Make no mistake, NC State is going to be a young football team next season. According to numbers provided by the Wolfpack sports information department, 71 percent of the expected fall roster will be either freshmen or sophomores. Just 31 upperclassmen will be on the team, the lowest since the 1995 squad, which finished 3-8 overall and 2-6 in the ACC, had only 27.
For some perspective, the last 10 Wolfpack squads had an average of 45.7 upperclassmen on its teams.
There could be some experience added in the fall however. Head coach Dave Doeren announced Monday that fifth-year senior offensive tackle Rob Crisp will rejoin the team in the summer, and that the Pack has applied for a sixth year with safety Jarvis Byrd, who has missed nearly three full years with various injuries, primary torn ACLs in his knee.
There are no two-deep depth charts yet as Doeren noted there is a lot of fluidity in it. Here is a breakdown of the team heading into spring practices that start Tuesday as provided by Doeren during his spring press conference.
Redshirt junior Jacoby Brissett is the entrenched starting quarterback, a change from last spring when Doeren admitted that the new staff had "no idea who is our starter is going to be." Doeren said there is a lot of comfort in that alone.
"We're excited for Jacoby to be our starter at the position," Doeren said. "I think every good quarterback has to understand they don't have to win the game on every play.
"Just because he's named the starter does not mean he's named the Heisman winner. He's named the starter, that's it. All he need to do is be the best he can be every day for us."
Walk-ons Garrett Leatham and Josh Taylor will back up Brissett during the spring, and incoming freshman Jalan McClendon will get thrown into the mix in the fall.
Returning starter and junior Shadrach Thornton remains indefinitely suspended pending the final outcomes on his off the field matters. Thornton led NCSU with 165 rushes for 768 yards and four touchdowns last year.
"He's with the team every day, he trains with the team, I'm around him every day," Doeren said. "That's the only way to help him grow as a person. Putting him in a box by himself is not going to help Shad. We keep him around us.
"But we're still waiting all the things we need to find out to determine playing time and the future of the program. We'll see where that goes. The punishment well definitely suit whatever we feel happens in the end."
In the meantime, sophomore Matt Dayes, who ran 63 times for 252 yards and four scores and caught 10 passes for 173 yards and a TD, may have had the best offseason of the group according to Doeren.
"He lost a lot of baby fat," Doeren said. "He really looks a lot better from that standpoint, extremely strong lower body."
Doeren is also excited about seeing redshirt freshman Dakwa Nichols, and he noted that they have moved former quarterback and sophomore Bryant Shirreffs to the backfield. Shirreffs ran 34 times for 158 yards and a score, and Doeren feels is a more natural fit at running back.
Fifth-year senior Bryan Underwood has fully recovered from his broken collarbone suffered by before the UNC game last fall. He had 32 receptions for 382 yards and a touchdown up to that point and has regained the lost strength from that injury. Doeren noted he almost squatted 500 pounds during the offseason.
NCSU played four true freshmen last year, highlighted by Marquez Valdes-Scantling (22 catches for 281 yards) and Jumichael Ramos (24 catches for 352 yards and three scores). Joining the young receiving corps will be early enrollees Bo Hines and Stephen Louis.
Doeren also said that redshirt junior Maurice Morgan has also had a good offseason.
"We feel like we have eight guys that can compete as we go into spring ball," Doeren summarized.
Doeren praised the receiving abilities of redshirt sophomore David J. Grinnage and redshirt junior Benson Browne. Grinnage caught 15 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown as a rookie. Doeren though feels that both need to become better blockers.
Starting the spring up front will be fifth-year senior Tyson Chandler, whom Doeren noted was "probably in the best shape he's been," at right tackle, redshirt junior Alex Barr at right guard, junior Quinton Schooley at center, redshirt junior Joe Thuney at left guard and fifth-year senior Andy Jomantas at left tackle.
Doeren said that moving Thuney permanent inside to guard is a priority for the Pack, although they will return him to tackle if they must.
"It's something we're adamant about," Doeren said. "His mobility as a guard is a huge plus, not just as a puller but when you're trying to cut off nose guards."
Second-string, to begin the spring, will be redshirt freshman Patrick Roane at right tackle, the combination of freshman Terronne Prescod and senior Ali Kassem at left guard, freshman Tony Adams and redshirt sophomore John Tu'uta at center, redshirt sophomore Bryce Kennedy and redshirt freshman Cole Blankenship at left guard and freshman Tylar Reagan at left tackle.
"I look for Tylar to really compete with Andy for that job," Doeren noted about the left tackle spot.
As noted above, Crisp joins the equation in the summer.
Doeren confirmed that redshirt freshman Pharoah McKever has moved from receiver to defensive end, but Doeren added that McKever played a lot of defense on scout team last year.
"It's not an entirely new thing for him," Doeren said.
At defensive tackle, Doeren said they are thin on bodies. The Pack will bring redshirt freshman Kenton Gibbs along gingerly. Gibbs was one of the most impressive rookies in preseason camp last year before hurting his Achilles.
"We'll be careful with him in spring ball," Doeren said. "You'll see him in individuals, probably won't see him a lot in scrimmage situations this spring."
Early enrollee B.J. Hill has already gained 12 pounds since arriving at NCSU and will work out on the interior of the line.
Doeren said that he was excited to see redshirt freshman Jerod Fernandez this spring, but Fernandez's classmate, Artemis Robinson, is on the shelf for an unspecified amount of time with a hip injury.
Freshman walk-on Ty Linton is still waiting to be cleared under ACC transfer rules. Linton signed with UNC in 2010, chose to play minor league baseball with the Diamondbacks instead before dropping the sport this winter. Linton decided against going back to UNC and instead enrolled at NCSU. He will practice during the spring.
Doeren noted they are still waiting for the result of Bryd's appeal for a sixth year after his third torn ACL, but he will be on the field in the spring while they wait for the verdict.
"Jarvis is a great leader for us, so we hope to get him back," Doeren said.
Redshirt junior Hakim Jones returns after making 61 tackles, two interceptions, eight pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery last year in his first season starting. Doeren noted that Jones vertically jumped 38-inches in a recent workout and has had "a great offseason."
Doeren added the redshirt freshmen Josh Jones and Malcolm Means, sophomore Dravious Wright and redshirt junior Tim Buckley all had good offseason workouts, and Doeren suspected there would be a lot of competition in the defensive backfield.
Redshirt junior Juston Burris and sophomore Jack Tocho are back as starters, but the depth is thin for the spring with just four scholarship players. NCSU signed three corners to join the equation in the fall.
"We're a little light there in the spring," Doeren said. "That is a position we do need to get better at."
Doeren noted that they were really excited about redshirt sophomore Niles Clark last fall before he suffered a hamstring injury that limited him throughout the year, but Clark is healthy now.
Seniors NIklas Sade and Wil Baumann are back. Sade was honorable mention All-ACC last year after making 19 of 23 field goal attempts with a long of 48. Baumann averaged 42.1 yards on 67 punts.
"We need to identify a returner in the spring," Doeren said. "We did not have a good kickoff return unit last year, and part of that is not having a steady returner. Dakwa Nichols and Malcolm Means were both tremendous high school returners, so hopefully we'll get a good evaluation back there as a return group.
"Bra'Lon Cherry did a of that for us before he got injured last year, so hopefully him being healthy with help us with the return game unit."