As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.
Team: NC State Wolfpack
Spring Practice Start Date: March 19
Spring Game Date:
While NC State certainly takes a step forward on the field by hiring former Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren, you can’t deny they lose a masterful troll letting go of Tom O’Brien. Amazing 16-wheeler aside though, this spring’s all about transition for the Pack, as Doeren brought along his own staff as part of the new regime. New terminology, new playbooks, and a new approach to games is only part of it too, as the team also ushers in a new collection of potential playmakers to replace several starters that departed for the NFL Draft. Needless to say, it’s going to be a very busy month down in Raleigh.
Off the bat, State players better be ready to run, as Doeren brings along his spread offense from NIU. After years of running a “vanilla,” pro-style scheme under O’Brien, offensive players will certainly embrace the change, but not without struggle. On top of the complete play-calling overhaul, they’ll be breaking in a new quarterback to run the show, with little indication on who may end up winning the job right now. The current favorite, however, is Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas; the only passer on the roster with notable college experience. He’ll also be challenged by sophomore Manny Stocker, who was handed little opportunity to show off his stuff last year, but appears better suited for the type of attack Doeren ran with quarterback Jordan Lynch last year (which included plenty of rushing attempts from the QB position). On the bright side, though, the Pack is more than settled at both the wide receiver and running back spots, after seeing bursts of brilliance from Bryan Underwood and Shadrach Thornton, respectively, last season. While nothing’s guaranteed under the new coaching staff for these two standouts, both will have ample opportunities to embrace leadership roles as the team adapts to their new surroundings.
After a phenomenal 2011 season, NC State’s secondary certainly regressed in 2012, hauling in a lot less interceptions while giving up a boatload of passing yards (nearly 250 per game). And things won’t get any easier this season, with most of the group’s veterans (namely David Amerson, Earl Wolff and Brandon Bishop) all departed for the draft. In their place is a pretty young group that brings back just one player with significant experience (senior corner Dontae Johnson), meaning the team’s focus may need to shift a bit and play to its strengths. This year, that’s likely to be the front seven, which returns five starters from 2012. Last year, they were able to get after opposing passers (33 sacks) and stop the run with some efficiency (ranked 53rd in the country in rushing defense), and they’ll be called on to carry even more of the load this season to make up for inexperience at cornerback and safety. Along with Johnson, be on the lookout for Darryl Cato-Bishop and T.Y. McGill, who will be handed ample chances to take on larger roles this spring.
How well NC State performs this year will be entirely based on how this spring goes. If the team deals with transition well, finds its legs on offense and defense, and can point to leaders on both sides of the ball as well, then perhaps the Wolfpack surprise this year. If not, well, they could be in for a rough 2013 season. Obviously we’ll know more once practice starts up, and State begins what should be a very interesting program shift.