Looking back at spring practice

Although it’s often tough to tell what to expect from a team after watching spring practice or a spring game, those things do reveal trends which can impact how teams enter fall practice. Whether it be position battles, injuries or coaching changes (all of which NC State is and will continue to go through), spring practice periods are a good chance to take a look at where you are while also trying to figure out where you’re going.

ESPN’s Heather Dinich put together entries on each of the ACC schools following spring practice and discussed each schools prospects heading into the fall. She also put together an ACC power ranking list based on what she had seen and heard following spring periods.

NC State spring wrap up

Spring answers

1. Wilson will be back, but Mike Glennon is a capable starter. Starter Russell Wilson missed all of spring football to play baseball, but his season didn’t quite take the turn he had probably hoped, as Wilson wasn’t a starter. In his absence, Glennon impressed coach Tom O’Brien and completed 21 of 38 passes for 423 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the Pack’s spring game. As long as Wilson picks up where he left off in 2009, it should be his job to lose.

2. Irving is back and can play. After missing last season with injuries he sustained in a serious 2009 summer car accident, it was unclear how much Irving would be able to contribute this spring. He moved to middle linebacker and eased his way back into full participation and played in half of the spring game.

3. Defensive linemen emerging. Even though all four starters from last year’s defensive line graduated, there was enough talent there this spring for optimism. Darryl Cato-Bishop, David Akinniyi, and Brian Slay impressed the staff. Their success is critical, as both J.R. Sweezy and Markus Kuhn are facing disciplinary action.

Along with the answers above, Dinich also highlighted three questions NC State will need to answer heading into fall practice in August. I’ve tried to answer them as best I can.

1.Who will run the ball?

With the injury to Brandan Barnes (dislocated ankle, surgery), this position is a lot more up in the air heading into fall practice. James Washington and Curtis Underwood will be the top two heading into practice, but neither have experience to lean on. For the first time in four or five years NC State won’t have a reliable back with experience heading into the season. Both Underwood and Washington are talented players but it’s tough to know how effective they can be. They’ve combined for 72 career carries. If Barnes can get healthy he should also be in the mix come August.

2. Punter, please?

I’ve got nothing on this one. Chris Ward can’t stay out of trouble, Jeff Ruiz is bad. Looks like it could be another year of giving up valuable field position when the offense stalls anywhere inside its own 45. Despite being an issue people don’t talk much about, this could be as important as anything heading into 2010. The Wolfpack has to improve its special teams play, period.

3. How much can the defense improve?

I’ll answer that question with another one. Can the defense get worse? My gut reaction is to say no, but if Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy don’t get their crap straight, the defensive line will become a major liability in a hurry. The back seven of the defense should be vastly improved as long as all the major players (pretty much everyone projected to start as of now) stays healthy, but that won’t matter much if the front four is worse. If the front can’t get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks then even an improved back seven could look worse. If receivers have enough time they’ll find wholes in any zone.

Dinich also put together her post-spring power rankings. The Wolfpack did not fair well.

1. Virginia Tech
2. FSU
3. Miami
4. Clemson
5. Georgia Tech
6. North Carolina
7. Boston College
8. Maryland
9. Wake Forest
10. NC State
11. Duke
12. Virginia

Based on what you saw at the spring game in April, what do you think of State’s 10th place ranking?

'10 Football College Football Tom O'Brien

41 Responses to Looking back at spring practice

  1. burnbarn 05/12/2010 at 7:34 AM #

    Not sure what to make of the team this season. I think we will be a better team but our record may not be any better. We have a tough schedule this season. OTOH, if we have a good record it will show sunstantial improvement. I am still concerned about the secondary and hope we will be able to get off the field on 3rd down on occasion. I hope for a respectable season but am preparred to tread water.

  2. PackHooligan 05/12/2010 at 8:04 AM #

    I think 10th is fair. Until I see major improvement in defense and special teams, I have no hope for this being a good team.

  3. Six Pack 05/12/2010 at 8:20 AM #

    Yes, I am extremely concerned with a secondary coached by Archer and a couple of D-lineman we were relying on to produce that can’t stay out of trouble.

    There is hope that maybe the new LB coach, John Tenuta (sp?), can take a more active role in prooaring defensive strategy.

    I am also concerned about the RB situation. However, RBs are usually only as good as their O-lines. As long as, the o-line stays relatively healthy, it should be average to above average.

