The offseason has been really good to N.C. State.
The Wolfpack had a school-record seven players taken in the NFL draft in April and has crushed it on the recruiting trail, especially in the state.
Now comes the hard part: getting back on the field. N.C. State opens practice on Friday. There will be many familiar names, and stars, missing from the top-25 team that went 9-4 last year when camp opens. However, the cupboard — as coach Dave Doeren once notably opined — is not completely bare.
Here’s a look at who N.C. State has coming back for the 2018 season (with a look at who’s gone on Thursday):
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Ryan Finley is not quite “Vince Carter” old. There’s no one on the roster who was born after Finley’s college career started, it just feels that way for the 23-year-old graduate student.
In Year 3 as the Wolfpack starter (and Year 6 in college), much is expected of Finley, who began his career at Boise State in 2013. He threw for 3,518 yards last season with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions.
As you might expect from a sixth-year player, Finley is smart. Decision-making and accuracy (65.8 percent) are his strengths.
With the loss of playmakers Nyheim Hines (12 rushing touchdowns) and Jaylen Samuels (12 rushing touchdowns), Finley and the passing game will likely carry even more of the load this season.
It will help that he has his top three receivers back. This could be the last go-round for junior Kelvin Harmon, who became N.C. State’s first 1,000-yard receiver (1,017 yards) in 2017 since Jerricho Cotchery 15 years ago.
Harmon (6-3, 214 pounds) is a big, physical target on the outside who excels at winning one-on-one battles and making big plays. Twenty-six percent of his catches (18 of 69) went for 20 yards or more.
Junior Jakobi Meyers, who led the team with five touchdown catches, stands to benefit the most from Samuels’ absence. The elusive slot receiver caught 63 passes last season, in spite of missing one game. Even with Samuels in the lineup, Meyers was Finley’s favorite target over the final five games of the season.
Senior Stephen Louis was slowed by ankle injury and had an inconsistent 2017. When he was good, he was good. When he wasn’t, he wasn’t. Without Hines and Samuels, N.C. State won’t have the luxury of Louis taking games off this season.
Emeka Emezie and C.J. Riley, who combined for 22 catches and 305 yards, are two younger receivers who are in line to shine in 2019 but have the potential to be more involved this season.
Third-year sophomore Dylan Autenrieth has the unenviable task of replacing Cole Cook, arguably the team’s best blocker, at tight end. Dylan Parham also will be used in a tight end rotation that will be bolstered in September by the addition of USC transfer Cary Angeline.
Angeline has to sit out the first three games, under NCAA transfer rules. N.C. State has appealed to the NCAA to allow Angeline to sit only two games.
Reggie Gallaspy is the only running back on the roster who had a rushing attempt last season. Hines (197 carries) shouldered most of the load for the running game and produced 1,112 yards.
Gallaspy had 117 carries for 505 yards with seven touchdowns last season. Notably, his best game was his last. He had 70 yards, on 11 carries, and two touchdowns in N.C. State’s bowl win over Arizona State.
N.C. State needs Gallaspy, a senior, to report to camp in shape and to stay healthy. He has been slowed by injuries throughout his career. N.C. State has had other options during Gallaspy’s first three years (Matt Dayes, Hines, Samuels). There’s no such safety net this year.
Up front, assistant coach Dwayne Ledford’s incredible work with the offensive line figures to continue with the return of center Garrett Bradbury, left tackle Tyler Jones and left guard Terronne Prescod.
N.C. State gave up 13 sacks last season (in 485 pass attempts). That was the fifth-best mark in the country and down from 39 in 2015 (the year before Ledford was hired).
Sophomore Josh Fedd-Jackson steps in at right guard for Tony Adams, who was a four-year starter. Fedd-Jackson got his first start in the Sun Bowl and acquitted himself nicely.
Sophomore Justin Witt, who started the first game of the 2017 season while Will Richardson was suspended, is penciled in as Richardson’s replacement at right tackle.
Here’s the list of returning players on defense who started at least 10 games in 2017: strong safety Jarius Morehead and free safety Tim Kidd-Glass. And Kidd-Glass begins training camp as a backup.
That should give you an idea of why I think N.C. State will look a lot like a Big 12 team (lots of offense, hold your breath on defense) this season.
Even with the loss of every starter up front, N.C. State does have experience on the defensive line. Senior end Darian Roseboro has 13.5 career sacks and probably would have been taken in the NFL draft had he come out after his junior season.
Tackles Eurndraus Bryant (303 snaps) and Shug Frazier (223 snaps) rotated in regularly with starters B.J. Hill and Justin Jones last season.
Senior end James Smith-Williams, who was recently named to Bruce Feldman’s college football “freaks” list, backed up Bradley Chubb and Kentavius Street last season.
Senior linebacker Germaine Pratt was fourth on the team tackles (69) last season and has a knack for making big plays. He replaces Airius Moore as the starter on the outside.
N.C. State’s secondary was decimated by injuries last season. In theory, that allowed a young group to learn through experience.
The Wolfpack struggled against the pass (No. 104 nationally) even with four NFL linemen and the ACC defensive player of the year.
The experience should help Morehead, who was second on the team with 80 tackles last season. He’s not the athlete Josh Jones was but Jones had a difficult sophomore season at safety and then turned out to be one of the best in the ACC as a junior. The coaching staff can hope for the same from Morehead.
Dexter Wright never really got in a groove after hurting his groin in the season opener. The fifth-year senior will be counted on to add leadership to a still young group. Like Jones, Wright is excellent at making plays in front of him. Given some of the big run plays N.C. State was prone to give up (think Notre Dame, Clemson), Wright’s tackling could make a huge difference.
Junior Nick McCloud has started seven games in the past two years at cornerback. Other than Finley, if you told Doeren that he could keep one player healthy the whole season, McCloud might be his answer.
N.C. State is hoping Maurice Trowell can follow Johnathan Alston’s footsteps and switch from receiver to corner. Trowell has the speed, and is plenty aggressive, but it’s a difficult transition.
Chris Ingram, a sophomore who had a trying time in his lone start (at Wake Forest) last season, is the only other returning corner with game experience.
Kicker Kyle Bambard returns for his senior season and will handle kickoff duties. Carson Wise, a graduate transfer, will not be back.
Bambard and Wise handled the place-kicking last season and struggled. Bambard went 4-8 on field goals and Wise was 6-12. Freshman Chris Dunn enrolled in January and took over the starting job in the spring.
Senior A.J. Cole is back for his fourth year as the starting punter. For all of the problems on the kicking side, Cole has been rock steady at punter.
The return game will be a huge question mark with the loss of Hines. Louis is expected to return kicks. Redshirt freshman receiver Thayer Thomas is one of the options on punt return.