Pack prepares variety of backs
By Brian Grossman Technician

RALEIGH, N.C. (U-WIRE) -- This year promises to be different for NCSU. T.A. McLendon returns for his junior season, Davis is back for his sophomore campaign and the addition of Bobby Washington and Darrell Blackman, two highly touted freshmen backs, gives the Pack an assortment of options at running back.

"We have a variety of backs," Davis said. "We have speed, we have power, we have power and speed; the defense won't know what's coming at them with all of us back there."

Lack of speed and power were never the problem for McLendon, but rather it was the threat of injury that worried Wolfpack Nation. The junior missed four full games with injuries last season but says fans need not worry about him this year.

"I'm not banged up at all," McLendon said in an interview this week. "I tweaked my hamstring, but it's not serious. I'm getting better. I'll be playing the first game; it doesn't matter. I will play."

Though the hamstring injury kept him out of Monday's scrimmage, McLendon practiced on Tuesday and Amato said he could have gone if Monday were a real game.

"[Washington and Blackman] need all the work they can get," Amato said.

"It was a blessing in disguise, really. T.A. has earned his stripes, definitely."

Blackman committed to NCSU before last season, but attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia when he failed to qualify academically. McLendon said Pack fans will enjoy watching Blackman this season because of his speed and his ability to shake defenders.

"Blackman is pretty fast, but he can give you a move here and there," McLendon said. "He reads holes really well. He'll be breaking a few ankles out there with his moves."

Washington's name has been in the news recently because of his complicated arrival in Raleigh. Washington originally signed a letter of intent to play for new ACC foe Miami, but was released from his letter of intent after problems with test scores arose. Washington arrived just in time for the team's first practice, where Amato confirmed the school did everything by the book to bring the Miami native to NCSU.

McLendon saw him arrive just in time to add another attribute to the backfield.

"Bobby brings a lot of quickness," McLendon said. "He has great feet; he can make defenders miss at any time. If you give him an opening, he's going to take it the distance."

Freshmen like Washington and Blackman are not available for interviews until the team's media day on Sunday.

Amato, as cautious as ever, warned that while Washington and Blackman are talented, they are very young. When asked how his young running backs performed in the scrimmage on Monday, Amato simply replied, "Fair." He later added, "at times [former All-Pro runner] Jimmy Brown couldn't have run behind that line."

"You get two young running backs in here and you put them in the stadium where they've watched some games at and it's a little different than going in practice," he continued. "They've got a lot of talent and all they're going to do is get better, but they're going to need all the work they're going to get."

While Washington and Blackman gain valuable experience in preparation for big games, the Pack will turn to sophomore Reggie Davis as McLendon's immediate backup -- for now, at least.

McLendon said plenty of situations will arise this year where Davis will be the No. 1 choice among backs.

"Reggie Davis is going to be a force," McLendon said. "Reggie is going to be a great back on third and fourth down or whenever we really need the first down. So whenever a situation arises when I can't do it or when the other guys can't get it done, I have every confidence that Reggie can do it."

"If you get in Reggie's way and he doesn't want to juke you, you've got a lot of weight coming at you with a lot of power behind it. Just watch out if he's coming at you at full steam."

Davis attributes this reputation of power to his workouts, preparation and experience from last season when he started one game in McLendon's absence, and 82-yard effort against Duke.

"I've worked hard in the spring and the off-season lifting weights and getting faster," Davis said. "I should be out there this year. I think the coaches believe in me."

"All experience helps you out because you have to adapt to the game. I believe it's like a mountain you have to get over. You have to get from the high school level up to the college level and having that game-time experience [last year] will really help out."

With all the additions, one subtraction presents itself. Josh Brown will not play with the team immediately for personal reasons that Amato said are not serious. Brown will stay with the team and serve in a student manager-type capacity, though Amato gave no name to his role. No timetable was set for Brown's return should it be imminent.

Regardless, competition figures to be strong at the running back position this year, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, according to McLendon.

"There's always competition," McLendon said. "Whoever is the No. 1 guy always has some competition. We'll always compete; all of us will get good touches this year. It's not a matter of starting. When you get the ball just make it happen."

(C) 2004 Technician via U-WIRE.

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