Sizing up the Pack’s O-Line
N.C. State offensive guard Joe Sculthorpe has been playfully coy in talking about the Wolfpack quarterbacks and who the starter might be.
“Love him, great guy,” Sculthorpe said, smiling, at the Pack’s media day earlier this month.
Bailey Hockman? “I love him, too. Great guy as well.”
Devin Leary? “I love him, I love all three.”
Get the idea? Sculthorpe didn’t give out any intel on the QBs on Meet the Pack Day on Aug. 11. And with practices closed to the media, another guessing game the past few weeks involved the starters on the offensive line leading up to the 2019 opener against East Carolina.
No longer. Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren released the two-deep depth chart Monday and McKay is listed as the first-team quarterback. The starters on the O-Line: Grant Gibson at center, with Justin Witt and Emanuel McGirt Jr. at the tackles and Sculthorpe and Josh Fedd-Jackson at the guards.
Witt and Fedd-Jackson were starters last season on the right side and remain the O-line stabilizers on the right side. Sculthorpe was the sixth man, so to speak, on the line and played at guard and center. Gibson, a redshirt sophomore from Charlotte, was moved from the defensive line early last season and had a few offensive snaps in four games.
A year ago, the Pack’s offensive line was centered, literally, figuratively, around Garrett Bradbury. He was the nation’s best center, winning the national Rimington Award, and was a first-round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings.
“We want to continue to raise the bar he set,” Sculthorpe said in an N&O interview.
Bradbury wasn’t the only big departure. Gone, too, were offensive guard Terrone Prescod and tackle Tyler Jones. And now graduate tackle Tyrone Riley, who Doeren said Monday has sustained a season-ending injury.
Offensive line’s new coach
Offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford, who called his group the “Band of Brothers,” left NC State to be the offensive coordinator on Scott Satterfield’s new football staff at Louisville. John Garrison heads up the Pack’s O-Line, after spending last season at Florida Atlantic University under head, coach Lane Kiffin.
“He’s in some ways a similar coach to coach Ledford, kind of a fiery guy,” McGirt said in a media interview last week. “He’s a real big effort guy. He cares about effort and I think coach Doeren does, too. They want to see guys go out there and give maximum effort.
It all made for interesting, competitive spring practices and then into fall camp, with positions on the line and a lot of new faces.
“There have been some older guys and some who maybe haven’t had the opportunity because of injuries and different things who had a great spring and built off that,” Garrison said in an N&O interview. “It’s still a process but I think we have a good scheme and I think they have a good understanding of the scheme.”
Gibson and Sculthorpe both got looks at center but Doeren and Garrison decided both should be in the lineup for ECU.
“With Sculthorpe, he’s a very intelligent football player who understands the game and values understanding the game,” Garrison said. “He’s a highly competitive guy in everything he does. Grant Gibson, athletically and with his skill set and his mind set ... Those two guys are darn exciting to watch.”
Emanuel McGirt’s injuries
McGirt came to N.C. State out of Durham’s Hillside High as a four-star recruit and with the size -- he’s now 6-6 and 300 pounds, -- to have an immediate impact.
“Obviously I thought I’d come in and be the guy,” McGirt said. “Sometimes you think stuff and it doesn’t work out that way. That’s all right. I’m fine with my journey.”
Many times, a frustrating journey. Redshirted as a freshman, McGirt had knee and foot injuries limit him to three games as a redshirt freshman -- he had knee surgery in November 2016 -- and keep him off the field all of 2017. McGirt had 26 snaps in the seven games last season, mostly on special teams, but followed it up with a strong spring.
“It was hard at first but honestly my faith just guided me, knowing if I keep working good things would happen,” McGirt said. “It’s been tough but I think it has made me a better man. I wouldn’t change it.”
Among the backups on the line this season are three true freshmen -- right tackle Timothy McKay, Matt McKay’s younger brother, left tackle Ikem Ekwonu and center Dylan McMahon.
“We’re really excited about this freshman offensive class,” Doeren said Monday at a press conference. “It’s as good as I’ve been around.”
The offensive line’s mission
Doeren confirmed Monday that Riley, a graduate student who has played 37 games, would be out. Riley, who started in the win over ECU to close the 2018 season, could seek a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.
Derrick Eason, a redshirt freshman, has been shifted from defensive end to the offense line to add depth at tackle. “He’s willing to help the football team,” Doeren said.
In the past three seasons, the primary mission for the O-Line was protecting quarterback Ryan Finley for myriad pass routes. But the Pack, while riding Finley’s arm, also has had a 1,000-yard rushers each season: Matt Dayes (1,366 in 2016), Nyheim Hines (1,112 in 2017) and Reggie Gallaspy Jr. (1,091 in 2018).
“We want to continue that,” Sculthorpe said. “We also want to increase our yards, average rushing yards a game, and at the same time keeping the sacks (and) pressure on the quarterbacks as minimal as possible, because that’s our part of the offense and what we plan to excel at.”
Lining up and trying to bash people and run the ball is fine with Sculthorpe and McGirt. If the Pack wants to run Ricky Person Jr. or, say, Zonovan Knight and try to gash opponents, they’re good with that.
“Absolutely, one hundred percent,” Sculthorpe said.