Wolfpack 2013: New coach, new QB, new approach

jgiglio@newsobserver.comJanuary 4, 2013 

The next time N.C. State plays, in the 2013 season opener against Louisiana Tech, the Wolfpack will have a new coach, a new quarterback and a new approach.

After a disappointing 7-6 season, with coach Tom O’Brien losing his job in the process, the Wolfpack will get a program reboot with new coach Dave Doeren, who was hired from Northern Illinois.

Sixteen seniors, including quarterback Mike Glennon (the second 4,000-yard passer in school history) and defensive leader Earl Wolff (team-best 145 tackles), said their goodbyes after the 38-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl on Monday.

Five starters from the offense, seven from the defense and both specialists are expected to return next season. Plus linebacker D.J. Green will be eligible to return from an NCAA suspension for testing positive for a banned nutritional supplement.

"There are some talented players coming back," departed senior center Cam Wentz said. "They have a high ceiling for their future."

Doeren, who went 12-1 at NIU this season, was hired to turn the Wolfpack program into a regular in the top 25, here’s what he faces in his first year on the job.

Key questions

1) Who will be the quarterback?

2) Will the secondary recover?

Quarterback, first. The current options are Pete Thomas, a Colorado State transfer who will be a junior, or Manny Stocker, who will be a sophomore.

Doeren could find another quarterback on the recruiting trail, one who more suits the spread offense he used at NIU, but that would be tough in a condensed recruiting window.

Thomas has experience; he started 21 games for the Rams in 2010 and ’11 but he’s more of a dropback-style passer with typical NFL size (6-foot-5, 225 pounds).

Stocker served as Glennon’s backup but in a limited capacity. He played in five games and only attempted two passes. He did show an ability to run the ball and the previous coaching staff was impressed with his leadership ability.

As for the secondary, more was expected from a veteran unit this season, after leading the country with 27 interceptions in 2011. Wolff, a safety, was solid and led the team in tackles, and corner/safety/nickel Dontae Johnson, who will be a senior, emerged as one of the defense’s best playmakers.

But corner C.J. Wilson missed four games with an academic suspension from the NCAA and was barely a factor, and corner David Amerson, coming off a record-setting 2011 season, was routinely beaten for touchdowns in the six losses. Despite the struggles, Amerson is expected to skip his senior season for the NFL draft.

With Johnson and corner Juston Burris as the foundation in 2013, the secondary is equipped to bounce back from a difficult season.

Signing day prognosis

The previous coaching staff had 20 commitments for the class for 2013, but the class is down to 16 after the coaching change. Running back Matt Dayes of Weston, Fla., was considered the best prospect of the group before he decommitted.

Linebacker Jeron Fernandez (Lake Mary, Fla.) and receiver Kyrin Priester (Snellville, Ga.) are considered the best two prospects in the current class, which is on track to rank near the bottom of the ACC, according to Rivals’ rankings.

The NCAA limit is 25 scholarships per class, so Doeren could add nine more recruits. He has a month to try to beef up the class but he said recently he probably would not use all of the available scholarships for this class.

Spring practice priorities

Learn. Yes, the quarterback competition will be important but the team is going to have a new offense to learn and new coaches to adjust to. The defense, while still a 4-3, will have new terminology, so the best thing N.C. State can do during the spring is get up to Doeren’s speed.

Beyond the quarterback race, the offensive line will have to be sorted out with tackle Rob Crisp, guard Duran Christophe and tackle Tyson Chandler returning with starting experience.

Getting Green, who started as a freshman and sophomore before sitting out this season, back into the routine and in a leadership position on defense will also be important.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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