RALEIGH — Troy Walters was hired less than six weeks ago to coach N.C. State’s receivers. The former Biletnikoff winner and eight-year NFL veteran didn’t need long to figure what he has to work with this season.
“We’re a talented group,” Walters said. “We’re just inexperienced.”
The Wolfpack must replace its top two receivers from last season. T.J. Graham led the team in catches (46), receiving yards (757) and touchdowns (seven). The Buffalo Bills made Graham their third-round pick and he’s expected to be their top slot receiver as a rookie.
Jay Smith emerged at the end of the season as Glennon’s best option over the middle of the field. Smith finished the season with 40 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns.
That’s who’s gone. The top two returning receivers, Tobais Palmer and Bryan Underwood, fit the same mold as Walters — undersized and fast. Walters caught 74 passes at Stanford in 1999 and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.
“He’s an inspiration,” Palmer said. “He shows what can happen with hard work.”
Palmer, a senior, is the Pack’s top returning receiver with 37 catches for 496 yards and five touchdowns, but running back James Washington had more receptions (42).
Senior quarterback Mike Glennon used Washington and Tony Creecy (25 catches) frequently out of the backfield and the running backs will continue to play a vital role in the passing game, as will the tight ends.
Senior Mario Carter, junior Asa Watson and junior Anthony Talbert are capable replacements for George Bryan, who finished his career with more catches than any tight end in school history.
Still, the playmakers in the Wolfpack’s offense — which averaged 240 passing yards a game in 2011 — will be the wideouts.
Palmer caught a touchdown in each of the last three games of the 2011 season and three of his five touchdowns on the season went for longer than 40 yards.
Underwood, a third-year sophomore, got a chance to sub for Palmer against Virginia. Underwood caught three passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns, including a 79-yarder, in the 28-14 win in Charlottesville, Va.
Palmer and Underwood, both listed at 5-11, are speed receivers, capable of making big plays. Finding Glennon new targets to work the middle of the field will be a focus of training camp. Junior Quintin Payton, at 6-4, fits the bill and has been working with the first-team offense, opposite of Palmer.
N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien has been impressed with the development of redshirt freshmen Hakeem Flowers (6-3, 182) and Maurice Morgan (6-2, 215), both bigger receivers.
“We’re counting on everybody,” Walters said. “We need to have six or seven guys who can make plays and the offense won’t suffer.”