By Scott Vogelsberg
April 25, 2005 RALEIGH Prior to the start of spring practice, N.C. State coach Chuck Amato emphatically stated that the Wolfpack's drills would be about fundamentals and discipline. After penalties (conference-leading 101) and turn-overs (32, compared to forcing just 15) helped turn a promising start into a missed bowl and a 5-6 record a season ago, Amato is determined to eliminate the mental mistakes of 2004. Part of that process involves the additions of three respected assistants to a staff that said goodbye to offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone (Mississippi), defensive coordinator Reggie Herring (Arkansas) and assistant head coach and top recruiter Doc Holliday (Florida). A lengthy search process had the media mumbling and fans squirming, but Amato came up with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap and wide receivers coach Dwayne Dixon. "You hate to lose people, but you can't hold people back," Amato said. "I look at it as really a compliment when people like Southern California and Arkansas and Florida and Mississippi and the Jets and the Cardinals in the NFL are coming to raid your staff. "But we replaced them with some awfully good coaches I mean, awfully good coaches. I take my time in doing that, and I think in Marc Trestman and Steve Dunlap, the respective coordinators offensively and defensively, that we've got two people who have got a very good track record. So we were blessed in what we got, and they're working together and working real hard. I think that chemistry will mesh real good." Much of the spring buzz surrounded Trestman, who most recently coached quarterbacks for the Miami Dolphins. He'll be charged with tutoring starting QB Jay Davis and backup Marcus Stone, while building an offense around the Pack's talent, which is arguably the opposite approach employed by Mazzone. "I just think an offense is best when it can accommodate the players that you have, because the game is about the players, it's not about a coach," Trestman said. "The coach is a facilitator and a resource, and I think that's what the system allows you to do." "It's been a great experience (with Trestman). Any time you can play under a guy with his kind of background, it's certainly an honor," Davis said. "He's a great coach, very knowledgeable of the game, and hopefully, he'll get our offense back on the right track from where we fell off last year. "It's more business-like now, I think. We're all carrying playbooks around, we're all quizzing each other (while) walking around back at the apartment. So we're taking a business approach to this offense, and it's helping." Davis threw 15 interceptions to 12 touchdowns in his first season as a starter last year, prompting many to expect a wide-open battle for starting honors with Stone, but Amato named Davis the starter going into spring drills. The coach said Davis picked up Trestman's new terminology faster than Stone and was playing much more confidently, though Stone made strides in terms of mechanics and fundamentals. In the Red-White Game, Davis connected on seven of 15 passes for 112 yards, while Stone hit 10 of 18 for 148 yards. A year ago, State often played Big Ten-style football, relying on stingy defense, conservative offense and winning special teams to control the clock and field position. Davis feels he didn't get the same opportunities Philip Rivers did during his time in Raleigh, and Davis hopes that changes in Trestman's West Coast-style attack. "I think we were put in different situations," Davis said. "We kind of relied on Philip for so many years to win ballgames for us and what-not, whereas when I was playing, we relied on our defense and the running game. So I was never put into a situation, because of the coaches, like Philip's. "We had some injuries to our offensive line last year, and we had the No. 1 defense, and with a beat-up offensive line, you need to be a little bit more conservative. So as long as we stay healthy, I think we'll attack people down the field and see where that leads us." Elsewhere, Amato targeted running back, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary as the main areas of competition this spring. Losing top tailback T.A. McLendon (NFL), top receiver Richard Washington (dismissed), starting left tackle Chris Colmer (NFL) and starting center Jed Paulsen (graduation) won't be easy on offense, and the Wolfpack must replace the entire starting secondary from last season as well. One position group that has Amato smiling is the defensive line, which helped spur the Pack to the No. 1 national ranking in total defense last year. The one-time line coach at Florida State said returning starters Mario Williams and Manny Lawson at end and John McCargo and Tank Tyler at tackle will be even better in 2005. "Two years ago, we started three freshmen and a sophomore, and they got beat around a little bit," Amato said. "Last year, they