It has been strange, N.C. State coach Tom OBrien said, not to see George Bryan around these days. Bryan, the Wolfpacks former tight end, caught 14 touchdown passes in his four seasons at N.C. State, and in time emerged as one of the Wolfpacks most reliable receiving targets.
But his departure has created a void that four players are attempting to fill during spring practice.
I think weve had a lot of challenge at tight end, OBrien said Tuesday. You know, nobody earns the jersey thats what we talk about every practice. Everybodys fighting for a job.
Among those fighting to replace Bryan in the starting lineup are Mario Carter, Anthony Talbert, Asa Watson and Benson Browne. Watson, a junior, and Browne, a freshman, both redshirted last season.
All four of the Wolfpacks tight ends have had a redshirt season.
Its the first time weve had four scholarship guys at this point that have been redshirted, and you know, youre not afraid to throw (them) in the football game, OBrien said.
Carter, a senior, is the most experienced. After sitting out the 2009 season with a torn ACL, he caught 12 passes for 109 yards combined in the past two seasons.
Carter said he expects to play a larger role in his final season, but competition for playing time has been fierce this spring.
So you just cant take off, he said. You take off, you get hurt, somebody is going to take your spot. I feel like its my time. Ive been sitting for the past three years. Its a blessing in disguise, in a way, because my body is getting back through the injuries.
O-line seeks to pave way: Four of N.C. States five starters on the offensive line from a season ago are back, which gives the Wolfpack a sense of familiarity up front.
Weve all grown up together, said R.J. Mattes, the left tackle and a rising fifth-year senior. So a couple of us have been here five years, a couple of guys four years. So we know the offense. Weve been around.
We know what OBrien expects out of us, what kind of attitude we have to have.
In addition to the familiarity, theres a sense of unfinished business among the linemen: They want to become the first Wolfpack offensive line in 10 years to help a running back gain 1,000 yards.
N.C. States most recent 1,000-yard rusher was T.A. McLendon, who gained 1,101 yards in 2002.
The goal we always set in the spring is just to become a better, more physical line, Mattes said. But next year is definitely to have a 1,000-yard rusher. Last year we had the same goal, (but) didnt accomplish it.
Lucas like a coach: Inexperience at linebacker has been a concern throughout the spring for OBrien, who has relied upon Sterling Lucas to provide leadership at the position. Lucas, a rising fifth-year senior, sat out last season while recovering from a preseason knee injury.
While he was unable to play, Lucas spent some time in the coaching booth alongside linebackers coach Jon Tenuta.
Hes like a coach on the field, OBrien said of Lucas, who started two games during the 2009 season. He knows the defense. He was a de-facto coach last year for a lot of things. So he understands things and he sees things quicker than a lot of those young kids do.
Among those young kids, as OBrien put it, is sophomore Brandon Pittman. He and Rickey Dowdy, a redshirt junior, will be counted on to play larger roles at linebacker in the fall.
Sometimes they take one step forward, two steps back, OBrien said of Pittman and Dowdy. Because they see something new, and they blow a gasket. But its all part of learning, and you know, theres a lot thrown out here right now.