- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
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In this era of accelerating expectations following coaching turnover, some staffs fail to make it to a third year at the program.
NC State coach Dave Doeren and his offensive staff weathered the storm in 2013 as transfer quarterback Jaocby Brissett sat out a year. What followed in 2014 were dramatic improvements in their second season last fall with Brissett orchestrating the offense.
Now in their third year, the Wolfpack passing offense is focused on fine-tuning the unit and ironing out the details.
“I think now everyone understands what we want to do,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “There’s familiarity and every knows each other well.”
The offensive numbers were not overwhelming last year. The Wolfpack were 67th in yards per attempt, and Brissett, as a redshirt junior, completed less than 60 percent of his passes. Those are surface statistics, though, which do not tell the full story of a program and player adjusting to the new outfit at NC State.
Brissett was a fourth-year player but had minimal on-field experience. He lost out on the starting quarterback position at Florida and then was forced to sit out a year after transferring to NC State before the 2013 season.
“Jacoby is getting the ball where it needs to go. He does a good job of that,” Canada said. “You have to remember he hadn’t played a lot, but he’s blessed with talent. We saw him mature last year.”
The Wolfpack will need Brissett to continue to mature and lead the offense as NC State has suffered significant personnel losses at receiver. Leading receiver Bo Hines elected to leave school to pursue an Ivy League education. As a true freshman, Hines had 13 more catches and close to twice as many yards as the Wolfpack’s next leading receivers, and he averaged 17 yards per catch on third down.
Sophomore receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who hauled in 22 passes a season ago, is not on the 2015 roster either. Tight end David Grinnage, who showed major promise the second half of 2014, has been sidelined much of spring practice though his health continues to improve.
Canada doesn’t sound too concerned with the receiving corps, however, and said he’s “pleased” with the group he has. Bra'Lon Cherry, who finished second among wide receivers with 27 catches last season, could become the top receiving target in 2015. Canada said the junior is “unbelievably talented” and has played well this spring.
Cherry said his connection with Brissett is getting stronger with each practice and 7-on-7 workout. The timing is almost to the point where each knows where the other will be, and when Cherry turns for the ball Brissett already has the throw en route to the 5-foot-11, 188-pound receiver.
The next step is for Cherry to turn a short reception into an exceptional gain once the ball is in his hands. NC State was a middle-of-the-pack team in explosive plays last season, and Cherry said his personal goal is to increase his 20- and 30-yard catches.
Those plays can ignite an offense, and it’s much easier to put together a four-play touchdown drive than a 12-play drive, especially as a quarterback continues to learn the nuances of the position.
“You just catch the ball and make one guy miss and make the best of every catch you get. That’s the big thing,” Cherry said. “… That’s what’s going to separate the good from the great -- having big, explosive plays.”
The NC State Wolfpack enters its third year under Dave Doeren having picked up a little steam and a better understanding of his offense.