were three sophomores and a junior, and they did, obviously, a very good job, and they've improved from then because they're still young and learning. And that's where it starts, is up front, and DeMario Pressley has made a huge impact on that up front there. He's making those guys inside work to keep their starting position." N.C. State was fortunate to have only two players sidelined for spring ball, but both were solid performers a season ago. Starting linebacker Stephen Tulloch had surgery on his shoulder in January, while promising receiver John Dunlap tore an ACL during a December pickup basketball game and also had surgery in January. While Tulloch's absence hurt an already-thin linebacker corps, the Pack has a bevy of young talent at wideout. Dixon, a long-time assistant at Florida, said he recognized a number of Sunshine State products he tried to recruit for the Gators, including Tramain Hall, Lamart Barrett, Brian Clark and Sterling Hicks. Clark grabbed seven receptions for 131 yards in the Red-White Game. "We recruited several of those guys, and I think they were familiar with me," Dixon said. "It was just a good feeling to be able to know them and see those guys. They come on trips and stuff at your place, then you kind of know, 'Hey, OK, these are players that can get the job done.' And we'll see if we can get that done this year." While losing five starters from the defense will cause some concern, the perception is that Dunlap has plenty of talent to work with on that side of the ball and that unit once again will be among the country's finest. Since the penalties and turnovers mostly came on offense, the focus will be on Trestman to fix those problems, something he and Amato spoke about at length when he was hired. "Well, that's the way I am. I feel strongly about those (penalties, turnovers) areas of football," Trestman said. "The first thing you can control and you know you can control is yourself. Offensive football is all about pre-snap penalties and turnovers. If you eliminate those, it's not very complicated. If you eliminate those, you have a chance of winning most of your games. In the National Football League, if you win the turnover battle, you win 85 percent of your games, you go to the playoffs, you've got a chance to be the best. And if we can eliminate those types of things and play smart, I think we'll be in every game." Spring 2005 Overview
The PooP After a disappointing 5-6 finish in 2004, sixth-year coach Chuck Amato faced some pointed criticism from N.C. State's passionate fan base for the first time. In four seasons with living legend Philip Rivers at the controls, the Wolfpack went 34-17, including a school-record 11-win campaign in 2002. In his first season (2004) without Rivers, Amato posted a losing record, despite a defense that ranked first in the nation statistically. The critics complained again in the offseason, when the Pack's top three assistants left for SEC schools without even getting a significant promotion in title. Those kinds of things never happen at Florida State, the school from which Amato took his blueprint for success.
Probable 2005 Starters
+ injured/missed spring drills
Coming On Strong For the best examples of Amato's ability to build an FSU-like combination of talent and depth, look no further than tailback and defensive tackle. At tailback, junior Reggie Davis is the reliable veteran who does all the little things well, and he could find himself behind four prep All-Americans (returnees Washington and Darrell Blackman, expected arrivals Toney Baker and Andre Brown) by the end of his career. At the tackle spot, a huge problem area for most teams, the Pack has three players with All-ACC potential. Rock-solid returning starters: HB Tramain Hall, TE T.J. Williams, OC Leroy Harris, RT Derek Morris, DE Mario Williams, DT John McCargo, DE Manny Lawson, LB Stephen Tulloch. Also looking good: WR LaMart Barrett, RB Darrell Blackman, WR Brian Clark, LB Oliver Hoyte, CB Marcus Hudson, LB Pat Lowery, DT DeMario Pressley, RB Bobby Washington.
Cause For Concern? Although the coaches believe they're finally building some much-needed depth on the offensive line, and they think they'll get more help from August arrivals, the unit still appears to be one major injury away from the kind of mess that led to the implosion of 2004. Also: first-year coordinators, brand-new offensive system, rebuilt secondary, overworked kicker, depth at numerous (HB, OL, LB, DB) spots.
On The Sidelines The following players missed all or most of spring drills: WR John Dunlap (knee), LB Stephen Tulloch (shoulder).
Spring Cleaning The following scholarship athletes left the program in the last 12 months with eligibility remaining: RB Josh Brown (graduate assistant), DE Maurice Charles, DT Kennie Covington (academics), WR Chris Hawkins, PK Tyler Lewis (transfer), TE Roddy Long, OL Shane Lucas, RB T.A. McLendon (NFL draft), WR Richard Washington (dismissed).