Commentary

Tudor: Greene out of sight, out of mind at N.C. State’s spring practice

ctudor@newsobserver.comApril 4, 2012 

There was a time not too long ago when running back Mustafa Greene seemed to be just as important to the future of N.C. State football as quarterback Mike Glennon.

But even though the foot injury that kept him sidelined all of last season is apparently healed, Greene wasn’t on the field, in the picture or in the discussion when Tuesday’s spring practice session ended at the Wolfpack’s football complex.

State coach Tom O’Brien addressed Greene’s absence, but only briefly, and he didn’t provide any real clarification.

“There are great rumors that he was kicked off the team, but there is nothing new that way,” O’Brien said. “He’s not practicing right now.”

At the end of Russell Wilson’s tenure – a 23-7 win over West Virginia in the Champs Bowl on Dec. 28, 2010 – Greene, then a freshman, was among the most successful rookies in the ACC. In 13 games, he led the Wolfpack in rushing (597 yards, four touchdowns) and was among the leading pass receivers with 30 catches for 272 yards and two more touchdowns.

Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien was a landslide winner in the voting for ACC offensive rookie of the year, but the 6-foot, 200-pound Greene, from Irmo, S.C., was in the conversation.

Glennon, meanwhile, had played briefly in three games and thrown only 13 passes.

“I’m looking forward to coming back here in the next few years and watching him break some records,” senior linebacker Nate Irving said of Greene before the Champs Bowl. “There’s no telling how many yards he’s going to get.”

To no one’s surprise, Greene then scored the first touchdown of the bowl win on an impressive 16-yard pass from Wilson.

That one play that one night in Orlando, Fla., is beginning to look a little like Greene’s signature moment at N.C. State.

Current junior James Washington, who led the Wolfpack with 62 rushing yards in the 2010 Champs game, was the primary running back in 2011 and still claims the starting job, with redshirt sophomore Tony Creecy in relief.

Washington rushed for 897 yards, and Creecy ran for 382 last season as the Wolfpack finished 8-5 (4-4 in the ACC) with a 31-24 win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl.

By the time State claimed their bowl victory in Charlotte, Glennon was firmly established as the team’s offensive core.

Greene was rarely mentioned, even though the 2011 Pack had the lowest per-carry rushing average in the ACC – 3.0 yards per rush, a tenth-of-a yard below Duke’s 3.1.

When healthy, Greene was sneaky fast but never exceptionally quick. His best 40-yard sprint time as a freshman was 4.5 seconds, which is more or less average for college running backs.

But Greene was elusive and effective at getting yardage after sustaining initial contact. His 4.3-yards-per-carry average was easily better than Washington’s (3.0 yards-per-carry in 2010, 4.0 in 2011).

With Glennon and Washington heading into their final seasons, projecting the offensive leaders for next spring’s practices amounts to a guessing game.

There’ll be a potential cavalry charge among the quarterbacks.

Creecy is on track to become the No. 1 running back. One running back was signed – Shadrach Thornton (6-1, 207, Hinesville, Ga.) – but there’s no obvious third option beyond Greene in the program.

In a relative sense, the running back situation probably won’t be a pressing area in the season ahead. Washington is durable, experienced and an above-average receiver. Creecy has a reasonably high ceiling, and there’s no doubt that the passing game is likely to be State’s primary weapon for the foreseeable future.

Short and long term, there’s no reason to think the Pack needs – or expects – much from Greene. But if he can work his way back into the offensive mix, it would have to be considered a offensive bonus.

Tudor: ctudor@newsobserver.com, 919-829-8946, twitter.com/caultontudor

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