NCF Nation: Brandon PIttman

NC State Wolfpack season preview

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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Previewing the 2014 season for the NC State Wolfpack:

Key returners: RB Shadrach Thornton (768 yards, 4 TD), WR Bryan Underwood (32 catches, 382 yards), OT Joe Thuney, DE Art Norman (9 TFL, 4.5 sacks), DT Thomas Teal (10.5 TFL, 3 sacks), S Hakim Jones (61 tackles, 2 INT), LB Brandon Pittman (63 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 sacks)

Key losses: WR Rashard Smith, WR Quintin Payton, DB Dontae Johnson, LB D.J. Green, LB Robert Caldwell

Most important games: Sept. 27 versus FSU, Oct. 4 at Clemson, Oct. 18 at Louisville, Nov. 29 at North Carolina

Projected win percentage: .479

Vegas over/under: 5.5 wins

[+] EnlargeShadrach Thornton
MCT via Getty ImagesShadrach Thornton rushed for 768 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Instant impact newcomers: Jacoby Brissett sat out 2013 after transferring from Florida. He’ll now be counted on not just as the team’s starting quarterback, but as its offensive leader and, in many ways, the program’s savior. Freshman wideout Bo Hines had a huge spring game and has quickly emerged as one of Brissett’s favorite targets. Defensive end Kentavius Street and tackle Justin Jones could add some serious physicality to a defensive line that was often boom-or-bust in 2013.

Biggest question mark: For a team that went winless in ACC play last year, there are plenty of question marks. Brissett’s emergence is chief among them, but coach Dave Doeren seems more than pleased with his QB. Who will emerge among the young receivers for Brissett to throw to? Can the offensive line protect better than it did a year ago? Can the defensive line be more consistently disruptive? Can injured veterans like Underwood, Rob Crisp and Jarvis Byrd come back to make an impact? The list goes on and on, but there’s certainly hope that the Wolfpack have far more answers than they did a year ago.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Brissett proves to be the answer to many of last year’s offensive woes and instantly transforms the Wolfpack into a more dynamic team. The running game proves a strength and the defensive line routinely disrupts the opposition’s game plan. Injured veterans return and young depth emerges. NC State improves as the season progresses, pulls off an upset or two, and returns to postseason play with seven or eight wins.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Brissett isn’t the answer State’s fans had hoped for, and he struggles with a shaky supporting cast. The offensive line never comes together and the defensive front can’t stop the run. Early tests against FSU and Clemson sink the season, and the Wolfpack limp to another lowly finish in an increasingly difficult division.

Number to know: 100, 100, 100. State tailback Matt Dayes is one of just four returning ACC players to accumulate 100 yards rushing, receiving and in the return game last year. He’s not exactly entrenched atop the Wolfpack’s depth chart now, but Doeren did show a propensity for utilizing his most versatile talent last season, when Rashard Smith topped 100 yards rushing (121), receiving (530), on kick returns (310) and punt returns (240). Dayes could easily fill a similar all-purpose role this year.

They said it: “He wants to win, and it's personal. He's got to go do it. We've got to get players around him to help him and all those things, but he has the skill set and the intangibles that you look for when you recruit that position.” - Doeren on Brissett’s role as the team’s leader
NC State defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable is in his first season with the Wolfpack and coach Dave Doeren, and he is also coaching the linebackers. His resume also includes stops at Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. I caught up with Huxtable recently to get his take on the transition going on in Raleigh. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

How was the spring for you?

Dave Huxtable: It was a good spring. Being new, the coaching staff and players getting familiar and getting to know us, there were some positives, and getting to know each other and installing the defense, and learning the terminology and schemes, I thought the guys did a good job of it this spring. We’re nowhere near where we want to be yet, but we got a lot of good work done.

[+] EnlargeDave Huxtable
AP Photo/David StlukaNew NC State defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable likes what he's seen from his new players this spring.
How much of the playbook did you guys actually install?

DH: We installed the base defense, did not really throw a whole lot at them, but that’s the foundation of what we’re going to do, and as we get into fall camp we’ll have some new installation we’ll ask them to learn, things we’ll pull out of our bag of tools for the season.

I know you coach the linebackers as well, how did those guys look?

