Audio: Tom OBrien encouraged by early returns

NC State head coach Tom O'Brien was pleased with the progress shown from the first scrimmage to the second, but Tuesday's situational scrimmage will be an even more crucial step in the players' development.
"I think we saw some improvement out of some of the guys we needed to see improvement out of, but are still a long ways away," O'Brien stressed. "At least we took a step in the right direction."
O'Brien continues to praise the depth and experience of his squad, although the receiving corps took a recent hit when redshirt sophomore wide receiver Bryan Underwood who caught 16 passes for 226 yards and two scores last year, suffered an undisclosed injury that will require surgery. He is out indefinitely.
Underwood could be the second major injury of preseason camp. Sophomore linebacker Michael Peek tore his ACL and will miss the season.
Underwood's injury means that true freshman Charlie Hegedus could be required to play this fall.
"Hegedus now is going to have to step it up, but I think he had a very good scrimmage last night," O'Brien said. "He made a lot of improvement from his first to his second, which you like to see."
At linebacker, Peek's injury puts more pressure on redshirt junior Rickey Dowdy to have a breakout and junior college transfer Robert Caldwell, recently cleared by NCSU admissions, to get a grasp of the defense.
"[Dowdy] had a really good spring," O'Brien said. "I think he has improved himself in this camp, and we certainly need him to come through for us this fall.
"[Caldwell's] just getting onto the field because we had issues with his paperwork being accepted here at State, so we finally got that cleared up. I think the next two weeks we'll get a much better picture of what he can do and what he can't do, and how he can help us. With the injury to Peek now it's imperative that he finds a way to learn."
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- True freshman quarterback Manny Stocker is getting about half the snaps at camp thus far, splitting the reps with fifth-year senior Mike Glennon. That will change when game preparations for Tennessee begin, and Glennon will receive about a 2-to-1 ratio over Stocker.
O'Brien continues to express confidence in Stocker, whom the coach said had a better second scrimmage than first.
"He's very talented," O'Brien stated. "He's very poised. I think he's ahead of where he should be because he had that spring semester at this point. He's not intimidated by the task ahead at all. We feel comfortable right now."
In the past, O'Brien has played his inexperienced backup a series in the second quarter of the opener. He did so in Glennon's rookie campaign against South Carolina. However, that is not certain to happen with Stocker.
"I don't know if Tennessee is the right spot to that with him," O'Brien noted.
- O'Brien was particularly pleased to report that NC State's projected APR, presumably for this past school, when we released next year will be a 973, which will be a new school-best for the football program in the ACC.
- With the injury to Underwood, the main options to return punts now are redshirt junior receiver Rashard Smith and junior cornerback David Amerson and "a couple of the tailbacks."
- When asked about the offensive line, O'Brien stated that "Mattes seems to be fitting in guard perfectly." O'Brien also added that Mattes is probably the first player he's coached that will start at four different positions along the offensive line if Mattes opens against Tennessee starting at left guard.
- The hires of new running backs/tight ends coach Des Kitchings and receivers coach Troy Walters has injected some new energy into the offensive staff, according to O'Brien.
"I think they've brought a fresh perspective," O'Brien said. "When we came here we kind of changed the defensive staff. That part of the staff had turned over. The offensive staff hadn't turned over in probably 14 years with the exception of Coach [Everette] Sands coming a year ago, so I think that helps because you get new ideas, you get new enthusiasm, you got people looking at things from a different perspective."
- Redshirt sophomore running back Mustafa Greene was cleared this past week, and O'Brien said he expects State's leading rusher in 2010 to be rusty. He also noted that Greene faces tough competition. Both senior James Washington and redshirt sophomore Tony Creecy have been improved this spring.
"[Washington's] gained more weight," O'Brien said. "He's bigger than he has been in the past so he's a little bit more powerful running the football.
"Tony's much improved this year, too. He's one of those kids that's taken another step and has gotten better as even this camp has gone on."
- Redshirt freshman safety Tim Buckley, the first former Penn State player to announce his intentions to transfer, has impressed O'Brien thus far.
"He fits right in," O'Brien said. "You can tell that he's a good football player. He understands football, he's in the right position. I think he is still learning our system and learning what our calls are and what we're doing.
"He's still a little bit hesitant back there, but you can see that he has instincts and has good ability, and certainly he can help us right away on special teams and back up at the safety spot for us."