Wolfpack adjusting to Doeren's tempo
By Lauren Brownlow
RALEIGH, N.C. -- New N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren has already injected the Wolfpack with a sense of energy and enthusiasm that wasn’t there last year. His youthful approach has been refreshing, as has his up-tempo spread offense, both of which will be on display on Saturday for the Kay Yow Spring Game at Carter-Finley Stadium.
But sometimes change can be refreshing on its own.
Doeren, who coached Northern Illinois to the Orange Bowl last year, took over for Tom O’Brien in December. O’Brien had taken N.C. State to bowl games in four of his final five seasons, and the team entered 2012 with high expectations (both inside and outside the program). But 2012 ended in a disappointing 7-6 record.
Under O’Brien, N.C. State was perpetually a team that could beat almost anyone and lose to almost anyone. And that unpredictability became too predictable. Toward the end of last season, the expectations they had for themselves and what last season could have been had started to weigh them down. With a new head coach and a new philosophy (not to mention a lack of expectations entering next season), it seems as if the burden is lifted.
“Changing the culture” is one of the most overused sports cliches ever. But when a first-year head coach is installing his schemes and introducing his way of doing things in the spring, it can feel like a bit of a culture shock to the players. And it has for this group, too -- but in a good way.
“Tempo is a lot faster. The pace, the energy out here, there’s a lot more enthusiasm and everything,” senior cornerback Dontae Johnson said. “The coaches are really hard on all the players, just trying to make us be great in their system and be technically sound and detailed in our work. It’s really good out here.”
Johnson and the N.C. State defense are practicing against a spread, no-huddle offense that is a huge departure from a more traditional style. Not only are the players learning a new system with new terminology, but they’re also having to do that at a much faster pace than they’re used to.
“I expected tempo, but I didn’t expect this,” sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton said. “I guess it’s always good to expect the unexpected, and I didn’t expect it. But the surprise is fortunate for us.”
They won’t be able to master the offense by the spring, and a lot of their work will continue into the summer. And they’re having to do all of this with a new quarterback. Last year’s starter Mike Glennon set all kinds of N.C. State records, but he’s gone now and should go high in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Now, redshirt junior and Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas and sophomore Manny Stocker are the best two options to replace him. Stocker played in mop-up time last year while Thomas sat out. Both are unproven. And now, both have to learn a completely new system while competing with each other for the starting job.
“It’s actually a pretty big strain because we have to tell everyone what to do so we’re like the commander,” Stocker said. “Since it’s no-huddle, everybody looks at us for the play or looks to the sideline for the play and we have to have complete control of everything. This will be strange, but I think we’ve come to get comfortable with it.”
The idea of the no-huddle attack is to wear down the defense. And that sounds fun -- if you play offense. If you’re defending it in practice, it’s difficult.
But considering more and more teams are going up-tempo, it’s been good experience for the N.C. State defense.
“It’s actually a little more challenging, just trying to understand and read our keys and make the proper checks that we need to make before the ball is snapped and then after the ball is snapped, it’s fire,” Johnson said. “It’s go time. We’ve got to make sure our alignments are proper and our technique is great and everything.”
While the team is excited, they know they have a lot of work to do before next fall. Thornton said they’re getting closer to getting the offense down, but they’re “nowhere close” to where they need to be. Summer workouts will be important for this group in terms of both fitness and getting a solid grasp on the playbook. But the mentality that Doeren and his staff want this team to have seems to be there already.
“We want to be champs, so we’ve got to take the field and practice every day like we’re champs. We’ve got to eliminate the mistakes, take them off the field, be very disciplined. Our coaches resemble everything that I’m saying, so we have to resemble it on the field when we’re on the field and off the field,” Thornton said.
“The way we move, the urgency we have when we take the field, the precision in our cuts and our routes, how focused we are on the details, paying attention to details: these are all the things that go into excitement and passion.”