Wolfpack Set to Begin Spring Practice
March 15, 2005
As the NC State football squad prepares to enter spring workouts, there is a renewed sense of excitement around the Murphy Football Center. You can sense it in the weight room during 6:00 a.m. winter workouts. You can sense it upstairs in the meeting rooms when the coaches are watching film and putting playbooks together. And you can certainly sense it in the head coach's office, where Chuck Amato prepares for his sixth season leading the Wolfpack.
"Last season did not turn out the way we wanted it to, but sometimes a step backwards can help you take three steps forward," he said. "That backwards step is behind us and we're working on going full speed ahead. We've got three new coaches on our staff and I think that has really helped us to have some fresh faces and fresh outlooks."
Amato says that, as always, fundamentals are going to be a big focus during spring workouts. "We want to come out fundamentally as strong as we can be with 15 days of practice. We also want to avoid injuries. But most importantly, we want to use this spring to develop an attitude - an attitude that we are as good as anybody on our schedule. Offensively, we've got to cut down turnovers and improve in the red zone. Defensively, we've got to cut out foolish penalties. And in the kicking game, we've got to win it."
OFFENSE Multiple (Seven Starters Returning)
For the 2005 Wolfpack offense, the script may be different, but the cast of characters will remain virtually the same. Only four starters are gone from last year's offensive unit, and only one of those played in every game last season. Although the leading rusher from the last three seasons is gone, the leading receiver and passer return with added experience.
A new offensive coordinator, Marc Trestman, will be the new director of that cast, bringing with him experience from a multitude of NFL teams. Trestman will bring new terminology to the offense, a change which Amato welcomes.
"Technique, Technique, Technique! That's what our emphasis will be this spring," said Amato. "Marc Trestman is a great technician and we decided that it would be a positive thing to change our terminology and just start with a blank slate. Our kids are really excited about it."
Offensive Line (3 starters, 6 lettermen returning)
Injuries on the offensive line could have been the single most determining factor behind NC State's string of four straight losses last season. Three of the team's veteran starters missed multiple games during that stretch. After the rash of injuries, the line gave up almost double the number of sacks as it had earlier in the year.
Although three starters return from last season, the two who completed their eligibility will leave tough shoes to fill. Jed Paulsen was a three-year starter at center, while tackle Chris Colmer actually spent six years in the Wolfpack program, as he gained an extra season after missing 2003 with an injury. That duo combined to start 75 contests during their careers.
Leroy Harris (6-3, 295, *Jr.) has been one of the top performers for the Pack over the past two seasons, leading the team in Raleigh Rails each of the past two seasons. A versatile player, Harris started the first five games of 2004 at left guard, then moved over to center after Paulsen went down with a knee injury. He started the next two games at center, but suffered a shoulder injury that ended his season.
"Leroy is a special player," said Amato. "He is physical, he's athletic and he likes to compete."
This spring, Harris is listed as the starter at center, where he will be backed up by Luke Lathan (6-4, 295, *So.). Lathan, who missed time due to injury earlier in 2004, started the last four games of the year at center.
Lathan will also see work at left guard, where he will work against two transplants from the Wolfpack defense. Dwayne Herndon (6-3, 286, *Sr.) has played in 29 games during his career at defensive tackle, starting six contests. Another transplant from the defense, walkon John "Wu" Amanchukwu (6-5, 283, *Jr.) will also battle for playing time at left guard this spring.
At the other guard position, Kalani Heppe (6-4, 289, *So.), who saw limited action last season, mainly at center, will battle John McKeon (6-5, 307, *Sr.). McKeon started every game at right guard last season, seeing more action than any other player on the squad, 779 snaps.
Derek Morris (6-6, 333, Jr.) will return to fill the right tackle spot, and as the largest player on the squad, he definitely does FILL it. The junior, who started seven games at that position in 2004, missed the Clemson and Georgia Tech games with an ankle injury, and was not back at full speed in the last two games, even though he played and started.
Jon Holt (6-6, 299, *Jr.), a reserve who started the Clemson game while Morris was injured, has bulked up with muscle during the offseason, and looks to make a bigger impact behind Morris.
James Newby (6-5, 295, *Jr.) may be one of the most versatile players on the offensive line. He started three contests at right tackle in 2004, three at left guard, and played at as many as three different positions in one game last season. He will enter spring workouts as the starter at left tackle. Behind him, Merci Falaise (6-5, 305, *Jr.), who sat out most of last season after suffering an early injury, will battle for playing time. LaMarte McGhee (6-6, 296, *Fr.) redshirted last season on the defensive line, but has moved over for spring drills and will also work at left tackle.
