Though plenty of ACC teams had reason to be dissatisfied with their 2009 seasons, no team cratered like North Carolina State. The Wolfpack were talked about as a top candidate to make a BCS Bowl, but finished with a losing record and didn't qualify for any postseason game at all.
For that to reverse course in 2010, a lot will have to happen. But one encouraging sign this spring was the play of a guy expected to be the key member of the defense who instead spent last year in street clothes.
Nate Irving suffered severe injuries in a car accident last June, which took him 10 months to recover from. He still wasn't 100 percent for the spring game, but just seeing him on the field was major progress.
He's moved to the middle linebacker spot, and only played a half, but seemed to energize the crowd of more than 25.000. With Terrell Manning also playing well, the linebacker corps looks to be much improved.
Of course, that's only one part of one side of the ball. The secondary still needs a ton of work, and looked awful for much of the Spring Game. Though Russell Wilson is expected to come back, he was a no-show in April as he focused on his obligations to the Wolfpack baseball team. The running back situation is in flux, and both the offensive and defensive lines need work.
And that's not even factoring the injuries. Only 46 players were able to dress for the Spring Game, and given the team's terrible luck in that regard under Tom O'Brien it can't be a good sign going forward.
But April is always a time for optimism, and seeing Irving back on the field in a game situation gave the Wolfpack fans more reasons for hope in 2010.NOTES, QUOTES
--Four North Carolina State players were charged with misdemeanor charges related to a search of an off-campus apartment that uncovered marijuana. Markus Kuhn, J.R. Sweezy and Jake Vermiglio faced three separate charges, while George Bryan has one.
--The battle to be the starting running back will continue, likely right up to the season opener. Junior Curtis Underwood and sophomore James Washington are the leading candidates to take over for Toney Baker, who decided to skip what would have been his sixth season and final year of eligibility in Raleigh.
WR Jay Smith -- Smith's 2009 began with a critical drop against South Carolina and didn't get much better from there, but he looked like a different player this spring. He was one of the stars of the spring, however, and looks like he's ready to contribute more in 2010.
LB Terrell Manning -- Even with Nate Irving's return, Manning could be the team's most impactful linebacker in 2010. He capped a strong spring with seven tackles and a sack in the Red-White Game.
QB Russell Wilson -- Can a player be a big mover when he's the incumbent starting quarterback and not even participating in the April drills? Maybe, in this case. Coach Tom O'Brien said that Wilson will return to the team in the fall rather than exploring a professional baseball career, and that he would be the starting quarterback in September. That meant that regardless of what Mike Glennon showed in his April showcase, it wasn't enough to cause the coaching staff to consider a QB competition in the Fall.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He has the ability to throw the ball anywhere on the football field, but the thing that separates the great quarterbacks from the good quarterbacks -- and the good quarterbacks from average -- is the decision-making process, delivering the ball on time and delivering it where it's supposed to be." -- North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien, on sophomore quarterback Mike Glennon, who started all spring but will likely sit behind Russell Wilson again once play begins in September.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: North Carolina State has been a tough team to predict over the past couple of years. When you count them out, they can storm up and surprise you, but predict them to contend in the ACC at your peril.
State certainly has the pieces to win the ACC, led by the dynamic Russell Wilson under center. But putting it together -- and finding a running game -- is the element that needs to be added for the Wolfpack to meet its expectations.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Quarterback is fine -- Russell Wilson should be back, and even if he isn't Mike Glennon looks like he's ready for an expanded role. The receivers looked very good this spring, and the line could be a strength if it gels quickly. The big key here is the running backs, and considering every tailback on the roster seemed to be hurt this spring, that's a question that won't be answered until closer to the start of the season.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wolfpack defense was flat-out terrible a year ago, and even if Nate Irving returns as the player he was at the start of the 2008 season, it wouldn't be enough to fix that. State stressed fundamentals this spring, and apart from a few breakdowns the defense looked better at blocking and tackling this April. However, there's still a long way to go.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Jeff Ruiz expected that his football playing days were behind him once the 2009 season ended, but the indefinite suspension of Chris Ward has brought him back onto the team, and he'll handle those duties again this fall. Josh Czajkoswki is one of the ACC's best kickers, and T.J. Graham is as explosive a kick returner as you'll find in college football.
--Running back Brandon Barnes entered the spring in the backfield competition, but suffered a dislocated ankle. It's unclear whether he'll be ready to go when the season starts.
--Recruit Peter Singer has had a rough time of it over the past year. He was charged with driving after consuming alcohol in March, marking the third time he had been a target of police activity in less than a year.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010