NC State coach Tom O'Brien believes the Wolfpack are the deepest and most experienced team during his tenure, but only time will tell if it's the best squad.
NCSU has won 17 games and two bowl victories the past two years, and expectations have been raised. O'Brien noticed that a good percentage of players started off knowing more of what was needed to know during Tuesday's first practice of fall camp.
"We'll find out during this preseason camp," O'Brien said. "If we can stay healthy and guys do what they are supposed to do, then we'll give ourselves a chance to be a good football team.
"I think they did good and first days are always good. The thing I say to them all the time, I want to see where they are when we get to practice nine and 10, and they are a little bit tired and worn out. We'll see how they push it then."
Four players were noticeably absent during Tuesday's practice in the hot weather — redshirt sophomore running back Mustafa Greene, redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Brosius, junior defensive tackle A.J. Ferguson and junior college linebacker transfer Robert Caldwell. Greene missed the majority of the spring while sorting through off the field issues.
"They [Greene and Brosius] and Ferguson are still working to get themselves on the football field," O'Brien said. "We'll see if they make it or not. It's academically related. If [Mustafa] does what he is supposed to do, he'll be able to get out here and practice. He has to continue to do what he is supposed to do. If he doesn't, he won't be here. They [all three players] have to figure it out."
Caldwell just has to get certain paperwork completed to begin practicing.
"Hopefully, that will all be done by tomorrow," O'Brien said. "It's admissions paperwork. It's just a question of it getting here to the proper authorities on campus, and then they can clear him and practice."
O'Brien was able to watch his class of 2012 recruits, Penn State safety transfer Tim Buckley and Colorado State quarterback transfer Pete Thomas, practice for the first time. Buckley, who will be made available to the media on media day Aug. 11, worked out on the second string at safety and is eligible immediately.
"He has a chance to get himself in the two-deep with us losing [Donald] Coleman and Dean Haynes, that opened up a spot," O'Brien said. "We were fortunate enough that he wanted to come home and play for us."
Buckley approached NC State about making the move back home, he attended Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons, and O'Brien went through the proper channels to make it happen.
"I called [Penn State] Coach [Bill] O'Brien [no relation] which kids have called us, and if they want to continue to talk to us, and if they want to make the move, he didn't have a problem with that," Tom O'Brien said. "Tim was a guy that wanted to do that."
O'Brien pointed out that he had never had three full teams, with the freshmen making up the majority of the third team.
"We wanted to get a look at them," said O'Brien, who added that first-year strength and conditioning coach Corey Edmond has been impressed with the group.
NC State worked with its reshuffled offensive line with junior Robert Crisp at left tackle, fifth-year senior R.J. Mattes at left guard and fifth-year senior Andrew Wallace at right tackle. Junior Dontae Johnson, a former safety, also practiced with the first string at cornerback in place of fifth-year senior C.J. Wilson.
Fifth-year senior middle linebacker Sterling Lucas was also front and center after missing last year with a knee injury. His teammates voted Lucas and fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon co-captains.
"That speaks to his [Lucas] dedication, and even last year when he couldn't play, the support that he gave everybody," O'Brien said. "He was a de facto coach. I think he has really good leadership qualities anyway. I think with he and Mike, they made good choices for their captains."