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Offense Leaves O'brien With Questions

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

By Jim Young
Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record

May 6, 2008

RALEIGH — It's hard enough to discern any truths about a football team based on what it does during spring practice. The difficulty ratchets up about four notches when that team is coached by Tom O'Brien.

During the spring, the N.C. State coach answered a relatively innocuous query with a question of his own: "Are you from Columbia?"

Translation: "Are you a spy sent by Steve Spurrier to glean some nugget of information that maybe, just maybe, might help out South Carolina in its game against the Wolfpack four and a half months from now?"

So, yeah, you could say that O'Brien is a bit stingy with information. Nonetheless, there were a few truths that peeked out in April from under the cloak of secrecy that often shrouds Wolfpack football.

It's becoming clear that O'Brien and offensive coordinator Dana Bible would like a new face to be behind center for N.C. State in the fall.

Despite O'Brien's attempts to downplay it, word kept leaking out of the practice fields that redshirt freshman Russell Wilson was running the first-string offense, and that he clearly was ahead of veterans Harrison Beck and Justin Burke. Senior Daniel Evans (shoulder surgery) missed spring drills.

Don't pay much attention to Wilson's uninspiring performance during the spring game. The offense he ran during that public display was markedly more vanilla and less imaginative than the formations and plays the coaching staff put in for Wilson during spring practice. Remember, this is O'Brien we're talking about. The prying eyes of the Gamecocks may have been lurking.

That said, there's still a sense that Mike Glennon will be given a legitimate shot to win the starting job in August. That's not typical for a freshman quarterback who hasn't enrolled a semester early, and it would seem to buck the wait-and-see attitude O'Brien tends to take with young talent. But bear in mind that the offense Glennon ran in high school is almost a carbon-copy of the one Bible runs. Glennon will have to adjust to the speed of the college game, of course, but familiarizing himself with the Pack's playbook shouldn't be an issue.

Whoever ends up taking the snaps for N.C. State once again will be doing it behind an offensive line with question marks. It will be at least another season before most of the linemen O'Brien's staff has recruited are in a position to contribute, so until then it's just a matter of mixing and matching. The spring was mostly a lot of mixing.

"Every three days they may be right side, left side, whatever," O'Brien said of his linemen. "It's not good in the short run, but in the long run I think it's what we have to do to become efficient and effective up front, which we have to do."

The starting five the Wolfpack trotted out for the spring game consisted of Julian Williams at left tackle, Jake Vermiglio at left guard, Ted Larsen at center, Curtis Crouch at right guard and Meares Green at right tackle.

It was not a surprise that Vermiglio moved over from backing up Williams. Vermiglio has impressed the coaches ever since he enrolled at N.C. State, even starting some last year as a true freshman. In keeping with O'Brien's stated goal to put the best five linemen on the line, regardless of position, it makes sense to shift Vermiglio to guard.

Green's presence at right tackle is yet another indication that the Wolfpack coaches are frustrated with Jeraill McCuller, who has more physical gifts than Green but apparently not the toughness and discipline prized by O'Brien and offensive line coach Don Horton.

It looked as if Crouch might suffer the same fate. There was some talk that O'Brien and Horton might consider the chronically underachieving Crouch a lost cause. Instead, he showed up slimmed down for spring practice, earned the approval of O'Brien and is back to being N.C. State's most gifted lineman.

Larsen's shift from the defensive line signaled two things: The offensive line depth is pretty shallow, and State's pretty satisfied with what it has on the defensive line.

Look for Antoine Holmes to plug the hole left by Larsen's switch. Observers were perplexed last season when Holmes, a junior college transfer who had made a few eye-catching plays in the early part of last season, suddenly disappeared from the field. As it turned out, the Wolfpack coaches had made a move for the future, moving Holmes from end to tackle. That cost Holmes playing time last season, but now he's in a position to contribute immediately alongside mainstay Alan-Michael Cash.

With Willie Young, who had a break-out season last year, and Markus Kuhn at the end positions, the defensive line looks solid. Actually, compared to the rest of the defense, the line looks fantastic.

It's an unfortunate fact for N.C. State that it is perilously thin at linebacker and in the defensive backfield. And that's a truth that the chronically pessimistic O'Brien is more than willing to reveal. When discussing the secondary, he lamented that there was a "bunch of freshmen" on the two-deep.

That's still a better situation than at linebacker, where all three starters must be replaced. The first unit the Wolfpack has cobbled together includes a 200-pound former walk-on, senior Robbie Leonard, playing strongside linebacker.

"Who's going to back them up?" O'Brien asked rhetorically. "I don't know. It might be like last year, where we're holding our breath the whole time."

