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March 18, 2008
In its first season under new coach Tom O'Brien, North Carolina State caught fire midway through the season and went into the final two games with a chance to become bowl-eligible. Alas, the Wolfpack lost both and finished 5-7. O'Brien and his staff head into their second spring in Raleigh looking for seven new starters on each side of the ball. Finding a consistent quarterback is the biggest priority this spring, along with rebuilding the linebacker corps. Here's a look at the Wolfpack as they begin spring drills.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Tom O'Brien must replace seven starters on both offense and defense.
Defense — 4: T Alan-Michael Cash, CB Jeremy Gray, CB DeAndre Morgan, E Willie Young.
Offense — 4: G Curtis Crouch, QB Daniel Evans, G/C Meares Green, T Julian Williams.
Special teams — 1: P Bradley Pierson.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Jamelle Eugene and Andre Brown return at tailback after combining to rush for 1,114 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Toney Baker and Curtis Underwood also are back, which means the Wolfpack return their four top rushers from a year ago, though Baker won't participate in spring practice as he recovers from a knee injury that ended his '07 season early. Young comes back after recording 15 tackles for loss last season to lead a solid defensive line.
HELP IS NEEDED
North Carolina State needs to find stability at quarterback. Evans and Harrison Beck have plenty of starting experience, but they combined to throw 22 interceptions and only 14 touchdown passes last season. Nate Irving enjoyed a productive freshman season in 2007, but he's pretty much the only experienced linebacker on the roster.
KEEP AN EYE ON
LB Ray Michel: Coaches are counting on Michel, a junior, to help boost a linebacking corps that was decimated by heavy graduation losses. Michel heads into spring practice as a probable starter at middle linebacker.
DT Keith Willis Jr.: When Boston College defensive tackle coach Keith Willis made the move to NC State, his son transferred, too. Willis, who'll be a senior this fall, should add firepower and experience to the Wolfpack's defensive line.
QB Russell Wilson: This redshirt freshman should have a busy spring. Although he also plays on North Carolina State's baseball team, Wilson has a chance to work himself into the quarterback mix. The inconsistency of Evans and Beck could allow Wilson to compete for the job if he performs well in spring practice.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Safety J.C. Neal, a former four-star prospect, has bounced between cornerback and safety so often that he hasn't found a permanent home at any particular position. This finally could be the season Neal earns a full-time starting job, most likely at safety.
The quarterback competition that never really got solved last season should take center stage this spring. Coach Tom O'Brien probably won't announce a starter at the end of spring drills, but the next few weeks should give fans a clue on who has the upper hand going into the summer. These upcoming workouts also should offer a hint about whether Wilson can overcome his lack of experience to make a serious push for the job.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.