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N.c. State As Quarterbacks Drew Focus, Other Pieces Came Together Nicely

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

    By Sammy Batten
Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer

April 12, 2004 SPRING 2004 OVERVIEW RALEIGH — Jay Davis wasn't exactly comfortable with the attention. Minutes after N.C. State completed its annual spring scrimmage on April 3, the junior quarterback was swarmed by sportswriters and television cameras. "I've never had so many microphones in my face at one time," Davis said. "It's just something I've got to get used to." Life in the limelight was just one of many adjustments Davis and redshirt freshman Marcus Stone had to cope with this spring, as they began the daunting task of replacing one of the most dynamic performers and personalities in school history. Philip Rivers completed his college eligibility in December, after re-writing the school record books and leading the Wolfpack to a victory over Kansas in the Tangerine Bowl. He departed with the second-highest passing yardage total in Division I-A history (13,484) and an incredible string of 51 consecutive starts, which to this point has made up the entirety of the Chuck Amato era in Raleigh. N.C. State fans have barely had a glimpse of another quarterback since Rivers claimed the starting job in the spring of 2000 and became the poster boy for Amato's rebuilding efforts. Except for a handful of running plays by trick-play artist Olin Hannum during Rivers' first two years and 112 snaps taken by Davis over the past two seasons, the Wolfpack hasn't used another quarterback under center. The lack of exposure for Rivers' potential replacements only heightened the focus on the quarterback competition this spring. Although no winner was declared at the end of the 15-day offseason audition, the contenders established two distinctive styles of operating the Pack offense. The 6-4 Stone, who has drawn unwarranted comparisons to Rivers because of his impressive size, is a risk-taker capable of creating big plays. Davis, who like Rivers is the son of a high school football coach, predictably won the "Most Dependable" award for quarterbacks after his solid performance during spring drills. "I'd say Stone is a little bit more athletic," senior center Jed Paulsen said. "He's always running around and can make things happen. Jay knows the offense like the back of his hand. He knows how to check things back and forth, and he gets stuff done that way. He's calm back in the pocket. That's the difference between the two of them." Davis may have finished spring practice with a slight edge over Stone because of his familiarity with the system and the fact that he was healthy for the entire period. Stone missed the final four practices, including the public scrimmage, after fracturing the middle finger on his throwing hand in practice. To the disappointment of the approximately 12,000-15,000 fans who attended the spring game, Stone stood on the sidelines with his arm in a sling and his hand wrapped like a mummy. To the disappointment of the media in attendance, Stone wasn't allowed to discuss his injury or his progress during the spring. Amato quickly grew tired of questions about the quarterbacks in March and April, but he seemed to enjoy the idea of going into the summer months without a clear-cut starter. After the spring game, Amato said he didn't believe Stone's injury was a serious setback. "Marcus had gotten an awful lot of work," Amato said. "If it had happened the first week of practice, it would have been tough." Amato said he was satisfied with the progress of the quarterbacks, but he also noted that injuries in the offensive line prevented the staff from making a complete evaluation. Three potential o-line starters missed all or parts of spring drills. Sixth-year senior tackle Chris Colmer, who sat out all of last season with a rare nerve problem, continued to make progress in his comeback but still was not ready for heavy contact. Senior guard Ricky Fowler was recovering from a severe knee injury and subsequent surgery, while sophomore tackle Derek Morris was slowed by an abdominal strain. "That made it really hard to tell some things about the quarterbacks, because we didn't have everybody in there at one time," Amato said. "If you can't set your feet without getting pressure, it's tough." The injuries prompted the Pack to consider some position changes to bolster the depth on the offensive line. Shane Lucas, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, spent time working on offense late in the spring, and Amato said sophomore defensive tackle Demarcus "Tank" Tyler might get a look there in the fall. The best spring news on offense for the Wolfpack may have been that junior tailback T.A. McLendon didn't miss a single day of work. His production fell from 1,101 yards rushing as a freshman to 608 last season, thanks to a string of nagging injuries. McLendon was dominant in several practices against an ever-improving N.C. State defensive unit. "Two weeks ago in a scrimmage, we couldn't tackle him," Amato said. "T.A. has had a really good spring for us." Defensively, the Wolfpack made significant strides in the secondary, where talented junior Marcus Hudson re-joined the mix. Hudson was a prominent member of the secondary as a sophomore, but he didn't play last year after Amato ordered him to sit out to handle a legal matter and concentrate on academics. Hudson saw action at cornerback and free safety during spring practice. "He brings back somebody who is a very confident individual with experience," Amato said. "He's a very vocal person. He brings back that little bit of leadership, that little bit of cockiness back there. He really believes in his ability." The Wolfpack also showed progress up front, where ends Mario Williams and Manny Lawson displayed star quality. The 6-7, 265-pound Williams started as a true freshman last season, while the 6-5, 220-pound Lawson shifted permanently to end after playing linebacker and starring on special teams last year. "You've got two kids who are 6-6 coming off the edge, so they'll knock a lot of passes down," Amato said. "Mario has had an unbelievable spring, and Manny is so athletic and so willing to learn. We're getting pretty fast on defense." Amato was quick to credit the rebuilt defensive staff for that improvement, particularly new coordinator Reggie Herring. After allowing his defensive coaches to share the coordinator's responsibilities last season, Amato finally hired Herring to direct the unit. A former Florida State linebacker, Herring has a coaching resume that includes stints in the NFL and at the major college level, including at Clemson within the ACC. "I think Reggie has been a good fit for what we want to do on defense," Amato said. "He's very intense, and I think that has rubbed off on our players." With most of the key elements returning or improving at N.C. State, the biggest lingering question on everyone's mind remains the quarterback position. But that answer won't come until sometime in August, which means Davis and Stone will be facing a lot more microphones in about four months. "I knew after my first year here, after watching Philip play, that I was in for something if I ever took over his job," Davis said. "I'm ready for it. Bring it on."