If there’s any value to a winless conference record and an eight-game losing streak, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren is determined to find it.
The Wolfpack gets back to work Saturday in the first football practice of Doeren’s second season after a disappointing 3-9 debut ended with the program’s first winless ACC season since 1959.
But Doeren, who has found more early success on the recruiting trail, wants his players to learn from the problems of the 2013 season, not forget them.
“I really think we’re a mentally tougher team because of what we went through a year ago,” Doeren said last month at the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro.
There were injuries, losses, a little controversy (hello, Clemson) and a lot of tested patience last season for Doeren. The big question now is will there be a payoff?
The main issues facing the Wolfpack in training camp as it prepares for the season-opener against a dangerous Georgia Southern team Aug. 30:
1) Getting Jacoby Brissett up to speed
No one has higher expectations for Jacoby Brissett, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida, than he does.
Brissett wants to be great, and he showed big-play potential in the spring (365 yards, two touchdowns).
But, as Doeren warned at the ACC Kickoff: “He hasn’t played a ton of college football.”
Brissett started three games in two seasons for the Gators and completed 41 of 74 passes for 455 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
The redshirt junior is expected to be a significant upgrade from last year’s starters (Brandon Mitchell and Pete Thomas), but the former top 100 recruit out of West Palm Beach, Fla., still needs some reps.
If the Wolfpack is going to have more success in 2014, he’s also going to need help on offense.
2) Building an offensive line
Essentially since Philip Rivers’ last game in 2003, N.C. State’s offensive line has been, at minimum, an issue and its worst, a downright “Code Red.”
There are no quick fixes on the line, and as the Wolfpack has uniquely proven – with so many high-end quarterbacks in a short period of time – you can only go so far without a great line.
The return of fifth-year senior left tackle Rob Crisp, who missed all but one game last season with concussion issues, should help. So should the addition of freshman center Tony Adams, an early enrollee who shone during spring practice.
But building the quality of the line, and the necessary depth, will ultimately determine Doeren’s long-term success. That type of project takes time, and usually involves some growing pains, but the potential is there to start the process this season.
3) Defensive fundamentals
N.C. State was outscored 107-48 in the first quarter last season. Turnovers contributed to the problem, but when you’re getting jumped out of the gate, you have to go back to basic fundamentals, namely tackling.
The Wolfpack defense allowed a staggering average of 5.68 yards per rushing attempt in ACC play. That’s way too much and it’s why Doeren put such a focus in recruiting on the defensive line.
There are a number of veteran defensive linemen back from last season, but don’t be surprised if Doeren gives his younger prospects a long look and gives them a chance to develop.
The switch to a base nickel defense, with five defensive backs, means linebackers M.J. Salahuddin and Jerod Fernandez will need to be productive in camp and get more support from safeties Hakim Jones, Josh Jones and Germaine Pratt.
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