"Some of the younger guys on the offensive line will get a thousand reps this spring," said Amato. "We saw last season the importance of depth on the offensive line, so we need to do our best to make sure that every player at those positions is ready to play. We're looking forward to seeing what those guys from the defense can do over there - defensive players bring an aggressive mentality that we like on that side of the ball."
Quarterback (1 starter, 2 lettermen returning)
Jay Davis (6-2, 220, *Sr.) started every game last season at quarterback, passing for 2,104 yards, the 10th-best mark in school history and the second-highest tally in the ACC in 2004. Davis' performance was severely hampered by the injuries to the line, as his time in the pocket was severely limited late in the season. Davis enters spring workouts as the starter and the job could be his to lose.
Marcus Stone (6-4, 234, *So.) brings a totally different element to the quarterback spot with his ability to run. The sophomore finished sixth on the team in rushing last season, even though he saw limited action. He even came in for a couple of snaps to run the ball while Davis was behind center.
Although Davis and Stone are the most experienced field generals on the Wolfpack squad, they could be pushed by redshirt freshman Daniel Evans (6-3, 180, *Fr.). Evans ran the scout team offense for most of last season, impressing his defensive teammates. The son of former Wolfpack All-American Johnny Evans, he is known for his accuracy.
Chris Moore (6-5, 220, *Jr.) may have the strongest arm of the four players vying for time at QB. Moore saw his first career action last season in the regular season finale with East Carolina, but did not attempt a pass.
"Jay was our starter last season and he'll go into spring ball listed as our starter," Amato continued. "He and Marcus will get a bunch of work with the first team during spring ball and will continue to have great competition."
Running Back (No starters, four lettermen returning)
Even though the sixth-leading rusher in school history, T.A. McLendon, will not return for NC State in 2005, the Wolfpack has an embarrassment of riches at the running back spot. Three players who have starting experience under their belts will return to the field and all three are determined to win the starting role.
"The situation at running back is kinda neat," said Amato. "We've got two rising sophomores who were high school All-Americans, but they're listed behind Reggie Davis! And the competition will be even fiercer when the two freshman come in this fall. I'm really looking forward to watching those three go at it this spring because they are all competitors who want to be out on the field."
Reggie Davis (6-1, 233, Jr.) is the most experienced of the trio, with 309 career yards and 233 career snaps played. The bruising runner was the second-leading rusher for the Wolfpack in 2004, gaining 227 yards even though he played in just nine games. He had his top career game at North Carolina last season, gaining 72 yards on 11 carries.
Darrell Blackman (6-0, 205, So.) and Bobby Washington (6-1, 210, So.) competed for time in the backfield during their rookie campaigns and both earned a starting nod in a game last season. Both played in 10 contests, but Blackman tallied more yards (206) while Washington had more carries (57). Washington crossed the goalline three times, while Blackman scored one TD.
"Reggie is more of a downhill runner," Amato continued. "He's a big, strong, powerful back. He's not the fastest guy in the world, but he's got good balance and good vision. Blackman has great hands and is a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield and Washington is a little shiftier. Both of those younger guys need to learn what to do when they don't have the ball in their hands - we'll work on that this spring. They all know what to do when they get the football, but they need to learn to play without it."
Wide Receiver/Halfback (2 starters, 5 lettermen returning)
Only four 2004 letterwinners at wide receiver or halfback will be able to go through spring drills, but each one has starting experience under his belt. Richard Washington, who led the wide receiver corps in receiving last season, will not return, but a bevy of other talented wideouts will vy for playing time. A new coach will be at the helm of the receiving corps, as Dwayne Dixon joins the staff from the University of Florida.
Entering spring workouts, senior Brian Clark (6-3, 205, Sr.) is listed as the starter at flanker. Clark, who only had 18 receptions last season, has pulled down 53 grabs and scored five touchdowns for his career. An academic All-ACC performer last season, Clark is one of the most experienced players at wideout.
At split end, LaMart Barrett (6-1, 190, Jr.) and Sterling Hicks (6-2, 195, *Sr.) are both veteran players who could seeing starting action. Barrett has started eight games in his career, while Hicks is a veteran of nine starts. Hicks has pulled down 68 career receptions, the second-highest total among returning wideouts.
