The Wolfpacker

March-April 2020 issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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MARCH 2020 ■ 33 SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and two of the touchdowns came via trick plays thrown by wide receiver Thayer Thomas. Leary completed 101 of 210 passes for 1,219 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions in eight games played last year. He isn't a runner — just 40 carries for 46 yards and zero touchdowns — but he can buy time in the pocket. If Leary is ultimately the quarterback for the 2020 season, he'll need to improve his vision, cut down on his turnovers and de- velop the ability of knowing when to throw his fastball but also taking something off the ball on occasion. 3. Get Injured Players Healthy For August There is the normal amount of injuries a team suffers, and then there is what NC State went through during the 2019 season. "Next man up" was uttered over and over and over, and sometimes at the same position groups like cornerback and tight end. The in- jury parade started with potential starting left tackle Tyrone Riley having a season-ending ailment during fall camp, followed by start- ing wide receiver C.J. Riley (no relation) getting hurt covering a punt in the season opener against East Carolina. Both players are back for the 2020 campaign. Compounding the Tyrone Riley injury, starting right tackle Justin Witt suffered a season-ending injury of his own and missed the final six games. Tight end Dylan Autenrieth missed nine games, while backup tight end Dylan Par- ham was out for four contests. The running backs were banged up at various times, with Ricky Person missing five games. Of the walking wounded that were se- niors, only two have graduated and moved on. Senior cornerback Nick McCloud got injured in the first game of the season, came back to play against Clemson and then shut it down the rest of the way. He's transferring to a new school. McCloud was one of last year's team cap- tains, along with senior defensive end James Smith-Williams, who missed five contests. Having Tyrone Riley, C.J. Riley, Witt, Autenrieth, Parham, Person and a gaggle of cornerbacks returning should boost the Wolfpack next fall. NC State was cautious last spring and even held all five projected starting offen- sive linemen out of the Kay Yow Spring Game, and that will likely be continued this year. 4. Eliminate Negative Mojo Former NC State star quarterback Philip Rivers famously once told the team: "The Wolfpack ain't for soft people. It ain't for weak people." Starting with the second half of the West Virginia loss Sept. 14, NC State was rarely in position to win in the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers outscored the Wolfpack 23-6 after halftime to roll to a 44-27 vic- tory. What followed were double-digit losses against Florida State, Boston Col- lege, Wake Forest, Clemson, Louisville and North Carolina. The two discouraging examples of need- ing to get some mojo back were the back- to-back road trips to Boston College Oct. 19 and Wake Forest after the bye week Nov. 2. BC didn't just win the game 45-24, but it was how the Eagles did it. Behind a walk- on quarterback who was filling in for the injured Anthony Brown, the run game just took over. AJ Dillon rumbled 34 times for 223 yards and three touchdowns, and then backup David Bailey rushed 16 times for 181 yards and two scores. Wake Forest crushed NC State 44-10 and called off the dogs in the third quar- ter. The lone positive is that NCSU won't have to face quarterback Jamie Newman anymore, since he is a grad- uate transfer to Georgia. 5. Create Cornerback Depth No position got hit more with injuries than corner- back. NC State lost four different corners last year due to health. N C S U s t a r t e d t h e season with Nick Mc- Cloud and Chris Ingram as starters, and Tes- haun Smith as the third cornerback. The season ended with Malik Dunlap, De'Von Graves and Kishawn Miller playing the spots, with Cecil Powell also see- ing some action. McCloud got hurt in the first game, Ingram played in only six contests and Smith lasted just five games. Reserve Taiyon Palmer was also part of the plague of injuries. McCloud could have returned but elected to transfer, while Graves joined him in the transfer por- tal and settled on Northern Arizona. A healthy Ingram, a senior, and junior Smith could be a quality duo, but the Wolf- pack will need to further develop redshirt sophomore Dunlap, sophomore Powell and perhaps redshirt freshman Shyheim Battle to have strength in numbers at the position again. Getting the right fits for cornerback, nickel and the two safety spots will be a main job for new defensive coordinator Gib- son, who coached the safeties last year. Opposing teams completed 64.3 percent of its passes against the Pack last season, and averaged 255.5 passing yards per game with 24 touchdowns and just four intercep- tions, while the defense created a total of only eight turnovers. ■ Senior Chris Ingram — who missed six games due to injury in 2019 — will lead the way for the Wolfpack at cornerback this year, but the team needs to build depth behind him. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN

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