RALEIGH Don’t be surprised if N.C. State goes young this season. Redshirting, especially at receiver, running back and defensive back positions, is not a priority for coach Dave Doeren’s first class.
“You’re going to see some freshmen play on both sides of the ball in the skill positions,” Doeren said.
Of the 20 scholarship freshmen in camp, there are five receivers, five defensive backs and three running backs.
Freshman running back Matt Dayes, who was considered the prize recruit of the class, has already stood out in practice and in Saturday’s scrimmage at Carter-Finley Stadium.
With last year’s leading rusher, Shadrach Thornton, suspended for the opener, Dayes’ role could be expanded.
“Matt has a chance to play early and he showed (Saturday) that he can protect the football and break some tackles,” Doeren said.
At 5-9 and 190 pounds, Dayes already physically looks like a college running back. He was an all-state running back in Weston, Fla., last season after he ran for 1,864 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Dayes, who chose State over Vanderbilt, has impressed Doeren with his vision and quickness.
“I think his biggest attribute is how fast he accelerates,” Doeren said. “Maybe his high-end speed wouldn’t be great but the first 20 yards is excellent.”
CHAPEL HILL Two freshmen produced game-changing plays in North Carolina’s first preseason scrimmage on Saturday, and the Tar Heels’ second- and third-teamers received plenty of repetitions.
That was the good news, UNC coach Larry Fedora said on Monday, which is the first time he’d spoken publicly since the scrimmage. Brian Walker, a freshman defensive back from Mallard Creek High in Charlotte, returned an interception for a touchdown and Ryan Switzer, a freshman receiver, returned a punt for a touchdown.
Outside of those highlights and others, Fedora said he saw mistakes typical of a first scrimmage.
“Everybody’s out there kind of tight, it’s their first time live,” Fedora said. “There’s no coach out there saying hey, move over six inches or watch the tight end or whatever. And so now you see the little things become glaring at that time.”
POSITION CHANGES: Sophomore WR Damien Washington, who played in nine games last season, has been moved to safety, Fedora said. Junior TE Jack Tabb received work at linebacker on Monday because injuries have crippled depth there. Tight end will remain Tabb’s primary position though Fedora said he “definitely” could play both ways in a game this fall.
DURHAM The Blue Devils completed their first scrimmage of camp Monday, taking over 100 snaps in the afternoon heat.
A few of the starters in no danger of losing their positions – guys like wide receiver Jamison Crowder, cornerback Ross Cockrell, safeties Jeremy Cash and Dwayne Norman – were held out so younger players could get more reps. Head coach David Cutcliffe also mixed and matched personnel groups, inserting back-ups and freshmen along with starters, in order to make better evaluations.
A few underclassmen took advantage of their opportunities. True freshman Ryan Smith led all receivers with five catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Anthony Nash was continually targeted over the top by Anthony Boone and finished with four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. True freshman running back Joseph Ajeigbe finished with eight carries for 49 yards, eclipsed just by backup quarterback Brandon Connettte (eight carries for 67 yards).
The most impressive newcomer was cornerback Breon Borders, who recorded an interception and tackled well in the open field.
“He just continues to make plays,” Cutcliffe said of Borders. “He’s know of those guys that’s just got really, really good size and speed and a blend of athleticism. He has shown up since he’s been here. He’s gained the respect of a lot of players.”
Borders’ interception was one of three defensive takeaways. Redshirt freshman cornerback DeVon Edwards also had an interception, and the defense recorded a forced fumble as well.
Going forward, Cutcliffe said the focus would be on putting together the starting and backup units, as well as putting a premium on execution.