October 9, 2007
RALEIGH By now it's clear that Tom O'Brien's turnaround project at N.C. State won't succeed this season. So the question for Wolfpack fans becomes this: How long, exactly, will it take for O'Brien to regain the level of success he enjoyed at Boston College?
Several areas show signs of being shored up pretty soon.
The on-going search for a productive quarterback in the post-Philip Rivers Era took a positive turn when blue-chipper Mike Glennon committed to the Pack. The staff has addressed the weakest spot of this year's defense linebacker by getting pledges from several top prospects. Look for Scotland County's Terrell Manning, in particular, to get immediate playing time in 2008.
But what about the offensive line? It's been the biggest on-going problem for State, but it's also the area where O'Brien has a sterling reputation for churning out NFL prospects. The problem: Offensive linemen take longer than any other position on the field to develop.
So is there any hope for a short-term solution? Possibly, but several things have to break just right for the Wolfpack. Here's a look at what the State offensive line might look like in 2008.
Left tackle: Julian Williams. He's gotten beaten by speed rushers several times this season, but has held up reasonably well.
Right tackle: Jake Vermiglio. He's gotten a few snaps already this season. Don't be surprised if he moves into a starting role here in the second half of 2007.
Center: Desmond Roberts. He was listed as a backup on the depth chart at right tackle earlier his season, but he'll likely redshirt.
As for the two guard positions, expect the Wolfpack to dip heavily into the junior college ranks in search of linemen who will be ready to contribute immediately in 2008. That's really the only way State can make an immediate upgrade on the line. True freshman offensive linemen who come in ready to play right away are very rare.
There's a name conspicuously absent from that lineup guard Curtis Crouch. It's not an oversight. While Crouch constantly had his praises sung by Chuck Amato remember how Amato gave Crouch his highest compliment by saying he was athletic enough to be a defensive lineman? he's had a hard time adjusting to the tough love doled out by O'Brien and his offensive line coach Don Horton.
At one point in the preseason, Crouch allegedly was demoted behind fifth-year senior Yomi Ojo, who hadn't played a single snap in the previous two seasons. Against Clemson, Crouch was yanked after giving up the sack on which quarterback Harrison Beck injured his knee.
At a press conference before the Wolfpack traveled to Florida State, Crouch admitted that he had been "called out" by the senior leaders on the team for visibly moping around in practice. For those who remember Crouch's bubbly personality during his freshman and sophomore seasons, that's a clear sign that things aren't right.
"It kind of hit me at home," Crouch said. "So I felt I could do better."
If Crouch does do better with his attitude, there's no reason given his natural physical talents why he can't play a key role in the rebuilding of State's line next season. If not, then the Pack will have to dig a little deeper into the junior college ranks to find another lineman who's ready to play in 2008.
QUARTERBACKS STILL LACKING
Just in case anyone was wondering if Daniel Evans really was the answer at quarterback, he gave a few more reasons against Florida State why he'll likely never be more than a stop-gap solution.
One came with State driving deep inside FSU territory in the second quarter. Evans attempted to throw a fade to Darrell Blackman, but instead left it woefully short, where it was picked off by cornerback Patrick Robinson. The second came later in the second quarter, when Evans tried to make a throw on the run. His pass out into the flat hung in the air forever, and cornerback Michael Ray Garvin intercepted it and returned it 43 yards for the go-ahead score.
It goes beyond physical limitations, though, with Evans and Beck. Neither quarterback, it appears, has a natural leadership element to his personality.
Evans is a very quiet person who comes off as a bit of a loner. Beck has a more outgoing personality, but it takes a certain type of person to "get" Beck. His "what, me worry?" attitude may make it easier for him to bounce back after tossing an interception, but occasionally teammates might want to see that his mistakes actually bother him.
Lately, this hasn't been an issue, because the scores between State and its opponents haven't been close enough in the fourth quarter. But if that situation does arise in the near future, it'll be interesting to see if either Evans or Beck has the leadership needed to rally the team around him.
WHERE ARE BURKE, RUIZ?
The on-going struggles of Evans and Beck also bring up one other question State fans are being forced to ponder: What's happening with Justin Burke?
There's been little talk at all of giving Burke a shot at playing time. The only time he did make the field, he threw a pass that seemed to have a radar lock on Clemson safety Chris Clemons.
It's a similar line of thinking with State's punters. Nathan Franklin completed a spectacular flameout in going from opening-game starter to backup to transfer in just five weeks. His backup, Bradley Pierson, a former walk-on, has been erratic at best, breaking 40 yards per punt in just one of the give games he's played in this season.
All of which raises this perplexing question: What the heck happened to Jeff Ruiz?
Ruiz was one of a flurry of commitments added by O'Brien and his staff in January. He was a junior college All-American at Southwestern (Calif.) College and was assumed to be the starter as of signing day. O'Brien did little to change that perception at the start of fall camp, when he put Ruiz at the top of his "organizational" chart.
Yet six games of miserable punting have passed, and Ruiz has yet to make the field. Somehow, in about a month of practice, he went from first-string to a distant third-string.
Unless there is some injury to Ruiz or some other complication that has not been revealed that's certainly not out of the question under O'Brien it's fair to put Ruiz under the "miss" category in the new staff's first recruiting class.