Dean Haynes was so eager to quickly learn N.C. State’s playbook for running backs that he made flash cards to quiz himself on his assignments.
Even Haynes admits that he was surprised on Monday when he was named the starting running back for Saturday’s 6 p.m. opener against Western Carolina.
Haynes spent the first half of camp practicing at cornerback until Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien, who was disappointed with the play of his running backs in the team’s third preseason scrimmage, switched Haynes to offense.
Heading into the preseason, junior Curtis Underwood was listed as the starter and sophomoreJames Washington was the backup.
Now, the redshirt freshman Haynes is starting, with freshman Mustafa Greene backing him up.
Haynes played quarterback in high school and on N.C. State’s scout team at times last season, and he said that helped him understand what defenses are doing. He also earned a 3.1 grade-point average in the 2009 fall semester.
“I’m a smart player,” Haynes said. “I was able to get in the book and learn the stuff, and obviously the coaches think I can play and I can excel at the position.”
Greene earned his spot by making more big runs than anybody else in scrimmage situations during the preseason, according to comments O’Brien made on his weekly radio show Monday night.
O’Brien refused to talk to reporters Monday evening before and after his radio show, and again declined an interview request after Tuesday’s practice. N.C. State running backs coach Jason Swepson said he knew Haynes was serious about the job when he showed up for his second running backs meeting with his flash cards.
“He learned to play [running back] quick,” Swepson said. “He made some plays. He’s an older kid, and coach was just impressed with how he handled the move. And he’s got tremendous talent. Obviously that’s a given or we wouldn’t have made that move.”
Like Haynes, Greene said he has been able to adapt quickly. He models himself after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Swepson said Greene is still learning defenses but added there might be no stopping him once he does.
“Mustafa is a tremendous talent,” Swepson said. “He’s got a bright, bright future here. The playbook is something he’s still learning. He has a better understanding every single day.
“He’s going to be a good one. If he does all the right things he’s going to have a good future here.”
Haynes said he concentrated heavily on being able to pick up blitzing linebackers and protect quarterback Russell Wilson.
That was a phase of the game in which last season’s backs, Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene, excelled.
“I felt good at cornerback,” Haynes said, “but then again the coaches know what they’re doing. I was nervous about the running back spot. Now I feel comfortable here, too.”