Kay Yow Spring Game offers first look at NC State’s new QBs

‘We are not going to rush the process’ says NC State coach Dave Doeren on who will replace Ryan Finley as starting quarterback

NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the five quarterbacks who could replace Ryan Finley as the Wolfpack's starting quarterback during a media availability Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.
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NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the five quarterbacks who could replace Ryan Finley as the Wolfpack's starting quarterback during a media availability Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.

All of N.C. State’s new quarterbacks will get a chance to make a good impression at the Kay Yow Spring Game on Saturday.

Matt McKay, Devin Leary and Bailey Hockman will take another step in the competition to be the Wolfpack’s next quarterback, while there are other pressing issues for coach Dave Doeren.

“Hopefully (we will) have enough offensive linemen,” Doeren said.

He wasn’t necessarily joking. Three expected starters — center Grant Gibson and tackles Justin Witt and Tyrone Riley — on the offensive line will miss Saturday’s spring game. That leaves the ranks of blockers thin and will take most of the strategy out Saturday’s final spring practice.

“There won’t be a lot of blitzing or any of that,” Doeren said. “I think you’ll see a pretty vanilla game plan so that both sides can just play technique.”

The depth in the secondary will be limited as well. Cornerbacks Teshaun Smith, Taiyon Palmer and Nick McCloud have been slowed with injuries in the spring.

The format could change, Doeren said, but the plan is to play the first half with a regulation clock and then use a running clock in the second half. It will be Red vs. White with the offense rotating sides of the field and whichever end zone a player scores, that team color will get the points.

On the plus side, after last year’s mini-monsoon, the weather is supposed to cooperate. The game starts at 1 p.m. and it will be streamed on ACC Network Extra.

Much of the focus of the spring has been on the quarterback competition. Ryan Finley, a three-year starter, is on his way to the NFL to join four former N.C. State quarterbacks.

McKay, a third-year sophomore, is the only player on the roster with any game experience. He played in six games last season as Finley’s backup, but only attempted eight passes (completing seven for 87 yards).

“Matt, obviously being in the role that he was in last year — he played in games and knows the offense — his comfort level is just different because of the experience factor that he has,” Doeren said.

McKay (6-4, 210 pounds), who is from Raleigh and starred at Wakefield, said he has enjoyed the QB competition.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot and got more reps, which always helps,” McKay said. “I’ve focused on taking command of the offense and pushing tempo.”

Leary (6-2, 195 pounds), one of the top recruits in last year’s class, redshirted the 2018 season. He has been impressive with his strong arm and throwing ability, Doeren said.

Hockman, a third-year sophomore, (6-2, 210 pounds) began his career at Florida State. He transferred to a junior college and then enrolled at N.C. State in January.

“Bailey is learning,” Doeren said. “You see signs where he’s got it and then there are signs when he doesn’t.”

Hockman is not the only newcomer in the quarterback room. Kurt Roper, a longtime assistant to Duke coach David Cutcliffe, is the new quarterbacks coach. He was hired to replace Eli Drinkwitz, who left to become Appalachian State’s head coach.

Roper is adapting to N.C. State’s offense but has added his own ideas.

“I feel like for all of us in the room, it’s a fresh start,” Leary said.

The first 14 practices of the spring have been a chance to learn, about each other and the playbook, Leary said.

The spring game is just the next step in the quarterback competition. The summer workouts will help determine the starter and then August camp will be the final test.

“It’s still early and I think everybody understands that,” Leary said.