Tramain Hall (5-10, 190, *Sr.) returns at the halfback spot. The speedy senior ranks 13th in school history with 97 career receptions and 15th with 1,123 career receiving yards. His 28 grabs in 2004 was less than half of his total from the previous campaign (69).
Another talented wideout will miss spring workouts while recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL. John Dunlap (6-3, 225, So.) suffered the injury while playing basketball in December and underwent surgery in January. Although he will miss spring drills, he has made steady progress and hopes to be back in action this fall. Dunlap started thre last three games of 2004, and averaged a team-high 19.3 yards per reception.
"We might not have the quantity at wideout this spring, but we definitely have the quality," Amato continued. "We have guys who have played in big games. This group is excited about what we're doing on offense. Dwayne Dixon will be great at teaching them technique - how to run routes, how to get off of jams - things where speed isn't really a factor.
Tight End (1 starter, 2 lettermen returning)
The tight end position will be ably filled this season, as two talented seniors and two bruising young players will battle for playing time. For the first time since 1967, a tight end led the Wolfpack in receiving last season, as T.J. Williams (6-3, 253, Sr.) pulled down 31 grabs for a team-high 382 yards, averaging 12.3 yards per catch. The senior has started 19 games in his career. John Ritcher (6-3, 255, *Sr.) also started games last season and has played in 38 career games. Known more as a blocker, Ritcher pulled down eight catches a year ago.
"You could see any two of those guys in the game at the same time a lot," said Amato. "T.J. could be as good as anybody in the country and John has been a solid player for us. The two young guys have a lot of potential as well. Our tight ends are definitely a big part of our offensive game plan."
DEFENSE (4-3) Six Starters Returning
Six starters return from the defensive unit that led the nation in total defense last season, although the four or the five starters that won't return all ranked in the top seven on the team in tackles in 2004. The defense, under new coordinator Steve Dunlap, will be anchored by a defensive line that returns all four starters and should rank among the nation's best as a unit in 2005.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Amato. "We return starters and we return backups from the number-one defense in the country. We aren't changing our terminology, but we will add stuff to our package. There is going to be really good competition and I wouldn't be surprised if some of those backups overtake some of the returning starters."
Defensive Line (4 starters, 7 lettermen returning)
The Wolfpack's defensive front could be the most talented in the nation this season. All four starters return, along with several talented reserves.
Mario Williams (6-7, 285, Jr.) was a first-team All-ACC performer a year ago and looks like a prototype defensive end. He led the team with 15 tackles for loss as a sophomore,while his six sacks ranked second on the team. The wily veteran will be backed up by a true freshman, Willie Young (6-5, 220, Fr.), who joined the team in January. Chip Cross (6-1, 265, *Sr.), who has played in 26 career games, returns after sitting out last season, and will also play at left end.
On the other side, lanky Manny Lawson (6-5, 220, Jr.) was the team's leading sacker with seven last season, while tallying 50 total tackles. A former linebacker, Lawson started every game of 2004 at end, his first year at that position. Raymond Brooks (6-3, 270, So.) was one of the top rookie performers on the defense last season, seeing action in 10 games and earning the team's Defensive Newcomer Award. He saw increased action over the course of the season. Renaldo Moses (6-5, 217, *Sr.) is another player with starting experience who will see time at end.
Inside, John McCargo (6-2, 295, *Jr.) has been an unsung hero for the Pack over the last two seasons. An Academic All-ACC performer in 2004, "Johnny Mac" has started all but one game of his college career, playing over 1,200 snaps. Martrel Brown (6-2, 285, *So.) saw action in seven games last season, playing at end and tackle, but will enter spring drills listed behind McCargo.
Tank Tyler (6-2, 294, Jr.) started every game of 2004 at tackle as well and will return to that position for his junior campaign. He will be pushed by DeMario Pressley (6-4, 280, So.), the only freshman to earn a start on defense last season.
"The defensive line should be one of the big strengths of our team this year," said Amato. "I think the only thing that could keep that from happening would be the `c' word: complacency. There are some special players in that group, starters and backups. We want to be able to run them in and out of there so they are always playing at their highest level of efficiency."
Linebackers (2 starters, 3 lettermen returning)
The top four tacklers on the nation's number-one defense last season had one thing in common: they were all linebackers. And although two of those leaders have exhausted their eligibility, two starters do return from last season's solid linebacking corps.
