After several weeks of practice, the 2013 N.C. State Wolfpack football team will culminate spring activity on Saturday with its annual Kay Yow Spring Game, held at Carter-Finley Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
After riding a roller coaster of a 2012 season in which the Pack finished 7-6, the N.C. State faithful will get its first look at a new coaching staff headed by former Northern Illinois boss Dave Doeren, who came to Raleigh after two successful years at NIU.
Wolfpack fans will also get to see the quarterback battle unfold between sophomore Manny Stocker and redshirt junior Pete Thomas. Stocker backed up the now-graduated Mike Glennon last season, seeing action only in garbage time of blowouts. Thomas, a transfer from Colorado State, sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules.
“They’re two different styles of quarterbacks,” senior receiver Rashard Smith said. “They both have their own skills.”
Doeren released an updated depth chart on Wednesday, and neither Thomas nor Stocker was listed as the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback, making for one storyline headed into Saturday’s game.
Another scrutinized position is running back. Redshirt junior Tony Creecy was named the starter ahead of sophomore Shadrach Thornton, who many thought would end up in the top spot after coming out of nowhere to lead the team in rushing last season. “Both of them are tough kids, both of them break tackles, they read things well,” Doeren said after a recent team scrimmage. “They’ve got good hands coming out of the backfield.”
Some other positions on offense were more defined. Graduate student Asa Watson is the first-string tight end, while junior Bryan Underwood and seniors Quinton Payton and Smith are the team’s top receivers, though not a lot of experience is behind them. Smith is also the team’s top punt and kick returner. “It’s only three receivers who played [a lot] last year,” Smith said. “We just gotta keep everybody focused.”
Returners on the offensive line include two tacklers, senior Rob Crisp and junior Tyson Chandler. Senior Duran Christophe is listed as the starter at left guard, while sophomore Alex Barr beat out junior Cameron Fordham for the starting position at right guard. The top spot at center is occupied by sophomore Joe Thuney.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive end position is ripe with competition. Junior Art Norman and senior Forrest West are listed as co-starters on the left side, while sophomore Mike Rose and senior Daryl Cato-Bishop will do battle on the right side. On the interior of the Wolfpack’s 4-3 scheme, juniors T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal are the starters.
Starting linebackers include senior D.J. Green, sophomore M.J. Salahuddin, and junior Brandon Pittman. Junior Rodman Noel is another contributor from last season who will be a major factor at linebacker. “I think defensively, there are more players back, which helps,” Doeren said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence, there are a lot of guys that understand it, probably less of a learning curve.”
Not everyone is back, however. In the secondary, the Pack lost three of four starters, including both starting safeties. Senior Dontae Johnson is the only returning starter, and he will again start at cornerback. Senior Jarvis Byrd, a former cornerback, will slide over to safety alongside sophomore Hakim Jones. Sophomore Juston Burris is the other top cornerback. The defensive backs will be a position to watch on Saturday.
For good measure, State returns both junior kicker Niklas Sade and junior punter Wil Baumann on special teams, though others, namely sophomore Ryan Stevens and freshman William Stephenson, figure to get a look on Saturday as well.
“The depth chart is dynamic, it’s changing,” Doeren said. “That’s what spring is for us, it’s an evaluation time for us to really learn what we can and can’t do well and try to adjust our schemes accordingly.”