Garrett Bradbury is a smart dude.
The junior N.C. State offensive lineman made the All-ACC academic team last season. But if you ask Bradbury to compare the Wolfpack offensive line this spring to last spring, he can’t quite conjure up the right words.
“There is no comparison,” said Bradbury, who started 13 games at left guard last season.
That’s a fair assessment given everything that was new last spring. N.C. State had a new offensive coordinator (Eli Drinkwitz) and a new offensive line coach (Dwayne Ledford). There were also three starters to be replaced up front and two starters missing in the spring.
The concept of continuity seemed like a far-off dream. One that Bradbury and the other veteran linemen are living this spring.
“We know what we’re doing now,” Bradbury said. “We know coach (Ledford’s) standards and we know what he expects.”
After a year of learning, Ledford expects progress with four returning starters and a fifth blocker, junior Terronne Prescod, who started three games last season.
“We’re light years ahead of where we were at this point last year,” said Ledford, a former NFL lineman who worked for four seasons at Appalachian State before joining Dave Doeren’s staff last spring.
With so much of the big-picture concepts in place, Ledford said, this spring can be spent on the details and making improvements.
For an inexperienced group, the Wolfpack offensive line did make some strides last season. They helped Matt Dayes rush for 1,166 yards — the program’s first 1,000-yard runner since 2002 — and allowed 22 fewer sacks than the 2015 season.
N.C. State jumped from 113th in the country in sacks allowed, with 39 in 2015, to 20th with 17 sacks allowed. That was still too many, Ledford said.
“We made strides in our protection but when you go back and watch the film, you see it can be better,” Ledford said.
The goal is to be in single digits in sacks allowed, Ledford said. Pittsburgh (10 sacks, 324 pass attempts) and Georgia Tech (16 sacks, 324 pass attempts) were the only ACC teams to give up fewer sacks last season. N.C. State attempted more passes (438) than either team.
And while Dayes had a standout season, Ledford wasn’t thrilled with the rushing numbers, either. N.C. State finished the season with an average of 156.2 yards per game (86th in the country) and 4.0 yards per carry (94th). Those rushing numbers were both down from 2015 (202.1 per game, 4.9 per carry).
“We’ve got to run the football better,” Ledford said. “I don’t like the numbers where we were this year.”
Even with Dayes off to the NFL, there’s a good chance that could happen. Bradbury, senior Tony Adams (right guard), junior Will Richardson (right tackle) and junior Tyler Jones (left tackle) are all back and healthy this spring.
Center Joe Scelfo, who joined the program last summer as a graduate transfer, is the only starter who needs to be replaced. Both Bradbury and Adams are taking snaps at center with Bradbury as the primary option to replace Scelfo. Bradbury has a smart explanation for this.
“If I can continue to learn the position, I think it would be best to leave the All-ACC guard (Adams) where he’s best at,” Bradbury said.
That leaves an open spot at left guard for Prescod, who started three of the final seven games at right tackle. A year after so much ambiguity, Ledford likes his group’s experience and versatility.
“It has been real fun to come out here and do this,” Ledford said.
That’s the difference a year can make.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio