figure out what their talents are, because certainly you want to maximize their good points and minimize their weaknesses.” One area of concern going into the fall remains special teams, particularly with the loss of John Deraney, who handled kickoffs, punts and field goals for the past three seasons. Long snapper William Lee graduated, too. Redshirt freshman Josh Czajkowski may be adequate on field goals and the snappers may be fine, but the punting job remains a huge question mark going into the fall. “We’re very concerned, and we’re working very hard on the kicking game,” O’Brien said. “The two kids who have long-snapped in the spring are doing an excellent job. We’ve kicked a lot of field goals in scrimmages, and the young kids have done a solid job. It looks like they’re solid. They don’t get bothered by a lot of different things, whether they hit or they miss it. I like what I see there. We’ve signed a (junior college) punter, but he’s not on campus yet. So that’s something that will continue to evolve, but I like what I’ve seen of what we have on campus right now.” State had a relatively injury-free spring. Defensive tackle DeMario Pressley suffered a foot injury and missed extended time with his foot in a soft cast. But the injury is not considered a major long-term problem, and Pressley is certainly a proven anchor on the defensive line when healthy. He should be State’s best defensive player, in fact. Three others missed the spring game but only one, fullback John Kane, figures much into the plans at this point. O’Brien’s goal going into the fall is to continue to evaluate the talent, identify the precise strengths and weaknesses, and make some more definite personnel decisions. He doesn’t want the quarterback battle to go on forever. He doesn’t need a quarterback controversy. On top of that, he wants to continue to set a new tone. “These kids are working hard, and that’s the best we can ask,” he said. “Now it’s up to us to get them to practice a little better. I think that’s the best thing we can do is practice better. And maybe the difference is the pace of practice and how we go about things on the practice field. And it’s up to us to get them to respond that way.” The players feel they are responding. “I think we accomplished a lot in the spring,” Blackman said. “We are more team-oriented. Everything was more team-oriented in practice, getting everyone jelled together. We have cut down on a lot of mental errors with penalties and turnovers. Maybe it didn’t show in the spring game, but we’re working on it. We all feel good about the way this is going.”

-- John Delong
Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal

Spring 2007 Overview

The PooP

Coach Tom O’Brien left a much better team at Boston College than he inherited at N.C. State, but the cupboard certainly isn’t bare in Raleigh. The Wolfpack again has several potential stars on both sides of the ball, and fans are anxious to see how much better coaching and discipline will help in the win column. One big question is how quickly O’Brien will be able to succeed with Chuck Amato’s players, given the pair’s dramatic differences in recruiting, practice habits, conditioning philosophies, motivational tactics and other matters.

Probable 2007 Starters

Offense

Pos. Name Ht./Wt. Class
QB Daniel Evans^ 6-2/191 *Jr.
RB Toney Baker^ 5-10/225 Jr.
RB Andre Brown^ 6-0/232 Jr.
WR Darrell Blackman^ 5-10/205 Sr.
WR John Dunlap^ 6-1/218 Sr.
TE Anthony Hill^ 6-6/265 Sr.
LT Julian Williams 6-5/292 *So.
LG Kalani Heppe^ 6-4/300 *Sr.
OC Luke Lathan 6-4/292 *So.
RG Curtis Crouch^ 6-5/335 Jr.
RT Jeraill McCuller 6-7/330 *So.
PK Josh Czajkowski 5-9/178 *Fr.

Defense

DE Martrel Brown^ 6-2/290 *Sr.
DT Alan-Michael Cash 6-1/291 *So.
DT DeMario Pressley^+ 6-3/295 Sr.
DE Willie Young 6-5/230 *So.
LB LeRue Rumph^ 6-1/223 *Sr.
LB Ernest Jones 6-2/225 *Sr.
LB James Martin 6-1/236 *Sr.
SS DaJuan Morgan 6-1/200 *Jr.
FS Miguel Scott^ 6-0/195 Sr.
CB Jeremy Gray 6-2/186 *Jr.
CB Jimmie Sutton^ 5-11/181 *Sr.
P Jeff Ruiz 6-2/185 Jr.

  • — redshirted ^ — six/more 2006 starts
  • — injured/missed spring drills

Coming On Strong

Baker, Brown, Blackman, Hill, Crouch and Pressley have All-ACC ability and were outstanding in April. Also: M. Brown, Cash, Morgan, RB Jamelle Eugene, tailback depth, tight end, defensive line, proven coaching staff.

Cause For Concern?

Moderate talent levels at quarterback, offensive line, linebacker; new kicker, new punter, new offense, dramatic defensive change from heavy emphasis on man-to-man scheme (in 2006) to lots of zone coverages, etc.

2007 Schedule

Date Opponent 2006 Record
Sept. 1 Central Florida 4-8 (3-5)
Sept. 8 at Boston College 10-3 (5-3)
Sept. 15 Wofford 7-4 (5-2)
Sept. 22 Clemson 8-5 (5-3)
Sept. 27/29 Louisville 12-1 (6-1)
Oct. 6 at Florida State 7-6 (3-5)
Oct. 13 OPEN
Oct. 20 at East Carolina 7-6 (5-3)
Oct. 27 Virginia 5-7 (4-4)
Nov. 3 at Miami 7-6 (3-5)
Nov. 10 North Carolina 3-9 (2-6)
Nov. 17 at Wake Forest 11-3 (6-2)
Nov. 24 Maryland 9-4 (5-3)

Spring Cleaning

The following scholarship athletes left the program in the last 12-24 months with eligibility remaining but were not listed as departures in our previous (annual) reviews: DE Raymond Brooks (dismissed), DE Quentin Brown (transfer/Southeast Missouri State), TE Octavius Darby (transfer/South Carolina State), QB Mike Greco (transfer/juco/Central Florida), WR Geron James, TE Jamesley Jean (dismissed), WR Kyle Newell (transfer).

Chart By: David Glenn