With only 11 seniors, N.C. State’s football roster will skew on the young side again. Coach Dave Doeren was quick to point out that 70 percent of the roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores.
Doeren was even quicker to volunteer freshman Nyheim Hines as a first-year player who can make an immediate impact.
The four-star recruit from Garner High can help the Wolfpack’s offense in a number of ways, Doeren said. Hines (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) was primarily a running back in high school, rushing for 2,362 yards and 38 touchdowns last year, but Doeren said Hines will be used as a slot receiver, to return kicks and maybe even as a “wildcat” quarterback.
“He has so many skill sets, I’d be shocked if he was not out there,” Doeren said Tuesday at the ACC Kickoff.
Hines, one of 24 freshmen, is part of the influx of talent in the program. Doeren said there’s a noticeable difference in practice from his first season. It’s what he calls “competitive depth.”
“We’re getting to the point now, and not across the board but at a lot of positions, there’s not just a guy backing him up but a guy who can take his job,” Doeren said.
That depth is most evident at running back where the Wolfpack returns senior Shadrach Thornton, who led the team with 907 yards, and junior Matt Dayes, who led the team with 13 touchdowns.
Joining the veterans are Hines, Johnny Frasier and Reggie Gallaspy, who each were rated among the top 10 recruits in the state.
Doeren said there’s no such thing as having too many backs.
“It will work itself out,” he said. “It takes time and reps and a few scrimmages, sometimes it takes a few games to sort it out.”
Salahuddin ready to go: Junior linebacker M.J. Salahuddin missed the 2014 season and spring practice with a knee injury, but he has been cleared to return for the opening of training camp Aug. 3, Doeren said.
Salahuddin injured his left knee in a noncontact drill in the first week of practice last year.
“The biggest thing for him now is the mental hurdle of playing football,” Doeren said.
Salahuddin started five games in 2013 and had 25 tackles. He was slated to start in the middle of N.C. State’s defense last year before the injury.
In his absence, sophomore Jerod Fernandez and was second on the team with 78 tackles.
Doeren said Fernandez, Salahuddin and Ford Howell will compete for the starting job at middle linebacker. Doeren said Salahuddin can play either linebacker spot.
Special teams reset: N.C. State has to break in a new punter and kicker. Freshman A.J. Cole was impressive in the spring with his punting skills and will take over for Wil Baumann, a four-year starter.
The competition to replace kicker Nik Sade, the school’s career leading scorer, will continue through August camp.
Freshman Kyle Bambard and redshirt freshman Jackson Maples are contending for kicking duties. Maples, from nearby Southern Pines, likely will handle the kickoff duties, Doeren said.
Bambard has been a “little more accurate” and with a “higher elevation” on field goals, but Maples still could win the job.
“I’m anxious to see those guys work,” Doeren said. “They’re very talented, (but) game day is way different than practice. We’ll just have to see how they react on game day.”
Sade made 55 field goals as a four-year starter and finished with 332 points, eclipsing running back Ted Brown’s school record (312) set in 1978.