While most of the offseason attention has been focused on new quarterback Jacoby Brissett, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren understands the real key to improvement in 2014.
“The team is going to go as the O-line goes,” Doeren said. “That’s how it always is. If they give Jacoby time, he’s going to be dangerous, if they don’t, it’s going to be tough.”
N.C. State has featured NFL and All-ACC caliber quarterbacks since 2000, but it has almost annually struggled to put together a strong offensive line. The 2013 season was no exception.
The Wolfpack allowed 35 sacks during a 3-9 campaign, the second most in the ACC. That number ranked 106th nationally. The 3.76 yards per carry was slightly better, 96th overall and 11th in the ACC, but the program hasn’t averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry since 1994 and it hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2002 (T.A. McLendon).
Despite injuries and shuffling on the line – and a lack of continuity at quarterback – N.C. State did significantly improve its rushing yards per game. The Pack averaged 162.7 yards, a 51.6 jump from the 2012 season and the school’s highest average since 1997.
With so many of the same parts back on the line, position coach Mike Uremovich is confident the group can turn experience into improvement.
“They should be better, they know the systems now,” Uremovich said.
Uremovich has four starters back from last season, plus left tackle Rob Crisp, who missed all but two games last season.
The return of Crisp, a fifth-year senior who was sidelined with concussion issues, allows Uremovich to move junior Joe Thuney back inside to left guard. Thuney slid over to left tackle to fill in for Crisp last season.
“They are lined up where they are supposed to be lined up,” Doeren said, noting the effect of Crisp’s return. “We have three strong, athletic guys inside and we have good length outside.”
Crisp, a five-star recruit out of Athens Drive, is slimmer (6-7 and 300 pounds) and eager to play a full season. He missed five games with a back injury in 2012 after he finished a strong sophomore season in 2011, particularly as a run blocker.
A bright spot from the 2013 season was the emergence of center Quinton Schooley, a late addition to the recruiting class who started every game.
On the right side, true freshman Tony Adams will start at guard and senior Tyson Chandler returns for his third season as a starter. Junior Alex Barr, who started 10 games at right guard, could be used at tackle for a banged-up Chandler. Senior Andy Jomantas, who started one game last season, can play either position and will also be rotated in, Uremovich said.
Adams, who enrolled in January, has stood out for his maturity. At 6-foot-2, 317 pounds, the Charlotte Independence product has plenty of size to make an impact and has proven to be a quick learner.
“You can tell he is ahead of his years,” Schooley said. “He’s willing to learn, which is extremely important.”
Adams isn’t the only new addition to the group. There are four true freshmen and three redshirt freshmen who need to be developed to solve the program’s annual issues up front. Uremovich understands the duality of the challenge.
“You have to take care of this year and then you have to develop your young guys to make sure they’re ready to go,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important to make a bowl game and get those 25 extra practices.”