    With all that being said, I think 10th is fair until we prove otherwise.

  4. Classof89 05/12/2010 at 8:37 AM #

    Seems fair to me. Kickoffs and punts were an adventure last year and cost us 10-15 yards per change of possession, and as pointed out above, the punting situation at least will not be improved this year.

  5. primacyone 05/12/2010 at 9:23 AM #

    The defense can get worse and probably will be worse. We don’t have the size, speed, or talent to be competitive.

    10th may be a spot or two too high.

  6. cWOhLFrPAiCKs 05/12/2010 at 9:27 AM #

    You can’t really make an argument that we are better (talent and experience wise) than any of the nine teams ahead of us on that list. The ACC will still be an “up for grabs” conference this year, especially our division. But without significant improvement by this team both on AND off the field, we’ll continue to sit at the bottom of this sub par league…

  7. ryebread 05/12/2010 at 9:38 AM #

    I think we exit the spring with a lot of the same questions that we had last year when the season ended:
    1) Will the defense be any better?
    2) Will our awful special teams improve?
    3) What’s the succession plan for running the ball after Baker and Eugene graduate?

    I still don’t see answers to all these questions. I think the defense will improve due to Tenuta alone. I think Tenuta will be running the defense by the end of the season.

    Unfortunately, our RB situation may be worse due to the injuries. It looks like RB by committee this season.

    I’m not convinced that the special teams will improve. We didn’t make a coaching change here and I personally think that our schemes are flawed (I cringe every single time I see the swinging door punt formation).

    Interestingly, I think we’ve done a complete 180 on the Amato era. We’ve gone from a defensively oriented team that had good RBs, but no QB play and couldn’t really score to a team with a great QB (one of the best two QBs we’ve had in my memory) that can put up some points but can’t stop anyone. In the hidden yardage game, we’ve traded penalties for weak special teams.

    I think it’s closing in on “put up or shut up” time for TOB. It kills me how much we’re squandering Wilson and I’m guessing I’m not alone. I think the natives will start to get restless this year and if we’re sub-.500 at the end of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see us make a change.

  8. packalum44 05/12/2010 at 9:39 AM #

    I’ve lost all confidence in TOB, especially after having the chance to meet him. Great guy (albeit dry and yawnnnn, boring), but his paradigm just doesn’t align with a large public state school. His altruistic expectations worked only when he recruited the private Catholic schools where players generally come from a different socio-economic background. This disconnect has led to self inflicted failure in my mind and I simply don’t see it changing.

    Anyone know how many years he has left on his contract?

  9. cWOhLFrPAiCKs 05/12/2010 at 9:53 AM #

    ^^^ Very good point packalum44. I had never really considered the vast differences in recruiting between a school like Boston College and NC State. But there is great logic in your insight. At BC, O’Brien’s main goal when he arrived was to clean up the program and recruit student-athletes that had high GPAs and squeaky-clean records.

    At NC State, he was given a similarly bare cupboard when he arrived, but has been recruiting in entirely different areas and, as you pointed out, much broader socio-economic backgrounds than he did at BC. I would imagine that could easily create a disconnect between himself and the players that becomes somewhat irreparable.

    But the general locker room sentiment has seemed so positive towards TOB since he arrived, even during times last year when he threw the players under the bus while staunchly defending a coaches scheme. I don’t remember hearing a lot of griping from players. Could it be that TOB was right???

  10. packalum44 05/12/2010 at 10:16 AM #

    I know the players had trouble adjusting to TOB his first year or two but those players are largely gone or they’ve been kicked off the team (e.g. Ced Hickson, Dominique Ellis, Bowens).

    When I asked him about the benefits of recruiting the south where its generally understood there are more and better athletes where warmer weather permits outdoor sports to be played year round, he seemed to cringe. He responded that yes, he has more players that can “run around the field” but he doesn’t have the quality and quantity of “hard nosed” football players that came out of the Catholic Schools.

    Read into that how you may but judging his response, body language, personality, and empirical data, I concluded that he’s somewhat out of his element and there is a disconnect. He’s one of few coaches that implied he would rather have “skill” and “intangibles” over “talent”.