DH: I think I saw some improvement at the end of the spring. Again, we have a lot of work left to do at that position, but I really enjoy the guys I’m coaching there. They’re great character guys, they’ve got a great attitude, they’re hard workers and good learners, and there’s some talent there.

What’s your biggest concern heading into summer camp? Maybe priority is a better word -- for what you want to get done by the opener.

DH: I think there’s some depth at some positions. I think our safety position is a concern with depth there, as is our defensive end position. And then, again, I think we finished strong in the spring and I’m looking forward to our guys having a great summer. I know our strength coaches are going to do a great job with them in the offseason here, and I know our guys will work hard and they’ll come to camp ready and prepared. Just for us to pick up with the momentum we had at the end of spring.

How much of a whirlwind was it for you when the guys first went out there with the new staff?

DH: Those first couple of days it was more, ‘Hey you, over there!’ They have their jersey numbers on, but we got a chance to know a lot of them and get familiar with the names and faces in the offseason program, but every once in a while you say, ‘Hey 49, get over here!’ But it was fun, and really a neat group of guys here on this football team. I think guys who really want to be coached and be coached hard. Football is important to them and winning is important to them.

What positions still have the biggest ongoing competitions?

DH: I think at every linebacker position there’s great competition going on. A lot of new guys at those positions that were not starters last year. I think there were two starters that left last year that were gone. At the linebacker spot there’s a lot of competition. I would say the defensive end position. There’s good competition at both of those spots.

Who are some of the guys who are in the mix for both of those spots?

DH: At defensive end, [Darryl] Cato-Bishop and Mike Rose are competing. At the linebacker position, at mike, M.J. [Salahuddin] and Zach [Gentry] and Robert Caldwell came on strong at the end of spring, as did Ryan Cheek. At that mike linebacker position there’s a lot of good competition there. Brandon Pittman has been a guy who played a lot here, he’s fast and really finished the last couple of weeks of the spring strong. But you know, so did Drew Davis, a young linebacker who was very productive in our last two scrimmages. Competition is a good thing, it’s going to make us all better.

Are you running a completely different style of defense?

DH: We’re a base 4-3 defense, which they have been in the past. They probably blitzed a little bit more than what we will do. Then again, the terminology is totally different. What they call apples we call oranges, so there is a terminology to learn for the players.

How have things been going with the staff?

DH: Coach Doeren has been tremendous, just the way he’s handled the staff and the players. His organization, his detail to everything he does has just been outstanding. What a neat staff, a good group of guys who are all very passionate about football and recruiting and understand the business. It’s been really neat kind of being a new guy and getting to know all of the coaches. It’s been a fun experience, and I really enjoy working with them.

How did what you saw on the field this spring compare with what you might have seen on film of NC State?

DH: The players, we spent a lot of time on fundamentals and technique and not a huge amount of instillation. More just trying to be pros at our position and really sharpening the tools and fundamentals and techniques of the players. I think we’ve made some good ground on that from what we had seen on film. They were well-coached, and it’s making our job a little easier because the former staff did a great job with them. Now we just have to get them doing the things we’re going to ask them to do. We have a ways to go in that area, but with our spring practice we got some good work done.

Report: NCSU LB Green out for season

February, 28, 2012
NC State linebacker D.J. Green is ineligible to play this season after testing positive for a banned substance, according to J.P. Giglio of the Raleigh News & Observer.

According to the report, Green said he took a supplement in an attempt to gain weight. It was an unfortunate decision for Green and his team, as the linebacker position was already thin. With Audie Cole and Terrell Manning gone, the linebacker position is one of the biggest questions facing the Pack entering spring practices. Cole was the team’s leading tackler each of the past two seasons, and Manning was one of the defense’s most disruptive players last year.

Green was the only returning starter. He was having a great 2011 before he injured his knee and wound up starting seven games. The position will now be in the hands of young players like Brandon Pittman and Michael Peek, both sophomores. Dontae Johnson has some starting experience at linebacker, but he’s more of a safety and played a crossover role last year.

The good news for NC State's defense is that the entire secondary returns, including one of the top cornerbacks in the country in David Amerson, but the Wolfpack will need to find some answers at linebacker this spring and summer in order to solidify the front seven.