This might seem incomprehensible for O'Brien's glass-half-empty ways, but maybe the Wolfpack is due a little karma when it comes to depth issues. Last season, when the new N.C. State staff inherited a roster that was already well short of its 85-scholarship limit, the Pack's thin lineup was crippled by injuries week after week.

This season, the scholarship situation will be improved, thanks to a 25-man recruiting class. And while there are still gaps in the N.C. State two-deep, there is experience starting at nearly every position, except for linebacker. If fate cuts the Wolfpack a break, then maybe its depth issues won't become such a problem.

The first indication about whether State's luck has changed will come in August, when the Pack will find out if the numerous key players who sat out spring practice because of injury are back and ready to play.

If Andre Brown (foot) and Toney Baker (knee) return healthy, maybe N.C. State finally can see what it's like when all three of its top running backs (don't forget Jamelle Eugene) are able to play extensively in the same game. If tight end Anthony Hill comes back strong from his knee injury, the Wolfpack can discover what its passing game might be like with a real threat in the middle of the field. And if Javon Walker comes back at 100 percent at safety, perhaps O'Brien won't have to spend quite so much time holding his breath.

It's all still hypothetical for now. But, eventually, that South Carolina game will get here, and it won't matter how secretive O'Brien is. Everyone will know what's going on with the Wolfpack based on the results on the scoreboard.


Departing Players


FB Patrick Bedics, WR/KR Darrell Blackman, DE Martrel Brown, WR John Dunlap, PK Steven Hauschka, OG Kalani Heppe, LB Ernest Jones, OC Luke Lathan, LB James Martin, FS DaJuan Morgan (early NFL), DT DeMario Pressley, LB LeRue Rumph, FS Miguel Scott, TE Marcus Stone

Other Contributors

LB Guerlin Dervil, FB Ced Hickman (dismissed), CB Phillip Holloman, OG Yomi Ojo, CB Jimmie Sutton, DE Littleton Wright

2008 Returning Starters^

Offense (5)

Pos. Name Ht./Wt. Class
QB Daniel Evans 6-2/191 Sr.
RB Jamelle Eugene 5-10/195
LT Julian Williams 6-5/305 Jr.
RG Curtis Crouch 6-5/324 Sr.
RT Meares Green 6-4/306

Defense (4)

DT Alan-Michael Cash 6-1/286 Jr.
DE Willie Young 6-4/230
CB Jeremy Gray 6-2/186 Sr.
CB DeAndre Morgan 5-10/166

Special Teams (1)

P Bradley Pierson 5-9/163 *Sr.

  • -has utilized redshirt season
    ^ -
    six/more 2007 regular-season starts

Other Tested Returnees


RB Toney Baker (injured 2007 starter), QB Harrison Beck, OG John Bedics (converted DT), RB Andre Brown (2006 starter), WR Donald Bowens, WR Darrell Davis, TE Anthony Hill (injured 2007 starter), WR Geron James, TE Matt Kushner, OC Ted Larsen (converted DT), OT Jeraill McCuller, WR Owen Spencer, OG Jake Vermiglio, WR Jarvis Williams


LB Thomas Barnes, DT Antoine Holmes, LB Nate Irving, DE Markus Kuhn, LB Ray Michel, CB J.C. Neal, DS Corey Tedder, SS Javon Walker, LB John Ware, DT Keith Willis Jr. (eligible transfer)

Recent Results

Year ACC Overall Postseason
1998 5-3 (4) 7-5 MicronPC Bowl (L)
1999 3-5 (5) 6-6 None
2000 4-4 (5) 8-4 MicronPC Bowl (W)
2001 4-4 (4) 7-5 Tangerine Bowl (L)
2002 5-3 (4) 11-3 Gator Bowl (W)
2003 4-4 (4) 8-5 Tangerine Bowl (W)
2004 3-5 (8) 5-6 None
2005 3-5 (4A) 7-5 Meineke Bowl (W)
2006 2-6 (6A) 3-9 None
2007 3-5 (5A) 5-7 None

ACC: 36-44 (.450)
Overall: 67-55 (.549)

2008 Schedule

Date Opponent 2007 Record
Aug. 28 at South Carolina 6-6 (3-5)
Sept. 6 William & Mary 4-7 (2-6)
Sept. 13 at Clemson 9-4 (5-3)
Sept. 20 East Carolina 8-5 (6-2)
Sept. 27 South Florida 9-4 (4-3)
Oct. 4 Boston College 11-3 (6-2)
Oct. 11 OPEN
Oct. 16 Florida State 7-6 (4-4)
Oct. 25 at Maryland 6-7 (3-5)
Nov. 1 OPEN
Nov. 8 at Duke 1-11 (0-8)
Nov. 15 Wake Forest 9-4 (5-3)
Nov. 22 at North Carolina 4-8 (3-5)
Nov. 29 Miami 5-7 (2-6)

NOTE: Most game times still TBA.