It isn’t often an event like “Meet the Pack” day is taken so literally, as in, “Who are you?” For N.C. State, coming off one of the most anonymous seasons in recent memory, that was the case Sunday.
The team’s biggest star, transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett, has yet to take a real snap in an N.C. State uniform. Its most accomplished veterans are the kicker and punter. For a program accustomed to a surplus of star power on both sides of the ball, even during bad seasons, it’s a pretty jarring change.
From Torry Holt to Russell Wilson, Mario Williams to David Amerson, even when wins have been hard to find, big plays and big names usually haven’t. This year, there’s a huge portion of the roster that might as well be wearing “Hello, my name is” stickers.
This is a team desperately in need of a little star power on offense, a little explosiveness, a little big-play ability. No matter how good Brissett turns out to be, he can’t do it alone.
The lack of guaranteed playmakers can be attributed in part to the turnover in coaching staffs from Tom O’Brien to Dave Doeren, in part to the lackluster performance last season that offered few chances to shine, in part to a roster heavily laden with young players and sorely lacking in veterans.
Doeren might be building something at N.C. State, but this is one block that has yet to be laid.
“It’s nice to have Jacoby back there,” Doeren said, “but it’s not his job to make all the plays.”
The top returning candidate is Bryan Underwood, who had arguably the biggest play of the season before he was lost with a broken collarbone, the touchdown-that-wasn’t against Clemson when he was called out of bounds on a decision that was questionable to say the least.
Healthier, stronger and more motivated, Underwood is the leader of a group of receivers that offers the best potential to provide a game-breaker. He’s not big at 5-foot-7, but he has bulked up from 174 to 185 and can squat nearly 500 pounds.
“I got stronger, faster, bigger,” Underwood said. “I’m more conditioned than I’ve probably ever been. I’m enjoying what my body is able to do right now.”
Brissett’s presence in the pocket should create opportunities for others as well. Sophomores Marquez-Valdes Scantling, Jumichael Ramos and Bra’Lon Cherry showed flashes last season and freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis have raised eyebrows so far.
For Hines and Louis in particular, the example set by Ryan Switzer at North Carolina and DeVon Edwards at Duke last season as freshmen demonstrates there’s nothing stopping a freshman from having an impact.
“I watched those guys last year as a spectator and looked at what they were good at and their abilities,” Hines said. “I’m confident in myself that I can go out there and do that, too. It’s always good to see someone go out and do something you dream about doing, just show you that it’s possible.”
At running back, Shadrach Thornton has been dominant at times during his career, Tony Creecy has the most experience and youngsters Matt Dayes and Dakawa Nichols will have a chance as well.
“I do think there’s better skill and depth,” Doeren said. “We did not have that last year. Shoot, every week a different receiver would go down. By the end of the year we couldn’t run past anybody. We just didn’t have any speed at those positions.”
Someone, somewhere has to emerge for N.C. State. Doeren expects it. The circumstances demand it. Introductions were made Sunday. They must continue on the field in September.