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April 16, 2010

Spring game storylines

Every spring has its storylines. Most if not all of them play out behind the scenes in March and April, but the public will have a chance to get an update Apr. 17 during the Kay Yow Spring Game at Carter-Finley Stadium. The scrimmage will start at 1 p.m.

Here are 10 storylines that NC State fans should pay attention to as they watch the game.

Is Mike Glennon ready?

While it is highly likely that redshirt junior Russell Wilson will be back next fall, it's still an important spring game for redshirt sophomore Mike Glennon. In the unlikely case Wilson does go professional in baseball Glennon is the likely starter for NC State.

Glennon has immense potential. While Wilson is and would be an All-ACC candidate, Glennon may have more NFL talent. Glennon has filled out his 6-6 frame to 217 pounds, and he would likely have one of the strongest arms in the conference if not the nation. Glennon just needs to harness his skills into a successful and efficient quarterback.


Are there flashes from Nate Irving?

Fifth-year senior linebacker Nate Irving is trying to make his return from serious injuries sustained in a car crash last summer that included a broken leg, broken ribs, a collapsed lung and separated shoulder. He's also trying to return while learning a new position - middle linebacker.

"Nate isn't anywhere close to where he was," Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien said. "In comparison he's ahead of where Toney Baker was in a similar spot at this time last year. He's got a long way to go but certainly him being out there is a big help to the defense. We're trying to take care of him and not overwork him to make sure that something doesn't get hurt again. It's a question of managing properly and knowing he'll be much better in August than he will be in even a week or so."


Are there signs of hope from the secondary?

In retrospect, the 485 passing yards, 272 of them from Glennon, in last year's spring game was probably a telling sign for NC State's defense. In 2009, several teams lit up the Pack's secondary for huge passing yards. NC State ranked ninth in the ACC in pass efficiency defense and had the fewest interceptions (eight) of any team in the league.

In the team's first scrimmage, the first play was a 79-yard touchdown pass from Glennon to senior receiver Owen Spencer.

"Nobody has stepped up yet," O'Brien said. "Until you know what you're doing you're not going to be a leader so we're still trying to figure out which way we're going and who's who. We've got a long way to go."


Who's winning the Manning/Maddox battle?

If Irving can make a healthy return to the field, NC State should be set at two-thirds of the linebacker position. Irving would solidify the middle while redshirt junior Audie Cole handles the strongside. Weakside then would be the last linebacker position settled.

The frontrunners are junior Dwayne Maddox and redshirt sophomore Terrell Manning. Maddox has more experience, but Manning showed in 2009 that he could have more playmaking abilities. Whichever linebacker lines up with Cole and Irving may be the first hint about who is leading the battle.


What impact is Jon Tenuta having?

The weakside linebacker position and Irving's return are not the only stories at linebacker this spring. For the first time in the O'Brien era at NC State, there was a coaching change. Former linebackers coach Andy McCollum left NC State to take the defensive line and recruiting coordinator position at Georgia Tech. He was replaced by former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.

Tenuta has an extensive coaching background. He also had stints as the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, and he is well-regarded for his abilities to bring pressure on the quarterback. NC State could use some more quarterbacks sacks. They finished in a three-way tie for seventh in the league in sacks last year with 24.


Who's Carrying The Load At Running Back?

The Pack suffered a blow at the tailback position when redshirt sophomore Brandon Barnes was lost indefinitely after dislocating his ankle during the first scrimmage Apr. 3. He had surgery that night to repair the damage.

That leaves redshirt junior Curtis Underwood and sophomore James Washington as the two remaining scholarship running backs vying to replace the 2005 class of Toney Baker, Andre Brown and Jamelle Eugene that have dominated the carries at the position for the last five years.


Is the offensive line gelling?

This is an especially important question if Wilson does not return this fall. Wilson's mobility in the pocket would allow a talented but young offensive line time to develop. If Glennon, a more traditional drop-back quarterback, is operating under center, the offensive line will need to grow up in a hurry.

At the start of spring, senior Jake Vermiglio at left tackle was the most experienced first-stringer. He was accompanied by redshirt sophomores Andrew Wallace and Zach Allen at left and right guard respectively, sophomore Camden Wentz at center and redshirt freshman Sam Jones at right tackle.


Who's emerging at defensive tackle?

NC State must replace both starters at defensive tackle, and that task became more difficult when perhaps the most likely candidate to replace one tackle, redshirt junior J.R. Sweezy, was suspended indefinitely.

That leaves senior Natanu Mageo, redshirt junior Markus Kuhn and sophomore Brian Slay as the best bets to step up at the defensive tackle spot. Kuhn will be making his return after redshirting last season, and the popular German had six tackles, five of them for losses, two sacks and a quarterback hurry during State's first scrimmage Apr. 10.


Which redshirt freshman is ready to make an impact?

Spring games are often times the first opportunity for NC State fans to see the redshirt freshmen. Several of whom have a good opportunity to make an early impact.

One name in particular to watch could be defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop. He had four tackles, all of them for losses, and a pair of sacks during the first scrimmage Apr. 10. Cato-Bishop was the scout team defensive MVP last fall.

Wide receiver Morgan Alexander had also earned considerable buzz, and former quarterback Everett Proctor's move to safety has earned good early reviews. Jones was running with the first string offensive line at the start of spring practice.


How is the fan support?

O'Brien has frequently referenced the fact that every year he has been at NC State, the Wolfpack's spring crowd outdrew the other FBS schools in the state combined. Last year, NC State packed 21,075 fans into Carter-Finley Stadium for the spring game.

The pressure is on this year however. North Carolina scored a coup when ESPN decided to televise their spring game on national television Apr. 10. The result was an announced attendance of 29,500 at Kenan Stadium. Can NC State fans top that number?


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