Dave Doeren’s goals for Saturday’s Kay Yow Spring Game are modest.
Doeren’s third N.C. State football team hopes to build off of a strong finish to the 2014 season. With some important parts missing in the spring, and with a few more coming in the fall, the unofficial start to the 2015 season won’t be a complete picture of what N.C. State eventually will be.
Instead, the annual spring game at Carter-Finley Stadium will be about the experience and the basics.
“I’d just like to see the guys be crisp, be clean, not have a lot of penalties and tackle well,” Doeren said.
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With senior tight end David J. Grinnage out with a back injury, and possibly two more receivers on an injured list that has hit double digits, the offense won’t be at full tilt. There’s also the matter of running back-slash-receiver Nyheim Hines, who will be an important cog in the offense, but is still about a dozen miles down the road in high school in Garner.
The offense does have a healthy, returning starting quarterback, in senior Jacoby Brissett, which is a comfort only one other Atlantic Division team (Wake Forest) can claim.
This is Brissett’s third spring with the Wolfpack but first as the returning starter. He threw for 2,606 yards last year with 23 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Doeren routinely referred to Brissett, a transfer from Florida, as the main reason for the Wolfpack’s improvement from 3-9 to 8-5.
Brissett was especially effective at the end of the season, leading the Wolfpack to a four wins in its final five games. He rushed for 325 yards in the last four games, including a career-best 167 in a 35-7 win at North Carolina in the regular-season finale.
Doeren has noticed a difference in his senior quarterback’s reaction time in practice.
“He’s not thinking nearly as much,” Doeren said. “I think last year, he pressed at times in the spring and felt like he had to do everything on his own.”
Brissett’s comfort level and confidence level are both on the up after his first college season as a starter. He was a star in high school in West Palm Beach, Fla., a top 100 national recruit, but was a reserve for two years at Florida before sitting out the 2013 season at N.C. State.
“I’m seeing things a lot faster,” Brissett said. “The game is slowing down a lot more.”
While Brissett waits for his full complement of options at running back and receiver, the offensive line is the main focus for Saturday’s game.
The Wolfpack had its best rushing season (averaging 204.5 yards per game) since 1992, and posted some of its best individual games (362 yards vs. Wake Forest, 388 vs. UNC) since 1981.
A pair of senior tackles need to be replaced from that group. The competition for the tackle spots vacated by Rob Crisp and Tyson Chandler might extend into training camp, when freshman Emanuel McGirt and junior college transfer Daris Workman arrive, but redshirt freshman Tyler Jones and senior Alex Barr have stood out in the spring.
Barr has started 18 games the past two seasons at guard, so he has the experience to handle a move to the outside.
Jones, who’s 6-3 and 290 pounds, redshirted last year but has impressed Doeren and Brissett with his footwork.
“Tyler has really jumped in there and done a nice job,” Doeren said. “For a kid that redshirted last year, to be playing like he is in practice, is exciting.”
With the three interior starters back on the line, including senior left guard Joe Thuney, Brissett’s comfortable with how the line has come together in the spring.
“Tyler and Barr are doing a good job outside,” Brissett said. “It’s going to be a special group again.”
Doeren’s also excited to see redshirt freshman quarterback Jalan McClendon’s first experience in Carter-Finley Stadium. But there’s one underlying goal for Saturday’s game.
“We want to finish healthy as we can be,” Doeren said.
Kay Yow Spring Game
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh
Notes: Admission is free but a $1 donation to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund is suggested. Parking gates open at 8 a.m. Parking is free in the Stadium East, Stadium Southeast, Stadium West, Stadium North and Fairgrounds parking lots. Fans should enter through Gates A, B, C and Westchase. Due to another event on the PNC property, all other gates will be closed and other lots are subject to a parking fee.
The Wolfpack Football Classic Alumni Game, a flag football contest between more than 60 former players, starts at 10:45 a.m.