  11. bradleyb123 05/12/2010 at 10:22 AM #

    The back seven of the defense should be vastly improved as long as [snip]

    Just curious what led you to make this assessment? I’m talking about the word “vastly”. Hopefully there will be improvement in our defense, but “vast improvement?” I’m not holding my breath on that one. What gives you (or anyone here) reason for optimism about our defense? Because I have none. Hopefully Tenuta will make us a little better on defense, but we do still have Archer leading the way on defense, you know.

    Also, I thought Heather Dinich (as of May 6th) had NC State as her dark horse pick to win the ACC? How does she reconcile that with also having us ranked 10th in the conference power rankings? Something seems contradictory there.


  12. wolfpackfan09 05/12/2010 at 10:26 AM #

    You have to take all preseason ranking with a grain of salt. I think we will have a decent season, and go to a bowl, but as someone posted above me, until we prove it, 10th is fair.

  13. DFMo 05/12/2010 at 10:52 AM #

    Based on what you saw at the spring game in April [snip]

    FWIW: me and others in the stands lamented at seeing Ruiz back to punt at the spring game, yes, with swinging gate. Now, granted, he had no real pressure up the middle but he punted better than anyone around me could remember. He got some spirals off and was far better than the running side punts of last year. We’ll see if he’s still the guy come fall and if he can do it in a real game situation.

  14. MatSci94 05/12/2010 at 11:43 AM #

    “The defense can get worse and probably will be worse. We don’t have the size, speed, or talent to be competitive.”

    I think having Nate Irving back makes everyone else on the defense a notch better. I wouldn’t say ‘vastly’ improved, but it makes a difference.

  15. choppack1 05/12/2010 at 12:39 PM #

    I thought that the DL was going to be a pleasant surprise. Of course, w/ the Sweezey and Kuhn’s transgressions – that appears less likely.

    I’m just as baffled w/ TOB’s refusal to recruit corners as I am our basketball coache’s guard recruiting strategy…the good news is that both have a chance of working out.

    When talking about the ACC – you always have to remember that there’s a fine line between being 4-8 and 8-4. If you get the right breaks, you can end up 8-4 – the wrong ones and your 4-8.

    We’ll see – we had losses to South Carolina, Wake Forest, and FSU which could have easily gone our way. OTOH, we had close wins vs. Pitt and UNC which we could have easily lost.

    Right now, it looks like our offense will still have to put up a ton of points..and if our receivers can catch balls – we can do that. I think it’s fair to pick us any where from 7th to 12th, but w/ the right breaks we can have a nice season. I don’t think anyone in the ACC is unbeatable.

  16. CStanley 05/12/2010 at 12:54 PM #

    I think if we finish 10th overall, TOB will be looking for another job come season’s end. I’m tired of this losing shit and 10th will assure another losing season and no bowl.

    Does anyone know what will happen to Kuhn? I’m expecting significant punishment for Sweezy, so I’m writing him off.

    How about Vermiglio? He may be the most important potential loss if the punishment is severe.

    I’m assuming Bryan may be let off the hook.

  17. b 05/12/2010 at 1:14 PM #

    I’m not as concerned about the RB situation, Underwood to me is a solid back, albeit unspectacular. Washington has some shimmy assuming his knee heals up well. M Greene may be able to provide depth if Barnes can’t make a comeback. The O-line is vastly improved and should be solid this fall. Don’t underestimate the effect our passing game will have on the run game.

    The D only needs to be slightly better to win some ball games. Nate is worth a FG a game even if he is only 90% of what he was. The secondary should be better if for no other reason than an extra year in S & C. The D-line will be slightly less dependable than LY, but to be fair they weren’t as good LY as they should have been. The dropoff there won’t be as extreme as you might think. I expect Tenuta will have a noticeable impact on LB play.

    The STs are gonna be a problem. No way to avoid it other than score as often as possible. Even then we have to kickoff. This for me is the most disappointing aspect of TOB’s tenure here.

    We can compete with all 5 teams in our division and probably go 4-2 there along with UNC (sorry, they don’t scare me), but will likely lose to both GT and VT on the other side despite any improvement. I’d say 4-4 in league and 7-5 overall is probably the ceiling barring an unpredictable change. An upset of Cincy and either one of the Techs can make it a good year. I wouldn’t be surprised by anything from 4-8 to 9-3.

  18. packalum44 05/12/2010 at 1:30 PM #

    “When talking about the ACC – you always have to remember that there’s a fine line between being 4-8 and 8-4. If you get the right breaks, you can end up 8-4 – the wrong ones and your 4-8.”

