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August 2, 2011
Camp preview: Five position battles
There are always several hallmarks to every preseason football camp, but chief among them are the position battles. While there is competition at every position, some are a little more wide open than others. Here's a look at five position battles, among others, to watch this spring.
The biggest question mark on offense is at receiver. There is not a lack of players to choose from, but the hope is this preseason a wide out or two will emerge as consistent performers.
Senior T.J. Graham and fifth-year senior Jay Smith were atop the organizational chart released in the preseason media guide. The speedy Graham is hoping to be remembered for more than being a prolific kick returner. He caught 25 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns last year, and he has 53 career receptions for 696 yards and five scores. Consistency and dropped passes have plagued Graham throughout his career however.
Smith was NC State's most highly touted recruit in what has proven to be an underrated 2007 recruiting class, but this will be Smith's last chance to live up to his billing. He has 22 career receptions, 10 of them coming last year, for 221 yards and one score.
Smith will likely be pushed by classmate Steven Howard and promising redshirt sophomore Quintin Payton. Howard has 25 career catches for 262 yards and one touchdown, while Payton caught four passes for 38 yards in limited playing time last year.
Graham will be pushed by redshirt junior Tobais Palmer, who is one of the few players on the team that can give Graham a good footrace. Palmer is a junior college import that redshirted last year. Redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood will also bring good speed to the mix.
The wildcard could be redshirt sophomore Everett Proctor. He started his career at quarterback before moving to safety and is now at receiver. The 6-foot-2, 219-pounder has limited experience at wide out, but four of his five receptions as a senior in high school went for touchdowns. He had 134 receiving yards for an average of 26.8 yards per catch.
Joining the mix are freshmen Hakeem Flowers and Maurice Morgan. Flowers is one of the most heavily recruited players in State's 2011 class, while Morgan may be the most athletically gifted recruits signed.
Right offensive tackle
Fifth-year senior Mikel Overgaard started the first two games at right tackle last fall before an elbow injury and the return of redshirt junior R.J. Mattes from ACL surgery sidelined Overgaard. He played sparingly in four of the eight games after his return from the elbow injury.
Mattes though has moved over to play left tackle, replacing departing starter Jake Vermiglio. That leaves right tackle as the biggest position battle entering camp, and Overgaard has the early inside position to regain the spot. He will likely be challenged however.
Sophomore Rob Crisp, a five-star prospect in the 2010 class, has the physical abilities to be a dominant player on the offensive line. He played in all 13 games last year and started the season opener against Western Carolina at left tackle.
This position battle got much more interesting when head coach Tom O'Brien revealed at ACC Kickoff that sophomore Mustafa Greene, who was expected to be the feature back in the offense, will likely be out until around the first of October recovering from a foot injury suffered in spring practice. Greene led NC State last year with 134 carries for 597 yards and four scores, impressive numbers for a true freshman.
With Greene unlikely to go by the start of the season, the battle will be between junior James Washington, fifth-year senior Curtis Underwood, redshirt junior Brandon Barnes and redshirt freshman Tony Creecy.
Washington is the most experienced option. He started four games last year and finished the season rushing 71 times for 215 yards and a touchdown and also added 27 receptions for 185 yards and a score. Washington was expected to battle Underwood for the starting job last year, but that competition never materialized.
Washington had preseason injuries slow him while Underwood had fumbling issues in camp. Underwood rushed just 15 times for 62 yards, the fewest totals in his three-year career. Underwood was set to transfer after graduating in the spring, but instead he elected to return after Greene's injury.
The physically gifted and highly touted Barnes did not reach the field last year after dislocating his ankle in the spring of 2010. Like Barnes, Creecy was a four-star recruit and has made an impressive transition from high school receiver to college running back.
Specifically watch the seven-technique defensive end that lines up over the tight end. Fifth-year senior Jeff Rieskamp is a strong bet to start on the other side of the defensive line.
The two at the top of the organizational chart competing for the spot are redshirt junior McKay Frandsen, a junior college All-American in 2010, and redshirt sophomore Darryl Cato-Bishop.
Frandsen appears to have the upper hand heading into preseason camp. He was a strong performer in the Kay Yow Spring Game in April, making three tackles, including two for a loss and a sack. The defensive coaches however have been buzzing about Cato-Bishop since his redshirt year when he was the defensive scout team MVP.
Cato-Bishop had to spend parts of last season playing inside at defensive tackle. He played in all 13 games, making 10 tackles, including one for a loss, recovering a fumble and tallying an impressive six quarterback hurries in just 179 plays. That tied him for sixth in QB pressures on the team, but it's worth noting that the other six players that had more or tied him had at least twice as many snaps at Cato-Bishop.
The Pack took a hit in the preseason when redshirt sophomore Jarvis Byrd tore the ACL in his knee during a seven-on-seven in July. That will cost Byrd the season, and it may disrupt State's plans in the defensive backfield.
NC State moved promising sophomore David Amerson from boundary to field corner while moving Byrd to the starting spot at the boundary in preseason camp. With Byrd's injury, will NC State move Amerson back to boundary and start redshirt junior C.J. Wilson again at field corner?
Wilson started all 13 games last year and had 43 tackles, a team-best eight pass breakups and returned two picks for touchdowns. Amerson led all corners with 50 tackles and had a forced fumble and pass breakup while starting the last nine games of the year.
State has options though. Fifth-year senior Justin Byers has 14 career starts to his credit and was listed as Byrd's backup on the organizational chart released prior to the news of Byrd's injury. Redshirt sophomore Rashard Smith, an exciting rookie performer in 2009 before injuring his knee and missing the 2010 season, is also back in the mix.
Smith started three games as a true freshman before getting hurt and is a natural fit for the boundary corner spot.