Oliver Hoyte (6-3, 252, Sr.) tallied 10 more tackles (93) than any other Wolfpack player last season, despite missing almost two complete games with a knee injury. The leading tackler in three contests last season, Hoyte will move from the middle linebacker spot to the weak side this spring. That position will need his talents, as Stephen Tulloch (5-11, 230, Jr.), the starter at that spot in six games last season, will miss spring drills. Tulloch, who ranked third on the team with 75 stops last season, underwent shouder surgery in January and will not do any contact work this spring.
Filling the vacany in the middle will be veteran Pat Lowery (6-2, 240, *Jr.), who led the team in tackles in the season finale last season and is a veteran of 24 games. Lowery has seen extensive action on the Wolfpack special teams each of the past two years. James Martin II (6-1, 236, *So.) redshirted last season after undergoing knee surgery and has moved over from defensive end, where he played in 2003. He will compete at MIKE linebacker this spring as well.
Over at the SAM slot, LeRue Rumph (6-1, 225, *So.) and Ernest Jones (6-2, 220, *So.) will compete for the job. Both players saw the majority of their action on special teams last season, but Rumph actually led the team in tackles in the season opener with Richmond, his first collegiate contest.
"The linebacker position is probably where we have the least amount of depth," Amato continued. "We didn't sign as many people there either, so this spring is going to be important for that group. With Tulloch out, we've moved the positions around a little. Pat Lowery has had an unbelieveable offseason program and he played his butt off in the last two games of the season, so we're really excited about seeing what he can do as a starter. We'll get a good look at James Martin at MIKE linebacker and we really need some of those younger players to step up."
Secondary (0 starters, 4 lettermen returning)
First, the bad news. Alll four starters from the 2004 Wolfpack secondary have completed their eligibility. But the good news is that several of the returning players at those spots have seen frequent action during their careers. The competition for playing time in the secondary this spring could be as fierce as at any position.
Marcus Hudson (6-2, 200, *Sr.) started five games at free safety last season, but will move back to cornerback this spring, his original position. Hudson, a speedy cover man who ranked fifth on the team in tackles in 2004 (70), had played over 1,200 career snaps at corner before moving to safety.
Backing up Hudson at right corner will be Jimmie "Third" Sutton (5-11, 175, *So.), who saw limited action, mainly on special teams last season. Jeremy Gray (6-3, 191, *Fr.) redshirted last season, but impressed his coaches and teammates in practice and hopes to battle for playing time.
At left corner, A.J. Davis (5-10, 188, *Jr.) played 365 snaps in 2004 even though he started just one game. One of the fastest player on the entire team, Davis is listed as the starter heading into spring workouts. Phillip Holloman (5-11, 190, *So.) will work behind Davis at left corner after seeing limited action in five games during his rookie campaign.
None of the players who are listed on the depth chart at the safety spots have ever started a collegiate contest, but all boast experience, speed and are known as hard hitters. Garland Heath (6-2, 220, Jr.) has played in 24 career games at roverback, the Wolfpack's "hidden linebacker" position. A physical player, Heath outweighs any other secondary player by 20 pounds heading into spring workouts. DaJuan Morgan (6-2, 195, *Fr.), one of the most athletic players on the squad, redshirted last season but is itching to see action in a game.
At free safety, J.J. Jones (6-0, 178, *Sr.), who has been a demon on special teams for his entire career, will battle Miguel Scott (6-1, 190, So.) for the starting spot. Jones, who played at rover previously, has seen action in 29 career games, but only 52 snaps from scrimmage. Scott played in all 11 games in 2004, seeing most of his action on special teams as well.
"They might not be the starters from last season on paper, but A.J. Davis and Marcus Hudson are considered starters by us at cornerback," said Amato. "At safety, Garland Heath, J.J. Jones, Miguel Scott - all of those guys have played a lot of football for us. Add Morgan to that and it's a young, talented group of safeties that have a great future in front of them."
SPECIAL TEAMS 2 returning starters
Because of his versatility, John Deraney (6-4, 325, *Jr.) actually counts as two returning starters - as he was the starting placekicker and punter for the Pack in 2004. Deraney, one of just 10 kickers in the nation who handled all of the kicking duties for their teams last season, has hit all 29 of his career PAT attempts, while his 41.9 yard punting average last season ranks 11th in school history.
Veterans also return at the long snapper and holder spots. William Lee (6-2, 226, *Jr.) handled all of the long snapping duties last season, while Chris Young (5-10, 184, *Sr.) has been the Wolfpack holder each of the past two campaigns.
"Deraney will have to do it all this spring," said Amato, "but he's proven that he can handle it."