Wolfpack coaches evaluating wide receiver, linebacker replacements

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 23, 2012 

— It felt more like August than March as N.C. State opened spring football practice Friday.

The weather was hot, the coaches loud and the players energetic as the Wolfpack took to the field for a couple hours of work.

“We are a team with high goals,” senior linebacker Sterling Lucas said. “And our first goal is to win an ACC championship.”

Lucas sat out last season after undergoing knee surgery. But with the Wolfpack looking for starters at linebacker, Lucas could be the man filling the middle and replacing the departed Audie Cole.

“He was like a de facto coach last year,” NCSU coach Tom O’Brien said. “He knows the defense as well as anybody.”

O’Brien said linebacker was a “major concern” going into the spring. In addition to losing Cole, Terrell Manning decided to enter the NFL draft early and then D.J. Green was ruled ineligible for the 2012 season because of his use of a banned substance.

“We didn’t expect to lose all three,” O’Brien said. “Finding three linebackers is our biggest focus on defense.”

Offensively, the biggest question mark is at wide receiver with the departure of T.J. Graham, Jay Smith and Steven Howard. Tobias Palmer and Bryan Underwood return and have big-play potential, and O’Brien said moving Rashard Smith from the secondary to wideout should help.

O’Brien said running back Mustafa Greene, who missed the 2011 season, is progressing well. Greene, the Pack’s leading rusher as a freshman in 2010, injured his foot last spring and twice had surgery, but he appeared fit and quick in Friday’s drills.

A year ago, Mike Glennon was in the unpleasant position of being the No. 1 quarterback in spring practice but also wondering if Russell Wilson would return from pro baseball for a final year at QB. Wilson wound up transferring to Wisconsin, and Glennon passed for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns, then was the MVP in the Belk Bowl.

O’Brien believed Glennon could handle both being the starter and replacing Wilson, a dynamic player and fan favorite.

“He’s driven to be better,” O’Brien said. “The talent has always been there but until you play and you get that experience, you don’t know. Now, he has that body of work to fall back on.”

Scott Brosius was the backup quarterback last year, and Brian Taylor was redshirted last season and now is in the mix. The offensive staff also is eager to get a look at Manny Stocker, who graduated from Coatesville (Pa.) High and enrolled at NCSU this spring.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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