- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here is Part 2 of our conversation with NC State second-year coach Dave Doeren.
Where are you at health-wise with spring around the corner?
Dave Doeren: We've got a couple guys that had surgery during the last year. Kenton Gibbs had an Achilles last fall so we'll be really careful with him at defensive tackle. Jarvis Byrd is trying to get his sixth year, had an ACL injury in one of our games, will not go through drills in spring, but he's doing really well. Those are the two guys that right now I know will not do crossover team-type things. And everyone else is pretty much on full-go.
Ranking-wise, your recruiting class this time around is much-improved. I know building depth in the trenches was important, but what's your biggest takeaway from this group?
DD: There were a bunch of players that filled needs obviously. The thing that we really were trying to get done was get guys that were from winning programs. If you add up all the playoff games from this recruiting class, I think there were 66 games this year that they played in the postseason, and nine of them were state champs, 19 of these kids were team captains. So there's just that ability to bring a kid in that's used to winning, that's trained to win, as a leader of his team. And those kind of things, the intangibles of that, with it and the talent that a lot of them possess I thought made it a very good class. And those are things that don't go into Rivals rankings. It's just my experience when you get a player that understands the sacrifices that need to be made to be a winner, it's a lot easier to build a program than when you're taking some guys that are used to accepting losing. And that's one thing they will not do.
Nine of those guys are enrolling early. How important is it to get a lot of those bodies ready this spring, and how much more flexibility does that offer you?
DD: It's nice. We've got nine new guys on campus. And for them, they're going to be so much further along, not just because they know the playbook, but because they just went through a very challenging offseason program and the growth that they'll have from a mental toughness standpoint is exponential, I think. And the way that they'll be a part of the team is different just because they know these guys now. The rest of them come in and just know their class. These guys know the team. From a coaching standpoint it's easier because it creates competition at certain spots that wouldn't be there this spring. Not just because we like to see guys fight for jobs, but because now, a returning player -- we played 11 freshmen last year, so now some of those guys have someone standing behind them that want their job immediately. It creates competition at those spots. My philosophy is pretty simple: You take what you have and you coach it, and then you develop it in the weight room and in the film room and you make it as good as you can. But then when you bring in a player that wants that guy's job, now both of those players increase their ability to produce. And whoever wins the job you find that your level of production has gone up. And without competition I just don't think you have the same increase in play-making that you need on your team. So to have that many guys coming in, it's huge, especially two of them are offensive linemen and two of them are wide receivers, and those are two areas we were excited to have competition at.
Any thoughts or reaction with Louisville coming into your division now as an opponent you guys are going to have to face every year instead of Maryland?
DD: Great for the league to have a team of that caliber. And not just a team, an athletic department; they're very balanced in the athletic department. And obviously I have no idea how they'll fit in the league. I know the league they were in, they were dominant. And they have tremendous talent, and they'll have a lot of guys from that team in the NFL. To have them on our side of the division obviously makes it even stronger. I think we play them, Florida State and Clemson all in the same month. I don't know how many teams play three top-15 teams all in one month, but it definitely makes our side of the division extremely strong.
I know there's been a lot of whispers and a lot of headlines this offseason just about possible nine-game (conference) schedules, possible division realignment. Can you just give me your thoughts on some of those issues as a coach in this league and where you think things may be headed?
DD: I know there's been, as you said, a lot of talk about the nine games, and there's multiple models for it. I know the ADs tabled it. I'm really not sure which direction it's going. I think you've got a lot of conversations going on out there. You have what's best for your own team and you have what's best for the league from your team's perspective, and then you have TV people that say what's best for TV. So there's a lot of things being in there (laughs), and then you have the new model for a playoff system. And it'll be interesting to see which direction it goes. The thing that makes our league different from others in my opinion is you have to play Notre Dame every so often. So if you go to a nine-game schedule, you're playing nine plus Notre Dame. So that's an interesting dynamic, because some of our teams in our league, four of them already have SEC crossover games. So they can have nine games plus their SEC rival plus Notre Dame in one year, and just one nonconference game on the schedule. And I think that would be difficult on a team.