    Exactly. I won’t forget watching Audie Cole lumber to the sideline to make a tackle half-a-yard past the first down hash. This happened on third downs during several games. I kept thinking if only we had Nate, or a fast athletic linebacker, these are punts instead of 1st downs.

    Football in the ACC is a game that lives on the margin. A slight edge in talent, coaching, or both can be significant in the W/L columns. This is why our self-inflicted attrition quietly eats me up inside.

    What IF, we just had Dominque Ellis last year? Not a great talent but better than what we had. What if he breaks up a few more passes per game or makes a few big stops on 3rd down…maybe there would be a difference in the W/L columns.

    Urban Meyer has a kid who blatantly attempts to gouge someone’s eye out and misses half a game. Sure the country bitches but we all know its a thin veil masking their underlying jealousy. Too bad Spikes couldn’t have played for us I’m sure we would have done the “right” thing and suspended him for a couple games and the country could have been at ease. Oh wait, no one would given a shit because we suck.

  19. Plz2BStateFan 05/12/2010 at 1:40 PM #

    You have to remember. Our coaches are essentially stuck with the kids they have. TOB alluded to not having any enough experienced secondary players left over from Chuck. We were starting all freshman and redshirt freshman with maybe 1 junior and 1 senior last year. We lost players last offseason that would have been part of the secondary.

    So what do you do?

    The only thing you can do is recruit for the secondary while promising play time, and work your ass off on improving the existing players. As far as I know we didnt go after any JUCO players to backfill those positions. And in fact I cant remember us ever getting secondary players from the JUCO ranks. It always seems to be defensive or offensive linemen.

    We can go in circles on this debate over and over every few months, but we can do this 5 times before we actually get a recruiting class in to actually deal with some of the issues.

    And then there is the issue of playing freshmen and redshirt freshmen going up against upperclassmen receivers. Its just not good practice but we were/are forced into it.

    This all ignores the coaching schemes that might help. But I know nothing about X’s and O’s and can only point to Tenuta as a saving grace.

    Bottom line, TOB will not be fired at the end of next year outside of winning 4 or less games. If the issue is the defense, he can replace Archer with Tenuta buying him time. And the only other way he gets canned would be some enormous scandal.

    Please stop talking like we are going to be replacing him after next season. Chuck had so much going wrong for him on so many different levels it had to be done. With TOB, we have much less to grip about.

  20. bigwolfpacker 05/12/2010 at 1:50 PM #

    With our offense we have to be ahead of WF and MD. No way either can score with us.

  21. Plz2BStateFan 05/12/2010 at 2:04 PM #

    Agreed. Last year we did everything in our power to give Maryland that game and still beat them.

    It is interesting to look at UNC vs NCSU in recruiting strategies. BMFD went crazy trying to get the top defensive players in the country and the O-Line has suffered just like under Chuck. TOB has concentrated on the O-Line(but not to the extreme of BD on defense) and it seems the defense has suffered.

    Now the obvious reaction after seeing the results is to start recruiting for the opposite side of the ball than the initial push of the first couple years. As a result, BD defense will fall off, and its possible TOB’s Oline will fall off. But, I would bet that the O-Line maintains itself better than BD’s defense.

    Wish the season would get here so we could talk about results on the field and not BS speculation.

  22. Prowling Woofie 05/12/2010 at 3:34 PM #

    Concerning the RB situation, we still have Taylor Gentry at FB, don’t we ? He’s got pretty good hands and can be an asset catching balls out of the backfield.

    Given RW’s scrambling ability, Gentry could be a useful outlet…

  23. howlie 05/12/2010 at 3:57 PM #

    No one’s talked about our walk-on running back.

    He didn’t look like a walk-on… & I really would have like to see him ‘straight up’ vs. the other RB’s, had the others not been injured.

    One post-spring analysis called him the best back they saw across all the ACC teams this springs.

    So. (What’s his name?)

  24. McCallum 05/12/2010 at 7:45 PM #

    After three years no blame can be pinned on Amato.

    This should not be taken as praise for Amato. Excuses do not cut it.


  25. BamaPack 05/12/2010 at 8:09 PM #

    I think at some point logic has to win out over emotion…and logic dictates that it’s going to be a long year.

    5 wins might be the high water mark this season…with 3 to 4 wins a likely scenario.

    Enjoy the tailgate…and enjoy the offense…because there won’t be any defense.

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