Strong finish equals higher expectations

Published Apr. 6, 2012 11:43 a.m. ET

The Wolfpack ended up with a good feeling with a sterling finish to the 2011 season that included a comeback for the ages in the regular-season finale against Maryland and a bowl victory against Louisville.

That served mostly to raise the expectations for the 2012 season, which will arrive with an incumbent quarterback and the usual anticipation for Wolfpack fans that this could be the breakthrough season.

Yet there are topics to address for N.C. State, probably mostly on the defensive side that took some unexpected hits and can only hope that some experiences gained by role players because of 2011 injuries to others will prove beneficial.

The mindset around the Wolfpack is glowing and that also might eventually mean more pressure to produce given that rival North Carolina is stuck with NCAA sanctions and this would seem to be a chance to put some separation between those programs.

With Mike Glennon back for his second season as the first-string quarterback, many of the issues that dominated the conversation last spring no longer exist. The Russell Wilson topic has faded, particularly after Glennon proved to be capable in his role.

"Maybe there's a little less to talk about, which is good for me," coach Tom O'Brien said. "Michael grew through the year and it's something to build on. The quarterback question we don't have to answer any more."

Still, there's no depth chart filled in with all the answers. In some ways, the program has reached another level this spring.

"Certainly there's going to be competition for jobs," O'Brien said. "We have depth now."

For the first time, there are three full teams available for spring workouts.


--The Wolfpack has a Friday night date to open the season when it meets Tennessee in Atlanta on Aug. 31. This is a high-profile game for the Wolfpack, which hasn't had too many of the non-conference variety in recent seasons. And with last year's dismal outing on national television at Cincinnati serving as the signature non-league event, piecing together something better at the start of the 2012 season is something of a concern. Wolfpack officials are pushing hard for their fan base to show up strong because a large Tennessee contingent is expected to be on hand at the Georgia Dome.

--RB Mustafa Greene is recovered from a foot injury that forced him to miss the 2011 season. Still, the coaching staff is proceeding with caution. While he'll be involved in the spring workouts, coach Tom O'Brien said he'll hold Greene out of contact drills. "The key with him is to make sure he can wake up and go the next day," O'Brien said.

--Who will step forward to answer the questions at running back after the rather makeshift approach used during 2011? Depth helped at this position last season as RB James Washington and RB Tony Creecy were called up for extended duties. But now there could be a logjam with Washington, Creecy and 2010 standout RB Mustafa Greene.


--WR Tobias Palmer -- He showed enough moments of brilliance last season that the expectations will be soaring for him this season. The good thing for him is that he could be pushed by a couple of freshmen, so that should keep his motivational level high.

--DE Forrest West is a transfer from Colorado who sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules, but should be in line to make an immediate impact in an area where the Wolfpack needs help. His instincts are good, though he continues to learn about his role in the N.C. State scheme.

--WR Rashard Smith has moved to the offensive side of the ball from the defense, where he had been a cornerback. The switch wouldn't have been made if there wasn't a sense that he could offer assistance on offense and so there's an opening for him if he can continue to make progress with the change.


2012 OUTLOOK: The Wolfpack enters its sixth season under coach Tom O'Brien's watch and breaking free from the onslaught of injuries will be one key to building on the momentum of back-to-back bowl victories. The offense has the potential to be a solid group with QB Mike Glennon running the show. It will be important for the Wolfpack to be in good form when the season starts because there won't be a home game until the third week of the season.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: With the emergence of QB Mike Glennon, the pro-style offense became more entrenched and that's what the coaching staff is most comfortable with. There will need to be replenishing among the receiving corps for Glennon to work with, but there should be a solid stable of players at that position ready to step up. The rushing attack endured several phases last season, but RB James Washington proved to be a capable contributor and RB Mustafa Greene should be back from a foot injury.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This could have been a relatively seasoned group if not for unexpected vacancies at linebacker. The defensive backfield should be the strength, with national interception leader CB David Amerson and veteran S Brandan Bishop anchoring that group. The defensive line lost some experience, but that unit was banged up so much in 2011 that key opportunities were granted to underclassmen.

SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: There's experience at the kicker, punter and long snapper positions after players in their initial college seasons last season made for some uncertainty in those roles. So there should be more comfort in those areas, but record-setting return specialist T.J. Graham, who also was the top downfield receiving threat, will have to be replaced.


--DT K'Hadree Hooker -- He gives the Wolfpack a degree of athleticism despite his 285-pound frame. The signee fits the category as a player whose length will help the defense as it looks to become more mobile.

--LB Robert Caldwell -- A player who was considered a prospect at defensive end by some programs, he could fill an immediate need at linebacker for the Wolfpack by coming as a junior college transfer from College of the Desert. He considered attending Iowa, but he was viewed as an N.C. State priority when another vacancy occurred at linebacker.

--OL Bryce Kennedy -- He's on board after originally committing to play for rival North Carolina. As an early enrollee at N.C. State, he might shape up as a player ready to compete sooner rather than later as the offensive line is undergoing some revamping.


--LB Sterling Lucas was redshirted in 2011 with a knee injury and now the Wolfpack needs him ready to carry a significant role. As a fifth-year player in the program, the coaching staff is counting on his maturity.

--DT Carlos Gray is sitting out practice sessions while he clears up an academic matter. He won't participate in any spring practices.

--QB Pete Thomas, a transfer from Colorado State, will have to sit out the season per NCAA rules. But he hasn't arrived without some knowledge of the Wolfpack program because he was in the team's summer camp the same day as starting QB Mike Glennon made a visit a few years ago.


"The Tennessee game has had an impact on this team. When
you look at a game like that, everything has a little more emphasis and
determination in what they do knowing they have to play that game." --
coach Tom O'Brien on the Wolfpack's Aug. 31 opener against Tennessee in