Sports Illustrated Preview: Pack #25

Two weeks from right now hopefully we’re all waking up happy about the previous night’s score.

Three years ago, NC State’s secondary was in shambles. His hand forced by injuries and departures, coach Tom O’Brien plugged a pair of first-year players in at safety: true freshman Brandan Bishop and redshirt freshman Earl Wolff. Another redshirt freshman, C.J. Wilson, consistently saw the field and started twice at corner. “They got their brains beat out early,” said O’Brien. “They were thrust into a situation they shouldn’t have been in.”

In 2012, much has changed. Now that trio, joined by junior All-America cornerback David Amerson and nickelback Dontae Johnson, give the Wolfpack one of the nation’s premier secondaries. “They lived through it,” O’Brien added. “They’ve grown from it and gotten better.”

It’s a situation similar to the one facing O’Brien’s linebacking corps this season, which lost starter Audie Cole and top reserve Darryl Maddox to graduation, Terrell Manning to early NFL draft entry and D.J. Green to a year-long suspension after he tested positive for a banned substance. Their replacements are not quite as inexperienced as the Wolfpack’s 2009 secondary: Sophomores Brandon Pittman and Rodman Neal, juniors Rickey Dowdy and Ryan Cheek and senior Sterling Lucas, a two-year regular who missed last season with a knee injury, are in the mix for playing time. But they are still untested as starters, meaning struggles — especially early in the season — should be expected. “They’re gonna be thrown into the fire right away,” O’Brien said, “so hopefully they don’t get discouraged and we can help them be successful.”

Luckily for the Wolfpack, the rest of the lineup is heavy on experience. In addition to the secondary, the defensive line returns upperclassmen and part-time starters Brian Slay (three sacks in 2011) and Darryl Cato-Bishop (five) at defensive end, along with sophomore Art Norman, whose breakout freshman season featured a team-best seven sacks and 30 quarterback pressures. The offense brings back the deepest and most experienced line of O’Brien’s six-year tenure to block for last season’s leading rusher, senior James Washington (897 yards, 4.0 yards per carry), and junior Mustafa Greene, the program’s top rusher from 2010 (597 yards, 4.5 per carry) who missed last season with an injured foot. Leading the attack will be senior Mike Glennon, a 6-foot-6 slinger who shook off the constant Russell Wilson comparisons to throw 31 touchdowns last season — tied for second-most in NC State history — while competing 62.5 percent of his passes.

The pieces are in place for O’Brien to lead his best squad yet, but the importance of the most unproven players is impossible to ignore. “It’s gonna come down to the linebackers,” O’Brien said. They’ll have to grow up quickly. For the rest of this Wolfpack — not least of all a standout secondary — the time to win is now.

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11 Responses to Sports Illustrated Preview: Pack #25

  1. JEOH2 08/18/2012 at 8:36 AM #

    Fringe Top 25-30 is consistent with where we SHOULD be, considering our vet heavy roster with high level talent at various positions…

    I only lament that we would’ve been guaranteed a top 20-25 spot pre-season had both Green and Manning returned…just imagine that…

  2. Dogbreath 08/18/2012 at 10:32 AM #

    If Green and Manning returned, we’d be borderline top 10.

  3. Master 08/18/2012 at 10:36 AM #

    I thought Moose was a redshirt soph this year. Has he been gone two seasons?

  4. Wufpacker 08/18/2012 at 11:06 AM #

    The author whiffed on that one. Greene is most certainly a RS soph.

  5. packalum44 08/18/2012 at 11:51 AM #

    That’s why its nice to have a good recruiter. You build depth at positions like linebacker and lose one player it won’t cost you a game or two.

  6. IrishPackFan 08/18/2012 at 12:50 PM #

    #25 in SI’s poll, #38 in the new AP (which has Tenn at #33) and #35 in the coach’s poll. Does this meet expectations? I thought we would be in the 20s across the board in the polls. Shows ya how much I know…

  7. Wulfpack 08/18/2012 at 3:49 PM #

    I think 25 is very fair. Most have the ACC handicapped at FSU, VT, and VT highly ranked. Us and GT are right there on the fringe. A loss to Tennessee would make it a bit of an uphill battle as far as the polls go. Huge game starting out.

  8. ryebread 08/19/2012 at 7:47 AM #

    Wulfpack: That’s how I see it as well. I think 25th is about right. The ACC (to outsiders at least) looks like a two pony race with FSU and VT. I think Clemson, NC State and GT will all be bowl bound. Teams like Virginia and Miami may surprise. UNC can’t go anywhere, but I suspect they’ll be dangerous.

    We really, really need to get off to a good start against UT in what will be a virtual away game. They’re not going to do anything in the SEC this year, so a loss to them will just kill us with respect to long term perception — both of our team and to the league. We can’t have another slow TOB start.

  9. Wolfgarden 08/24/2012 at 10:07 AM #

    We should beat Tn. They just lost their star wideout…and with a decent secondary we just need to stop the “up the middle run”!!!

  10. mikeak01 08/24/2012 at 3:44 PM #

    This beats the CBS Sports ranking of 73rd heading into the season…..

  11. cowboyjkly 08/26/2012 at 1:05 PM #

    I would love to see the Wolfpack take on ECU again, good rivalry

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